The Vampire Doll Blu-ray Review

All Doll’d Up

The killer in The Vampire Doll is atypical. Vampire Doll features a young girl’s tortured soul (armed with a knife) as its horror base. The “Vampire” moniker exists for marketability. She doesn’t have blood lust, rather a brutal past life.

Eastern mythology creates heightened atmosphere in this first of three Michio Yamamoto-directed Toho vampire films. Scenes clamp down on visible space, set in a traditional haunted mansion, with a discordant organ score moving things forward. Opening scenes shower the screen in lightning and thunder, restricting light in an exchange for dense, powerful shadows. The first 15-minutes delight, a worthy short film of lost romance if taken on their own. From there, it’s a missing person mystery.

It’s evocative, partly due to the horror-glamor imagery. Also, because of the subtext. Vampire Doll’s explicit, brooding drama gains legs in the third act. Despite awkward quirks in the exposition, character actions in Vampire Doll stem from post-WWII anguish. Terror comes not from a few flash cut kills, but the reasons for them. The younger cast, decades removed from Japan’s surrender, still deal with wartime scars. Japan’s lingering defeat hurts the young and continued to impact Japanese cinema as a whole. The nuance stings culturally. Wartime loss leads to additional violence.

This mournful approach eschews a norm of vampire thrillers

Vampire Doll’s fault is not doing more with that conceit. Book-ended well, this storytelling method flatlines the middle act as characters unravel occurrences around the estate. The audience knows the catalyst (but not the reasons), draining Vampire Doll of urgency and eroding pacing. This is a 71-minute film; Vampire Doll feels longer – significantly. The reliance on admittedly potent cinematography and arid tension skips the heartbeat that powers this feature.

There’s an attempt to lift these middle theatrics. When sunlight beams in, it does so with oppressive heat. Characters visibly sweat, Vampire Doll ignoring any opportunity for comfort. A weary Igor-like resident of the mansion often steps into the background, a frequent presence ratcheting the mood. He’s always watching. Scenery dresses in dead ravens (one unmercifully killed on screen, wholly unnecessary) for a touch of Edgar Allan Poe to go along with Hammer Studios-like, bloody flourishes.

For 1970, Vampire Doll isn’t shy with gory images. A final kill outlasts any lurid thing the famed Hammer put on screen. The lack of eroticism stands out though. This mournful approach eschews a norm of vampire thrillers. Spirit Yuko kills because commanded, her ghastly green eyes, chilled blue skin, and flowing white gown the totality of terror when on screen. Why she kills is what elevates Vampire Doll.

Video

Arrow releases Toho’s first of three Michio Yamamoto-directed undead killer movies in a box set called “The Bloodthirsty Trilogy.” Going by this transfer alone, it’s a well managed set. The standout element is grain management. There’s a grungy, hazy quality to much of the imagery. Being so short, compression parameters have breathing room and transparently resolving the film stock.

Great color saturation adds zest, with fine flesh tones and bright primaries. The notably yellow home finds itself surrounded by thick greenery, all gorgeous with this transfer. Inside the home, color pops from set décor. One conversation happens in front of an open closet; the clothes inside vary in hues with pleasant brightness.

Given the sharpness, Vampire Doll comes from a modern scan. It has to considering clarity. Fidelity levels aid in establishing a close intensity with exceptional facial definition. Scenery resolves on screen with premiere image stability and detail.

If there’s a loss it’s black levels. Although certain shadows reach absolute black, others slip away. One nighttime fight moves toward an awkward, distracting gray. Further, this reveals a touch of artifacting. Luckily, contrast is still there to help dimensionality.

Audio

This is not an easy score to judge given the erratic nature of organ sounds being substituted for the traditional score. It’s screechy and unnerving with a reason. That means judging this PCM mono mix on other factors, notably the cleanliness of dialog.

Little is lost due to nearly 50 years of time. Each line in the Japanese language track resolves clearly and with pleasant fidelity. Vampire Doll doesn’t sound its age.

Extras

Other than trailers and stills gallery, a small 16-minute interview with the knowledgeable Kim Newman makes up the bonus menu. Newman puts Vampire Doll and the two later Toho films in wide context to worldwide horror cinema.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The 15 unaltered images below represent the Blu-ray. For an additional 13 Vampire Doll screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 12,000+ already in our library), exclusive 4K UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.