For more than two decades, Soichi Umezawa has helped bring ambitious cinematic creations to life with mesmerizing makeup effects. For the new horror movie Vampire Clay, Umezawa steps behind the camera to make his feature film directorial debut, and with the Japanese horror film out now on iTunes from Monument Releasing (following an April 20th theatrical release), we caught up with Umezawa for our latest Q&A feature to discuss the practical effects, horror influences, and sequel plans for his imaginative new movie.

Does the idea of Vampire Clay have its roots in Japanese urban legends? Similar to photographs being thought of as something that can steal the soul, did you feel that sculptures have the same power? What was the inspiration for this story?

Soichi Umezawa: A lot of Japanese people feel an eeriness/creepiness in Japanese dolls using the actual black hair of girls, and I feel the same. However, this film is not based on such psychic phenomena. Rather, I wanted to focus more to the original materials of the doll, i.e., the clay that moves. Also, I had an intention of creating a new Japanese horror character.

There are great horror characters such as Sadako and Kayoko born from the Japanese horror films, but they are all ghosts. I was influenced by Freddy Krueger and Chucky when I was young, so I wanted to create a new character who is somewhat cartoonish and charming.

This is a heavily practical effects-driven film. What was your biggest challenge in sticking with mainly practical over CG? Why was it so important to you that most of the film remained practical?

Soichi Umezawa: In the past several years, CG has become an important factor to create films, however, being a special effects makeup artist for a long time, I feel that it is a power that cannot compare with practical effects that are in front of the camera. But there is also the risk that those practical effects can be seen as very cheap depending on the budget and circumstances of the shooting.

In that means, it was very challenging for me and in fact, there are scenes that I wanted to create more high-quality practical effects. On another note, the practical effects are very attractive, as we can feel the stain and habit of such creations. One of the main reasons to use practical effects is that there are still many horror fans who can sympathize with and understand such feelings.

Vampire Clay looks to have been influenced by the work of Cronenberg, Fulci, and Larry Cohen. What movies would you say have the biggest influence on you as a filmmaker and for Vampire Clay? 

Soichi Umezawa: The most influenced film for me is John Carpenter's The Thing. The way the dog and humans transform to a shape that we cannot literally describe, it is an eternal bible for me. I also like Cronenberg and am influenced by the absurdity and inexplicableness of the cold atmosphere.

Can you talk about the on-set atmosphere working with these actors? Did they have fun being turned into and fighting these monstrous creations?

Soichi Umezawa: Most of the actresses in the film did not have experience in starring in a film, so I presume they had fun in front of various molded/sculpted objects and tricks.

I understand a sequel to Vampire Clay is in the works. What can you tell us about the story of the sequel?

Soichi Umezawa: I cannot reveal much, but it will start right after Kakame has been buried in the ground. You can look forward to seeing how Kakame will come back.