TIFF 2017: Vampire Clay Review

Midnight Madness

Anyone who dearly laments the loss of the latex rubber reality visuals of 80s horror movies need to get themselves to Vampire Clay post haste. Directed by makeup artist Soîchi Umezawa, the flick is a delightfully low-fi and high-concept affair filled with lovingly crafted puppets and animatronics serving up the goofy scares. It’s a movie with a couple ideas in its head, but mostly just an excuse to giggle and scream at some big dumb horror.

The plot is simple. It’s about a class of particularly competitive students training to get into overpopulated but promising colleges. Unfortunately when their teacher scrapes some clay out of a nearby mountain for sculpting classes, she chooses the wrooong clay. It’s haunted clay that tends to attack, eat, and absorb students. At least, when it isn’t transforming into a giant, evil, flesh eating sculpture. So yeah, there are obvious metaphors there for competitive students clawing, eating, and absorbing each other to survive. All pretty on the nose stuff too. Nothing subtle, but hey this is a big dumb horror movie, right?

Umezawa is pretty unapologetic about how goofily his monster clay romp plays. Flying by at a trim 81 minutes, there’s little time for depth or characterization. So everyone plays a mild parody of an art student or horror movie stereotype, two things the filmmaker clearly knows well. The good news is that the big silly monster scenes deliver. Effects are impressive, while feeling charmingly hand made. These get grisly, ghastly, and surreal, but always in a playfully obscene way. Vampire Clay was clearly designed as an homage to cheapo VHS horror romps where the primary selling was giggles and goofy effects. Umezawa has plenty of those. He’s clearly a fan who knows what he’s doing and anyone who misses the silly and even innocent sleaze of 80s horror should certainly sneak a peak at this enjoyable little oddity.