Suspended Animation: Does It Hold Up?
By Desmond Reddick
08 October 2007 — Hello, it's been a while.
I labored over what to write about in my triumphant return to Reel Dread and couldn't come up with something. I even wondered: "Will Reel Dread hold up?" Meaning, will it still be as enjoyable to read, and indeed write, after such a long absence during which its younger, hipper cousin Dread Media was born? And then I had my idea.
You see, I very rarely partake in bootlegging. I'd prefer to support those who make art, but sometimes that's just not possible. Without the evil underground bootleg market I would have been unable to enjoy From Beyond (just recently released on DVD) and I would have been unable to be eye-raped by Roger Corman's Fantastic Four. This summer, I was able to partake in bootlegging that has brought me full circle.
When I was a wee lad reveling in the Halloween TV special phenomena that occurred sometime between 16 October and 05 November every year, I was privy to what I believe to be the only Canadian broadcast of a very rare animated film: 1980's Tomb of Dracula (Yami no teio kyuketsuki Dracula, if you're nasty). From what my slivered memory of childhood can attest to, it may have been the foot stomping that began the butterfly effect of my fanboy existence.
It took me 22 years to even discover the name of that film — and another year to purchase it. I have to admit, it is definitely the best thing I've found amidst bootlegged / forgotten 70s television series and superhero-themed porn.
You see, not only is it an animated Dracula film, it's an animated Dracula film based on the spectacular run of Marvel's Tomb of Dracula comic series by Marv Wolfman. Also known as Sovereign of the Damned, this animated feature awoke in me a desire for more vampires and blood. It set me on a path to find the next scariest thing on a constant basis. This lead to watching films I was too young to watch, and talking about things like Jason not being the killer in parts one and five of the Friday the 13th series in grade two show and tell.
But, the question remains: does it hold up? The answer: no, it doesn't. It's actually pretty awful by today's standards. Now I don't feel totally confident criticizing an anime, but I'll try and keep things pretty general.
The film deals with descendants of Abraham Van Helsing and of Dracula himself gathering together and trying to hunt down Dracula who has stolen a Satanic cult's virgin sacrifice to the dark lord and had a child with her. In turn, Satan kills Dracula's baby and resurrects him as an adult Weapon of God whose transformation into a golden hawk mirrors that of daddy's batsformation. Confused yet? Amongst all that, Dracula, who has been depowered and humanized, must now seek out the only other vampire he knows — an ex-girlfriend — to turn him, lest he have to face vampire hunters, Satan and a new vampire king — all as a mere mortal. There, now you're confused.
Convoluted plot aside, the animation is putrid. Although the backgrounds and cityscapes are quite good, the actual animation is Saturday Morning circa 1976 at its best. The lip synching is nonexistent, and there is even a "fa-shing!" sound effect when the light flashes off of the fangs.
The soundtrack is terrible pseudo-disco and the voice acting... oh the voice acting! Despite the cheesy, yet endearing narration by Stan Jones (Lex Luthor from the Super Friends) that was literally pulled right out of a 1970s comic book, it's entirely void of charm. But the film is not void of charm.
Although the plot is convoluted, it's certainly nothing you'd find in a children's TV movie in 2007. There was an assumption that children would be able to handle such things as Satan, bloodsucking and God committing infanticide in those days. Sigh, a more innocent time. There's even side boob in a seductive female vampire shower scene! They don't make 'em like they used to...
Toei Animation, the company behind the G.I. Joe: The Movie and Dragon Ball Z, put main men Akinori Nagaoka (who in 1995 directed an anime adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank) and Minoru Okazaki (who has no such honor on his résumé) behind the helm of this film that takes the style of the aforementioned animation ventures and twists them into something so corrupting that they have to be applauded. Plus, there are no instances of victimless gunfire or people standing in front of seizure-inducing backgrounds. And I'm sure if a plane were to explode in this movie, the pilot would not parachute to safety; the pilot would plummet to his painful death in a Mach 2 fireball.
Is it a good film? Hell no! Is it fun? Well, I think you know the answer to that. Check back in coming weeks for more dissections of films from my formative years to find out... does it hold up?