OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (91
7 BROTHERS MEET DRACULA (75
LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES is an unusual collaboration between Hammer Films (England’s leading horror film producer) and Shaw Brothers Studios (China’s leading kung-fu movie producer). In 1974, both genres were hot (as they are today) and a deal was made to film the world’s first kung-fu horror epic. This film became the blueprint for such foreign crossover films that are popular today (such as WICKED CITY, MR. VAMPIRE, etc.). Rumor has it that since the ambitious epic film would be breaking new ground, additional clout would be needed to draw in a potentially confused audience. So the producers added a prolog and an epilog involving Dracula (then Hammer film’s top franchise) into the mix. However, the great Christopher Lee wanted nothing to do with playing Dracula again at this point. So another actor, John Forbes Robertson, was hired for the role. Of course he could never fill the shoes left by Christopher Lee, but luckily Robertson’s incarnation of Dracula only appears in the first three minutes and the last three minutes of the film. The hitch is that Dracula uses his shape changing abilities to assume the identity of a Chinese Warlord. So this film can also be considered the last of the Hammer Dracula films. The US Distributors wanted to also capitalize on the Dracula name, hence the title change on their version (even though they cut out Drac’s screen time even more!)
So Chris Lee did not return for the last Dracula film, but the magnificent Peter Cushing as Van Helsing continues the tradition in true Dracula form. English actor Robin Stewart plays Van Helsing’s son Leyland. David (7 BLOWS OF THE DRAGON) Chiang plays Ching, the head of the 7 Brothers Clan. The delicious Julie Ege plays the rich, Swedish world-traveler Vanessa Burren. Szu Shih plays the beautiful but deadly sister to the 7 Brothers Clan and is the love interest to Leyland Van Helsing. James Ma is Kah, the evil warlord whose identity Dracula has usurped. The rest of the cast is made up of a large number of great martial artists/actors and the film was made in Hong Kong and directed by British director Roy Ward Baker (veteran director of numerous Hammer films). However, there is practically no Chinese dialogue in the whole movie. They all speak English and none of it is dubbed! This must be a first for an epic Hong Kong film of this magnitude.
In the Romanian Alps, a Chinese warlord named Kah searches for Dracula’s castle. Kah finds the location and stumbles into the castle which awakens the prince of darkness. Kah informs the Count that in Kah’s homeland, his people are living too peacefully and he requests that Dracula resurrect China’s sleeping terrors the 7 Golden Vampires so fear will once again reign. Dracula promptly thanks Kah for the idea then attacks Kah and assumes his identity. Cut to late eighteenth century China. Van Helsing is there with his son Leyland lecturing on philosophy and parapsychology. After an unbelieving audience laughs at him, a young Chinese peasant named Ching explains that his village of Ping Wei is under control of the Golden Vampires. Chiang wants Van Helsing to lead an expedition to the village of doom. Furthermore, he adds that himself and his six brothers are masters of the martial arts who will protect the expedition members should they accept. Has Van Helsing ever turned down a challenge?
The expedition including the 7 Brothers Clan, their sister, Van Helsing, Heydon, and Vanessa begin the long trek and are besieged by a small army of mountain bandits. Meanwhile, Dracula/Kah has amassed a hideous army of the undead consisting of undead zombies and the Golden Vampires themselves. This unstoppable army attack the city of Ping Wei slaughtering the citizens relentlessly. Some of the vampires set a trap for the expedition outside the city. A battle ensues and all Van Helsing’s doubts and fears become reality. They manage to kill a vampire thus proving that they can be stopped. Now, Van Helsing and the Seven Brothers Clan must face not only the rest of the Golden Vampires and the zombie army, but also Dracula himself!
In addition to the above storyline, there is plenty of horror and kung fu violence/mayhem:
This is merely just a taste of what’s in this movie. With tons of nudity, blood, and violence, make sure you put the kids to bed. I find that Les Bowie’s special effects, though more traditional by today's standards, to be the best he has ever done, and there is more of them in this film than in any other Hammer film! Composer James Bernard whips up a typical Hammer score to supplement the mayhem quite nicely. But there is one shrilling music strain that plays each time a zombie appears (which is very frequently); this piece of music grates on your nerves after the second or third time you hear it. Director Roy Ward Baker, inexperienced with directing martial arts films, obviously studied them well because the martial arts scenes are very convincing and well photographed.
Now before you think this movie is all blood and guts, and no brains let me say that this movie is also a lesson in world history! Think about it. The preyed-on villagers seek assistance from foreigner experts. They are victims of Chinese vampires who are under the influence of a European vampire (which can be interpreted as local Chinese feudal lords working for capitalists who are in the service of western imperialism). The peasants are unable to combat this alliance, and turn to a western intellectual, Van Helsing (playing the Karl Marx role). The new alliance of western theory and Chinese peasant practice eventually overcome the dominion of the local allies led by Dracula. Peace and Prosperity is restored much like Chairman Mao and the Chinese Communist Party. So there you have it.
THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES is presented in a 2:35.1 widescreen transfer that preserves Roy Fords and John Wilcox’s excellent cinematography. Much of the movie takes place in the Hong Kong hills, mountains, and woods. The detail in these scenes is stunning and full of detail; so much so that additional viewings are needed to take it all in. Exterior scenes are excellent with perfectly balanced coloring. Interiors, though darker, are even more visually astounding due to the lighting of the film using red, blue, and orange backlights which gives the castle and temple sets sharp detail and clarity. The entire look of the film is unbelievable. The only way thing that is keeping me from giving it a full rating of 5 is that it is not 16x9 enhanced. This looks like it could be a nineties film instead of a seventies one. The image is very sharp with excellent detail. Colors are genuinely bright and appear accurate. Contrast and brightness are excellent with good shadow detail. Les Bowie’s effects work looks great in all its bloody glory, whether its blood spurting from a bitten wound, or a lethal kung fu strike. Side 2 of the DVD features the butchered 7 BROTHERS MEET DRACULA film in 2:35:1 ratio, but the image quality is no where near the caliber of LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES.
Though the video quality is superb, unfortunately the Dolby Digital mono soundtrack is problematic. The dialog sounds muddy and muffled, even when you turn up the volume. This is a dialog driven film featuring Chinese actors speaking highly accented English and it is all difficult to understand. I’ve heard movies from the forties and fifties that have better mono mix than this film. THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE for example, has an impressive mono sound way better than this mix. The score features some rich music but it sounds very tinny in the mix. A real disappointment. Hopefully, Anchor Bay will work on properly remixing Hammer’s other soundtracks as they release more of them on DVD.
The theatrical trailer is for THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEET DRACULA and is full frame and mono. There is a nice narration to the story that is credited to the late Peter Cushing but damn it doesn’t sound like Peter to me. The narrative is delivered nicely as if a poet is reading his works in a coffehouse. While the narrative goes on, the original theatrical poster displays onscreen. Pretty slim extras but if you count the 7 BROS version, that is a pretty nice "freebie" that Anchor Bay didn’t have to include.
If you’ve ever seen this film in its truncated US release, please revisit the film to see why it did not make sense. If you are a fan of either epic kung-fu films or Hammer horror movies, then this is highly recommended and has enough of both genres to satisfy both crowds. Is it the best Hammer horror film ever made? Hell no. Is it the best Hammer film of the seventies? Hell yeah. Though the soundtrack is disappointing, Anchor Bay presents the film in a glorious widescreen uncut version, something that has been unavailable til now. Give it a rental. Good authoring by GTN New Media.
Hammer Great Peter Cushing Meets Shaw Star David Chiang!
-- Phil Chandler