Tuesday, 5 February 2008

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is an odd hybrids, a combination of a Dracula movie and a king fu movie. It was a co-production between Hammer Films and Shaw Brothers Films in Hong Kong, and was made in Hong Kong in 1974. Like Dracula AD 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula It represented another attempt by Hammer to breathe new life (or unlife) into their Dracula franchise. It actually works surprisingly well. Professor van Helsing (a spirited performance by a somewhat frail-looking but enthusiastic Peter Cushing) is lecturing in China, trying to convince the university history faculty to take seriously the Chinese legends of vampires. What van Helsing doesn’t know is that his olds foe, Dracula, has been in China for many years, and now controls a coven of Chinese vampires, the infamous Seven Golden Vampires. So the indomitable European professor joins forces with a family of Chinese vampire hunters and martial arts experts and sets out to track down the local undead. His expedition is financed by a beautiful blonde Norwegian woman, played by Julie Ege. Ms Ege is not over-endowed with talent, although she is extremely well-endowed in a couple of other areas. As an actress she can best be described as mostly harmless. Robin Stewart as van Helsing’s son comes into the same category – he is required to be handsome, not terribly intelligent but awfully brave, and his talents are fortunately just sufficient for such a role.

On the other hand the movie has quite a lot in its favour. With Roy Ward Baker, always a stylish and skilful director with a striking eye for colour, at the helm the film is wonderfully atmospheric and visually splendid. The sets and costumes, and the make-up and effects, are all excellent. The vampires look very sinister and creepy. There are some very nice touches – especially the lesser undead minions of the vampire lords rising from the ground. It’s a touch more gory than previous Hammer outings, but without resorting to the excesses that later all but ruined the horror genre. And with a Shaw Brothers martial arts choreographer on hand to supervise the fight sequences it has more action and excitement than the average Hammer movie. The basic idea is original and effective, even if the vampire lore gets a bit tangled up. It has more than enough energy and exuberance to make up for any shortcomings in the plot. All in all it’s a great deal of fun.

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