The 70’s may not be considered Hammer’s golden period (the studio fell apart after 1979’s The Lady Vanishes), but it’s the decade of all my favorite Hammer movies to date: Dracula AD 1972, Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter, and now The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires.
Filmed in Hong Kong, Legend answers the question “what would happen if you put vampires in a Shaw Brothers Kung-fu movie?” While this joining of forces wasn’t without its clashes (Bruce Hallenbeck provides context on this less than smooth production on his commentary track), the result hits all the genre sweet spots, including vampires in giant bat necklaces that look like they could’ve been bought at a Halloween shop, yet couldn’t be more awesome (or ill-suited) for fight choreography.
While the rules aren’t that crucial for anything that follows, each necklace also holds the “undead life force” of the vampire, so when one of the guys loses their necklace it’s like they’ve sprung a leak and all the air starts rushing out of them (basically, the necklace is a glorified genie’s bottle).
Hsi Ching’s “ancestral village” has been the target of the golden seven for generations. Now Ching (the charismatic David Chiang), his six brothers, and their little sister, Mai Kwei (Shu Shih), want to destroy the seven, but need Van Helsing’s help to do it. Luckily, he’s in the area for a lecture and agrees to join their expedition.
Legend would mark Peter Cushing’s final turn as Van Helsing but he’s terrific here, brandishing a torch and trying to figure out what sets the Asian vampire apart from the European bloodsucker. The fight scenes in this movie are worth the price of admission alone. Each of the siblings has a signature weapon, and even though Chiang carries most of the dialogue, because of the language barrier (he shares a story about Cushing helping him learn his lines in a new interview), all of the actors make an impression.
Dracula wasn’t originally meant to appear in Legend, yet the film became Hammer Studio’s last Dracula movie and their only one without Christopher Lee (Dracula didn’t appear at all in The Brides of Dracula). You could almost mistake John Forbes-Robinson for Lee, when he first rises out of Dracula’s coffin, but a close-up on his face, and the Joker make-up he’s been saddled with, leaves nothing to confusion. Robinson’s Dracula talks too much, saying the same line, ten different ways. Instead of transforming into a bat, he takes over the body of a High Priest (Chan Shen), with an immediate change to the way he walks out of the room. Roy Ward Baker directed the picture, using gels to color the scenes at Dracula’s castle and the temple where the vampires lurk. They feel staged but look awfully cool and, in the end, that’s what really matters [it should be noted, Cheh Chang directed some of Legend, too, but was never credited].
Shout’s Blu-Ray includes both the 89-minute version of Legend and a US version, retitled The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula, that was padded and cut down to 75. Legend is a new scan and Brothers is in HD and when you see the trailer for Brothers the difference is night and day (though there is a spoiler in that one – Legend’s trailer avoids it). Hong Kong film expert, Rick Baker, talks about the film for a bit (and gives a great recommendation for a documentary to check out).
The seven fall quickly, but they go down swinging, and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is action-packed fun for the whole family (barring some nudity which could make it inappropriate for younger viewers).
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is available on Blu-Ray starting April 9th from Shout! Factory.