As some of our more frequent readers may remember, I shared the 1974 Dracula-martial arts hybrid The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires as one of our horrors on the lens last October. Judging from the comments that I got last year, this was apparently one of the more popular films that we featured.
And why not? The film is one of those rather ludicrous movies that really could have only been made in the early 1970s. It combines two genres that really should not go together — martial arts and the Hammer Dracula series — and somehow, it all works. Don’t get me wrong. The film doesn’t make a bit of sense. I’ve seen it a few times and I still have a hard time following just what exactly is going on. But you don’t watch a film called The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires for the plot. This is one of those movies that you watch for the style. Fortunately, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is all about style.
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is the final entry in Hammer’s Dracula series. Or, at least, it might be. It all depends on whether or not you consider 7 Golden Vampires to actually be a part of the series. I do but quite a few people don’t.
Why the controversy?
Well, first off, Christopher Lee does not appear in this film. Much as he did with Brides of Dracula, Lee read the script and announced that he would not be returning to play Dracula. Of course, when Lee refused to appear in Brides of Dracula, Hammer responded by creating an entirely new vampire for Prof. Van Helsing to battle. This time, however, they simply recast the role. An actor by the name of John Forbes-Robertson took on the role of Dracula and, unfortunately, he gave a rather bland and unmemorable performance. If Lee’s Dracula seemed to be motivated by rage, Forbes-Robertson is merely petulant.
The other issue that purists have with the film is that it violates the continuity of the previous Dracula films. The film opens in 1805 and features Dracula leaving his castle for China, where he will spend the next 100 years as the leader of the infamous 7 Golden Vampires. The problem with this, of course, is that there had already been 7 other films that established that Dracula spent the 19th Century going between England and Eastern Europe.
It would be easy to declare that 7 Golden Vampires has nothing to do with the other Hammer Films except for the fact that Peter Cushing returns of Prof. Van Helsing. When the film opens, Van Helsing is in China, lecturing to skeptical students about the legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. After one lecture, Van Helsing is approached by a man (David Chiang), who explains that the 7 Golden Vampires have been attacking his village. Van Helsing agrees to help the man vanquish the 7 Golden Vampires and, along the way to the village, he even tells some stories about his previous battles with Dracula.
So, here’s my theory. The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires does take place in the same continuity as the Christopher Lee Dracula films but I do not believe that the vampire played by Forbes-Robertson is actually Dracula. I think he’s just an upstart who has claimed the infamous name while the actual Dracula is inconvenienced.
As for the film itself, it works far better than you might expect. At the time 7 Golden Vampires went into production, Hammer was struggling to survive with their once racy products now seen as being rather tame when compared to what other studios were releasing. 7 Golden Vampires was a co-production between Hammer and the Shaw Brothers, which means that the film was full all of the gothic trappings that I love about Hammer while also featuring all of the martial arts action that fans of the Shaw Brothers would have expected. It’s an odd combination that works exactly because it is so unexpected.
Finally, one word about the 7 Golden Vampires. Not only are they far more desiccated than the average Hammer vampire but whenever they ride up on their horses, they’re filmed in slow motion, just like the zombies from Amando De Ossorio’s Blind Dead films. As a result, those 7 Golden Vampires are pure nightmare fuel.
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires may have been the final entry in Hammer’s Dracula franchise but at least the series went out on a memorable note.