VAMPIRE HUNTER D:
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E.C. McMullen Jr.
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JOSEPH CROSS, BRIANA EVIGAN,
Special Effects Make-Up
A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
On a full moonlit night, four black horses with glowing red eyes pound through a graveyard staked with hundreds of crosses, pulling a carriage which bears a lone driver cloaked in shadows. Entering a town, its passenger affects everything he roars past: fountain water turns to ice, flowers wilt and die, a mirror cracks. And a young woman is taken from her bed, her home, and her family.
This is a scene that invokes classic Hammer horror, but more rapid, more assured. It's a moment that would easily fall into cliché.
Except that this is VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST, and not only does it surpass the original 1985 film in terms of quality and content, but it's one of the best animated adventure films (for mature audiences), and the best vampire film I've seen in the past decade.In Earth's distant future, vampires once ruled as aristocracy, but are now facing extinction at the hands of bounty hunters acting on behalf of humanity, as well as monetary profit. In the ruins of a desert village, a family hires D (Andrew Philpot, TENCHI: THE MOVIE), a vampire hunter, to find Charlotte (Wendee Lee, DIGIMON: THE MOVIE), who was abducted by a vampire. The father begs D to return his daughter to him alive - or dead in the event that she has been turned.
Unfortunately, because D is a dhampire (or dunpeal as it's written in the opening narration), the offspring of a vampire and a human being, he is not entirely trusted by the humans. During his "employment interview," dozens of townsfolk have rifles trained on him.
D also learns that he has competition. His employers previously hired a gang of hunters possessing superhuman abilities who hunt their quarry in an armored truck covered in crucifixes. Led by Bargoff (Matt McKenzie: SPAWN [TV]), a lightning quick archer, this punk rock-dressed team includes: feisty, impetuous Leila (Pamela Segall: SPAWN [TV]), blade wielding Kyle (Alex Fernandez: SPAWN [TV]), strongman Nolt (John DiMaggio), and the mysterious, unwell Grove (Jack Fletcher: AEON FLUX, SPAWN [TV]). The new VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST should make John Carpenter's VAMPIRES envious.
Of course D crosses paths with Bargoff's crew throughout the story, specifically with Leila, who becomes intrigued with the dhampire's more human characteristics and learns to question her own prejudicial beliefs.
Their mutual prey is Meier Link (John Rafter Lee: AEON FLUX, SPAWN [TV]), a vampire who spends more time fleeing his pursuers than combating them, and safeguarding his precious cargo. By day he is protected by the Barberoy, a clan of super-powered mutants who have sworn allegiance to the vampire. His destination is the castle of the vampire queen Carmila (Julia Fletcher, possibly named for Sheridan Le Fanu's creation?), whose spirit wanders its halls offering asylum to the children of the night.
And with all of these adversaries to deal with, D must also contend with his dual nature as a dhampire, which he's always being reminded of by the Symbiot (Mike McShane) - a separate entity within D who appears as a face on his left hand - and the bigotry of the humans around him.
This new VAMPIRE HUNTER D film with art direction and designs courtesy of Yutaka Minowa (NINJA SCROLL), Ken Koike, Yasushi Nirasawa, and Yuji Ikehata (AKIRA) expands upon the world first glimpsed in its predecessor, creating a much broader scope in landscape. Striking Gothic architecture stands out, as does the numerous settings including deserts, forests, industrial ruins, water-filled gardens, cobble-stone street villages, castles, and Old West frontier towns (reminiscent of the locales of Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy). Watching D ride his horse down a collapsed highway exit ramp onto a desert floor, then past the remnants of the antenna dishes of the Very Large Array in Socorro, New Mexico, provides a post-apocalyptic future vision that one can recognize.
D is interpreted in a fashion closer to Yoshitaka Amano's (GATCHAMAN, the graphic novel Sandman: The Dream Hunters, and the video game character designs for FINAL FANTASY) original ethereal design of the character than the first film, cloaking him entirely in black and making the face of the Symbiot into a more ghoulish countenance. The look of the vampires range from grotesque undead things to beautiful and androgynous creatures like Meier and Carmila, marking a contrast that's ignored by the hunters in their obsession to destroy them all.
Written and directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (NINJA SCROLL, BIOHUNTER, WICKED CITY, THE ANIMATRIX: Program), and based on the third Kyuuketsuki Hantaa "D" novel, Yousatsukou ("Demon Deathchase"), in the series by Hideyuki Kikuchi, this is a cross genre fans delight.
It's all in here: horror, fantasy, science fiction, western, and even a touch of romance. The script is a great blend of action and humor that touches on themes of prejudice and honor.
The diverse cast of characters each display personality quirks and evolve as the story progresses. The vampire hunter gang in particular gives us a father figure in Bargoff, a lovesick Grove, and a sibling rivalry between Kyle and Leila. The Symbiots one-liners turn this bizarre, unexplained creature into a scene stealer.
D isn't as preachy here as he was in the original film and is truly a man who can be judged by his actions. His feelings towards Leila, although obvious, don't consume him like they did with Doris. But over the years, he too has become prejudicial and must face this truth within himself.
Unlike most translated Japanese animation, this English language version - written by Ellen Moore, and adapted and directed by Jack Fletcher - works on every level. The voice actors are appropriately cast, and the script, which could have fallen into bleak soliloquies by its characters, is full of humorous moments that creates a polarity against the horrors the protagonists are facing.
VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST gets my highest recommendation. This is a must-see.
Five Shriek Girls