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The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974)

Starring: Peter Cushing, David Chiang, Julie Ege, Robin Stewart, Chan Shen, Szu Shih

Written By: Don Houghton Directed By: Roy Ward Baker

The Short Version

Hammer meets Hong Kong = kung fu fighting vampires!

The results are surprisingly good.

Just pretend that it has nothing to do with Dracula.

The horror elements are ghastly fun, and the fighting is very well done.

Both martial arts and classic horror fans should look in on The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CO-JACK.

The meeting of two great cheeses.  Sliced atop a cracker, served up as a snack.


Pairs Well With...

SCHLITZ.

Reasonably cheap brown bottle beer that tastes good anyway.

“It was the most fantastic display.  I’ve never seen anything like it.”


So, what does one get when the folks Hammer Studios decide to join forces with Hong Kong movie mogul Run Run Shaw?

Why, kung fu fighting vampires, of course!

And, coincidentally, the final stake in the heart of Hammer’s already-dead Dracula franchise, but I think it plays better if one chooses to just forget that particular affiliation.  Indeed, taken solely on its own unique merits, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is far better than any reasonable person could be asked to expect given an initial glance at the premise.  It’s quite good, actually.

With that said…

Here’s how Hammer starts the movie.  A title card informs the audience that they are looking in on Transylvania, circa 1804.  A very obviously Chinese gentleman named Kah (Chan Shen, Five Fingers of Death) shambles up a mountain pass – the Borgo Pass, surely – until he finally reaches his destination: Castle Dracula.  He makes his way inside, finds the inner crypt, and kowtows before the sarcophagus.  This, of course, serves as the cue for the lid to slide back and Dracula (John Forbes-Robertson, Lifeforce) to pop up and demand to know why he’s being disturbed.

Kah explains that he’s the priest of a strange temple in China that is home to The Seven Golden Vampires, with whose help he subjugates the local population.  But some peasant farmer has dared to kill one of the vampires, and the rest don’t want to play anymore.  Might Lord Dracula be willing to come to China to join the Golden Vampires?

Dracula, perhaps realizing that Transylvania has become a bit stuffy after a few centuries, makes a counter-offer that Kah can’t refuse: he attacks the man, kills him, and assumes his physical form.  Now Dracula will not just join the Golden Vampires; he will control them!

Um, yeah.  For my money, the movie’s much better if you just forget that stuff ever happened and instead pick up from the title card that places the action in China – specifically Chungking – circa 1904.

Here, the audience meets none other than the famed Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing, The Revenge of Frankenstein), who is recounting the legend of the Seven Golden Vampires in front of a group of Chinese academics, which conveniently provides an excuse for a flashback to the moment when a peasant farmer killed one of the vamps a hundred years before.  Van Helsing hopes that the gathered academics will help him find the village mentioned in the legend so that he might hunt down and destroying the remaining vampires, which he is convinced must be terrorizing locals even as he speaks.  Nearly everyone brushes him off, save for one man: Hsi Ching (David Chiang, Once Upon A Time In China II), who claims to not only know where the village is, but to be a resident himself.  Along with his kung fu fighting family, Hsi Ching beseeches Van Helsing for help in ridding his home of its cursed undead invaders.

Wouldn’t be much of a movie if he said “no” now, would it?  Of course not, so off they go…

Shocking as it may seem – I know I was shocked – provided that one ignores any mention of Dracula, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is a pretty decent flick.  Picking up with the Van Helsing lecture, the plot’s pretty interesting and even makes a kind of sense.  After all, what’s an ace vampire hunter to do once his arch nemesis is finally gone for good?  Retire?  Of course not!  He’d grab the son no one ever knew he had (Robin Stewart, Horror House) and look for more vampires!  And the notion of the Seven Golden Vampires raiding a certain village after every seventh full moon of the year, with the villagers’ only hope being a group of… hey, wait a minute!  Is anyone else catching a whiff of Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven here?  Of course you are, because that’s exactly what this story is: a vampire kung fu version of the classic cinema tale, made on a modest budget.

And it’s cool.  It’s cool because two titans of cheesy genre filmmaking are doing what they do best. 

