Ever since I was a child I’ve associated the name Hammer with cool horror movies. In more recent years as an adult, I’ve come to associate the name Shaw Brothers with cool martial arts movies. Imagine my delight when I discovered that these two iconic studios collaborated! One of the results of this team-up was The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, which also served as the eighth and final Dracula movie from Hammer. Is it a cinematic masterpiece? Absolutely not. Is it a lot of fun? Hell yeah!
The movie begins with a monk named Kah travelling to Count Dracula’s castle. His goal is to convince Dracula to come to China and resurrect the seven golden vampires in order to keep the locals in line and restore power to his temple. If he knows how brutal vampires can be, why does he think this is the best way to go about things? I’d have to assume he must be extremely desperate. At any rate, Kah pleads his case and Dracula agrees, but at a price. The catch is that he possesses Kah against his will. After that, he does as requested and resurrects the golden vampires. Chaos ensues.
Most Hammer fans associate Christopher Lee with Dracula, but Lee does not reprise the role here. Instead, we have John Forbes-Robertson who, although new to playing Dracula, did have previous experience playing a vampire in Hammer’s 1970 movie, The Vampire Lovers. Is Forbes-Robertson an adequate replacement for Lee? Hard to say. If this script was presented to Lee, I can understand why he would turn it down. Thanks to Dracula’s possession of Kah, Forbes-Robertson barely has any screen time.
Many years later, Professor Van Helsing is giving a lecture on vampires at a Chinese university. While disappointing to not have Lee, thankfully we do get his equally iconic counterpart, Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, his fifth time in that role. Cushing is amazing as always and brings a sense of legitimacy to the film. Unfortunately for Van Helsing, his audience is not having it. They dismiss the notion of vampires, especially in a culture as sophisticated as theirs, and claim Dracula was nothing more than a “madman”. All of them leave the classroom except for one man. Shaw Brothers brought their own legend to the table in the form of David Chiang who plays Hsi Ching, a resident of the village that is being terrorized by the golden vampires. He knows Van Helsing speaks the truth and wants his help getting rid of the undead menace. With some convincing from Van Helsing’s son, Leyland, and the wealthy Vanessa Buren, who is familiar with the professor’s work and offers her financial resources, he agrees. Along with Hsi Ching’s sister and five brothers, they embark on their adventure!
7 Golden Vampires features some great action scenes thanks to the guidance of Chang Cheh, who co-directed with Roy Ward Baker. We’re treated to multiple large-scale brawls that see everybody get in on the fighting, even Van Helsing. Hsi Ching and his siblings are all martial arts masters. His brothers have no dialogue and even though we learn their names, there’s not much to distinguish them other than the fact that they each specialize in a different weapon. The sister, Mei Kwei, who is also a badass, develops a romance with Leyland. They’re not the only ones though, as Hsi Ching and Vanessa also take a liking to each other.
The heroes definitely have their work cut out for them because not only are the seven golden vampires kung fu masters themselves, but they also command a zombie army. Despite the funny way the zombies march they do have a neat intro, eerily rising out of the ground after Dracula bangs a gong. There’s also a bit of a slow-motion effect to make the baddies appear creepier.
There are lots of memorable scenes, such as Hsi Ching ripping an outlaw’s throat out, and then wiping off his bloody hand on the dead man’s clothing before the corpse drops to the ground. Or even just watching Van Helsing and Hsi Ching sitting at a campfire and chatting was really cool, seeing a couple of my favourite actors from vastly different backgrounds joining forces like that. There are other scenes that stand out, but I don’t want to spoil anything!
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires flows surprisingly well, and I find it to be just about the right balance of action and horror. It doesn’t have the same gothic feel of other Hammer releases, but it’s still scored by famous composer James Bernard. If you’re a horror fan who hates martial arts, or vice versa, then this one might be a hard sell for you. For everybody else, I think you may find this movie to be quite entertaining, especially for fans of both Hammer and Shaw Brothers. As long as you’re not looking for something that’s really serious, you should absolutely check this out. There may be a few quirks, but this movie is full of entertainment and ranks high on my list of all-time favourites.