Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)
Directors: Roy Ward Baker, Chang Cheh (uncredited)
Draculas: John Forbes-Robertson, Sheng Chan (possessed)
In 1973, both Hammer Films and the Hong Kong action studio Shaw Brothers were desperate. Enter the Dragon, released that year by rival studio Golden Harvest, had made kung-fu fighting a global filmic fad. Meanwhile, American distributors ignored Hammer’s outing that year, The Satanic Rites of Dracula (which we, unlike Warner Brothers, will take up). But Hammer had always done well in British colony Hong Kong and its cinematic hinterlands, as its visual style translated even when its scripts didn’t (and perhaps shouldn’t). And so the notion of a team-up was born. Hammer contributed Peter Cushing (and, under protest, Dracula) and the script; Shaw Brothers contributed their own star David Chiang (in an attempt to make him “the next Bruce Lee”) and the production facilities, such as they were, in Hong Kong.
The story, such as it is, seems made for seeing accidentally late at night and trying to explain that this thing really existed: Dracula (John Forbes-Robertson, heavily dubbed and bright green but game for camp) possesses the evil Chinese monk Kah (Sheng Chan) in 1804, in order to re-energize the Seven Golden Vampires and rule the land around the town of Ping Kwei. (In real history, that town, assuming it’s the one in Guangxi province, was one of the centers of the extraordinarily bloodthirsty Taiping Rebellion.) In 1904, Van Helsing delivers a lecture on vampires at Chungking University, seeking aid in tracking Chinese vampires and destroying them. Only one student, Hsi Ching (David Chiang) believes him, because he is a native of Ping Kwei. A rich Russian countess (Julie Ege) provides the funds and eye candy, and Van Helsing and Hsi Ching set out. Fortunately, Hsi has six brothers and a sister, all masters of the martial arts, to pit against the rotting golden vampires and an army of zombies, some of whom can be seen hopping just a bit, and I imagine Baker uselessly shouting “Stop hopping, you’re vampires!” during filming, which was a nightmare by all accounts. The last act swerves into homaging The Magnificent Seven (!) as Van Helsing and the remaining warriors make one final stand to defend Ping Kwei; the result is one of the few Hammer films to actually convey the danger and damage of vampire hunting. But Van Helsing survives to beard Kah in his lurid den, taunt him into transforming into Dracula proper, and then stake him with a spear. We are left with the nagging questions: was it worth the cost? and hey hold on if Dracula was inside a Chinese monk from 1804 to 1904, who was that Christopher Lee-looking guy Van Helsing hunted through the latter half of the 19th century?
The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a “first cut” essay on a cinematic Dracula. Reinforced by its weapon-wielding brother paragraphs (and with your comments and responses), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order the mortal coil and hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!