It almost makes me sad that I have to cover this one as a “Junk Bin”, but it needs to be done.
Whenever I ask people if they’ve seen “Vampire Hunter D”, they only respond that they’ve seen the sequel “Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust”. That makes me grimace as much as as Star Wars fan asking people if they’ve ever seen Star Wars and they answer they’ve only watched the prequel trilogy.
Because of that, I have to include it here.
“Vampire Hunter D”
Anime was a funny thing back in the mid-to-late 1980s. Obviously, it still wasn’t that big in the United States. Whoever did watch any anime was usually one of those obscure nerds who would scour trading card stores and video stores for the occasional tape, and obviously no one was using the Internet yet to make contact with overseas vendors, let alone download anything. But it seems what few animes got translated and put in this country were the orgies of gore. Lots of violence, lots of sex, lots of nudity, and big ol’ buckets of blood-soaked hamburger. And apparently a big provider of this source material was Hideyuki Kikuchi, a writer who specializes in horror fiction.
While nowadays in anime this writer is better known for creating “Wicked City” which was more of a straight M-rated horror, the writer put out a regular series of stories that drew more source inspiration from classic vampire films of the culp era made popular by Christopher Lee (which Kikuchi is a fan of) and the “knight errant” archetype that was popularized both in Japanese samurai films and American westerns. Thus creating the series of “Vampire Hunter D” books, of which the first one was made into this movie and the third one was made into “Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust”.
The setting is around the year 12,000 A.D. The backstory, which is only hinted at a bit in the film, indicates that after mankind caused an apocalypse, likely a nuclear fallout one, vampires that were in hiding emerged from the wreckage. Having knowledge, wisdom, and longevity that surpassed the survivors of humanity, they ended up rebuilding Earth using fantastic technology in their image; creating a world that was a sort of cyberpunk take on the lands and settings of traditional vampire fiction from the 1500-1600s, including genetically engineering all the monsters from popular horror, and becoming the ruling elite of that world. However, after thousands of years, it seems ennui and boredom from immortality caused the vampire race to decline and humanity is once again the dominant race. The only “wild” part of the world still left is the Frontier region, in which some vampire warlords still exist as well as assortments of other monstrous horrors. The only defense the people have who live out there against this evil lies in the class of “hunters” for hire, with the greatest of those being the vampire hunters.
Being the first entry in a series, the plot is pretty simple and straightforward. A story you’ve seen before but is so timeless and inherently good that you keep seeing it again and again. A teenage farmer named Doris raising her little brother Dan and managing the farm on the Frontier is bitten by a local vampire named Count Lee; essentially marking her to become the count’s next bride. With only her own body to offer as payment, she looks for the first decent vampire hunter she can find and ends up hiring possibly the greatest vampire hunter in the world: a dhampir (half-vampire, half-human) named D. What follows is a bloodbath as D and his symbiote-infused Left Hand has to fend off both the Count, his daughter Larmica, the Count’s posse of hired mutants, and the locals who have no love for a partial-vampire as Doris has become or vampire hunters who themselves are half-vampires.
I’ve actually read the original story as well as this, and…well…apparently America isn’t the only country that jazzes books up for Hollywood. It’s a fairly faithful adaptation, but Doris has been changed from a black-haired, independent, girl who’s been toughened by life on the Frontier to a blond-haired crying damsel in many regards. She gets a fistful of moments to actually show she can hold her own, but…not much and in light of the fact she’s fighting overwhelming opponents she quickly falls short. There’s also some gratuitous nudity in the movie such as a pointless shower sequence and Doris’ shirt getting ripped for no other reason than to have a shot of a boob come out. Then, of course, there’s these nasty life-sucking creatures that take the form (at least on the top half) of nude women. They didn’t really explain Rei and his mutant group that well…just kind of had them show up in the interest of keeping the movie as short as possible; although, unlike the book, they did have him do a heel-turn-face, which was a nice little touch I approve of. And, of course, the movie is utterly soaked in blood. D can’t go into any situation without leaving a bloodbath behind or getting himself all bloody, which works out fine because, being a dhampir, D just regenerates from everything.
But if you can look past the gratuitous nudity and violence, which is, let’s be honest, far tamer than stuff like “Ninja Scroll”, it’s actually a pretty entertaining movie. The plot is simple but there’s a charm to movies that are able to do simple well. You don’t need to wrap your head around a whole lot of concepts and you can go straight to the emotions and struggles. The movie does have a distinct vibe of a samurai film and a Western. In fact, some people have likened the movie to be the Japanese treatment of “Shane”, especially in the ending.
D is a pretty amazing character, even in the movie never shows just how ungodly his power is and even waters him down a bit. The changes they made to Rei are for the better to make him more interesting. The major themes and character interactions are still there even if they change it a bit to be more crowd-pleasing, with D’s mentoring of Dan, the interactions with Left Hand, and Doris being strong enough not only to beat up local pervs but to feel “sympathy for the devil”. And with concept art for the more monstrous bits done by the immortal Yoshitaki Amano of “Final Fantasy” fame, it’s going to have atmosphere dripping all over it as much as blood. So…all in all, it’s a fun little film. It probably won’t go down in history as a classic like “Perfect Blue”, “Akira”, or even “Ninja Scroll”, but…so long as you can stomach some over-elaborate gore, you won’t be disappointed.
And being much closer to its own source than “Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust” is, you shouldn’t pass it up.
Rating: 4 out of 5
This hunter is worth every dala of the fee.
What you should do with this DVD: Snatch it up and give it a favored position in your collection whenever you’re in the mood for some monsters, action, and enough blood to make Quentin Tarantino nod in approval.