Sunday, 26 February 2012

The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires

The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires was Hammer's last ditch attempt to bring fresh blood (pun intended or not? You decide) into their ever popular (certainly Stateside who routinely insisted on including The Count-and if possible Christopher Lee-in their vampire films) yet running on empty Dracula series.

To be honest, I'm not sure quite why they stopped going down the path of present day Dracula as they had done with Dracula AD 1972 and The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (previously reviewed here) but they did and just one year after, 1974, they did the time warp again, taking us a little bit further in their vampire chronology to the early 1900s and further still, to Hong Kong and an unusual collaboration with Chinese martial arts film makers, The Shaw Brothers. Taking the ever reliable Peter Cushing along for the ride as Van Helsing once more.

Peter Cushing

However, they proved unable to secure the increasingly sniffy Christopher Lee, either because his disdain for the role was now obvious or because the role was so minimal anyway; with The Prince Of Darkness woken from his slumber to take on the appearance of a Chinese counterpart keen for his help in restoring his native countries blood suckers to their former glory. He remains in this guise right up until the film's climax (whether this was part of the original script or a ploy taken up once Lee proved unavailable or to keep the US happy I'm not entirely sure) Hammer and The Shaw Brothers instead had to make do with John Forbes Robertson

John Forbes Robertson

He's not bad as such, it's just that the role is so slight, he has little chance to make his mark upon it. To be honest the film would have been much better without Van Helsing's arch nemesis any way, especially because he is completely surplus to the plot and has a very weak send off, they should have concentrated on the Oriental vampires more I feel.

The plot is as always simple enough (and just as well for a film that runs to just 85 minutes and licks along at a fair old rate too) Van Helsing, on the University lecture circuit, takes in China where his help is requested by Hsi Ching, played by David Chiang, to rid a village of the resurrected Seven Golden Vampires. They travel to the village,a ragtag bunch made up of Ching's brothers and his rather comely sister played by Shih Szu, Van Helsing's son Leland (and if we disregard the iffy continuity then we're meant to accept that this is Lorimar's father-Lorimar the vampire hunting grandson of the original Van Helsing that Cushing played in the previous two modern day movies) who is played by Robin Stewart of Haunted House Of Horror and Bless This House fame (clearly making his big break away from productions with 'house' in the title! Ooh imagine the Haunted Bless This House Of Horror? Sid James drinking the blood of virgins and cackling?!) and Julie Ege (and her chest) playing a bored emancipated Swedish socialite on a round the world journey.

David Chiang

Shih Szu

Robin Stewart and Julie Ege

Julie Ege and her chest

It's hard not to like this film, for pure kitsch value alone; witnessing the mishmash of kung fu and vampires, and more than a nod to The Seven Samurai  too. I'm sure that with the mania for kung fu films at the time here in the west it was equally engaging when it came out for the cinema goers and horror fans of 1974. But it wasn't enough to save the vampire series, nor Hammer itself which continued to trudge on aimlessly for a handful of films until the end of the decade. 

It was co-directed by Hammer veteran Roy Ward Baker and Shaw Brothers' Chang Cheh, though Baker is the only one credited and the production was somewhat troubled, with Hammer viewing the partnership ill advised and the studios provided in Hong Kong unsatisfactory. The characters, other than the previously established Van Helsing, are paper thin. Certainly the brothers fail to make any impact because their sole characteristics are based on what weaponry or fighting skill they have. They have no lines and only brief close ups and the most cursory of introductions, so when it comes to their brave demises in battle it's hard to care. Of the Chinese actors only Chiang and Szu impress on any level because they're the only ones the script have time for and ultimately attempts to pair them off with Ege and Stewart respectively in bland and unconvincing romantic subplots, made all the more unconvincing given that Stewart is clearly gunning for Ege until he spots Szu, and her admirer lost, Ege just seems to plump for Chiang!

Preparing for battle; the stakes are high!

Where the film impresses is in it's decidedly creepy and distinctively unique and alien depiction of Oriental vampire lore. The slo mo scenes of them bursting forth from the ground is especially eyecatching as is the shuffling, hopping gait they have as they rush to battle, seemingly accompanied by the soundtrack of electronic wasps or, that scourge of last year's World Cup, the vuvuzela (something which always sounded to me like a euphemism a middle class  mother would adopt for her daughter's genitals! 'Imogen, don't play with your vuvuzela, there's a good girl' Haha)

And of course, if you're a martial arts fan you'll love the balletic dance of death that the brothers and their sister undertake when battling the vampires, the undead and numerous mountain bandits throughout. 

As ever though, it's the peerless Peter Cushing who impresses; rising above the poor lines and substandard material with a gentlemanly professional air. He even manges to convince us in one scene where he details that the vampires of Europe are subdued by the sign of the crucifix, whereas here in the Orient, it will be the image of The Lord Buddha...just as well he didn't have to knock together one of those impromptu as he did so many times with the crucifix in previous films! It's also interesting to note the costume he wears here, as I'm fairly certain it's the same one he wore in the Doctor Who films some ten years prior

Which given that Cushing would occasionally buy the costumes he wore for films would not surprise me in the least. I fear this outfit was ruined for this film however, as there's a rather distressing and possibly accidental moment where Cushing, repelling the vampires, falls into the campfire. It's cut away from very quickly, leaving the audience to wonder and fear for him, and the jacket is charred and torn in later scenes. 

An odd, but enjoyable and cultish swansong to Hammer's interpretation of Dracula.

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