Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Roy Ward Baker and Chang Cheh, 1974
Starring: Peter Cushing, John Forbes-Robertson, David Chiang, Robin Stewart, Julie Ege

The Hight Priest of the Seven Golden Vampires, Kah, tracks down Dracula’s castle in Transylvania and asks the Count to go to China to help restore the glory of the once renowned Golden Vampires. Dracula agrees, but takes Kah’s form in order to travel undetected. Professor Van Helsing happens to be at Chungking University giving a lecture on Chinese vampire legends, in particular the story of the cult of the Golden Vampires. Hsi Ching, a student, tells Van Helsing the legend is true and that his grandfather is from the village terrorized by the Golden Vampires. Van Helsing agrees to accompany Hsi to his village and they are joined by Van Helsing’s son Leyland, Hsi’s seven brothers and one sister, and a young widow they rescued from the Tongs. They face off against six of the seven remaining vampires and a small army of the undead until Dracula arrives to raise the stakes. 

This is the ninth and final film in Hammer's Dracula series and, incredibly, it’s a coproduction with the Hong Kong-based studio Shaw Brothers, best known for their kung fu films. It’s amazing that this exists at all, but somehow it’s actually a delightful film and remains one of the most entertaining of the Dracula sequels. The returned of Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing — continuing from Dracula A.D. 1975 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula — is one of the film’s high points, though Christopher Lee’s absence as Dracula is conspicuous. This is the only time in Hammer history that Dracula was played by someone else (the character was absent completely from The Brides of Dracula), and in this case he’s briefly replaced by John Forbes-Robertson (The Vampire Lovers), though when Dracula takes the High Priest’s form, he’s played by the prolific Shen Chan (Five Fingers of Death, Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold). Chan is obviously not Lee, but he’s captivating for his few scenes.

The film’s premise is every bit as ridiculous as it seems, but it’s also just as entertaining as you’d expect — especially if you’re a diehard fan of Shaw Brothers kung fu films. This unselfconscious blend of genres is played straight and legitimized by the always wonderful Cushing, who mostly leaves the kung fu fighting to trained professionals, but occasionally enters into the fray. I have a deep love for kung fu films, the Shaw Brothers in particular, and Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires certainly benefits from dual direction by Hammer’s Roy Ward Baker (A Night to Remember, Quatermass and the Pit) and Chang Cheh, one of Shaw’s most popular and talented directors. Chinese horror is also represented, so keep your eyes peeled for jiangshi, or hopping vampires.

Though I love it passionately, there’s no way to deny that the film has its flaws. Don Houghton returned after Dracula A.D. 1972 to pen a script that is a messy attempt to blend Hammer horror and kung fu tropes. He conveniently avoids continuity issues from The Satanic Rites of Dracula (itself a mashup of spy, sci-fi, and horror tropes) by simply setting Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires some time in the 1800s — sort of an alternate storyline adventure for Dracula and Van Helsing. Though there are some nice special effects from Les Bowie, a lot of the vampire make-up is dreadful, particularly Dracula’s at the start of the film. Dracula is barely present in this film, but it’s unclear if that’s a good or bad thing. Forbes-Robertson had some impossibly large shoes to fill, so perhaps it’s for the best that he was given little screen time. His few lines of dialogue are frankly appalling.

But there are plenty of things about that film that make it a worthy final entry in the series. There’s some great cinematography from Roy Fords and John Wilcox, particularly in the Chinese countryside. There are some very entertaining fight scenes between the Hsi family and the undead and anyone on the lookout for some martial arts won’t be disappointed. Probably the best thing about Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is that it is wholly energetic and unafraid to simply be a campy, almost cartoonish kung fu-vampire-action-horor film. 

It comes pretty highly recommended, though my review should give you an idea of whether or not you’re the target audience. Anchor Bay released a nice DVD as part of their Hammer Horror collection. It includes The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires and The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula, the sadly truncated U.S. version that no one needs to watch. There are a few special features, including a somewhat bizarre recording of Peter Cushing telling the film’s story with musical accompaniment and sound effects. Must be seen to be believed.

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