• Believer (2018)

    Believer is a South Korean remake of Hong Kong action-thriller Drug War. I haven't watched the original film but after having adored Believer so much, I might try to watch it soon. Believer convinces with outstanding acting performances, intense action scenes, solid pace, a twisted story and a huge amount of tension that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The intellectual conclusion even offers some philosophical depth and food for thought.

    The story revolves around the mysterious leader of a drug cartel known as Mister Lee, whose identity remains a mystery. Reckless police detective Won-ho has tried to find and arrest Mister Lee for years. His underage mule has been brutally killed and Mister Lee's associate who was willing to cooperate got fatally poisoned. Won-ho's last chance is the survivor of a drug laboratory explosion named Rak who lost his mother in the incident. Won-ho decides to pose as Chinese-Korean drug lord who personally wants to meet Mister Lee and Rak assists him in meeting more and more powerful members of the drug cartel. Things take a turn for the worse when the Chinese-Korean drug lord who Won-ho impersonates decides to intervene and when a high-ranked member of the cartel plans on replacing Mister Lee.

    The only slightly negative element I could point out regarding this otherwise excellent movie is the fact that I figured out quite early in the movie who Mister Lee actually was. A surprising twist would have been even better and made an excellent movie perfect. Still, the film remains intense even if you have figured out who Mister Lee is since there are numerous complex conflicts in the story.

    The film's conclusion leaves an important question unanswered and invites the viewers to make up their minds. I believe such an ending is respectful towards the viewers as it expects them to challenge themselves and think about the movie's possible outcomes. Those who are used being offered predictable happy endings in Hollywood flicks might though feel overloaded.

    In the end, this film deserves a much better reputation than it has and is among the best movies I have seen over the past few years. If you like intense action films, profound dramas and tense thrillers, Believer offers you all these elements at once in a perfectly interwoven way. The intelligent conclusion will make you think and invites to discuss the movie with your friends long after it has ended.

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  • Lost in Grey - The Waste Land (2019)

    What the hell was that? Those were my first thought when I listened to ambitious opener and title track ''The Waste Land'' that opens with obnoxiously angry female vocals performing lyrics that are incredibly hard to understand. It doesn't help that this style is intertwined with overlapping female and male choirs. The middle section with whispered narrative passages is another element in the weird opening potpourri. That chaotic opener left a very negative impression, reminding of a poor man's version of UneXpect, Le Grand Guignol or Akphaezya or rather of a band in the key of Elis or Lunatica attempting to sound progressive at all costs. An opener should always set the tone for a record and I already feared the worst from here on.

    To my very positive surprise however, the rest of the album is carefully structured symphonic metal with influences taken from classical music and folk melodies that take their time to unfold. The mythic folk metal epic ''Expectations'' calms the listener down after the messy opener. ''Wolves and Men'' features a multitude of creative song writing ideas in more than eight minutes but these elements are combined quirkily in a way that recalls anime soundtracks at times which means that the song offers an intriguingly twisted narrative. Closing epic ''Drifting in the Universe'' is nearly thirteen minutes long and convinces with slow piano passages, sacral chants and fluid structures that are almost an antithesis of the opening title track.

    If the record hasn't opened with such a bad song, Lost in Grey's The Waste Land could already be considered a real early highlight of the year. As it is now, the band shows a lot of promise in its long and structured tracks that ooze with atmosphere, never get boring and convince with ambitious musicianship and outstanding vocal performances. Those who like ambitious symphonic metal bands like Epica, Nightwish and even Therion should give this album a spin. If the band improved its song writing by slowing things down in the future, it could become the next big thing in the symphonic metal scene. The potential is already there but the execution could still improve slightly.

    Final rating: 75%

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  • Ladies and gentlemen!

    The Bloodthirsty Trilogy consists of three movies: The Vampire Doll (1970), Lake of Dracula (1971) and Evil of Dracula (1974). The three horror movies combined American-styled horror cinema inspired by Hammer Film Productions with Japanese settings which was quite experimental for its time. I have watched and reviewed all three films and highly recommend them to any horror movie enthusiast.

