Young schoolmistress Akiko (Fujita) shares a small lakeside cottage with her sister Natsuko (Sanae). As Natsuko makes a play for her sister's boyfriend (Takahashi), a doctor who has recently found himself treating an unusually large number of female patients drained of blood, Akiko begins to become increasingly anaemic and withdrawn. The doctor realises that the key to these strange goings on lies within the childhood memories of his sweetheart, in which she wanders into a derelict mansion whilst searching for a missing pet dog. There she is confronted by a golden eyed, bloody fanged man (Kishida, one of the three masters of death in Kenji Misumi's chanbara favourite, Baby Cart at the River Styx / Kozure Okami: Sanzu No Kawa No Ubaguruma) standing over a bloodless female corpse.
According to legend vampires cast no reflection, so it is perhaps not so surprising that this attempt from Toho Studios to mirror a strain of cinema so grounded in European folklore should lack any real bite. A gothic horror firmly in the tradition established by the Dracula films of the British Hammer studios (it even reprises the finale of Terence Fisher's 1958 version with the vampire crumbling to dust with a stake through the heart), Lake of Dracula merely relocates the mythos to the other side of the world within a standard B-movie template which is no better or worse than other films of its type around at the time - for example, the Spanish Paul Naschy vehicle Dracula's Great Love (El Gran Amor del Conde Dracula, 1972), Hammer's quaint attempt at a contemporary update of the character in Dracula AD 1972, or the sexy vampire films of Frenchman Jean Rollin.
Lake of Dracula boasts a few impressive sequences, most notably Akiko's childhood discovery of the vampire's mansion, stunningly shot against a blood red sunset. Generally it looks colourful and certain shots are beautifully composed, though as a horror film in its own right it peaks far too soon and runs out of steam barely half way through.
Moreover, its attempts at retaining the iconography of the European gothic just don't ring true - derelict mansions and candelabras in 70s Japan??? Aside from our cute, mini-skirted, Barbie doll-like heroines, there is nothing endemically Oriental in this film, and the conviction of the inherent psycho-sexual component which underpins this type of horror lies smothered by the superficialities of a script that is 50% amateur Freudianism and 50% genre contrivance. Just compare this with Stephanie Rothman's attempt at relocating the fundamental mythos to California in 1971's The Velvet Vampire, for example, or Kathryn Bigelow's sublime reconception of vampirism in 1987's Near Dark.
Yamamoto had three stabs at transplanting Western-styled horrors eastwards - The Night of the Vampire (Chi O Suu Ningyo, 1970), Lake of Dracula and Evil of Dracula (Chi o Suu Bara, 1975), which upped the nudity quotient by setting the action in a girls' school in a move seemingly influenced by Hammer's Lust for a Vampire. The second two of the trilogy were dubbed and released on the US late-night circuit and subsequently found their way onto video, and it is the appalling dubbing which accompanies the English language versions that enhances the feeling of cultural discordance. Such factors as Japula's cod-Hungarian accent are undeniably amusing, though purists will no doubt be pleased to hear that the recent DVD release in the UK from Artsmagic Ltd on their Warrior label not only preserves the original Japanese language, but also the original wide-screen presentation.
Perhaps this will be enough to elevate the film above the status of a cheesy 70s cross-cultural oddity whose sundry Eastern trimmings might just be enough to satisfy the truly curious. Needless to say, if vampires are your thing, there's not much else like this out there.