After six months working in the United States, Kazuhiko Sagawa (Atsuo Nakamura, The Water Margin's Lin Chung) returns to Japan to be reunited with his beloved, Yûko Nonomura (Yukiko Kobayashi).
However, rolling up at her family's isolated mansion in the middle of a storm, he is told that Yûko was killed two weeks earlier in a car accident.
Despite the insistence of Yûko's mother, Shidu (Yôko Minakaze), Kazuhiko refuses to believe his love is no more, eventually following what could be her ghost out to her grave on the outskirts of the family estate.
When Kazuhiko doesn't return to Tokyo, his sister, Keiko (Kayo Matsuo), and her fiancé, Hiroshi Takagi (Akira Nakao), come looking for him.
They're not convinced by widow Nonomura's story that the heartbroken Kazuhiko simply left the day after he learned of Yûko's fate, and are a bit creeped out by the family's mute, brutish, and oddly aggressive manservant, Genzo (Kaku Takashina).
They decide to stick around and investigate matters, finding clues to suggest that they might be onto something, despite the fact that the local doctor, Yamaguchi (Jun Usami) confirms Yûko's death.
In the course of their digging, the young couple discover the horrific history of the Nonomura household, how the whole family - except for Shidu - were slaughtered by an intruder 20 years earlier, then nine months later Yûko was born.
The Vampire Doll (Legacy of Dracula) is the first of Japan's Bloodthirsty Trilogy, a trio of homegrown horror films that sought to emulate the style - and success - of the British and American Gothic horror movies of the '60s, all directed by Michio Yamamoto and co-written by Ei Ogawa.
And that influence is really obvious in The Vampire Doll (which has a doll in it, but it isn't a vampire, and also has no connection to Dracula whatsoever), particularly with the pale-skinned Yûko drifting through the woods in her diaphanous nightgown, the creaky old mansion, and the thunderstorm-heavy opening sequence.
The wonderfully over-the-top painted film poster (shown above) for The Vampire Doll seriously oversells the monstrous nature of this movie, which primarily relies on atmosphere to get under your skin.
In all honestly, the film doesn't truly come into its own until the closing minutes, when everything is explained, the Big Bad is unmasked, and matters are resolved in a most speedy fashion.
Once you're keyed into this twist on the classic vampire story, it certainly makes for an interesting take on the genre... but then the film's over.
I hope to get to the other two entries in The Bloodthirsty Trilogy - Lake of Dracula and Evil of Dracula - in the coming weeks.
But, in the meanwhile, here's some spoilerific gaming material I was inspired to create after watching The Vampire Doll.
Spell Rank: 4th Rank, Black Magic
When a loved one is on their death bed, a member of their family can call for a black magician, who - at the cost of the dying person's soul - can prevent them from passing over to the other side, with a touch of his hand to their forehead (and this spell).
Devoid of their soul, the revived person will be a kind of demi-vampire, only occasionally remembering their old life (during which time they are most likely to plead for death).
They sustain themselves by drinking the blood of others, and if they don't drink a considerable volume of blood each day (about two or three pints. NB. A typical human has around 10 pints in their body) they will go feral and attack at random.
The person who made the deal with the magician may nominate two people (usually themselves and one other person) that the vampire will never attack. The demi-vampire must also stay within a mile radius of the person who struck the deal, as their lives are spiritually connected by this demonic pact.
The only person who can free the demi-vampire from their undead existence is the sorcerer who cast the spell, either voluntarily or through their death.
D: 1d4+2 + special
- SURPRISE ATTACK: As long as the vampire has initiative or isn't actively involved in physical combat with its prey (or anyone else), they can strike with a burst of lightning speed, slicing their dagger across their target's throat. They gain +4 to hit with that roll, and if their strike lands they inflict 2d4+4 damage.
- UNDEAD: Immune to mental magic, charms, sleep, telepathy etc
They do not have fangs, instead typically obtaining blood by a sudden, rapid, knife slash across a victim's throat, and then lapping up the spilled red stuff (once it is safe for them to do so).
Retaining a degree of their old humanity, they can occasionally speak (when they remember their pervious life).
When hungry, the iris in their eyes turns a milky green.
The moment they are released from undead bondage, they collapse and their corpse dissolves.