The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)

APRIL 9, 2019


My attempt to go through the entire Hammer Dracula series in the old days of the site (can you believe it's been six years since I "quit"? That's as long as I ran it in the first place!) was not successful - I am only just now catching The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, and I *still* haven't seen Scars of Dracula. But I chalk this up to seeing them all out of order (not as much by choice as by availability); it makes it hard to remember which ones I was missing, and in at least one instance I obtained one I thought I had missed only to discover not only had I seen it, I already reviewed it! I vow though, come hell or high water - I will see Scars this year! Or at least in less than six years from now.

Anyway I knew this one was kind of the black sheep of the series due to having someone else play Dracula besides Christopher Lee, and also for making it a hybrid between vampire movie and kung fu flick, as the latter was very much in vogue at the time. So I was surprised to discover it was actually quite a bit of fun; the plot is nonsense, yes, but it's never dull for a second - if there's ever more than maybe five minutes of plot stuff, a fight will break out and last an equal (or longer) amount of time. And it's good fighting too - although uncredited, Cheh Chang brought his considerable experience (The Flying Dagger, The One-Armed Swordsman) to make sure the fight scenes were authentic, with Hammer stalwart Roy Ward Baker's team giving them the lighting/editing polish the kung fu flicks often lacked, so it's like a best of both worlds kind of scenario more often than not.

Of course, in the usual martial arts films there would be a bunch of normal humans fighting, whereas here we have undead vampires on one side of the battles, making it look more than just a little goofy at times. As is always the case, you'll see bad guys waiting their turn to get their ass kicked by the hero because they never think to rush him as a group, but it's far more ridiculous a sight when he's got a skeleton face and (as vampires tended to do in these things) is jumping up and down while he waits. But the choreography and stunt work doesn't seem to be much affected by their costumes, making all of the battles exciting (if somewhat repetitive) and in turn giving the entire film a pulse most Hammer films only really reach in their final reel.

As for the Hammer part of the equation... well I can see how the die-hard purists would be disappointed. Even if it was Lee in the role I can't imagine too many folks would be satisfied with his use here - he's only in the film's opening and closing scenes, seemingly thrown in just to tie it into the series as opposed to anything particularly necessary to the story. And it's hard to even think of it as a sequel anyway - not only does the timeline throw off what passes for continuity in these things (in a prologue set before any of the other films, Dracula takes the form of a Chinese man and isn't reborn in his usual form until the end - in a scene that takes place after most of the other entries), but Peter Cushing is playing a different Van Helsing than he played in the others. In AD 1972 it made sense that he'd be playing his own descendant, but that doesn't seem to be the case here - he's just a generic "Van Helsing" (no first name) that does the same things but doesn't appear to have any connection to the one we knew from the previous films. Unless it's like a Halloween (2018) thing where they were ignoring some of his entries? If so it's not made clear.

Anyway, like Dracula Van Helsing's role in the proceedings isn't particularly necessary - he's a professor who tells his class that vampires are real, and are terrorizing a village somewhere, but only one of them believes his story. And for good reason: he's the grandson of a man who killed one of the vampires (leaving six), and is planning to head there and kill the rest (excellent timing for the syllabus on Van Helsing's part!), inviting the professor to come along. They're joined by Van Helsing's son (an obligatory handsome young man, interchangeable with the ones who appeared in other Hammer films of the era), a rich lady (read: Hammer Glamour) who funds the trip, and lots of redshirts who help make the fights more epic. Why Helsing is needed is unclear; it's only in the final few minutes that he does much beyond watch the fights, maybe waving a torch around every now and then.

But on the other hand, it actually does offer plenty of legit horror stuff - the scene where the undead vampires rise from their graves is actually pretty effective, and it's got some surprising (at times even gratuitous) bloodspray if that's your bag. And there's even a surprising death or two in the climax, so I found myself continually surprised that while the kung fu aspect was clearly the focus, Baker and his team weren't dropping the ball when it came to the genre elements. As with AD 1972, they clearly realized audiences wouldn't be much interested in another "Dracula rises and seduces a lady in his castle" kind of movie, so the change of scenery (and in this case, faster pace) gives it an adrenaline shot most franchises would die to have in their 9th installment.

Alas, it was also the final installment - while another "exotic" sequel was planned that would send everyone off to India, it was never made, due to both the film's mixed reception and Hammer's own problems as a whole. So at least it went out on a high note - it may not be the best of the series, but it's an exciting and memorable entry all the same, which is more than I can say for what ended up closing off the likes of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Paranormal Activity series. And Scream Factory gives it a proper Blu-ray; in addition to the fine transfer, it's got a solid historian commentary, which is loaded with anecdotes about the film's tense shoot (the two crews didn't mix well together; Baker is actually referred to as a "racist" at one point) and some context for the period that will help explain why Dracula is palling around with martial arts gurus for the unsuspecting viewers.

It also has the incomprehensible US cut of the film (under the title The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula, which isn't even accurate), which chops at least fifteen minutes out and rearranges key scenes, while also reducing Cushing's role even further - it reminded me of certain Dimension productions of the 1990s, in fact. Even having seen the proper version the day before, I often found myself baffled as to what was going on, and can't imagine how it would play to a fresh viewer. I love when they include this sort of thing - there's no real use for it anymore, but it's fun to try to put yourselves in the shoes of a ticket buyer in 1974, who didn't have the internet or a Blu-ray commentary to explain why things were the wacky way they were. I try my best to go in blind to every movie I see, but in this era it's too easy to find out what went wrong - how long did the US audiences (those who cared anyway) have to wait until they found out who anyone was, since this cut omitted most of their full introductions? What a time to be alive!

What say you?


Post a Comment

Movie & TV Show Preview Widget