VAMPIRE CLAY from writer/director Sôichi Umezawa is an oddly funny bit of Raimi-sploitation that adheres the ‘80s teen slasher plot points of revenge for wrong doing and one by one nasty kills. At a low rent art school in the Japanese countryside, a teacher and her students attempt to thrive in the shadow of the larger, more prestigious Tokyo school. With a focus on sculpture, the students practice their craft daily, engaging in a fair amount of school drama tropes (competition amongst the students, a desire to please their parents) all the while, dealing with an otherworldly force hellbent on sucking their blood.
For all the bonkers plot elements in the film, VAMPIRE CLAY is fairly lean, deftly balancing the melodrama with plenty of scares along the way. It never allows the drama to outshine the real star of the show which are the monster effects. The gooey and gory—and it would appear mostly practical—special effects makeup and puppetry. There is a definite Brian Yuzna influence on the the design of the titular Clay Vampire. Its tendrils slimy and green recalling the best Charles Band’s outings. VAMPIRE CLAY works as it seems to take itself so seriously—even when handling the teenage and relationship melodrama that drives the plot—that one can’t help but chuckle at the outrageousness of the kill scenes. The film also makes terrific and interesting use of the tools at the villains disposal—this being an art school—the same way a Hong Kong action star would utilize their surroundings.
As is the curse of a film that feeds off of its own craziness, that it loses a bit of steam in its third act. The film features three distinct moments that would make for satisfying conclusions, each one bigger than the next. VAMPIRE CLAY should make for an excellent midnight movie, and it’s appropriate that that’s when it will premiered in a late night slot at this year’s FANTASTIC FEST.