Thursday, October 3, 2013

Legend of The Seven Golden Vampires

Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974)
Dir. Roy Ward Baker, Chang Cheh
Written by Don Houghton
Starring Peter Cushing, David Chiang, Robin Stewart, Shih Szu

Not sure what "Dragon thrills" are, but the rest checks out.

When I wrote about VAMPIRE CIRCUS, I mentioned this film as an example of the slow, sad decline of the once-noble Hammer studios, as they attempted to chase then-current trends down the drain into the abyss of dated, embarrassing shittiness best exemplified by wannabe-trendy but painfully boring tripe like DRACULA: AD 1972 and THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA. Well, I wasn’t wrong, exactly; this is a pretty shitty, ill-conceived idea for a Hammer Dracula movie. But it’s actually sort of better than I imagined, and even if it’s a lazy, mostly uneventful regurgitation of the most rote vampire cliches imaginable, it managed to hold my interest simply through the better elements of it’s exotic pedigree.

See, LEGEND OF THE GOLDEN VAMPIRES isn’t just a Hammer Dracula movie; it’s an attempt to meld the dying Hammer universe with the just-at-its-zenith world of Hong Kong Martial Artsploitation. By the 80s, both these once-stalwart genre staples would be either in shameful retreat or catatonic disaster, so maybe at the time it made sense to the suits to try to for an ill-advised team-up. Like most comic crossovers, the results are less than a sum of it’s parts, but at least adding mediocre Hong Kong elements to the tired Hammer formula offers something legitimately different and --crucially-- energetic to the flatlining Dracula series. Hammer fans, fear not, you’ll get your contractually obligated scenes of Peter Cushing standing in front of bookshelves talking about anthropology. But you’ll also get some weird ass shit that can only come from the glancing clash of two distinct and incompatible cultural mores.

We begin with Dracula (not Christopher Lee) being resurrected in 1804, stealing the body of a nearby Chinese guy (Shen Chan), and booking it over to China to check on this story about Seven Golden Vampires that the Chinese guy was mentioning, for whatever reason. Then, 100 years pass, during which time nothing relevant happens. Cut to 1904, when Professor Lawrence Van Helsing is giving a lecture on vampirism to a college of extremely skeptical Chinese academics in the Chungking province.

Ladies Love Chinese Dracula

Note that Peter Cushing is again playing Lawrence, not Abraham, Van Helsing, presumably making this sort of a sequel to the prologue of DRACULA: AD 1972, wherein we see Lawrence Van Helsing fight Dracula to the death, presumably for the first time. The suggestion is --I infer, based on the name-- that Abraham Van Helsing tangled with the Count some time previously, and that Lawrence is a son or grandson of the original vampire hunter. SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES, then, appears to concern a later run-in between Lawrence and Drac, following their conflict which we glimpse in the first few minutes of DRACULA: AD 1972. But that’s weird, because DRACULA: AD 1972 specifically says it begins in 1872 (I guess Hammer likes to count in 100s), decades before the events of GOLDEN VAMPIRES, which the subtitles specifically note is set in 1904. That’s a problem because it sure looks like Lawrence Van Helsing bites it in his zeal to put down the vampiric menace back in 1872. Even if we assume his miraculous recovery, though, the timeline is further complicated because Lawrence Van Helsing in GOLDEN VAMPIRES seems to make direct reference to having confronted Dracula earlier in his career; that would seem to confirm that this is the same Van Helsing from AD 1972, but the problem is we know his tale can’t be true because the prologue clearly demonstrates that Dracula has been kicking it in Chunking province wearing a Chinese guy’s skin for exactly 100 years. Cushing looks pretty old, but there’s no way he’s more than a hundred, so this theory doesn’t fly. Add to this the fact that the original Hammer DRACULA (which features Abraham, not Lawrence Van Helsing) is set, completely arbitrarily as near as i can tell, in 1885, and you’ve got yourself a real pickle. Maybe they’re twins? Or Lawrence Van Helsing was the original (1872), and had a son very young who looked very much like him named Abraham (1885 version) who himself had a son very young who looked exactly like both of them and named him Lawrence in honor of his own father, and HE’S the one we’re encountering in China in 1904. But that still doesn’t square with the idea that Van Helsing (1904 version) tangled with Drac before, when we know for a fact that the Count has spent the last 100 years in China. Can’t weasel out of that, Hammer, that’s just foolishness.

Dracula the novel, incidentally, is said to be set in 1893 (just a few years prior to the novel’s publication). How do you go through nine different version of Dracula, all with different dates which almost seem internally consistent but don’t quite add up, and yet never come up with the actual year the original novel was really set in? Why change it at all? I hope it’s clear that this makes no sense whatsoever.

Cushing lookin' dapper as fuck.

