Scream Factory, 2019. Region A.
Feature: 89 mins. Aspect ratio 2.35:1.
In the ‘70s, Hammer studios were struggling to adapt to a changing film market. The grim, gothic fairy tales that Hammer was famous for were on the wane, being replaced by several strains of explicit, contemporary horror. In an attempt to appeal to an international audience that was hungry for martial arts movies, thanks in part to Bruce Lee films, Hammer teamed with Hong Kong studio the Run Run Shaw to mix gothic horror with kung fu. The result was the preposterous but ridiculously entertaining The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires.
In a prologue set Transylvania in 1804, Chinese monk Kah (Shen Chan) completes a pilgrimage to Castle Dracula, which is derelict save for a few Woolworth’s rubber bats. Dracula (an unconvincing John Forbes-Robertson, dubbed by David de Keyser) rises from his cobwebbed grave and confronts the interloper, who is high priest of the seven golden vampires in the village of Ping Kwei, Szechwan province, China. Kah begs the Count’s help to awaken the vampires from their slumber. Seizing an opportunity to escape the confines of the castle and to take vengeance upon humanity (boy, is he pissed at us), Dracula takes on the form of the high priest and buggers off to Ping Kwei to resurrect the magnificent seven golden vampires.
Thankfully, Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is in China unsuccessfully seeking help to continue his research into vampirism and is recruited by Hsi Ching (David Chiang, an actor who started out as a stuntman for Shaw Brothers) to help defeat the curse of Ping Kwei. Joined by his son Leyland Van Helsing (Robin Stewart) and Hammer crumpet Vanessa Buren (Julie Ege), a rich woman who finances the whole endeavor, the good professor sets out on an expedition to the village.
Directed by Roy Ward Baker, who helmed seven films for Hammer, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is a bizarre mixture of cinematic styles that in truth never quite works. The Hammer horror trappings of crumbling castles, staid James Bernard score, Kensington gore, and stalwart British actors, doesn’t fully gel with the Asian folklore and martial arts sequences. Excitingly choreographed, the fight scenes inject considerable vigour into the veins of this cinematic carcass. In the Eastern action film tradition, the combat is captured with medium and long shots that show off all the fighters’ skills; often the shot whip pans from one violent vignette to another, essentially editing the brawl in camera. Amusingly, the Western actors do little but stand off to the side and watch, though the fey Leyland has several improbably victorious struggles with martial arts experts. The action sequences were directed by Chang Cheh, who is unfortunately uncredited in the film.
The primary coloured lights on some of the gothic sets are ripped from Mario Bava but have a crude psychedelic effectiveness. The undead rising through the earth in slow motion at the bidding of the high priest is reminiscent of similar scenes in the Blind Dead films, though the effect is spoiled somewhat by the zombies’ strange hopping gait.
This odd movement, however, is drawn from Chinese folklore, a hopping vampire known as a “jiangshi” featuring in Chinese legends and stories. According to these folktales, the hopping motion comes from the reanimated corpse being stiff, with unbending limbs (the Chinese character for jiang translates to “stiff”). One of the more interesting aspects of the film is the mingling of this Sino-mythology with Western cinematic vampire tradition. “In Europe the vampire walks in dread of the crucifix; but here it will be the image of the Lord Buddha,” Van Helsing explains. In addition to the traditional stake through the heart, the Golden Vampires can be killed in another way. The aureate, bat-shaped medallions that the vampires wear around their necks represent their life force, and removing them destroy the oriental bloodsuckers. The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is relatively successful in the imaginative mixing of ancient and modern supernatural lore, in a weird way anticipating John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China.
There is an odd rhythm to the film. Sequences of the vampires terrorizing villagers and feeding on bare-breasted victims arranged around a bubbling cauldron are somewhat randomly inserted into the flow of the movie. This is, however, vastly preferable to the mangling rearrangements in the original U.S. release, which was titled The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula, which is included for the curious as an extra on this disc.
Though it’s not the studio’s finest hour by a long shot, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires manages to deliver some crazed entertainment value, and it’s great to see Peter Cushing in action as Van Helsing one last time (this was his final film for Hammer).
Sourced from a 2K scan of original film elements, the transfer on this disc is vividly colourful, crisp and detailed, showing off set and prop textures.
Audio Commentary by Bruce G. Hallenbeck – Film writer Bruce Hallenbeck contributes an amicable and detailed commentary that includes background information on the state of Hammer Films at the time.
Alternate U.S. Theatrical Version: The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula (75 mins.) – A version of the film released to theatres in America, this rendition is re-edited to the point of near-incoherence, plus it’s missing 14 minutes of footage from the original cut. Scenes from the end of the film are presented in slow motion under the main credits, and that’s just the start. It’s no wonder the film flopped in North America if this is the crap variant that most audiences saw there. I can’t imagine anyone sitting through this in its entirety (I couldn’t, not even for your sake, humble reader) but it’s good to have it for completeness.
Kung Fear: Rick Baker on the Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (19 min.) – “Autor” (sic) and critic Rick Baker (and not the makeup legend) discusses the movie in a somewhat rambling but amiable fashion, dispensing a few valuable nuggets of information along the way.
Interview with Actor David Chaing (6 min.) – In Chinese, subtitled. A very short interview in which the actor reminisces about his experiences filming the movie, in particular working with Peter Cushing.
TV Spot (31 sec.) – A grainy TV ad for the movie (“Black belt against black magic!”), under the title The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula.
The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula Trailer (2 mins. 31 sec.)
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires Trailer (2 mins. 54 sec.)
Still Gallery (6 mins.)
Recommended for all aficionados of bizarre and imaginative genre fare, Scream Factory’s disc gives The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires a vibrant high definition upgrade.