Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Hammer Dracula: The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires (1974)

The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires
Director:  Roy Ward Baker, Cheh Chung
Starring:  Peter Cushing, John Forbes-Robertson, David Chiang, Julie Ege, Robin Stewart, Szu Shih, Shen Chan
Rated:  R

Black Belt Against Black Magic!
           ~Trailer Narrator

There are some who wouldn't count this with the Hammer Dracula series, like they don't count Brides Of Dracula.  No, it doesn't have Christopher Lee but Dracula is in the film and its prime villain.  This is indeed a Hammer film too.  It also has Peter Cushing once again reprising his role as Van Helsing.  Also, while not in the film, Hammer wanted Christopher Lee in the film as Dracula but for the first time ever he successfully declined.  This is a crossover with the super popular at the time, Shaw Brothers studio who made grindhouse-style kung fu films.  For me, I count the damn thing as its a Hammer film, with Dracula and its got Peter Cushing as Van Helsing.  While its wildly different than anything before, I still think its part of the family.
I don't consider this one totally canon at all.  Its more in the realm of some elseworld or one-off to only work for this film.  Yes, you have your preconceived and recognizable characters in Van Helsing and Dracula.  7 Golden Vampires is just taking them and pitting them in a fun move that's repercussions don't really count toward anything in any main storyline except for its own.  Its just there to do what it does, have fun, tell its own self contained story and then take off.  You can have this movie be wildly different and still a part of the series.  Consider it the Halloween III: Season Of The Witch of the Hammer Dracula Series.  Except, unlike that one, it actually does have some characters and ties to the original.
What a crazy movie this turns out to be.  Its pretty much every and anything you'd expect from just reading the crossover.  There are boobs, blood, limbs being torn off, monster melting or turning to ash, crazy kung fu moves, big large group fights that pop up randomly and seemingly from nowhere and much more.  This film has a plot that's pretty murky.  I'm still not quite sure what the point of the film is aside from the basic "Dracula is bad, lets stop him".  The last thing someone could say about this movie is that it is boring.  Its shot in epic scope and something either action oriented or super weird is happening at all times.  And when its not, you get Peter Cushing in there to deliver the mythos with prestige.
Our new Dracula isn't all too bad.  He's a little more cartoony than Lee (plus he has a bunch more "horror" makeup), but its more fitting of the tone of the film.  I can't say too much about him as he doesn't appear for but maybe five minutes total in the entirety.  He ends up possessing a guy named Kah, and Kah is pretty much defacto Dracula til the final minutes.  Kah is basically any sort of dubbed villain in one of these 70s kung fu movies.  Hard to really judge him as a "Dracula" as its really its own entity here.  When Dracula does return, the final showdown ever between him and Van Helsing in a Hammer film feels like someone slowly letting the air out of a balloon.  His disintegration is pretty cool, but the overall scene just is too quick and simple.  Dracula gives on last monologue to Van Helsing, approaches him, gets stabbed with a wooden handle and dies.  That's its.  Cue the "Wump waaaa" sound.
Here's the obligatory Peter Cushing section of the Hammer Dracula review.  Man, is this guy ever game for anything Hammer threw at him.  You'd think maybe this would be the straw that had him going "Are you f***ing kidding me?", but no.  His Van Helsing here has all the gravitas with spewing out history and mythology.  However, this time around there's a little more sense of fun and adventure to his performance.  I really feel watching this that Cushing was having a terrific time shooting this batshit crazy movie when many actors his age and at this point in their career would have grumped their way through the whole thing.  Even if he didn't like the movie or filming it, it doesn't show through at all.
Some of the set design is pretty cool for the film.  Dracula's castle is exceptionally different than what we've seen before.  I especially liken to the whole green filtered room where they have bare chested women lying in a circle with their blood being drained in to a boiling vat.  From a photographic perspective it just looks really neat.  In addition there are a lot of crazy sort of outfits and nice kung fu style gore to go around.  The gore is slightly Hammer, but seemed to be more in line with the work of the Shaw Brothers than anything.  The fights and stuff are also mixed with a nice sense of humor to them as well.  Everybody involved knew how crazy this was and they seemed to take pride and embrace it a little.
And this is where it all ends.  At least the Hammer Dracula series ends with something wild and energetic as opposed to tired and out of gas like the previous two installments.  The craziness of jumping the shark for me outweighs the dull drab boringness of stretching something out longer than need be.  It would have been hilarious to have Lee in this movie, but alas we get the only non-Lee Dracula performer.  I can see people seeing two sides of the coin with this one.  If you hate this movie and don't like what it stands for, okay, I gotcha.  But then there's just this charming craziness to the ambitious and silly concept of the cross-over that I'm sure there are many that can see the enjoyment of.  Me?  I had some fun with this one.  Being a fan of both Hammer and 70s Kung Fu movies, I welcomed the mix just because of how ludicrous it was.  The ending stinks, but don't let that deter you from vampire kung fu craziness.

NEXT TIME:  We've had a bite of each, now which stake tasted the best?

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