AKA: Seven Brothers Meet Dracula
Director: Roy Ward Baker, Chang Cheh
Producer: Don Houghton, Vee King Shaw
Cast: Peter Cushing, John Forbes-Robertson, David Chiang, Robin Stewart, Julie Ege, Shih Szu, Chan Shen, Tino Wong Cheung, Fung Hak On, Lau Wai Ling, Lau Kar Wing
Running Time: 89 min.
By Zach Nix
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is a fun martial arts film co-produced by the Hong Kong based Shaw Brothers and the British centric Hammer Pictures. While most action fans are familiar with the Shaw Brothers, some may not be as familiar with Hammer. Hammer Pictures was a British production company that flourished in the late 50s and 60s with their colorful and Gothic horror films that made stars out of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Technicolor classics of theirs include Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, and The Mummy, all starring Lee and Cushing.
Hammer eventually made attempts to revitalize their production company as Gothic horror went out of style in the 70s. Therefore, Hammer got in on the martial arts craze when they teamed up with the Shaw Brothers for The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. The two companies set out to produce an action film that would offer the best of what each studio had to offer, as well as two of their biggest stars: Peter Cushing (Horror of Dracula) and David Chiang (Vengeance). Even though this action/horror hybrid is a blast to watch, the film lacks the distinct qualities that made the best Hammer and Shaw films classics.
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires opens with a prologue set in 1804 in Transylvania where a man named Kah tracks down the infamous Count Dracula. Kah begs Dracula to revive the seven golden vampires in China so that their reign of terror may continue. Dracula agrees, but only if he can take over Kah’s body in order to escape his castle. The film than fast-forwards 100 years to Chung King, China where Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) lectures on a Chinese legend concerning the seven golden vampires. One of the students, Hsi Ching (David Chiang), reveals his relation to the man in Helsing’s story and proclaims the legend to be true. Ching and his seven brothers offer for Helsing, as well as his son and their new friend Vanessa (Julie Ege), the chance to travel to the village of Pang Kwei with them in order to destroy the golden vampires once and for all.
There is no denying that The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is a fun blend of Hong Kong martial arts and Hammer Gothic horror. You would be hard pressed to find any other film in existence that features hopping vampires, Peter Cushing, and martial arts. Therefore, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires excels based purely on its uniqueness and blend of genres. Unfortunately, the film is only able to represent the most superficial elements of each company, thereby lacking the strong points that made each company’s strongest films classics.
For example, a Hammer classic like The Mummy is a great film because it blends Gothic horror and monstrous action with memorable characters and deep themes. The film offers the kind of B-movie entertainment that you expect, but achieves greatness through its romanticized tone, lavish sets, and excellent costume design. The same can be said for a Shaw Brothers classic like The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Shaolin features the death defying stunt work and jaw dropping fight choreography that you expect from a martial arts genre picture. However, the film also features strong character work and themes of enlightenment and Buddhism. Shaw, much like Hammer, blended B-movie entertainment with great filmmaking when they were at their best. Unfortunately, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires never excels beyond basic B-movie entertainment, thereby delivering the most superficial elements (i.e. the boobs and the blood) of each studio.
The cast is a lot of fun, as the film features both Peter Cushing and David Chiang in dual lead roles. Cushing portrays Van Helsing once again for Hammer as a man who has decided to move to China to look for the seven golden vampires. However, he gets more than he bargained for when he ultimately realizes that Dracula himself is behind the raising of the seven vampires. The film itself has no true connection to any previous Hammer Dracula film, even though Cushing returns as Helsing. Even Dracula himself is recast, with John Forbes-Robertson taking over for Christopher Lee. Dracula fans should be warned though that the lord of darkness only appears in the film for mere minutes.
Chiang plays Hsi Ching, a man who decides to team up with Helsing in order to rid China of vampires. Chiang doesn’t do much more than kick monster butt and destroy people left and right during his action sequences. He gets to partake in a little bit of romance with Norwegian actress Julie Ege as well. Surprisingly, even the aged Peter Cushing gets in on the action. However, his fight choreography never excels beyond anything more than swinging a flaming stake around.
I wish I could overlook Legend’s plentiful flaws and simply embrace its B-movie goodness, but I just can’t. The film suffers from extremely uneven pacing; opening with an unnecessarily long prologue, than a 100-year jump in time, followed by a lengthy flashback. This film, along with its plot and character motivations, are all over the place. After all, it takes some creative thinking to come up with a reason for Dracula to move to China of all places.
The fight sequences, while manic and bloody, are never particularly exciting or gripping. Besides an impressive bout between the seven brothers and a group of men in an open field, Legend features several uneven fights where characters either defeat their enemies with ease or fall at their hands conveniently. This unfair balance deprives the film of any danger or stakes (get it, stakes) and makes the characters’ fates all the less worrisome. Stronger action sequences, as well as more finely tuned characters, would have strengthened Legend’s action/horror hybrid proceedings.
Even though I spent most of this review bashing The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, I still recommend it to the uninitiated. The film is a fun historical gem in which two legendary and iconic companies teamed up to produce a film that offered each of their stars and genres. While most definitely a far cry from each company’s best, Legend is still a blast to watch if you turn off your brain and soak in the B-movie goodness. If anything, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires should be on your viewing list come next Halloween if you need a little action to go with your horror. Just don’t expect anything elegant or thematic. This is Hammer/Shaw schlock through and through, courtesy of the year 1974.
Zach Nix’s Rating: 6/10