Vampire Clay Fantastic Fest Review: This Is One Bonkers Japanese Body Horror Flick
Starring Ena Fujita, Asuka Kurosawa, Yuyu Makihara, Ryo Shinoda
Directed by Soichi Umezawa
The debut feature of Soichi Umezawa, who created the “Y is for Youth” segment of The ABCs of Death 2, Vampire Clay is a body horror film that utilizes delightful practical FX, wonderful textures, and copious amounts of dark humor. The story follows a group of students in a small, countryside art school when one of them uses modeling clay that was recently dug out of a strange, makeshift grave. Turns out this modeling clay is possessed and is hellbent on absorbing as many people as possible.
So yes, horror fans, this movie is about evil clay. I bet you never, not in a million years, could see something like that coming.
Alright, let’s talk about the good, shall we? As mentioned previously, the film makes fantastic use of texture, lingering not only on freshly molded clay and the subtle imperfections on its surface but also on overgrown foliage, rusted sheets of metal, splintered wooden beams, and other more “fleshy” offerings. It’s also darkly humorous, utilizing visual gags and over-the-top horror sequences.
But the best aspect of the film is, without a doubt, the bevy of practical FX, many of which are nightmarishly gruesome and the very stuff of nightmares. Those of you who are into Cronenbergian body horror will undoubtedly find much to love here. As the clay infects those it comes into contact with, their flesh begins to transform as though it itself is the same substance, their flesh becoming malleable and pliant, bending and contorting in ways that no human should. For those of you who enjoy the works of Junji Ito, you’ll find a lot to love here.
Vampire Clay‘s major issue is that it suffers from horrible pacing. Although the film has a runtime of a very lean 80 minutes, it feels nearly twice that long, thanks to an action-packed horror sequence in the middle that feels like the audience is witnessing the climactic third act. Furthermore, all exposition is dumped upon the viewers in a 15-20 minute segment that feels like everything is being presented on a silver platter with no nuance or thought on how it could have been integrated into the story in other, more natural ways.
Additionally, the rules of the evil clay don’t seem to apply fairly to everyone. While it can touch one person and immediately infect them, it fails to have the same effect on another, resulting in confusing circumstances where we don’t know what will happen. While this paranoia works well in films like The Thing, which Vampire Clay no doubt takes influence from, it fails to have the same effect here.
The film makes small commentary on various social issues, such as the differences between city and country educational opportunities as well as the difference between the students, their teacher and how they seek to better themselves. While these themes aren’t explored deeply, there is no doubt that they play an important role in the film, ultimately culminating in the realization that each has their benefits, their negatives, and that neither is safe when shit hits the fan.
While its issues are glaring, I can’t deny that Vampire Clay is quite beautiful and unfailingly entertaining. I have a feeling it will be a smash hit with midnight audiences.
One last thing to note: not only is this Umezawa’s debut feature but many of the stars are making their debut here as well. For being a first-time effort for so many, the final product is astonishingly good. Vampire Clay isn’t perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it is one of the most gleefully absurd and visually engaging films I’ve seen this year!