Fong Lah Ann
Horror action kung-fu
Trivia In the USA a badly chopped version of this classic was released as The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula in 1979. It crippled at the box office which effectively ended Van Helsing's Hammer exploits in foreign countries (a semi-sequel Kali: Devil-bride of Dracula was scripted but never shot).
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Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974)
31st Jan 05
Van Helsing and his Chinese chums battle an Oriental Dracula and his Vampire cohorts to a cool 70s soundtrack.
Legend is a co-production between Hammer and Hong Kong film magnet Sir Run Run Shaw that, despite being Hammer horror at heart, follows the stereotypical story arch of your bog standard 70s kung fu movie. The first twenty-odd minutes or so are used to establish the backgrounds for the central characters and their agenda for the duration of the movie and then the rest of the running time is made up of a string of increasingly damaging fight sequences, with a bit of plot thrown in between each, steering the movie towards an inevitable final showdown. What’s interesting this time around is how Roy Ward Baker, the director of this oddity, binds two altogether different film making styles. He directed all the sequences, whether dialogue or action based, and it is surprising just how good a job he’s done given the resources. In the heat of the action, Baker avoids the trademark Shaw Brothers fast zooms and cutaways and instead takes an altogether more relaxed attitude. You'll regularly witness lengthy camera pans across the vampire kung-fu mayhem and despite this being unconventional for a fight flick, it does fit into the Hammer way of doing things. Similarly, the dialogue heavy bits throughout the first twenty minutes and between all the other fights are solidly filmed and Peter Cushing’s performance in particular wouldn’t look out of place in even the best Hammer productions.
The problem however is that the Western actors look a little out of place in the fight scenes and conversely the Eastern actors look a bit uncomfortable in the talky bits. It’s a bit like watching a tag team thing going on with everyone knowing their job. You chat for a bit then we fight something! Of course, there are a couple of exceptions. David Chiang has a brave attempt at some English lines in the role of Hsi Ching although, come to think of it, he’s probably the only Chinese actor with English dialogue in the whole thing. He doesn't make anywhere near as much a fool of himself as Robin Stewart does, however, in the role of Van Helsing's son. The impetuous young fool stumbles fists first into every fight even though there are not many actors alive with such hideous action stunt timing. He spends half the movie on his arse with the zombie hordes politely waiting for him to get up; look out for the Chinese stunt extras helping him out on more than one occasion. Incidentally, Peter Cushing appears to have modestly declined from participating in any of this kung fu nonsense, although there is a charming battle later on when he gets a little carried away with a big flaming branch. It’s a cliché but they really don’t make them like this any more.
Aside from the bumbling of the Western contingent, the fight choreography throughout is well above average, almost very good in fact, and is a fitting reminder of how good the Shaw Brothers production company really was. The Ching brothers’ on-screen skills are amazing, as are the divergence in weaponry they carry: a mace, a bow, a staff, the long knifes or just fists, you name it, and all the weapons are made of silver, which conveniently makes them vampire ready. My favourites of the troop are the brothers who both have swords and have developed a crazy way of fighting while continuously holding hands; it’s quite something. The 7 Golden Vampires are equally entertaining albeit in a different way by all looking essentially like the cheap rotted corpse of Sinbad the sailor, albeit with a huge bat shaped golden medallion around their necks. They are all quite short, being effectively stunt actors in costume, but they certainly can move. As can the zombies, since it turns out the golden vampires can raise the dead at will, and there are many really quite cool segments of just hordes of oriental zombies climbing out of graves. Oriental zombies remember, meaning they’re all trained at martial arts, although not too well trained since these guys provide most of the cannon fodder for our heroes throughout the big punch-ups.
All sounds a bit like a video game? Well, it sure as hell could be. Essentially what you have is the bringing together of two cult styles from two cultures; western gothic horror meets eastern martial arts. The Hammer tradition of explaining the plot in long drawn out conversational scenes is sadly adhered to but the action sequences more than make up for it. They also don’t shy away from the gore, which is certainly high by usual Hammer standards, and they’re not afraid of killing people off. This is one of those flicks where more of the heroes eat the dirt than don’t, if you know what I mean. They’re also not scared to delve into uncharted waters with the story by means of a couple of unlikely romantic sub plots. Even though Leyland and Vanessa are perfectly set up in the opening sequences, they end up both falling for another. Leyland falls for the lovely Mae Kwei, while Vanessa’s object of affection becomes Hsi Ching, who is embarrassingly much shorter than she is.
Anyway, this was always going to be a gamble, the fusing of two different filmmaking genres like this and the results, as you would expect, are a bit hit and miss although thankfully this time they are a little better than you would expect. At moments it’s brilliant, at other times it feels like a bit of a joke, but at all times this is pure entertainment. I'd recommend this movie to anyone, but be warned, it pretty much does exactly what you expect and is therefore only as good as you think it's going to be. It’s simple - does the idea of watching a 70s Hammer horror kung fu vampire movie appeal to you? If it does then this might well have been made just for you. And if not? Well, don't say I didn't warn you.
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