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Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A surprisingly decent crossover."
3 stars

"The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires" was not the only product of a mid-1970s team-up between Hammer Films and the Shaw Brothers Studio, but ill-fated action flick "Shatter" (coincidentally due for a home video release in about a week) likely doesn't have quite the same sense of being a crossover that this does. It's recognizable as both the sort of horror movies Hammer and Shaw Brothers made, with a healthy dose of the latter's martial-arts action, more for better than worse.

It opens 1804, with Kah (Chan Shen) arriving in Transylvania from China to beseech Dracula (John Forbes-Robertson) for his aid in helping his village of Ping Kwei's seven golden vampires once again spread terror through the countryside, which the Count accepts, in his own way. A hundred years later, Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is giving a lecture on vampirism in Chungking, hoping to learn of China's undead only to be dismissed by all but Hsi Ching (David Chiang Da-Wei), who has come from Ping Kwei to seek Van Helsing's assistance in destroying the vampires that still plague his village. It's an expensive expedition, but Scandinavian widow and adventuress Vanessa Buren (Julie Ege) is intrigued, and with a party including Van Helsing's son Leyland (Robin Stewart) as well as Ching's six brothers and sister Mei Kwei (Shih Szu), they set out, pursued by gangsters and heading toward monsters.

Christopher Lee opted not to return as Dracula for what is little more than a cameo rule (though John Forbes-Robertson as dubbed by David de Keyser is a fair substitute for a couple of scenes), and truth be told, this film would probably work better without him. Aside from how the story would seem to make no sense in established Hammer continuity, there's something downright charming about it as a sort of spin-off, with Van Helsing touring the globe and learning about the various legends of the undead that can be found outside of his central-European expertise. Those initial scenes play Van Helsing as an eccentric academic, with costumes and attitude that remind one as much of Peter Cushing's short-lived stint as Dr. Who as the hard-bitten vampire hunter of the early Hammer Draculas, with an enjoyable (if unfortunately noteworthy) respect for the Chinese setting, from how Cushing's first scene flips the script on the familiar trope of the European scientist lecturing superstitious locals to his genuine curiosity discussing vampires with Hsi Ching and the party later.

And he should be humble, because he is definitely in Shaw Brothers territory as much as Hammer turf. The seven vampires and their undead army are covered in an almost absurd amount of prosthetic makeup so that they come across as bizarre, uncanny monsters, with garish bat medallions just to make sure the audience gets it. On top of that, the Hsi family leaps into action like this was any other kung fu flick, and the fights are the real deal: Legendary Shaw Brothers director Chang Cheh may be uncredited, but he oversaw much of the martial-arts scenes, with Tang Chia and Liu Chia-Liang (who would later go on to direct his brother in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and its sequels) choreographing the action. These battles are big and sprawling, with a great many fists, feet, and silvery weapons flying without it ever being too much. The violence in Hammer horror movies is always enthusiastic, but this movie drops big fast-paced battles in without missing a beat. They even do a nice job of making sure that Robin Stewart, presumably brought in as a younger Van Helsing to minimize the amount of strenuous work for Cushing, comes across as not skilled in the same way as the Hong Kong cast without looking like a fool.

For all that the Shaw Brothers action can be dropped into a Hammer horror movie without seeming out of place, neither studio tended to see these movies as a whole lot more than vehicles for sex and violence, which this one delivers, if often with as much glee as style. Peter Cushing and David Chiang Da-Wei are good enough in their parts to make scenes move smoothly, but the need to have a cast big enough that some can fall in battle means there's not really enough material for anyone to be terribly interesting individually, from the frequently anonymous brothers to how Julie Ege is mostly filling costumes until literally her last scene. Neither John Forbes-Robertson nor Chan Shen gets much chance to do much as a villain between the very start and very end of the film.

But if you're going to mash Hammer Films and the Shaw Brothers together, you can't exactly expect that which neither prioritized to suddenly be great. Instead, you just hope that each part brings something that they do well, and if "7 Golden Vampires" winds up being just a good example of each label's product, that's a sort of success a lot of other crossovers don't manage.

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originally posted: 04/18/20 13:30:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.

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