Vampire Clay 血を吸う粘土 Dir: Soichi Umezawa (2017)

Vampire Clay   Vampire Clay Film Poster

血を吸う粘土Chi wo su nendo

Running Time: 81 mins.

Release Date: August 19th, 2017

Director:  Soichi Umezawa

Writer: Soichi Umezawa (Screenplay),

Starring: Asuka Kurosawa, Kanji Tsuda, Ena Fujita, Ryo Shinoda, Kyoka Takeda, Yuyu Makihara, Momoka Sugimoto,

Website IMDB

Vampire Clay is the feature-length film debut of writer/director Soichi Umezawa, a man who has had a long career as a special effects and make-up artist on many doramas and films like those of the Tomie franchise, low-budget sci-fi action flick like Alien vs Ninja, the chilling ghost story Dead Waves and the rather excellent Kiyoshi Kurosawa film Bright Future. That one’s not a horror but it features jellyfish which some may find horrific if stung by one. Vampire Clay is more in line with Umezawa’s horror films and the special effects are pretty good in a goofy way – gooey and creepy dolls made from clay that stalk a rural art school and bump off students one by one a la John Carpenter’s The Thing

The story starts with Tokyo refugee Yuri Aina (Asuka Kurosawa). She has fled the metropolis and set up an art school in the country after suffering heartbreak and she has five students including Kaori Hidaka (Kyoko Takeda), the school’s star artist having studied in Tokyo, and her best friend Aiko Mochzuki (Momoka Sugimoto), who is hoping to head to the big city with Kaori as they attempt gain entry into an art university. Rivalry runs rife however with Reiko Tani (Ena Fujita) being super competitive and jealous of Kaori but they find that painting pictures and sculpting self-portraits is the least of their worries as they start disappearing one by one and it seems to be connected to the clay statues that they have made… Could there be something in the clay itself? 

The answer is yes and the film doesn’t waste time when it comes to dispatching the characters in all ways that clay can get a person. Kills start off small (as in, animals are the first to go) but as the monster increases in size the kills get bigger. Imaginative body horror is exploited for gory effect as limbs get chomped on and turn into different substances that trap the characters who morph into horrendous things. There are rubbery physical effects and lots of geysers of blood as flesh and clay become one and as this happen icky, gloopy deaths with lots of screaming and squelching fill the soundtrack and it is deliberately lo-fi so there is an air of goofiness to the proceedings. Despite the laughs audiences will surely have sympathy for what the characters go through because the camera lingers on things! 

The cast are mostly young newbies. Ena Fujita, Kyoka Takeda, Yuyu Makihara and Momoka Sugimoto are young ladies who were recruited from the 2017 run of the Miss iD competition (Miss iD searches for girls who would be unconventional idols in some way and not the traditional fit). They handle themselves well with plenty of screaming and hyperventilating when the horror starts. Ena Fujita captures the coldness of Reiko and you will be thrown as to who will be the final girl.

They are held down by the really experienced actors. Asuka Kurosawa has worked with Shinya Tsukamoto for whom she gave a powerful lead performance in A Snake of June and she has also worked with Sion Sono on Cold Fish as a truly memorable sexy psycho who bewitches the main character. She plays the teacher Yuri as a woman balancing on a tightrope between emotional crisis and care for her students. She comes to life when she shows flashes of darkness that bring some emotional depth to the film and we empathise with her situation. Kanji Tsuda is an actor with a huge range and he has has worked with great directors like SABU, Ryuichi Hiroki, Takeshi Kitano, Shunji Iwai, Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Tokyo Sonata) and others but he also has a healthy helping of horror titles such as Shibuya Kaidan and Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl as well as a number of unspeakably gory Sushi Typhoon films. He fits in well here with enough pained soul-searching and gurning to get his conflicted character across to help the film bridge a narrative gap between the silliness and serious backstory.

This film has travelled to various festivals in the west and is quite easily available. It could be seen as a fun re-imagining of John Carpenter’s The Thing because it has a body-hopping horror morphing into grotesque things and an 80s score with some synthesizers but it is a lot more fun with deliberately sillier models and special effects.

The trailer I found is a compilation one and the third film featured is Vampire Clay.


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