Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires

I’ve been hoping to pick this film up for some time, as this one and only team up between Hammer Studios and the Shaw Brothers ranked pretty highly on my Hammer-films-I-must-see-someday list, but for some reason I’ve been consistently forgetting to purchase it for a couple years now. Well, the wait is over, and I have to say, while there were a few stumbling blocks, this film does manage to mostly live up to the expectations I had for it.

As one might expect from such a colossal team up as a British horror company and a Hong Kong martial arts company, it features Peter Cushing as Van Helsing venturing forth to China to do battle with both vampires and ninjas, accompanied by his own posse of Chinese kung fu masters that he befriends along the way. While I don’t know that I necessarily need to continue this review beyond that sentence, let me also note that, despite Christopher Lee turning down the role of Dracula, leaving it in the hands of a guy whose makeup leaves him just shy of being a full-blown drag queen, the overall blend of the two companies winds up working out pretty well.

Dracula, as he should when not being played by Lee, kind of takes a backseat to the title vampires, who I must admit kind of disappointed me when I first saw them. I guess it’s just me, but I had kind of had some high hopes of an awkward cultural clash of Dracula venturing out to China to revive and rule over the 7 Golden Vampires, only to be a little put-off when they all came back to life and began hopping around instead of walking. Sadly, the Chinese vampires in this film are fully capable of walking, which was kind of a let down. Sure, the zombie hordes they dredge up out of the ground hop occasionally, but they mostly do this weird little shuffle thing that manages to look rather adorable more than anything else. Still, though, they look pretty vicious, and are pretty nasty when they actually wade into battle with swords, because fuck just using their hands and teeth, right? One other thing I found rather amusing about them was how, rather than get their victims through a dark seduction like European vampires have historically done, the 7 Golden Vampires just sort of charge at women, rip open their blouses, and leer at their tits a bit before dragging them back to their unholy temple to drain them of blood. It’s that kind of interesting cultural difference that I always find so fascinating when watching films from other countries.

The big, expansive battles, which are the main focus of the film, come off well, and despite the ease with which Cushing’s posse of kung fu brothers (and younger sister, who oddly enough despite being unmarried has a different family name) are able to take down a band of ninja early in their voyage, quite a few of them start getting killed off once the vampires actually start to throw down with them. While Cushing’s obviously going to make it through this alive, in the hopes of milking another few face-offs with Dracula down the road (which didn’t end up happening; not only was this Cushing’s last film for Hammer, but Hammer, whose popularity had been in decline since the rise of the more gore-drenched horrors of the 70s, closed down its horror branch a mere two years later), none of the other characters are particularly safe, which the film uses to its advantage, adding a level of uncertainty and grimness to the affair. A few minor problems aside (such as the spoilers in the following paragraph), this is a really good, well-made film.

One other thing about the ending, for those of you that don’t mind being spoiled: I realize that the 7 Golden Vampires were the main villains for this, and not Dracula, but when it comes time for him and Van Helsing to have their big climactic throwdown once the other vampires are all taken care of, can’t it at least go on longer than ten seconds? Jesus.

Rating: *** ½

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