VAMPIRE HUNTER D IS A BULLY AND I HATE HIMToday, I finally review something that's been on my list almost since I started Bogleech.com, but wasn't even possible when I began the site in the days of dial-up connections and realplayer video files. For the past couple of years, I've only been putting this off in the hope that an even crisper, clearer copy might surface somewhere online, but it's uncertain if such a thing even exists...and good enough is good enough.
Anyway, if you were around for the late 80's and early 90's, it's entirely possible that Vampire Hunter D was actually one of the first anime you were ever made aware of, still referred to at the time as "Japanimation" by late-night advertisements and comic book stores.
A pre-Adult-Swim Cartoon Network even aired this one at one point, late at night with surprisingly minimal edits, while Sci-fi Channel whipped it out seemingly every other weekend alongside Robot Carnival and Akira.
Released in 1985 and adapted from a series of novels, the original movie could have very well been the inspiration behind 1986's Castlevania, which similarly pitted a vampire hunter against not only a vampire count, but his entire court of monstrous minions and the even weirder creepy crawlers infesting his enormous castle...which is, of course, going to be our main focus here, but I'll go the extra mile and try to include every creature design in the film, with or without a connection to the Dracula family.
The first such creature is the focus of our opening scenes, when the female lead, Doris, is out hunting some sort of incredibly scary dinosaur in the middle of the night. It's only an herbivore, but it seems to have venomous spit and even managed to kill her horse with most of its brain blasted out.
This is our introduction to the setting; not ancient Transylvania or some expy thereof, but a distant future Earth ravaged by both magic and mutation.
Not everything in the toxic wasteland is menacing, though; just look at these precious little climbing amphibians! Their bony frames and red eyes are just a tad ghoulish, but they never do anything to indicate they could hurt anyone, creeping cautiously about a massive tangle roots and vines encircling the ruins of the old world.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention D's secret weapon and snarky sidekick, a face in his hand that's only ever explained as a "symbiote" and can eat basically anything, even inhaling its surroundings like a powerful vacuum, just in case you still thought anything in Inuyasha wasn't ripped off from something else.
Later, for just a moment, we also glimpse some sort of jellyfish-like aerial organism, which unfortunately only exists to demonstrate the deadly disintegration field protecting the heroine's family home. It was always moments like these that tantalized me as a kid; I wanted to know what these things were, even if they were nothing more than momentary window dressing.
For a while, we don't see a whole lot more in the way of creature design, until D infiltrates the vampire's castle....
...Through a tunnel teeming with abnormal life. This won't be the last of our monsters, but this scene is the reason I wanted to do this review. It absolutely enthralled me as a kid, to the point of recording the movie on a VHS tape and re-playing this sequence again and again, trying my best to make out individual designs on an extremely oversaturated television screen. The blobs and worms here are only a small taste of what's to come.
In this next shot, we see an incredibly disturbing two-headed figure staked to the wall, its lower head even more unsettling to me for its blank, serene expression. On that oversaturated television screen, I thought this figure was fused to the other humanoid here, the squat ghoul drooling blood, but now I can see that they're separate beings.
Much more interesting to me are the various oddballs floating around this shot. We've got a gelatinous, green glob that almost evokes some adorable little ghost-face, a flying worm we'll see more clearly in a moment, and another gelatinous organism with an especially strange anatomy; a single Rat-Fink eyeball hanging under a jellyfish-like hood perpendicular to a clump of tentacles.
That "worm" is especially interesting for its animation, its mouth repeatedly flaring open and swallowing air, swelling like a balloon down its length as it travels.
It's that simple, green glob though that captivates me the most. It's obvious how the worm and the "jellyfish" might engage their prey, but what is the green glob? Are those actually "facial features" are just three nuclei?
We're next treated to a glimpse of various other monsters chained and nailed to the wall, and an incredibly frightening cybernetic mutant with exposed brains, multiple eyes in one socket, and a goofy-looking vestigial face on its shoulder. All on its own, this design clearly has a pretty amazing story to tell. Every alien drunk in the Star Wars Cantina got a short story of their own, but nobody wants to write up THIS thing's history??
Next, a shot that really stood out in my memory, despite the fact that my old television turned most of these creatures into pitch black blots. All I could originally see were the various paler eyes, guts, and especially that massive pinkish lamprey-mouth. Now I can see that this sucker-faced monster has a fat, globular body, two whiplike antennae, and adorably diminutive arms.
Clearer footage also reveals that what I took to be a tentacled, conical creature in the lower middle is actually a gaping wound in the bell of another creature, with an almost catfish-like face. Actually, all three foreground monsters have sucker-like lips lined with the same tiny teeth, so I'm just going to declare them The Sucker Brothers.
...Wait, no, let's say it right. The Sucka Bruddaz. The Sucka Bruddaz Three, roughest-toughest boys in the dungeon! Watch out, Sucka Bruddaz! That nasty ol' D is coming! You gotta...you uh...suck......suck that ol..........D?....
