Lake of Dracula (1971)

AKA: Cursed Mansion: Bloodthirsty Eyes

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Several years ago, a five-year-old Akiko was tormented by a disturbing dream involving a run-away dog, a gothic mansion, a pale woman, and a shadowy man with sharp teeth and bright yellow eyes. Eighteen years later the now grown Akiko has forgotten much of her dream except for the fear it elicits and those piercing yellow eyes. Her sister and boyfriend think she’s just obsessing over a childhood trauma, but when a mysterious package containing a coffin is delivered to the bath house near her home strange things begin to happen, and Akiko quickly begins to suspect that her childhood trauma was less of a dream and more of a deadly premonition.

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Lake of Dracula is Japanese horror film and is part of The Bloodthirsty Trilogy, a trio of vampire-themed horror outings courtesy of Toho Studios. Linked only by director, writer and some recurring cast members, the ‘Trilogy’ is a trilogy in name only, as it doesn’t feature a continuing story of any kind and can thus be viewed in any order. They’re really just an excuse for Toho to flex it’s more westernized horror muscles and have a go at some melodramatic vampire outings that were made popular by Hammer Studios, and when you look at it that way, at least in regards to Lake of Dracula, they did a bang-up job.

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The movie basically follows the Hammer Dracula formula to a T. Anyone familiar with Hammer films is immediately going to notice some striking similarities. I was less than ten-minutes in when I started thinking the movie was ‘basically Hammer…but in Japanese’. Everything from the plot, to the acting, and even the camera angles and color palette are strikingly similar. Hell, even some of the fashion seems ripped right off of Christopher Lee’s iconic vampire look. Say what you will about Toho, but whoever helped put this thing together really did their damn homework.

But if you’re thinking that all those gothic motifs sound strange when you consider this is a Japanese film, then you would be right. The film explains most of the 1800s stylings in a 1970s setting as being part of Akiko’s dream, but it still feels a little out of place when surrounded by all the Japanese designs.

Lake_Of_Dracula_4Looks damn pretty, though.

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One thing I think puts it a bit above the typical Hammer outing, is the cinematography. While it may utilize the western studio’s formula, it makes the movie its own by its use of excellent framing, angles and color. From the very first frame it sets itself up in the mind of the viewer that it will be a visual feast and, by god, they were not lying. There were some moments where things looked so nice I just had to pause the film to admire a particular shot.

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The film’s one downside is, sadly, the plot. Granted, films like this aren’t really known for their excellent drama or thought provoking fanfair, but even considering the genre it’s from, Lake of Dracula is highly predictable. You’ll likely always know what’s going to happen well before it does and there aren’t going to be any surprises towards the end, either. It also has some very strange character motivations thrown in for good measure. At one point Akiko tells her sister that the handyman at the lodge tried to rape her, and her sister’s only response is to shrug, comment about how the guy ‘is always looking at her’ and then nonchalontly wander off to bed. Now, I don’t know about you, but if someone told me that I’d have at least a bit more of a response. The movie tries to brush this off about how the sister must have secretly hated Akiko because her ‘dream’ made her seek out the approval of her parents, but the way they try to explain it is, well…bad, to put it mildly.

Those scenes end up being more WTF than the whole plot about a half-japanese, gothic-studded vampire who had his coffin delivered to a remote lodge because he likes to take long strolls around the lakeshore at night.

Lake_Of_Dracula_10And you got all this from hypnotism you say? Riiiiight.

So is Lake of Dracula any good? If you like Japanese and/or old-school horror films, then yes. Strange plot motivations aside, it’s a solid story with a good cast and an excellent eye for color and composition. It may be milking a familiar formula, but it does enough to modernize it and make it its own thing, even if just about everything is wholly predictable. If you’re looking for a new vampire film to watch and yearn for that Hammer goodness, than this something you should enjoy.

Lake of Dracula is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

It is also available on Bluray, via The Bloodthirsty Trilogy.

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Michi

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