    The Bloodthirsty Trilogy (1970 - 1974)

    The Vampire Doll (1970)

    Yûrei yashiki no kyôfu: Chi wo sû ningyô / The Vampire Doll (1970)

    The Vampire Doll is the first film of what would later on become The Bloodthirsty Trilogy with Lake of Dracula and Evil of Dracula. Produced by Toho Studios, The Vampire Doll was directed by rather unknown director Yamamoto Michio who had been working as assistant director on Kurosawa Akira's Throne of Blood. The lead actresses and actors had also mostly played in low-budget gangster movies or television films. Nobody really expected this take on classic Western vampire stories to be a success but The Vampire Doll turned out being an incredibly atmospheric film that has stood the test of time.

    The settings are perfectly chosen for this film that starts on a lonely road in rural Japan on a rainy night. The most important location is the secluded mansion inspired by Western culture with its elegant but old-fashioned decorations. The old cemetery that isn't taken care of blends in perfectly. Even the nearby sleepy village recalls elements of European horror literature and cinema.

    The ominous, melodic and gloomy soundtrack fits perfectly as well. The sound effects of a wailing woman and angry birds intensify the atmosphere. The camera work is generally calm and precise and therefore surprises when sudden cuts take place to introduce quite efficient jump scares.

    The acting performances are superb. Matsuo Kayo convinces as sympathetic lead actress who is very emotive and willing to risk her life to save her brother. Her more grounded and rational partner played by Nakao Akira complements her excellently. Minakaze Yoko excels as creepy lady who seems to have some skeletons in her closet. Takashina Kaku convinces as deaf employee with a hauntingly creepy look and rude manners. Every single actor and actress involved performs with passion and talent that is unusual for such a low-budget horror movie. It's something that is very rarely seen nowadays.

    The story isn't the most creative one and obviously inspired by classic European horror films but it's told in a steady pace that will keep you entertained from start to finish. The movie revolves Sagawa Kazuhiko who had spent six months abroad and wants to see his fiancee Nonomura Yuko again. When he arrives at her family mansion, he is told by her mother that she died two weeks earlier in a tragic traffic accident. About a week later, Sagawa Kazuhiko still hasn't returned home and his sister Keiko starts to be worried. She convinces her fiance Takagi Hiroshi to visit the family mansion where her brother was headed for. When they arrive, they are told that her brother left the day after he was told that his fiancee had died but Keiko senses that strange things are going on in the mansion. Her fiance and she decide to stay to investigate the family's sinister past in a nearby town. The further they investigate, the more their lives are getting in danger.

    If you like classic atmospheric horror movies, you will adore The Vampire Doll. The settings, effects and acting are still superb by contemporary standards. It's the best horror film I have seen in a long time and I would both revisit it again soon and recommend it to my friends.

    Final rating: 90%

    Lake of Dracula (1971)

    Noroi no yakata: Chi o suu me / Lake of Dracula (1971)

    Lake of Dracula is the second entry in the Bloodthirsty Trilogy, a series of Japanese movies inspired by American and European horror cinema, literature and myths. The story revolves around school teacher Kashiwagi Akiko who lives near a peaceful lake. When a coffin is delivered to a local boathouse by a strange truck driver, strange events start to occur. Akiko believes the current events are somehow related to a traumatizing event she went through when she was only five years old. Her joyful sister Natsuko doesn't believe her but her fiancé Doctor Saeki Takashi starts to investigate when one of his patients who lived near the lake is brought to his hospital with two bite marks on her neck.

    If compared to the first entry in the franchise, Lake of Dracula isn't as intense from start to finish as the creepy The Vampire Doll. There are a few too many dialogues in the middle section and scenes like the two sisters going shopping in a nearby town are irrelevant to the story. However, the opening flashback has a very eerie atmosphere and the first scene in the present when a mysterious coffin is delivered sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Things start getting really intense in the second half when the protagonist gets attacked at home and her fiancé in his car. From then on, the film has intense pace and ends very dramatically as well.

    The settings are perfectly chosen. The beautiful town by the lake turns into a sinister trap. The vampire's strange house has an otherworldly vibe to it. The hospital the doctor works in looks sinsiter at night. The different locations add some diversity to an already entertaining movie.

    The acting performances are also quite solid. Fujita Midori delivers the goods as lead actress in her very first film and it's a mystery to me why she only starred in six movies in her whole career. Her fragile yet determined nature is perfecrly balanced in this movie. She harmonizes well with her more rational and grounded partner Takahashi Chôei. Their chemistry is comparable to the couple in the first movie. The mysterious vampire is played by Kishida Shin and truly terrifying. It reminds of several classic American horror movies in a positive way.

