Review: Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl [Film] (2009)
Time for reviewing something a bit different. Move over Tolkien adaptations, hello Japanese splatter movie. Specifically, a certain 2009 movie called Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl.
I watched this one a few days ago with some acquaintances, never having seen it before, and not being familiar with the manga it is apparently based on. I had a fun time. The thing is gloriously outlandish and occasionally outrageous, even if you could never accuse it of being particularly deep, either in terms of theme or character. Vampire Girl vs. Frankensten Girl is the sort of splatter movie that wears its cheese on its blood-drenched kabuki sleeve.
If I were to summarise it in one sentence: ‘Early Peter Jackson does Twilight, only with a budget and CGI.’
But here’s the funny thing. Tempting as it is to see this as a Japanese version of Early Peter Jackson, I still feel the comparison is slightly off. I am just not entirely sure why it is off, which is probably a function of genre-familiarity, or lack thereof. My previous experience with splatter movies (and horror movies in general) leans more Western than Eastern. So I thought I’d write a blog post as part of a more general film review. Sometimes essays help you get your thoughts in order.
The setting is a Japanese High School, and our protagonist is a male student in the middle of a love-triangle. On one hand, he has the attention of the vice-principal’s daughter, a Gothic girl. On the other, he also finds himself getting offered chocolate by a new and mysterious transfer-student. It turns out that the chocolate contains blood, and partly transforms him into a vampire… because our transfer-student is a vampire with an interest in him. Alas, her motivations have an element of practicality to them, but initially she frames it as love.
Our Gothic girl then manages to get herself killed. But luckily for her, her Dad is actually a mad scientist as well as the vice-principal. He’s even got a secret lab in the school basement, where he abducts students in conjunction with the over-sexed school nurse. And because it is that sort of film, the vice-principal makes a point of wearing an outrageous kabuki costume while he’s experimenting on his prisoners. Because why not? What’s the point of being a mad scientist if you can’t prance around like a Witch-Doctor and hack people to bits?
With a dose of vampire-blood, the vice-principal is able to animate bits of corpses… which means he gets the opportunity to revive his daughter as a hacked-up undead abomination – something he gleefully declares to be every father’s dream. Enter Frankenstein Girl.
The rest of the movie is Frankenstein Girl and Vampire Girl battling it out for our protagonist… who has absolutely no say in the matter.
It’s an interesting one. As I noted, there are comparisons with Early Jackson – of course there are, it’s a splatter horror, a genre that delights in the over-the-top grotesque, while allowing full-rein to slaughter sacred cows with a chainsaw. The framing narrative also consciously evokes the sort of tacky High School Paranormal Romance one associates with Twilight.
But I think if I were summarising the differences between this movie and Jacksonian splatter, it would be that Jackson’s protagonists follow the classic storytelling pattern. They are confronted with an obstacle, struggle, and eventually overcome the obstacle. In the case of Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, the protagonist does not overcome obstacles. Rather, he is a spectator in his own story – he is simply the reason for two monsters to fight, and everything else is simply set-up to this grand event. The fun comes from watching the bizarre set-up, and then the blood-soaked pay-off.
(It also makes for a much more cynical movie. No matter how depraved the setting, Jackson’s protagonists still have agency – but there is no agency here, at least for our protagonist, who will lose no matter what the outcome. The film does not dwell on this, however, preferring to focus on the comedy of the situation, rather than the darkness. It’s all too absurd to cry over).
So there’s gore and black comedy, but Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl does not simply go to town on the splatter. It also has fun with the High School setting, and uses it to mock teenage subcultures. This is where the internet controversy over the Blackface element comes from – there is a student club in the film who take their “appreciation” of African culture a bit far, turning them into African weeaboos of the worst kind. Rather than racism, it’s really just Crossing the Line Twice, something so outrageously risque that it actually loops around and becomes more funny than offensive. For my money, it was actually more awkward to watch the scenes with the school’s Wrist Cutting Club.
(Why, yes. There is a Wrist Cutting Club, and even a Wrist Cutting Championship. Absurd black comedy, remember).
So yeah. Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl. A mad and thoroughly entertaining way to spend eighty or so minutes of your time. For myself, I actually preferred the set-up with the High School over the Final Battle, with the likes of the vice-principal, Igor the Janitor, the sexy nurse, and the chain-smoking Chinese teacher stealing the show. The protagonist – the straight man in a crazy world – was probably the least interesting character in the entire film, but as mentioned, this was not a story about him.