On one side, we have Hammer, bringing its horror expertise to bear with cheesily gruesome style.  Okay, the bats are obviously props held up by string and the Golden Vampires wear horribly cheap wigs, but the Golden Vampires also have a gloriously ghastly look of decay about them as they ride around with their long swords and looking like mummified Ringwraiths.  When they fight, it looks ghoulish, and when they bite, it looks ghoulish.  They also have an army of undead zombie extras to call upon, complete with outstanding “corpses rising from the Earth” effects that are sure to delight any genre fan.  And when they head home to the pagoda, there are seven altars upon which maidens can be sacrificed, surrounding a constantly bubbling cauldron of doom.  It’s entertaining, it looks good, and it plays well.  Taking all of these horror elements as a package, this is some of the most fun stuff I can think of from Hammer’s bag of tricks.

I’ll pause here for a moment to note that, yet again, Hammer has decided to play fast and loose with “how to harm a vampire.”  It’s always been a question for me in Hammer vampire flicks why the vamps don’t just leave Europe and head to a land without all sorts of nasty crucifixes hanging around; in The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, Van Helsing informs his companions (and the audience) that anything holy will do the trick, including images of “Lord Buddha,” contact with which is indeed shown to cause a vampire to burst into flames.  (There is a massive field day to be had here.)  Viewers also learn that a particularly hard kung fu strike to a vampire’s chest has the same effect as a stake through the heart.  These aren’t complaints, mind; they’re just points of interest.  After all, Hammer fans should be quite used to this sort of thing, since the rules change in every single movie.

Meanwhile, coming from the other side, we have Run Run Shaw and his group, which played no small part in inventing the classic Hong Kong kung fu movie genre.  The fights and the fighters look great whenever they appear, and they’re filmed very well (no doubt under the watchful eye of the film’s uncredited second director, Cheh Chang).  Each of the Asian fighters on the heroes’ side has a different combat specialty – longswords, a bow, a mace, a spear, axes, and so on; all made of silver, of course – so it’s easy enough to tell everyone apart (and to appreciate the scale of the fights, which tend to be large affairs) and, most importantly, to never get bored with the action.  Indeed, special praise needs to go out to those responsible for the fight choreography here, because there are some unique challenges involved with The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires.   Sure, the choreographers can play in their comfort zones during the traditional Hong Kong martial arts melees when our heroes are facing brigands (who, of course, are also martial artists), but something radically different happens when the monsters come on the scene.  The monsters are not made into Eastern warriors; their style is more Western, with the Golden Vampires behaving like knights and the zombies like brawling footmen, with only a few that seem to retain some memory of actually being Chinese before they died.  This mix makes things all the more interesting, and when you toss in the Van Helsing gents using guns and improv in “Old West” style, you’ve got something truly special indeed.

So, despite its place in history as a franchise killer, when taken as “Professor Van Helsing meets The Magnificent Seven,” The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is really entertaining stuff.  Good stuff, even.  Okay, maybe it’s a little ridiculous when one thinks about it for a while, but that’s par for the course in these genres.  The characters play it straight, they do what they do, and the audience has fun in the process.  I call that a win.

Oh.  You just had to bring up Dracula, didn’t you?

It goes without saying that after Christopher Lee walked (or perhaps classily stormed) away from playing Dracula for Hammer after The Satanic Rites of Dracula, the studio was desperate to keep its franchise alive, and reached as far into left field as it could by latching on to the emerging kung fu craze for the premise of this film.  The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires was the proverbial “Hail Mary” pass, and, of course, it failed.  Hammer Dracula without Christopher Lee just isn’t Hammer Dracula… but this movie really doesn’t need him at all; indeed, it suffers for his presence.  Ultimately, there’s no compelling reason at all for Kah to be possessed by Dracula other than to capitalize on the name, and the only two scenes in the entire film that don’t play well are the opening mentioned above and the final few minutes (don’t tell me this is a spoiler) wherein Dracula reveals himself to Van Helsing for a last, very quick, and ultimately unsatisfying confrontation.  Remove those two scenes, and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires becomes substantially better.  Having them attached to this otherwise fun flick as bookends just weighs the movie down with unnecessary baggage…

…and turns the character of Van Helsing himself into nonsense.  Think about it.  If Dracula took over the body of Kah a hundred years before and has been in China under that guise ever since, how did Van Helsing ever fight Dracula in Europe?

On second thought, don’t ask.  Just do what I’ve chosen to do and just pretend the first scene and the last never happened.

Bottom line, death knell for a franchise though it may have been, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is a much better film than its reputation – or common sense – would initially suggest, so long as one forgets about Dracula.  The horror elements are cheesy fun, the martial arts are genuinely good, and the overall story is just plain entertaining.  Whether you’re a classic horror fan or a martial arts fan, this is an oddball movie that’s definitely worth checking out.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, March, 2014


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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