    The second half of the film might even be better than the one of The Vampire Doll but a slightly dragging middle section makes Lake of Dracula overall a little bit less enjoyable. Still, fans of classic horror cinema will dig the combination of Japanese culture and Western horror tropes. The idea that vampirism was brought to Japan by foreigners as explained in this movie is somewhat awkward but everything else fits together very fluidly. The movie looks a little bit dated nowadays but still convinces with very good acting performances, a lot of atmosphere and great locations.

    Final rating: 80%

    Evil of Dracula (1974)

    Chi o suu bara / Evil of Dracula (1974)

    Evil of Dracula is the third and last entry in the Bloodthirsty Trilogy centered around American-styled horror movies in a Japanese context. Released a whopping three years after the previous output Lake of Dracula and four years after The Vampire Doll, this story is centered around a psychology teacher who assumes a job at an isolated private school. Upon arrival, he learns that the principal's wife died in a tragic car accident two days earlier. When the teacher respectfully asks if he could visit her grave, he is told by the principal that her body hasn't been buried or cremated yet and is instead kept in a coffin in the basement for a whole week according to an ancient local tradition. The surprises don't stop there for the young teacher when he is told that the principal would like him to be his successor. At night, the young teacher has a haunting nightmare of the principal's wife and an unknown girl attacking him. He is stunned when he learns that the girl in his nightmare is in fact a student who mysteriously disappeared and that several students indeed run away from the old school every single year. The teacher realizes that something is afoul and starts investigating.

    Horror movies that are set in high schools don't seem to be original anymore but Evil of Dracula was released two years before Carrie, three years before Suspiria and even decades before the Whispering Corridors series. Setting a gothic horror movie at an old private school for girls was a clever idea back then and the movie's familiar yet unsettling settings still work perfectly four and a half decades later. The isolated railway station, the bumpy country road with the carwreck, the elegant principal's mansion, the gloomy forest and lake next to the school, the big classrooms and the modest dorms make for diversified locations.

    The movie also convinces with a gloomy atmosphere. Right from the start, viewers might sense that something is wrong. The teacher arrives at a completely isolated railroad station. The staff is very rude. The person who was supposed to pick him up arrives late. The first thing he sees on his way to the school is the horribly burned carwreck. The tension intensifies from there on and will keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

    Even though Evil of Dracula is a good horror movie that has aged surprisingly well, it isn't as great as The Vampire Doll with its outstanding acting performances and Lake of Dracula with its mysterious and surreal vibes. The acting performances in Evil of Dracula are solid but not outstanding. The principal's characteristics are a little bit too similar to those of the main villain in Lake of Dracula. Lead actor Kurosawa Toshio looks stylish but his acting performance lacks depth and emotions. The characters of the three students who decide to stay at the school during summer break are promising but not fully developed. If the movie had been a little bit more detailed, it could have been much more intense.

    The final showdown is also less convincing than in the two predecessors. There are a lot of things going on but the action looks unintentionally humorous at times and feels completely exaggerated by the end. This rather recalls The Rocky Horror Picture Show than an actual horror movie, even though said film was also released one year after Evil of Dracula.

    In the end, Evil of Dracula is an atmospheric and intense horror movie that gets even closer to American-styled horror cinema than the two predecessors. However, the acting performances are only slightly above average and the film is at times lacking depth. If you have watched the first two entries, you will also like this film. If that isn't your case, watch the Bloodthirsty Trilogy chronologically.

    Final rating: 70%

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  • Chi o suu bara / Evil of Dracula (1974)

    Evil of Dracula is the third and last entry in the Bloodthirsty Trilogy centered around American-styled horror movies in a Japanese context. Released a whopping three years after the previous output Lake of Dracula and four years after The Vampire Doll, this story is centered around a psychology teacher who assumes a job at an isolated private school. Upon arrival, he learns that the principal's wife died in a tragic car accident two days earlier. When the teacher respectfully asks if he could visit her grave, he is told by the principal that her body hasn't been buried or cremated yet and is instead kept in a coffin in the basement for a whole week according to an ancient local tradition. The surprises don't stop there for the young teacher when he is told that the principal would like him to be his successor. At night, the young teacher has a haunting nightmare of the principal's wife and an unknown girl attacking him. He is stunned when he learns that the girl in his nightmare is in fact a student who mysteriously disappeared and that several students indeed run away from the old school every single year. The teacher realizes that something is afoul and starts investigating.

