One subgenre of horror that may get overlooked by many horror fans is anime. However, as animation puts fewer constraints on the imagination, it is an excellent medium for more fantastical horror stories, and I decided to revisit one the genre’s most beloved classics for the 35th anniversary of its release: Vampire Hunter D.
The film is set roughly 10,000 years after modern civilization was destroyed in a nuclear war, and the world is full of monsters of all kinds that human towns and cities have to guard against. In one such town a young woman, Doris, is attacked by a vampire while out hunting monsters, and in the aftermath of the attack she hires a vampire hunter to eliminate the vampire before he can fully change her over. The vampire hunter is D, a half-human, half-vampire, who must contend not only with the vampire, Count Magnus Lee, but his minions, his daughter, and an unsavory upstart from the local town.
The stylized animation in Vampire Hunter D is certainly not as crisp and clear as some other anime, and it may not be to everyone’s taste, but there is no denying it sets the mood from the very start. As the opening castle shot cuts away to the sequence through the grass, there is instantly an impression of urgency and peril as your eyes struggle to focus on the quick changing environment. As the scene progresses and Doris appears, the framing is perfect, and the colors are vibrant and enchanting, establishing the visual tone that will be on full display through the rest of the film. Additionally, throughout the film there are the small, highlighted flashes that come up occasionally on eyes, weapons, jewels, etcetera. This is a simple device that is used to great effect to enhance critical moments or draw attention to an important narrative feature.
Vampire Hunter D does not shy away from being graphic with bullet wounds, impalements, and even a crushed head being fully displayed. However, what really steals the show are the variety of creatures that show up that would be difficult to portray in a normal horror film. These include a giant three-headed snake woman, an oversized golem, a strange flying creature, and a creature that shoots spiders out of holes in his back. These unique characters lend the film an impressive variety that allows for various violent encounters that takes this movie far beyond typical vampire fare, while still keeping a firm grip on the mythology that it crafts.
While the movie has a great narrative, it is the characters that really sell it. D’s quiet yet imposing demeanor is reminiscent of the man with no name, making him the perfect protagonist that is out to kill vampires. Doris is a strong woman who isn’t afraid to do what is necessary to achieve her goals but won’t sacrifice her sense of self or her own moral code, giving us a powerful female lead that, while also a victim, feels more empowered than most of the men in this film. The main antagonist, Count Magnus Lee, is everything you’d expect from a being 10,000 years old, meaning bored, seeking anything to break up the drag of life, and horribly self-important. This is a great big bad to have, as his demeanor clashes with allies and foes alike, creating an x-factor that can flip the script at any moment. While these are the principles, there are plenty of supporting characters such as Countess L'Armica Lee, Rei Ginsei, Greco Roman, and Dan Lang who add unique and important perspectives to the film, and it is impressive that all of these characters feel well established despite the film only having an 80-minute run time.
While the style may not be for everyone, there is no denying that Vampire Hunter D stands the test of time and remains an impressive entry to the anime horror genre. It has an engaging story, engrossing characters, and enough action and gore to keep bloodthirsty fans entertained. If you’re new to anime and want to see what it offers in horror, this is a good place to start. If you’re an anime fan but haven’t seen it, get off your butt and check it out, because it is a classic that will almost certainly please.
You can grab a Blu-ray copy today from Amazon.