Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)
Director: Roy Ward Baker & Chang Cheh
Writers: Don Houghton
Starring: Peter Cushing, David Chiang and Julie Ege

The Plot: Our little tale begins in 1904 Transylvania where a man named Kha plans on asking Count Dracula to grant him his powers. Kha is a Chinese warlord who is keeper of the Seven Golden Vampires and hopping zombies of Ping Kwei in the Szechwan province of China; once Kha obtains this power, the age-old Golden Vampires will wake up and continue their reign of havoc on small villages in China. However, Count Dracula alters the proposition slightly by taking over Kha’s soul and controlling his body, thus continuing his halted reign of vampiric terror in China. In the meantime, Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) lectures about the legend of the seven golden vampires in the Chung King university and how there are only six of them left thanks to a dead villager (Okay, so they’re the Six Golden Vampires, but the S.G.V. acronym still works), but 99% of the audience leaves the room. The one remaining student who believes him is Hsi Ching, a villager who has lived with the terror of the S.G.V. and believes that by teaming up with Van Helsing, Helsing’s son, a local (busty) Scandinavian aristocrat and the student’s seven martial artist siblings, they can all finally put an end to the Golden Vampire’s reign.
The Review
It seems to be mankind’s natural desire to seek out two-for-one deals and in movies its no exception. When one combines martial arts mayhem with ghostly Eastern vampires, it’s easy to see why: Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires is an exciting and entertaining Action movie with its own Horror theme that it ultimately stands out as fun Kung Fu/Martial Arts film. As an Action-Horror film it’s unintentionally hilarious and as a Martial Arts movie it’s The pace of the movie is well laid out and it has an credible feeling to it as the fights are easy to follow and the exposition never too long.

Typical of a Hammer movie, the cinematography is great: the movie is very well shot and it’s easy to tell what’s going on through most of the movie. The lighting wasn’t the best though as it seemed a little too bright and cheery in the brief introduction scene with Dracula and Kha; yes all of the scenes were very clear, crisp and the coloring effects in later scenes were rather effective, but I don’t expect turquoise to be thematic for someone as evil as Dracula (nor did I expect Dracula to wear lipstick). Also the prop/effects weren’t the best either as rubber bats were swung on strings in Drac’s castle and the Chinese hopping zombies were often replaced with bobble-headed dummies whenever they were shot at.

The vampires themselves look totally goofy in their semi-mummified state with long hair wearing flashy clothes and bearing gold face masks that enable at least one of their eyes to bulge out. Really, the design of these vampires is outright silly; it’s one thing to have golden vampires say perhaps with golden skeletons making their fangs gold,* but it’s another matter to have aged vampires that wear golden masks, golden bat medallions and flashy garbs. Nevertheless, all of the negative aspects here do make for a very funny experience and rich colorization combined with sharp cinematography lights up the screen even when there’s no action.

I have to say that the soundtrack to this movie is pretty funny at times. It’s an orchestrated score that sounds very typical to an Asian Action film, but some times it overdoes certain sounds to the point where you expect someone to slip on a banana peel during a fight. It’s hard to describe, but imagine a trombone player so used to using their instrument for comedic musical stingers being hired to do a serious Action score. Seriously, just listen to the opening credit sequence and try not to laugh.

The acting and dialogue was pretty decent and mainly consisted of English lines with very little dubbing; the only dubbed moments in the movie consisted of action grunts that never matched the actor’s expressions. It’s hard not to point out Cushing’s performance in these movies, but he’s always got great screen presence. Julie Ege was kind of fun too, but she didn’t have a big enough role in the movie. David Chiang plays a very likable martial arts master and is the film’s primary bad ass until the end. Watching his fighting style in action is a lot of fun especially when he ends up driving a fist or finger into someone’s body. Honestly I was hoping Hsi Ching would fist fight Dracula in the film’s climax, but no such luck.

It’s interesting how the movie takes into consideration the regional difference between European and Asian vampires in context to the film; it makes Ching and Helsing’s struggle to fight the Golden Vampires seem the more tasking. It’s a little too hollow how some of the romantic interest characters develop, mostly in the relationship between Mei-Kwei and Helsing’s complaining son Leyland. It seemed to make more sense for Hing and Von Buren to hook up, but Leyland and Mei-Kwei feels more like on-the-spot attraction and protection. That… and the character of Leyland sucks.

Most of the action is well directed thanks to late Kung Fu director Chang Cheh, who directed Heaven and Hell as well as Two Champions of Shaolin. The action itself was pretty well choreographed and is really the true gold of the movie. There are a few moments where the choreographing shows like when a one of the brothers misses a great opportunity at striking a vampire’s back and instead sweeps for his legs, just the vampire notices he’s about to be attacked.Such little flops do little to wear down the action sequences. There’s tons of hacking and slashing in the movie and the way its shot quickly but lucidly makes the sequences mesmerizing and exciting. The movie ends just under 90 minutes, yet the pace of the film makes the experience feel shorter.

This is a movie where you’ll watch at least forty armed mobsters get slaughtered by the eight siblings with their own various weapons and techniques. The brothers and sister’s fighting techniques are pretty cool, especially the twins Hisu Sung and San as they fought literally bracing their free arms and slicing anyone within their perimeter. Sadly, a lot of the fighting brothers are forgotten about near the end as most of them face rather predictable fates. Even the dispatching of the vampires is toned down near the end when a bunch of villagers mob up on a vampire and they just beat him to death! In all honesty, the only action scene in the movie that really sucks is the climax.

Now this being a vampire movie, it’s bound to have a weird take on the rules of dispatching vampires. As I mentioned earlier, I liked the difference between Eastern and Western vampires’ weaknesses but it always bugs me when most of the rules of vampire hunting are evident except for the one that involves saving those cursed by Head-Vampires. I understand the purposeful mystique given in the movie as a European vampire hunter tries to find a connection to Asian and European vampires, but the rules of normal people getting affected by older vampires getting ignored here just made for a weak part in the script. Besides, I didn’t watch Monster Squad and Lost Boys as a kid for no reason, dang it!

Oh crap! I almost forgot! This movie has some nudity in it, too! Yep, the vampires don’t like tops on their ladies. Why they like them on Julie Ege though… I don’t know… except maybe she didn’t have it in her contract.

The Conclusion
If you ever wanted to see a Kung Fu flick with vampires and zombies sword fighting each other and Peter Cushing, then this is your movie. It will make a great Christmas gift and is one of the best kinds of Action movies to play during a party… that and maybe Raw Force.

* Although nowadays that sort of design would make them look like alternative rap artists.