    Horror movies that are set in high schools don't seem to be original anymore but Evil of Dracula was released two years before Carrie, three years before Suspiria and even decades before the Whispering Corridors series. Setting a gothic horror movie at an old private school for girls was a clever idea back then and the movie's familiar yet unsettling settings still work perfectly four and a half decades later. The isolated railway station, the bumpy country road with the carwreck, the elegant principal's mansion, the gloomy forest and lake next to the school, the big classrooms and the modest dorms make for diversified locations.

    The movie also convinces with a gloomy atmosphere. Right from the start, viewers might sense that something is wrong. The teacher arrives at a completely isolated railroad station. The staff is very rude. The person who was supposed to pick him up arrives late. The first thing he sees on his way to the school is the horribly burned carwreck. The tension intensifies from there on and will keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

    Even though Evil of Dracula is a good horror movie that has aged surprisingly well, it isn't as great as The Vampire Doll with its outstanding acting performances and Lake of Dracula with its mysterious and surreal vibes. The acting performances in Evil of Dracula are solid but not outstanding. The principal's characteristics are a little bit too similar to those of the main villain in Lake of Dracula. Lead actor Kurosawa Toshio looks stylish but his acting performance lacks depth and emotions. The characters of the three students who decide to stay at the school during summer break are promising but not fully developed. If the movie had been a little bit more detailed, it could have been much more intense.

    The final showdown is also less convincing than in the two predecessors. There are a lot of things going on but the action looks unintentionally humorous at times and feels completely exaggerated by the end. This rather recalls The Rocky Horror Picture Show than an actual horror movie, even though said film was also released one year after Evil of Dracula.

    In the end, Evil of Dracula is an atmospheric and intense horror movie that gets even closer to American-styled horror cinema than the two predecessors. However, the acting performances are only slightly above average and the film is at times lacking depth. If you have watched the first two entries, you will also like this film. If that isn't your case, watch the Bloodthirsty Trilogy chronologically.

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  • Noroi no yakata: Chi o suu me / Lake of Dracula (1971)

    Lake of Dracula is the second entry in the Bloodthirsty Trilogy, a series of Japanese movies inspired by American and European horror cinema, literature and myths. The story revolves around school teacher Kashiwagi Akiko who lives near a peaceful lake. When a coffin is delivered to a local boathouse by a strange truck driver, strange events start to occur. Akiko believes the current events are somehow related to a traumatizing event she went through when she was only five years old. Her joyful sister Natsuko doesn't believe her but her fiancé Doctor Saeki Takashi starts to investigate when one of his patients who lived near the lake is brought to his hospital with two bite marks on her neck.

    If compared to the first entry in the franchise, Lake of Dracula isn't as intense from start to finish as the creepy The Vampire Doll. There are a few too many dialogues in the middle section and scenes like the two sisters going shopping in a nearby town are irrelevant to the story. However, the opening flashback has a very eerie atmosphere and the first scene in the present when a mysterious coffin is delivered sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Things start getting really intense in the second half when the protagonist gets attacked at home and her fiancé in his car. From then on, the film has intense pace and ends very dramatically as well.

    The settings are perfectly chosen. The beautiful town by the lake turns into a sinister trap. The vampire's strange house has an otherworldly vibe to it. The hospital the doctor works in looks sinsiter at night. The different locations add some diversity to an already entertaining movie.

    The acting performances are also quite solid. Fujita Midori delivers the goods as lead actress in her very first film and it's a mystery to me why she only starred in six movies in her whole career. Her fragile yet determined nature is perfecrly balanced in this movie. She harmonizes well with her more rational and grounded partner Takahashi Chôei. Their chemistry is comparable to the couple in the first movie. The mysterious vampire is played by Kishida Shin and truly terrifying. It reminds of several classic American horror movies in a positive way.

    The second half of the film might even be better than the one of The Vampire Doll but a slightly dragging middle section makes Lake of Dracula overall a little bit less enjoyable. Still, fans of classic horror cinema will dig the combination of Japanese culture and Western horror tropes. The idea that vampirism was brought to Japan by foreigners as explained in this movie is somewhat awkward but everything else fits together very fluidly. The movie looks a little bit dated nowadays but still convinces with very good acting performances, a lot of atmosphere and great locations.

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