Sunday, September 14, 2008

#67: The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires


The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires
Directed by Roy Ward Baker (uncredited assist by Cheh Chang)
Written by Don Houghton
Released October 6, 1974 (UK)

Hey, William Friedkin: remember when I was saying that sometimes the title is everything? Well, take a lesson from The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. Now that is a movie title. Not only does it tell you what you're getting before you set foot in the theater (clearly, you're getting a legend, a lot of vampires, and either horror or an adventure movie), but it just sounds cool rolling off the tongue. If you're in line at the movie theater and you feel like you're going to be embarrassed to say "One for The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, please," clearly you're not going to like the movie.

Clearly, the makers of the Blade comic books and movies owe a debt to director Roy Ward Baker for coming up with this undeniably successful formula: Kung Fu + Vampires = Money. Although, I suppose that the fact that The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires isn't exactly title known worldwide, I guess the makers of Blade really mastered the "Money" part of that equation.

If there was ever a team to pull off the Kung Fu + Vampires part of the equation, it's the combination of the two studios who came together to make this film, Hammer Films and the Shaw Brothers production companies. Hammer was virtually synonymous with horror films from the 1950s through the late 1970s, while the Shaw Brothers are so enshrined in the history of Hong Kong cinema that Quentin Tarantino called them out (and used their studios) in his Kill Bill films. In the mid-70s, you couldn't do Dracula without Hammer, nor Kung Fu without Shaw Studios.

Legend is both studios working at their cheesy, campy best. As the movie opens, a servant of the dormant 7 Golden Vampires has made his way from China to Dracula's castle in Transylvania. He awakens the king of all vampires, begging Mr. D to return with him to his homeland and awaken his masters so that they may once again rule the region. Dracula essentially decides (and I'm paraphrasing here), "You know what, I'm tired of this dump. Yeah, I'll go. But I'm doing it in your body." Dracula makes good on his vow, pulling some kind of Freaky Friday body switch with the servant, who hilariously acts shocked and betrayed. Really, if you woke up Dracula -- on purpose -- would you be surprised if he fucked you over?

We follow Dracula to a village in China, where he now presides over the seven mummified vampires, along with an army of skull-faced zombies (that's right, we've even got zombies in the mix), as he hangs out and sacrifices female locals in various states of undress. I have to admit, it's kind of an awesome promotion for a guy who normally just hangs out in his basement, sleeps in a coffin and occasionally turns into a bat.

Cut to Chungking, where visiting Professor Abraham Van Helsing has become unpopular as he spreads this legend of Dracula and his seven minions to a crowd of suspicious, non-believing students. There is one believer among them, a young man named Hsi Ching, who begs Van Helsing to return with him and a small army of Kung Fu killers to his village and destroy Dracula and his minions.

The acting, with the exception of Cushing, is uniformly pretty awful, while the script is full of unintentional laughs. Still, if you're the kind of person who is able to look past all that and see this for what it is (sword fights, excessive nudity, spraying blood and decaying corpses), you'll probably have a good time.

As someone who spent a good deal of his childhood catching all manner of double feature karate flicks on "Kung Fu Theater," I could tell that this was still a step above most of those movies. Not a big step, mind you, but a step.

And in fairness to William Friedkin, I must add that despite your movie's title, you've got this one beat by several milese.

For more on The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- Visit Hammer Films or Shaw Studios
- Buy the DVD (though, really, this is more of a rental kind of movie. When you're really drunk.).

An assortment of Kung Fu-lery from the movie:

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