Let's forget I lead us to this.
SO, at this point, the audience might be anticipating some epic, gruesome battle between D and a writhing horde of tentacle beasts, but...no. Instead, D simply whips out some cheapass little magical orb - something never explained and never seen again - which apparently conjures a whirling gust of wind to blast through the tunnel. I don't even know why this scene didn't simply use the symbiote to do basically the same thing.
Even the most formidable mutants collapse like wet sandcastles to a mere breeze, which really only succeeds at making them all the more sympathetic. None of these things asked to be whatever the heck they were, did they? We didn't even see if they actually posed much of a danger to our so-called hero at all.
If there's any silver lining here, it's that we get a little more insight into how the eyeball jellyfish is put together.
D coolly marches on through the panic he's sewn as the innocent monstrosities keel over and die all around him.
Neato foreground thing, though, with an embryonic looking head and a visible, luminous green skeleton! Does that blueish thing in the background have a head for a crotch, too? That's almost as creepy as its toothless, vertical lips...and the monster to the far left is even more Freudian.
With D moving out of the way, we can also see what's clinging to the wall behind him; a fat, greenish newt with an anteater trunk and multiple faces on its back.
Another quick shot has this amazingly gruesome head drop past the camera, with nothing but spidery legs and tendrils where a body should be. It's impossible to even parse what's going on with its facial features, and we'll never know whether it always looked this way or it's simply in the process of falling apart.
Adding insult to many, many injuries, D is certain to step on and squish a frightened little worm as some sort of dumpy blob looks on in helpless shock.
While not nearly as interesting, the "phantom beast" that attacks D moments after this scene is nicely animated.
When he enters into an open courtyard, D is accosted by this giggling, long-faced humanoid who flies through the air with squirrel-like gliding membranes.
I didn't think this guy was that cool or interesting as a kid, but I can appreciate his strangeness a lot more now; especially that freaky face of his. D actually does not succeed at killing this guy before he escapes.
Another humanoid gives off a Frankenstein's Monster vibe, but he's at least four or five stories tall, and hurls boulder-sized, flaming bombs. D doesn't kill this guy, either.
It's not long, actually, before D finally finds himself in a real pickle, walking in on three creepy sirens who speak together...
...And morph back and forth between human and snake form, keeping only their long, creepy hair.
In fact, the three snake women - or perhaps a single, three-headed monster? - occupy a cave comprised entirely of just their ambulatory hair. They've got hundreds of times more hair than they seem to have anything else, though we never do find out how far their bodies (body?) actually go.
The sisters...heads...whatever they may be have a pretty great time draining D's lifeforce, or whatever it is they so, but the party is cut tragically short as D flips out into vampire mode, because oh yeah, he's half-vampire himself. Of course he is.
When D finally escapes back out the castle with the Damsel In Distress, he takes the same route back through the mutant-tunnel, and they actually bother to throw some new background weirdos at us. Enjoy the pterosaur-headed guy with a tumor for legs, a hairy snake with ears, a yellow slug, and a bunch of completely unidentifiable organic shapes, which as you know are among the best kind of organic shapes.
Another of those sucker-mouthed beings also seems to be conjoined with some kind of bug-eyed hutt. It's either leaking pink slime from a series of holes, or that's a pink slime creature with a bunch of pseudopods extended.
Interestingly, the monster corpses we saw earlier now unleash a swarm of ghosts, which is easily the most badass security system I've ever seen or heard of, or would be if they even succeeded as slowing D down to any degree.
So, the last thing D encounters on his way out of the castle is a design that really stuck out to me; this hunch-backed ghoul actually attacks by releasing spiders from the many holes in his back, possibly drawing inspiration from the surinam frog and combining Arachnophobia with that newfangled Trypophobia in the most delicious way.
Arachnaback, because I can't think of a better name and I don't think anybody else ever even tried to give him one, is actually first seen breaking into the lead girl's house with the glider-man and the bomb giant, actually the monsters who kidnap her to the castle in the first place, but I thought I'd feature them in the order D himself battles them.
...And by "battle," I mean "casually slice in half without skipping a beat."
You know what, D? You suck, and not just as a vampire pun.
Leaving the castle behind, we don't see another mutant critter until this Mongolian death-worm looking thing...
...Which is promptly caught and digested in a flash by a living, reddish mist, which almost consumes D before he's awoken by his hand-buddy. Not counting the vampire boss, this gas cloud is the very last monster in the entire film.
And DESPITE BEING a CLOUD OF GAS, D dispatches this one with another swing of his sword. This would have made even more sense to at least defeat with the air-sucking mutant hand, but no, D even has to be an overpowered, cocky asshole in the face of physical law by cutting a cloud to death.
A cloud nobody but me was apparently willing to mourn, like every beautiful life senselessly cut short over the course of this cruel bloodbath.