Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires

Last week I discussed the movie Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and submitted it as proof that, even in the Seventies, Hammer Films could produce starkly original films. For me another example of this is Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is unlike any Hammer film one might ever see. Quite simply, it is perhaps the first kung fu vampire movie! Hammer Film Productions made the movie in conjunction with the Shaw Brothers, a Hong Kong studio best known for kung fu movies. It was, quite simply, the first kung fu vampire movie! Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires was also shot almost entirely on location in and around Hong Kong. As might be expected, it was released at the height of the kung fu craze of the early Seventies.

The plot involved a Chinese village which is terrorised by seven golden vampires, revived by Dracula on behalf of an evil Chinese warlord. One of the villagers learns that Dracula's old nemesis, Professor Van Helsing, is speaking in Chungking and enlists his aid. Van Helsing, his son, an heiress, and seven brothers and one sister, who are experts in kung fu, then set out to destroy the vampires. Originally, Dracula was not meant to appear in the film. At the last minute, however, it was decided that the Dracula name could bring in more money at the box office. Despite this, Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is hardly a Dracula film, as the Count only appears on screen for all of six minutes!

Unfortunately, it does not even seem that Dracula could save Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires where the box office was concerned. The movie bombed. Had it been successful, its sequel would have pitted Van Helsing against vampires in India. As to why Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires failed in Britain, that is anyone's guess. Perhaps the combination of kung fu and vampires in the movie was just a bit too much ahead of its time.

Regardless, Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires has a reputation for being a very bad movie, a reputation I do not think it deserves. I suspect that this is largely due to the American version of the film, 7 Brothers Versus Dracula. For its American release, the movie was cut from its 91 minute running time to 75 minutes. It was also heavily re-edited, with entire scenes rearranged and important plot points left out. Ironically, even though his name was on the marquee in the American version, Dracula had even less time in 7 Brothers Versus Dracula than he did in Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires! As a result of the cutting and re-editing, 7 Brothers Versus Dracula made little sense whatsoever. While the reasons for the failure of Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires in Britain may be debated, the reason for the failure of 7 Brothers Versus Dracula in America should be no secret--it was awful. Of course, the trailer for 7 Brothers Versus Dracula probably did not help it at the box office. It is quite possibly one of the worst trailers of the Seventies (which says something in and of itself).

In my humble opinion, it is a shame that Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires was butchered for American release, as the film in its original form is actually quite entertaining. Visually, this is one of Hammer's best looking films. The exterior scenery (the hills and forests of Hong Kong) is quite striking. And the interiors, shot in hues of red, orange, and blue, look very good as well. The movie features some very impressive scenes, among them an army of undead attacking the village. The fight scenes are perhaps not as well choreographed as some of the other Shaw Brothers films, but are still nonetheless impressive. As to the story, it includes some interesting plot twists and a few real surprises. And the Seven Golden Vampires themselves are a nice change of pace from the vampires of Western horror movies. This is not to say that Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is a perfect movie. With the possible exception of Peter Cushing, the performances are somewhat overwrought.

Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is hardly a great film, but it is both entertaining and interesting. It hardly deserves the reputation it has of being a truly awful movie (a reputation I suspect is due almost entirely to the horrible American version). I would say that it is certainly well worth watching.

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