VAMPIRE CLAY is, pardon me, ABSOLUTE CLAY-HEM!
At the top of Soichi Umezawa's debut feature film Vampire Clay, I was mistaken. While the J-Horror boom of the late 90's early 00's helped expose young Jacob's mind to some of the most twisted, frightening images to ever hit a 12 year old staring at Fangoria in a Barnes and Nobles, I've been woefully detached from the stream of films coming out of Japan. Since I've begun to write about horror, my knowledge of the regions recent cinematic offering have burgeoned but I am by no means a scholar on the subject. Maybe this gives me a more objective view of Vampire Clay, maybe it won't. Who I am to know after telling you that i categorically don't know.
But the opening beats of this film pulled the wool over my eyes, to a degree. The slow, tension building action of the first act of Vampire Clay made me giddy for a return to the deeply brooding horror of twenty years ago, a far cry from the spectacle that was Sadako Vs Kayako (don't get me wrong it's FUN but not spooky) and Sadako 3D (what? I love The Ring!). But as the reveal of the monster drew closer, the levels of insanity were ratcheted through the roof and I was treated to the wildest use of clay this side of 1993 when the Super Nintendo released ClayFighter.
The plot is pretty straightforward: young girl comes to rural art school, starts sculpting from clay that she randomly found outside (natch!), and then mysteriously her classmates begin disappearing only to reappear later as impervious clay versions of themselves. Turns out this titular vampire clay is made from the ashes and blood of a tortured artist who was accidentally murdered. As the clay-men and women begin stalking to the other students, we get body horror on the level of Osakan-born Screaming Mad George's work on Society. How any of this logic actually works is up to the viewer, but it's brisk enough that it doesn't leave us feeling bored, which if you are a fan of Joe Bob Briggs you know is the one and only cardinal sin of a horror film. And in that way of thinking, Vampire Clay works beautifully. The monsters are effective and damn creepy, giving an almost childlike sensibility to how it completely devours and possesses its hosts. I'm not one to feel queasy while watching horror, but if you are, you may not want to put this one on before supper. It might just be clay, but the texture, consistency, and inherent gooeyness of the monsters will have your stomach doing somersaults.
But what I found to be the most striking experiment in Vampire Clay was the hopscotch nature of the tone. While the film feels like Japan's long overdue answer to Frank Hennenlotters oeuvre, filled with disgusting hilarity, it also strikes some heavy handed, but emotional honest moments. While yes, the film is about evil clay, it also has a somber streak through it, rooting through the complex feelings of artists later in life asking themselves "What do I have to say for my life's work?"
This film isn't for everyone, CLEARLY, but if you find yourself with a group of friends jacked up on soda and pizza and want a film that will have you hootin', hollerin', and wretchin' then Soichi Umezawa's VAMPIRE CLAY is for you.