The Legend of the
7 Golden Vampires
U.K. - Hong Kong / 1974
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Starring
Peter Cushing
Julie Ege
David Chiang
Color / 89 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD (R0 - NTSC)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
5
    7   10 = Highest Rating  
Undead kung fu action!
    A co-production of Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers and Britain's Hammer Films, Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is an exotic excursion into the patently absurd. Hammer, the company that had revitalized gothic horror in cinema
making international stars of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee was, by the early 1970s, on its last legs. Thanks to Bruce Lee martial arts films were very popular at the time, so someone got the bright idea of making a kung fu Dracula movie. It's every bit as silly as it sounds.
    In 1904 Dracula's arch-nemesis Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) unknowingly discovers the vampire king in rural China, where Drac has taken on the visage of an undead Chinese warlord, the evil, ambitious Ka (Shen Chan). Aided by his son Leyland (Robin Stewart), a sexy Swedish adventuress (Julie Ege) and a family of kung fu warriors, Van Helsing gives battle to Dracula and his legion of hopping vampire-ghouls for possession of the cursed village of Ping Kuei. In the process, much ridiculous dialog and karate/kung fu combat ensues.
    It's as if screenwriter Don Houghton took a Hammer Dracula and a Hong Kong fu flick and simply tossed 'em in a blender. The script is just dreadful. There are some real eye-rollers amongst the dialog, many spoken by Count Dracula. Though played onscreen by The Vampire Lovers' John Forbes-Robertson, Drac's speech is dubbed by a voice actor whose velvet baritone only makes the comic book villain-style lines sound even more ridiculous. It doesn't help matters that, in Dracula's first dramatic appearance durin
g the pre-titles sequence, Forbes-Robertson sports the worst vampire makeup in Hammer history... A nice homage to F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu the Count rises to a standing position within his open sarcophagus is instantly trashed with the movie's first close-up shot of the Lord of the Undead. Dracula looks like he's been slurping cherry Kool-Aid straight from the pitcher. Or even worse, an aged drag queen who's lost his wig. (Not an auspicious way to begin a horror film.) The rest of the makeup effects don't fare much better. The titular golden vampires, undead warriors who serve and protect Ka (and later Dracula), resemble really wrinkly guys with fish eyes wearing gold Mardi Gras masks. Dracula again comes a cropper at film's end, where at one moment during his death scene he looks like a pan of linguine exploded in his face.
    So much for the laughable makeup. There's plenty more to disparage... The woefully poor matte shot of Castle Dracula, for one. The extremely fake-looking rubber bats. (Nothing new about that.) Composer James Bernard's previous scores for Hammer had often been somewhat strident
when not bombastic but here his reworking of familiar Dracula themes with Oriental motifs is just downright annoying. (After awhile it becomes akin to an uncomfortable itch that just won't go way.) Keeping with the tradition of the previous two entries in Hammer's Dracula series, Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula, the final confrontation between Van Helsing and the Count is the very definition of anticlimactic. Dracula proves remarkably easy to kill.
    But all is not lost. Played completely straight, the sheer absurdity of the movie actually saves it. Directed in workmanlike fashion by Roy Ward Baker (Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde), the pace is certainly brisk and there's a lot of "Old Style" chop socky action. (This was long before the days of such "Wire Fu" inspired horror/martial arts hybrids as Blade.) The plentiful kung fu battles pit the intrepid Hsi family against the henchmen of a Chunking gangster as well as Dracula's ghoul army, who emerge from their graves and gambol about like Trick or Treaters in Tombs of the Blind Dead-style slow motion. Cushing, always a pro, keeps things together with his typically commanding performance. The film's still a cheesy mess but his presence adds considerable gravitas. Then past 60, Cushing even gets involved in some of the action sequences, obviously performing a number of his own stunts. (To include stumbling and falling into a real campfire. He's certainly quite spry in this scene!) I hope he received a big check for this.
    Truly the weirdest Hammer vampire movie ever made.

Anchor Bay's 1998 DVD release of this Hammer oddity is a package that should please most fans. Visual quality of the nearly pristine 2.35:1 letterbox transfer is quite good. The Digital Mono audio track is generally strong, particularly in regards to the music and sound effects, though a few fleeting bits of dialog seem a bit muffled. When combined with a thick Chinese or Scandinavian accent this can be problematic.
    The Extras provided are slim in number but nonetheless substantial. The most unusual of these is a 45-minute audio recording narrated by the uncredited Dracula voice-actor (see above) and Peter Cushing. It essentially tells the story of the entire movie, complete with musical scoring and sound effects from the film cleverly edited in. With their distinct voices and precise enunciation, these gentlemen render the tale more entertaining (and significantly less silly) in "storybook" form than it is as a motion picture. It really would've been cool had this recording been put on a standard CD, so one could use it like an Audio Book during those long road trips or commutes.
    As this is an older, single-layer DVD, the remaining extras are to be found on the flip-side of the disc. Here one can view the truncated U.S. drive-in version of the movie, retitled The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula and running some 14 minutes shorter. It's heavily chopped up, with numerous scenes chronologically rearranged, leaving the vampire action and nudity intact but gutting the narrative. Leave it to the Yanks to take a bad film and make it even worse. The goofy, unintentionally humorous trailer to 7 Brothers is also included. 6/22/02
UPDATE This disc went OOP in 2003. In 2013 a bare-bones but anamorphic version was released by Millennium as part of its 2-disc Hammer Horror Collection, which also includes Dracula: Prince of Darkness and Frankenstein Created Woman.
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