Thursday, October 31, 2019

Kung Fu and Vampires! It's the Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires!

Peter Cushing as Van Helsing.
I watched The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974) for the fifth or sixth time recently. During this latest viewing, I studied it carefully. When it was over, I reviewed my notes, analyzed the plot and themes, and researched the production history. And still, my friends, I have no clue as to why this wacky hybrid of vampires and martial arts is so entertaining!

For those who have never seen it, here's a plot summary. In Transylvania in 1804, an evil Asian monk named Kah journeys to the tomb of Count Dracula. His goal is to ask Dracula to help him revive the seven Golden Vampires in his homeland. Now, it should come as no surprise that the Count doesn't grant his wish. Instead of kindly lending a hand, Dracula assumes Kah's appearance and heads to Asia to revive the Golden Vampires for his own bloodsucking purposes.

One of the Golden Vampires.
A century later, we find Professor Van Helsing (apparently a descendant of the original Van Helsing) giving a guest lecture on vampires at Chungking University. His audience is unimpressed--except for a young man named Hsi Ching who visits Van Helsing that night. Hsi Ching explains that his ancestral village has become a feeding ground for the seven Golden Vampires. He wants Van Helsing to help him--along with his six brothers and his sister--to destroy the bloodsuckers.

The professor is intrigued, but lacks the financial resources for the long journey. That's when a wealthy, attractive widow offers to finance the expedition on the condition that she gets to experience a little excitement, too.

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires has an 89-minute running time, but it seems even shorter. Veteran director Roy Ward Baker enlivens the plot with four major action sequences, each one longer and better staged than the one preceding it. We are treated to an attack on the town by the vampires, an ambush on Van Helsing's expedition by criminals, and a surprise vampire assault in a cave. Those scenes are just the appetizers that set up the big battle at the climax.

The golden bat medallion--I want one!
As with any respectable 1970s kung fu flick, there are plenty of bone-crunching punches and high-flying kicks. The Golden Vampires do a respectable job of defending themselves...considering they look like decomposing corpses with fangs and move pretty slowly. Their supporting army of the undead are dispatched quickly with a punch to their rotting chests. A flashback story suggests that a Golden Vampire can be destroyed by removing the golden bat medallions from around their necks. Oddly, none of our heroes ever attempt to do that!

David Chiang as Hsi Ching.
There are other muddled plot points, too. Hsi Ching's village appears to be pretty small. So, over the span of a century, wouldn't the Golden Vampires have drained it dry--especially since they routinely nab most of the young women from the village? And why do Van Helsing and the brothers choose to fight the vampires at night? It seems more logical to look for their headquarters during the day and destroy them before dusk. Of course, then we wouldn't have any kung fu fights, would we?

To his credit and the film's benefit, Peter Cushing delivers a serious, persuasive performance as Van Helsing. It grounds The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires and keeps it from devolving into camp. David Chiang is respectable as Hsi Ching, which is impressive considering he's acting in a second language. I quite like that the rich widow (Julie Ege) becomes attracted to Hsi Ching while Van Helsing's son falls for the latter's sister (Szu Shih).

John Forbes-Robertson.
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires was the last of Hammer's nine Dracula movies that began with 1958's Horror of Dracula. It is the only Hammer film to feature an actor other than Christopher Lee as Count Dracula. His replacement, John Forbes-Robertson, only has a couple of scenes at the beginning and end. His voice was dubbed and his make-up makes Dracula look like he's been embalmed.

A co-production between Hammer and the Shaw Brothers, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires was shot in Hong Kong. Both studios surely hoped the combination of kung fu  and vampires would generate big international profits. However, that didn't happen and Hammer was unable to even secure a U.S. distributor when it was released. It finally reached American screens, albeit in re-edited form, in 1979. Seventeen minutes were trimmed and the title was changed to The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula. Avoid this version!

Instead, grab your golden bat medallion (if you have one), settle into your easy chair, and throw logic out the window. And remember what a film critic for Melody Maker magazine wrote after skewering 7 Vampires for several paragraphs: "Don't let me indicate that I'm trying to put you off seeing this film, because I'm going to see it again tomorrow!"


  1. Apparently the Shaw Bros wanted Dracula in the film. That's why the bookends.

  2. I like that closing remark! This does indeed sound like a hodge-podge but I'm looking forward to seeing it. Roy Ward Baker is one of my favorite Avengers directors so I'm sure he will not let the pace slacken.