Van Helsing Goes to China – The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)

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The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires was made during Hammer’s twilight years and also happened to be co-produced by the Shaw Brothers Studio.  The end result of that collaboration is a truly wonderful and exciting picture that features the best of both worlds – action, horror, martial arts, beautiful women, vampires, Van Helsing and Peter Cushing.  Any film that can lay claim to having the great Peter Cushing is going to be fantastic in some measure and here, reprising one of his greatest roles as Dracula’s nemesis, it is like he never missed a step between this picture and the last.  It is a bit of a shame that Christopher Lee was not in this picture, being the only time he would not play Dracula for Hammer and instead the role going to John Forbes-Robertson.  Suffice it to say, there is no explanation given as to how the Count survived from the last time he was on-screen, you simply accept that he is and more dangerous than ever.

Legend of 7 Golden Vampires59The film finds the erstwhile Van Helsing in China, giving a lecture on his studies of the seven golden vampires.  Most everyone thinks he s a crock, but one man, Hsi Ching, does not and he wants to hire Van Helsing to come back to his village and kill the very same vampires who are in fact, very much real and of which only six remain.  Entering the picture at this time is Van Helsing’s son, a beautiful young widow played by Julie Ege to finance the expedition and Hsi Ching’s brothers and sister to protect them along the way.  Danger follows and danger is what they head into and though they plan to face it with all of their might, it may be more than they bargained for.

Legend of 7 Golden Vampires53As stated, there are both horror and martial arts present in the film and they come together to create a strange, yet perfect fusion.  You can clearly tell which influences came from which studio when you watch this, be it the deliberate pacing between action sequences that you can find in all Hammer pictures or the makeup of the vampires and their minions which clearly came from the Shaw Brothers camp.  Where Hammer’s vampires were beautiful, handsome and usually otherworldly, Shaw’s looked as if they had come straight from the grave with their almost-rotting skin and smaller, more feral fangs.  This was a different breed of vampire, a kind never seen in a Hammer film previous to this one and it was good to see something a little different.  Where Hammer’s European vampires were cunning, crafty and unassuming until it was too late, these golden vampires do not hide what they are, instead of being upfront with what they are and causing an immediate terror instead of a gradual one.  What makes it even more interesting is that we see both types of vampires in this film and it is hard not to compare the differences between them.  When it comes right down to it though, they have all of the right things in common and that is the fact that they bring death with them.

Legend of 7 Golden Vampires47Cushing was wonderful of course as the vampire hunter who had thought that his reputation was firmly established.  When Van Helsing’s audience clears out on him at the beginning of the picture you can see that it is a blow to the man’s ego, that everything he had done and all of the dangers that he had faced up until this point in time was essentially all for nothing.  The world at large did not believe in the existence of vampires and you can see him realize that if he was to find acclaim, it would not be by the public.  It is a very well-thought-out character moment for the man, something that you would rarely see in all of Hammer’s Dracula series and a nice progression from who he was to who he is here.

Legend of 7 Golden Vampires60Also in the film is Robin Stewart who plays Van Helsing’s son Leyland, David Chiang as Hsi Ching, Shih Szu as Hsi Ching’s sister Mai Kwei, and the aforementioned Julie Ege.  Robin Stewart was a little surprising in the film as you thought his character would go one way and then went another and so while you might have disliked him a little in the beginning, by the end of the movie you actually end up liking him a lot.  The women are beautiful and provide the necessary eye candy that a Hammer film must have though Shih Szu holds her own in the action sequences with a few great shots showcasing her skills.  kali devil bride of draculaThe moment when you first see Count Dracula appear as played by John Forbes-Robertson, he might have seemed imposing if not for wearing red lipstick, one of the only gaffs the makeup crew would make which made him look utterly ridiculous.  Other than that one instance though, while the film sounds silly in theory, the rest made for a very solid picture due in no small part to the great bunch of actors and actresses and directors Roy Ward Baker and Chang Cheh.

If Hammer had not gone out of business, this film would have been the start of a new trilogy of films starring Peter Cushing with the next one being called Kali, Devil Bride of Dracula.  It would have seen Cushing head to India to battle another set of vampires and if this film is anything to go by, it would have been great.  Sadly it never came to fruition and only the poster art remains, but at the very least, we did get this film, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires.  With fantastic and frenetic action sequences, some eerie vampires and enough horror to spare, the first and only co-production between Hammer and Shaw Brothers can be called a resounding success.

4 out of 5
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