Review: Vampire Hunter D

by Amy Harlib

vampiredThis review originally appeared on

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (Urban Vision Entertainment 2000). Written and Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Based on a novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi (Asahi Sonorama). Music by Marco d’Ambrosio. Running time: 111 minutes. Rated R.

Inspired by the fluidity and the visual intricacy of the magisterial Hayao Miyazaki, , a Japanese anime feature (for adults as one might guess from the title) recently released in limited distribution in the USA and shown at the 2002 Big Apple Anime Festival, comes very close to the master in the high quality of its production values. Directed and written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, based on the popular novel written by Hideyuki Kikuchi, the film depicts a far-future setting in which beleaguered humans live a ‘retro’ existence in scattered settlements (possibly located somewhere in Europe), with remnants of technology.

Against a dwindling but still powerful race of vampires, mortals fight for survival with the help of a dubious champion, the protagonist, known simply as ‘D’. The son of a vampire father and a human mother – a combination called a dunpeal in the movie’s terminology – ‘D’, speaking in the rich, intentionally unemotional baritone voice of Andrew Philpot and dramatically-dressed in somber garb (a flowing black cape and broad-brimmed hat), rides a fierce-looking ebony stallion. An archetypal outcast, loner type (reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s ‘Spaghetti Westerns’), ‘D’ struggles to balance his humanist attitudes with the bloodlust equally a part of his nature, this being embodied imaginatively (literally) in his left hand in the form of a garrulous, sentient demon face (Mike McShane), a creature that never lets our anti-hero forget his undead connections.

Elbourne, a wealthy rancher, hires the protagonist to rescue his only daughter Charlotte (Wendee Lee), a seemingly-innocent ingenue abducted by the vampire Meier Link (John Rafter Lee), who affects the hairstyle and clothing of an 18th-century French ancien regime aristocrat. Charlotte’s father, insuring against failure, also employs a rival team of mercenaries, the Markus brothers Borgoff (Matt McKenzie) and Nolt (John Dimaggio), who work with the athletic, tough gal Leila (Pamela Segall), who hunts vampires to avenge the murder of her parents. The Markus siblings’ crew also includes a powerful warrior of African origin and a mysterious, sickly youth who fights with his glowing astral body. Their colourful outfits resemble those of comic book superheroes.

The competing bounty hunters become the hunted in thrilling, supernaturally-tinged battles of tech vs. vampire magic and the undead’s scary, allied entities until only ‘D’ and Leila survive to form an interesting and empathetic relationship. Together, they face the inevitable showdown with Meier; Charlotte (who was a rather willing captive all along); and Carmila (Julie Fletcher), ruler of the vampires. The climax occurs within Carmila’s stronghold, the Castle of Chaythe, a vast, gothic, Ghormengast-like structure where fascinating revelations make the antagonists refreshingly-dimensional and believably-motivated, while the plot concludes with some interesting SFnal elements and twists.

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, with intricately detailed settings rich in atmosphere, beautifully contrasts the brooding threats of night with the sunlit or rainy scenarios of day. This, plus sophisticated designs for intriguing characters, helps the movie manage to make its blend of gothic, Western and SF elements work effectively. Distinguished by a lovely, dramatic score perfectly complementing the gorgeous visuals that dazzle despite some graphic violence, this exciting, spine-tingling dark fantasy and SF anime feature must not be missed by mature fans of horror, animation, or anyone looking for guaranteed chills and thrills.