aka 花嫁吸血魔 aka Hanayome Kyuketsuma
Directed by Kyotaro Namiki
Vampire Bride is female melodrama turned into a revenge creature horror film. The beginning is very different from the usual tale of murder and revenge, or a woman scorned. Forget all those rape and revenge tales that have driven the genre since the 1960s, the villain that drives the plot here is female jealousy. Women that are angry with the main character for various reasons – be it her looks, her career, or which man has her attention – conspire to take her out of the equation. They leave her battered and broken and reap the benefits of life without her. But those benefits are bittersweet, and they made the mistake of not killing Fujiko off. For she returns, returns to haunt their lives, and to stalk and end their lives. As she returns as a vampire beast, and it’s dinner time!
The Shintoho Film Festival this is a part of was originally curated in 2010 as part of the Udine Far East Film Festival by Mark Schilling. The films have finally made their way on tour across the US in 2013, and have stopped by San Francisco at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, who has been kicking butt lately with awesome Asian film retrospectives. Vampire Bride played a double bill with Ghost Cat of Otama Pond, and I had the pleasure of attending the screening along with good buddy duriandave of SoftFilm. The Shintoho films are a great cross-section of exploitation cinema, as well as creative outlets from filmmakers who were doing amazing things that just weren’t appreciated by the right people at the time.
Vampire Bride stars Junko Ikeuchi, who was a Shintoho star due to her clean-cut good girl image. But she ran off and got married, then had to come slinking back after that marriage quickly ended in disaster. Shintoho studio boss Mitsugu Okura wasn’t about to let her back that easily, and cast her in this revenge tale, where her beautiful face would transform into a hideously ugly monster. Like Ikeuchi, her character Fujiko’s suffers a fate of things not working out for her. What is to be a good career and a good married are tarnished by betrayal, and she can only look longingly at the life she would have had.
Vampire Bride was the one film I wanted to see most of all, both due to the promotional picture of the Vampire Bat Creature, and an iconic shot also used in promotional material of the three deformed characters staring into Great-Grandma’s magic cauldron (which I can’t seem to find in digital form!!)
We begin with a literal Quasimodo, a hunchback deformed man with one eye, two teeth, and the inability to even speak beyond some moans. He’s chastised by a woman older than the planet, who is upset he’s so late. The hunchback catches one of the many bats in the cave, and kills it with an oversized knife. The blood of the bat is the dinner of the old lady. She bemoans how one day one of her descendants will return, and views into a magic cauldron the next scenes in the film.
Forget all those horror elements, we’ve entered the world of women trying to become movie stars! The jealous friends of Fujiko fume at her life becoming so perfect – a star contract at the movie studios, a handsome boyfriend Sadao (Tatsuo Terashima) who wants to marry her, and the (unwanted) attention of a lothario entertainment reporter (Keiji Takamiya). None of them know just how close to everything falling apart Fujiko’s life is. Her mother is sick and their house and possessions are in the midst of being repossessed.
The jealousy boils over into blood rage, which manifests itself during a picnic outing of the whole group of “friends”. Luring Fujiko near the edge of a cliff to pick flowers, the three girls – jealous actress Kiyoko (Hiroko Amakusa), jealous model Eiko (Reiko Seto from the Starman movies), and Rie (Yasuko Mita), who loves Fujiko’s boyfriend Sadao, shove her over the edge. Fujiko is horribly injured, her face permanently destroyed with a wicked scar. While laid up in the hospital, her mother gets foreclosed on, and kills herself in shame. Fujiko has nothing left, and goes to search out her last remaining relative by order of her mon’s suicide note.
Of course her Great-Grandmother is the old lady from the beginning, it all ties together. Great-Grandmother invokes rituals and incantations, encouraging Fujiko to hate her friends and demand vengeance – even showing her that it wasn’t an accident. Fujiko is despondent enough she tries to kill herself. But Great-grandma saves her and transfers her own life essence into Fujiko.
Also transfered is the essence of vengeance in the form of a vampire bat creature. A hairy were-bat monster. The hair is like it is from a really hairy man, the transformation scenes show Fujiko with extremely hairy forewarns that look masculine. She’s also sporting a full beard that would not be out of place on your local unwashed hipsters. If there was any doubt of the rumors of this being a revenge role, the fact the producers set her up to look ultra-masculine should remove any doubt. Her black costume has drapings off of her arms that give her a bat-like appearance when she moves her arms. Which she will do constantly, as she walks or even stands still. Fujiko prances around as she stalks her prey, truly a thing of another age. The influences from the kabuki theater could not be more apparent if she had “Kabuki” tattooed across her forehead. Despite this, Junko Ikeuchi gives it her all, and makes the monster feel real.
Vengeance is best served slowly, and at first the girls are tormented when Fujiko reappears – but not as the “dead” Fujiko, but as another girl named Sayoko, who rocks her way into first prize at a beauty contest (Take that, Monopoly Guy!) This freaks out all the girls, who recognize Sayoko for who she is, despite her protestations. Also recognizing her is the lothario reporter, who doesn’t care which girl she is, he’s going to rape her regardless. But instead of him penetrating the girl, she soon penetrates him with her own sharp teeth as she transforms and goes to town on him. His body, found the next morning, is the first of many, all sporting three teeth marks on their neck.
The ending sequence as Fujiko desperately tries to stop the killing spree so she doesn’t hurt the feelings of her beloved Sadao, who is marrying her former rival and future target Rie, are a great switch to the formula. The killings at this point are becoming compulsion. Fujiko is forced into becoming the spirit of vengeance by the mere will of her great-grandmother.
The repeated motifs of bats throughout the film, shadows of the bat flying across warning of ghostly proximity, bats constantly flying around the underground lair of great-grandma and her servant. Great-grandma even feeds on the bats, and a bat is used under bandages to help heal Fujiko at one point. The bat shadows flashing in the background have roots back to the ghost kabuki plays, and will be seen in similar fashion in the other film in the double feature, The Ghost Cat of Otama Pond.
A unique film experience, both due to the nature of the conflict and the creature and atmospheric design, Vampire Bride deserves a larger acknowledgment in the classic Japanese horror canon. By managing to take the typical kaidan tale and turn it into something more, Vampire Bride becomes something more. The effects may be indicative of the times, but they add to the fun. And Vampire Bride is fun.
Rated 7/10 (Minya Time x7!)
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Some images ganked from here.