Wednesday, February 17, 2010


THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974). Dir: Roy Ward Baker. Starring Peter Cushing, Robin Stewart, Julie Ege, David Chiang

It’s no secret that I have a fondness for some of the more esoteric outposts of British horror cinema. In previous posts I have waxed lyrically about the joys of such films as Psychomania, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde and (of course) Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter.

But one film stands head and shoulders above this frankly rather odd cinematic collection – The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, "the world's first kung-fu horror spectacular".

With the fortunes of Hammer Films on the wane in the early 1970’s the studio sought new and ever more bizarre ways to attract audiences. There were lesbian vampires (Lust For a Vampire, The Vampire Lovers, Twins of Evil) gender-bending adaptations (Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde), updates of the Dracula story (Dracula AD 1972, The Satanic Rites of Dracula) and, not least, the cross cultural/ cross genre extravaganza that is The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.

A Hammer/ Shaw Brothers co-production, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires has Count Dracula (played here by John Forbes Robertson since, by this stage, Christopher Lee was thoroughly sick of the role) making his way to China in the body of vampire priest Kah to take over as head of a vampire cult.

Inconveniently for him, but conveniently for the plot, his old adversary Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) just happens to be lecturing in China on the subject of the vampire and his kith and kin. Before you can say ‘expedition to find the vampires’ an expedition is organized to find the vampires as Professor Van Helsing, his son, assorted martial arts experts and the rather pneumatic Julie Ege set off to investigate the cult and its legends.

Cue some high octane fight scenes, some eerily slow motion vampires, a culture clash like no other, good conquering evil and everyone home in time for tea.

To be brutal, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires is very silly and its blend of martial arts, genteel English gothic and Rider Haggardesque adventure never really gels but nonetheless the film has much to recommend it.

Taken out of its usual ‘back lot at Elstree’ surroundings, the Hong Kong locations give the film a much different look from the Mittel Europa so beloved of Hammer, the Golden Vampires and their zombielike minions are effective villains and their slow motion attacks (reminiscent of Amando de Ossorio's Blind Knights Templar) are rather unsettling. Added to this are the talents of director Roy Ward Baker (a man more than capable of turning a sow’s ear into a rather silky purse), Hong Kong action star David Chiang in fine 'chopping them up and chopping them down' form and, of course, the great Peter Cushing who refuses to treat the film with anything less than his usual professionalism and who provides the whole thing with a solid and dependable anchor.

On the negative side is poor John Forbes Robertson as Dracula, saddled with an atrocious make-up job that makes him look less like the Prince of Darkness and more like a panto dame (and let’s face it, Christopher Lee’s shoes were always going to be hard to fill). Lackluster supporting performances from Julie Ege – really just in the film for set decoration – and Robin Stewart as Leyland Van Helsing don't help either.

On the whole, however, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires is quite good fun, with its mildly exotic locations, top-notch fight scenes in classic Shaw Brothers style and some deft directorial touches from Roy Ward Baker.

It was never going to save Hammer or revitalize their creative output, but The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires is a delightfully bonkers example of British fantasy cinema and most certainly the sort of thing that would never be made these days.

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