Grab yourself a drink, because I’ve got a lot to say about Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.
If you’ve read my review for the first Vampire Hunter D film, you’ll know that I love it for all its cheesy, nostalgic value, but don’t consider it a genuinely good movie. Bloodlust is quite the opposite. It’s one of the greatest vampire films I’ve ever seen; incredibly epic in scope and perfectly executed. If you refuse to take a horror film seriously just because it’s a “cartoon”, then by god, are you seriously depriving yourself of something magnificent.
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (Urban Vision)
The vampire Noble Meier Link (John Rafter Lee) has supposedly “kidnapped” a beautiful girl named Charlotte (Wendee Lee). Her family has enlisted the services of the enigmatic vampire hunter known as D (Andrew Philpot) to bring her back alive. But just to keep him on his toes, they’ve also hired the ruthless Marcus clan, who intend to get the bounty for themselves. Both D and the Marcuses will have to deal with Meier Link’s bodyguards, a trio of freaks from the village of the Barbarois, who will fight to the death to ensure that their master reaches his destination. For D, he may find a source of unexpected aid from Leila (Pamela Segall), a member of the Marcus clan.
Bloodlust is something else. When I first saw the film, it was on a bootleg tape I rented from a bootleg tape dealer, then copied onto a tape of my own. Surprisingly, for a Japanese flick, the English language audio track was recorded first (and, subsequently, the lipsync is animated to it), but that didn’t keep the s----y tape from having Japanese and Chinese subtitles covering half the screen. And yet, through all the foreign letters and VCR static, the flick blew me right the Hell away. Then, when it was finally released on DVD (I swear, that felt like one Hell of a wait), I found it hard to put into words how amazing the film was.
The animation for Bloodlust was provided by one of my all-time favorite Japanese studios: Madhouse. They’ve given us such glorious pieces of art as Perfect Blue, Ninja Scroll and HBO’s Spawn series. They have a reputation for delivering the best in horror, atmosphere and well, mind-blowing visual quality (when they have the budget, that is).
Directing the flick is one of Japan’s most celebrated animation directors: Yoshiaki Kawajiri. The name may not ring a bell, but if you’re an animation enthusiast, then I’m sure you’ve seen some of his work: Wicked City, Ninja Scroll, Highlander: The Search for Vengeance or… um… The Fantastic Adventures of Unico…? Kawajiri has a fast, furious and gut-wrenchingly violent style. But while folks praise him most often for his downright brutal and highly detailed action sequences, the man also has an eye for dynamic and epic shots and setups, giving his films a breathtaking sense of scope.
I mentioned earlier that the English language version of the film was actually the original version, despite it being Japanese-produced. Odd, certainly, but I’m not an otaku who automatically turns my nose up at the very thought of watching a Japanese cartoon in English. Perhaps twenty-something years ago the English dubs of Japanese cartoons were uniformly terrible, but those days are long over. In the case of Bloodlust, the English language cast is excellent, sporting a number of actors known most prominently for dubbing Japanese productions (Wendee Lee), as well as a few actors you wouldn’t expect to find in such a project (John Di Maggio).
Andrew Philpot is, in my honest opinion, a step up from D’s last English voice actor, Michael McConnohie. McConnohie wasn’t bad, but he tended to play the stoic D with a tad too much energy and emotion. Philpot gives him personality while maintaining his rather dull demeanor. If there was one step down from the cast of the ‘80s film, I’d have to say it was Michael McShane as D’s wise-cracking left hand. While McConnohie had a sarcastic, eerie voice, Michael McShane gives him a grumpy old man vibe. At times, he can tend to talk too much and border on the obnoxious (the scene with the sand mantas being especially infuriating), though he isn’t all bad. He works for the character and still delivers several amusing quips here and there.
The film is based on the third Vampire Hunter D novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi: Demon Deathchase. I’ve had the pleasure of reading the novel for myself and it is very, very good. Thus far, I’ve read the first three novels in the series and enjoyed them all; I’d highly recommend them to any fan of horror-fantasy literature. That aside, the novel and the film differ in a multitude of ways, though I find that I can’t decide which I prefer. The scenes exclusive to the book are awesome, but likewise, the scenes exclusive to the film are equally awesome.
To touch upon a few of the alterations, in the book, the Marcus brothers are far, far more sinister a clan. Leila is their sister, not their teammate, and they keep her in-line with some good ole fashioned incestuous rape. Even Grove, the bed-ridden invalid gets his freak on with her. It’s… pretty nasty, but makes their inevitable deaths all the sweeter (in the case of Borgoff, the eldest brother, he gets eaten alive by ants then has his half-eaten corpse possessed by a reanimating parasite).
Whole subplots are dropped, such as two of the Barbarois bodyguards, Caroline and Mashira, plotting to double cross Meier Link. In regards to them, they also have their powers altered for the transition to film. In the book, Caroline was a dhampir like D, though she had the ability to turn machines and flora into her monstrous servants by sucking their “lifeblood” (gasoline or sap), where-as in the movie she had the power to merge with metal and wood and control it with deadly precision. Mashira received the most drastic change, I felt. In the movie, he was an honorable werewolf with a giant snout on his tummy. In the book, he was a parasite of the same species as D’s left hand (and is the one that possesses the half-eaten corpse of Borgoff).
The entire ending with Carmilla is completely fabricated for the film, with her character being nowhere in the book (though she’s based off a classic vampire from horror literature; the title character of the story Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu). I actually liked the addition of Carmilla, as she added some extra oomph to the conclusion, which felt like it was missing something in the book. One scene I would have loved to have seen in the film involved Caroline taking control of a giant robotic arm and attacking D with it. The entire sequence was so cool in the book, I can only imagine how the folks at Madhouse might have brought it to life on screen. On the other hand, one absolutely amazing scene from the film that wasn’t in the book, the sequence on the bridge, was quite possibly the highlight of the entire flick. So there.
Anyhow, both versions tell the same essential plot with the same characters, but in two very different ways. I can’t say one is better than the other, since they’re both so good. If you liked the movie, then you’d be doing yourself a favor by reading the book. It most certainly isn’t a retread of the events of the movie and you’ll find yourself being very surprised by how the events unfold.
I warned you that I had a lot to say about this movie, and for Heaven’s sake, I don’t feel like I’ve even covered the half of it. I haven’t even gotten to Marco D’Ambrosio’s haunting score and I’ve only touched upon the sheer number of heart-pounding, eye-popping moments (the entire opening, with the crosses wilting like flowers in Meier Link’s presence, for instance). But I can only ramble on for so long. The nice thing about Bloodlust is that you don’t have to see the first film or read any of the novels to get what’s going on. It’s a beautiful, epic story and one of the best vampire movies I’ve ever seen.