What does make sense, though, is that you should watch this movie. The vampire stuff is rote and the martial arts scenes are pretty standard, but putting them together sure does make a weird matchup. The very act of setting a standard Van Helsing tale amidst the gorgeous scenery and elaborate sets of 1904 China adds a unique, cool dimension to the tale, and ensures that there’s nearly always something colorful and interesting happening somewhere in even the most mind-numbing scenes of time-wasting prattle. Even if it’s not exactly brilliantly directed, the stunning Hong Kong countryside and colorful (sometimes literally bathed in intense, SUSPIRIA-style abstract colors) Asian setting easily outpace the dull eyesore of all those dusty English drawing rooms in the other Hammer Dracula films. Shaw Brothers (who co-produced the film) tended to make lively, colorful films even when they weren’t very good, and their influence obviously keeps the whole vehicle afloat.

Then we’ve got the Seven Golden Vampires themselves. Chinese vampires, it turns out, do not look like Euro-vampires. Instead, they’re weird horse-riding sword-swinging paper mache monsters with severe overbites, gold masks, and tacky bat-themed bling gaudy enough to make Flava Flav blush. They’re awesome and completely unique, even if they never amount to much interesting as far as the plot goes. They also have the power to summon a back-up army of ghouls, who sport skull masks so goofy looking that I honestly can’t tell if the prop department just gave up or if we’re to assume these peasants were actually buried in fake-looking stylized ritual skull masks. Either way, I like it, even if, again, nothing really comes of it. Charmingly, you can see the actors wearing the masks really, really want to start hopping around like Chinese demons always do. They’re trying to reign it in for the Brits behind the camera, but a few obviously can’t help themselves and seem to compromise by sort of skipping around everywhere.

That is one angry ass muppet

As for the martial arts, there’s a few decent sequences, and it’s neat to see Cushing paired up with then-and-now prolific Hong Kong star David Chiang and his six brothers and one sister (the movie is sometimes titled THE SEVEN BROTHERS AND THEIR ONE SISTER MEET DRACULA, although in all fairness none of them actually *do* meet Dracula personally). They all have their own fun, gimmicky weapons and fighting style, so you can pick them out even if I don’t remember anyone but David Chiang actually having lines of dialogue. Peter Cushing, in his 60’s at the time, can’t martial art too good but is still spry enough in his special skeletal way to do plenty of fighting of his own, including a sequence where actual Peter Cushing obviously actually falls unchoreographed into a real fire. You don’t see that happen in too many movies, so enjoy it while you can. The biggest problem here is that for supernatural demigods, these vampires and ghouls don’t put up much of a fight. Their elaborate costumes makes them slower and clumsier than our nimble heroes, and they’re dispatched without too much effort (particularly Drac himself, who appears and then takes a dive within seconds) so the whole martial-artists vs Vampires gimmick ends up feeling a little anticlimactic. Still, there’s at least four pretty entertaining fight scenes, including one in a burning village which has a nicely nightmarish atmosphere to it.

Even at a slim 83 minutes, GOLDEN VAMPIRES is too slack to really be watchable by anyone but hardcore fans. But for those who make the effort, it’s a mildly tolerable diversion with a few fun gimmicks and, at the very least, a neat twist on the usual Hammer Dracula routine. The tone is more consistent than I had been led to expect, and the small amount of extra energy and fun the Hong Kong co-production injects into the proceedings goes a long way towards elevating this to watchable levels. Had they decided to make more Hong Kong/Hammer mashups they probably would have had to try harder than this, but as the sole, weird hybrid of it’s kind, it’s at the very least an amusing oddity. Maybe not worth spending 100 years on, but you could do worse with your 80s minutes. Harder to count, though.


7: DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)

(see also: Hammer’s FRANKENSTEIN series)

Ritual skull masks, or just hilarious inept makeup department? You tell me.


  • LITERARY ADAPTATION: Uh.. possibly a sequel to a sequel to an adaptation of Stoker's Dracula.
  • SEQUEL: Chronology seems a little off, but definitely part of Hammer's Dracula Series.
  • REMAKE: Nah, one of a kind.
  • HAMMER STUDIOS: Yes sir, one of the last before the studio shut down
  • SPAGHETTI NOCTURNE: Nah, British/ Hong Kong
  • SLUMMING A-LISTER: No, solid B-movie cast
  • BOOBIES: A few of Drac's victims lose their shirts
  • DECAPITATIONS OR DE-LIMBING: Think I remember a hand lopped off.
  • CULTISTS: Definitely looks like the 7 are up to some kind of ritual, but who knows.
  • ZOMBIES: Re-animated ghouls, but not traditional zombies
  • VAMPIRES: Seven, plus Drac
  • CURSES: No


  1. When the old dude went to talk to Dracula and awaken him from his slumber - didn't he refer to some curse over the province or something?

  2. I was in the middle of typing "can you explain what 'More Cushing for the Pushing' means...?" and then I figured it out.