Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Vampire Hunter D (Review)

Director: Tooyo Ashida

Company: CBS Sony Group Inc., Movic, Ashi Productions

Year: 1985

Country: Japan

Some 'cult classics' are obscure for a good reason.

 The one downside of having a movie blog is that, once in a while, you have watch something really terrible in order to not look like a flakey reviewer. Vampire Hunter D is such a film, despite having a small but vocal following. It contains little more than shock value, excessive gore, awkward animation, and other such B movie related problems. If Ed Wood had lived to see this atrocity, he would have eaten his heart out. Vampire Hunter D is notable for a few reasons other than its awfulness. It was one of the earliest anime films to be made for the OVA (Original Home Video) market and also one of the first anime titles made available to US audiences on home media. Vampire Hunter D is based on a manga of the same name by Hideyuki Kikuchi which follows the exploits of a half-human half-vampire ( 'dhampire') bounty hunter who is hired to kill corrupt vampire lords in a post apocalyptic future.

Although the plot has interesting enough sounding set up, it is executed very poorly. Vampire Hunter D opens with Doris Lang, the teenage daughter of a deceased werewolf hunter, patrolling the countryside. Doris (who wears so little clothing that she could be mistaken as Sailor Moon's slutty older sister) is suddenly attacked by Count Magnus Lee when she intrudes his territory. Doris manages to get away, but is bitten by the lustful Count who plans on making her his new bride. (There is a major plot hole here: If the Count really wanted Doris, couldn't he have just taken her immediately to his castle?) To make matters worse, Doris is also being courted by the town's resident sleaze, Gerco Rohman, and she and her younger brother, Dan, are ostracized when her bite marks are discovered. Fortunately, Doris receives help from the mysterious horseman D, who promises to protect her and prevent Magnus Lee from abducting her on the next full moon.

From here on out, the storyline begins to fall apart and tediously repeat itself. Doris, who is initially introduced as a street smart, competent fighter, is quickly reduced to the tired distressed damsel role. She is kidnapped then rescued, kidnapped then rescued, kidnapped...over and over again. All of the horror cliches are here, oddly mixed with western cowboy fare and science fiction. Count Magnus Lee looks like a Godfather wannabe and his minions resemble punk rockers. Gratuitous gore is shown when D kills his enemies, spurting blood everywhere, but it fails to entrain or be truly 'scary.' D is often shown to be way more powerful than any of his enemies, making everything about this film all the more predictable. Really, Vampire Hunter D leaves the audience either repulsed or bored more than anything else.

Take it from Doris, real vampires don't sparkle.

As this OVA was made on a seemingly tight budget, it suffers artistically which only becomes more and more apparent as Vampire Hunter D ages. The only nicely drawn thing in this film is its atmospheric backgrounds which certainly help heighten its bleak and often disturbing mood. The character designs are decent but unoriginal at best, and lack the sophistication of the manga's original artwork. At worst, certain characters just come off looking comically stupid. The animation itself is very poor, being constantly off model, choppy, or disproportionately drawn. Vampire Hunter D's sound effects are poorly synchronized and its soundtrack is very dated. It's not 'so retro that its cool again' dated, its just dated... Badly dated. (If you hate your ears and eyes, watch the trailer.)

The eerie backgrounds are one of the few things good about this movie.

Its inconsistent and sloppy character animation are the least of its problems.

The side characters in Vampire Hunter D are consistently annoying, stereotypical, or flat. Dan, Doris's kid brother, is particularly problematic. He does not add anything to the plot. His only purposes seem to be acting cute and providing comic relief that fails to be funny. Whenever he tries to solve things himself, Dan is only captured or held hostage. Dan's relationship with his sister is never deeply developed nor is he properly introduced to the audience. Frankly, if Dan died nobody watching this movie would have really cared. Another obnoxious and unexplained presence is D's living left hand. This left hand has a face and regularly talks with D when he is brooding over something when no one else is around. The left hand also posses the ability to fight off enemies by sucking in air and can reattach itself to D if it is cut off from his arm. The writers apparently ran out ideas.

D possesses a symbiote wise cracking left hand...for reasons unexplained.   

Instead focusing on trying to 'look cool', generating camp value, and showing off how many gallons of blood can get past the censors, Vampire Hunter D should have focused more on creating memorable personalities and relatable character interactions. Even successful horror films need these elements. Is there anything good about this movie? Well, a few of the film's subplots were slightly promising and likely could have been developed more if this movie had a more competent director. Doris's doomed relationship with D could have provided some merit if it were given more screen time. Doris was one of the few people who actually trusted D despite his mixed heritage, but D had to restrain any thoughts of romance in order to prevent giving in to his vampiric side of nature. Likewise, Count Lee's daughter, Lamica, is an interesting character. She constantly called out her father for not acting as a proper aristocratic vampire should. Ironically, towards the end of the film, Lamica learns that she too is a half-breed dhampire, and is left torn between her loyalties to Lee and D. Unable to deal with the shock of her discovery, Lamica chooses to die alongside her father as the Count's castle crumbles to dust.

However, the negative aspects of Vampire Hunter D far outweigh any of its positive factors. They prevent the OVA any chance of redeeming itself in the eyes of the viewer. Almost everything in this film reflects all the negative stereotypes that are often unjustly associated with many other animes: nonsensical plotlines, crappy animation, 'adult themes' that fail to be intellectually mature, unnecessary nudity, graphic violence, and so on. Do yourself a favor. Avoid this film. Avoid it at all costs.  

Count Lee, the audience sympathies with your disgust and boredom. 

Rating: 1/5

About the Dub: It's laughably bad which is probably because the dub was done by the infamous Carl Macek of the now defunct Streamline Pictures. Although the original Japanese voice work was nothing to write home about, it was tolerable. The English 1990s dub is a rather different story. Dan sounds like he was voiced by a middle aged British lady, Lamica has a terrible fake Romanian accent, and many of the other voices sound like nails grating on a chalkboard. To make matters worse, much of the original dialogue was changed for the dub, watered down, or plagued with lame jokes. But then again, given how terrible this movie is the dub seems appropriate in an ironic sort of way.