The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Hong Kong/UK, 1974)
I’ve got into the habit of saving myself a treat for the final day of the October Horror Movie Challenge. After spending a month writing daily reviews, I’m generally running on empty by this point. Having a film I’m looking forward to helps me limp towards the finish line.
While I’ve not been expecting The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires to be a cinematic masterpiece, it is wrapped up in nostalgia for me. I was born and brought up in Hong Kong, and my father was tangentially involved in the local film scene. As a result, Hong Kong cinema, especially kung-fu and horror films, were a big part of my youth.
I was only nine when The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires came out, and seeing it at the cinema wasn’t an option for me. In those days before home video, that usually meant waiting for a film to turn up on TV. I don’t remember that happening in this case. What I did manage, however, was to get hold of the tie-in LP, which retold the story as a sort of audio drama, mixing in dialogue from the film. While this might be a strange way to consume a kung-fu movie, I remember listening to it over and over.
Even so, the actual film and I never crossed paths until now. When I saw it pop up on Prime Video this year, however, I knew that this was my chance to do something about that. And so here we are.
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is currently available on Prime Video in the UK.
We open in 1804, as Kah, a monk who tends to the temple of the titular seven golden vampires, has travelled to Transylvania. The vampires are losing their power and only Count Dracula can save them. Unfortunately for Kah, Dracula takes this as an opportunity to steal Kah’s form and head off to China to ownership of the temple. Even ancient vampires need a holiday every now and then.
Skipping forward to 1904, Professor Van Helsing is giving a guest lecture at Chung King University. The subject, unsurprisingly, is vampires. Ignoring all the actual vampire legends of China, he posits that there is a remote village in the heart of the country, locked in conflict with the legendary seven golden vampires, who more resemble the kind of European bloodsuckers Van Helsing is used to dealing with. While the sophisticated students laugh off Van Helsing’s stories, one attendee has reason to believe him.
It turns out that Hsi Ching comes from the village mentioned in the lecture. He has sought out Van Helsing, looking for help in defeating the seven golden vampires once and for all. Once a wealthy Scandinavian widow offers to bankroll the expedition, Van Helsing and his son join Hsi Ching and his siblings, each a master of the martial arts, to go and kick some vampiric arse.
We then embark on the longest cross-country trek since Lord of the Rings, filled with bandits, vampire minions, and burgeoning romances. Meanwhile, Dracula and the surviving golden vampires pursue their evil plans to rip the clothing off young women before draining them into their blood cauldron.
So will our heroes finally be able to put an end to this ancient evil? Yes, of course they will. This is a Hammer film.
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires was a Hammer/Shaw Brothers co-production, shot in Hong Kong. It was directed by Hammer regular Roy Ward Baker, with additional action scenes directed by Chang Cheh. Apparently, the Shaw Brothers way of working was a shock to the British crew, but the production seems to have worked out fine in the end. Getting Hong Kong to double for Transylvania in the opening scene did make me laugh, however. The matte painting of Castle Dracula and the Carpathian Mountains over a New Territories landscape is one of the least convincing things I have even seen in a film.
While Peter Cushing once again stars as Van Helsing, Hammer clearly couldn’t get Christopher Lee to travel to Hong Kong for what amounts to a few minutes of screen time. Honestly, this would have been a waste of his talents. While The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is no worse than a lot of the later Hammer Dracula films, the count adopting another form makes the casting less important. John Forbes-Robertson does a fine job, even if he lacks Lee’s sheer physical presence, but his makeup is baffling. This Dracula looks more like a glam rocker who took a wrong turn backstage at Top of the Pops and ended up in Transylvania.
As I write this review, I’ve only just realised that the film never explains how Van Helsing has battled Dracula throughout his life when Dracula has spent the last hundred years living in China under a false identity. Maybe Dracula set up a franchise before he left Transylvania, selling other vampires the right to use his name. That even explains why he’s not played by Christopher Lee here.
The Rules of Vampirism
As I mentioned in yesterday’s review of El Conde, it always interests me to see how any vampire film reinvents the strengths of weaknesses of its bloodsuckers. While The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is technically a Hammer Dracula film, its vampires are really quite different.
For a start, we have Dracula’s newfound ability to steal people’s forms by consuming them. This seems like such a useful trick that he really should make more use of it. I quite fancy seeing a film in which he steals Van Helsing’s identity, like some vampiric version of Face/Off.
The golden vampires themselves are odd. Despite being local to China, they owe nothing to the hopping goeng-si or jiangshi of Chinese folklore, although some of their minions adopt an odd kind of boogie as they walk. While Van Helsing wonders how different they might be from European vampires, they seem to have most of the same strengths and weaknesses, even turning into rubber bats on strings at one point.
There are still a few differences, however. Instead of fearing the crucifix, the golden vampires can be repelled using an image of Buddha. Sadly, we only see this happen once in the film, maybe because Hammer were worried the audience would think it looked silly.
Each golden vampire is protected by a golden bat amulet they wear on a chain. If this is removed, they weaken and start smouldering. Sadly, the film makes little use of this.
Instead of a tomb, the golden vampires live in an evil pagoda atop an evil hill. Here, they maintain themselves by draining victims into a cauldron instead of feeding on them directly. The area surrounding the pagoda is eerily silent, devoid of bird or animal life.
The neatest ability possessed by the golden vampires is that they can raise armies of the dead by banging a gong in their lair. These vampire/zombie minions then rise from their graves, ready to be slaughtered in large quantities.
How much you enjoy The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires will depend heavily on whether you like the cheesy end of Hammer Horror and the chaotic energy of 1970s Shaw Brothers kung-fu. It is, as advertised, very much a mixture of the two genres, with Gothic excesses interleaved with big, sprawling fight scenes. The result is clunky, ludicrous, and oddly charming. It may be second-rate as both a horror and a martial arts film, but it is undeniable fun.
While the makeup and special effects are primitive by modern standards, I was surprised at how gruesome some were. They clearly got a job lot of Kensington gore. The effects for the vampire deaths are classic Hammer time-lapse affairs, but a few look comically like balloons being deflated.
Unsurprisingly, the dialogue and most of the acting is pretty awful, but who watches films like this for the performances? The important stuff is the action sequences, and there are plenty of those. The overall pacing may be slow (it’s a Hammer film, after all), but it’s rare to go ten minutes without some sort of mass combat breaking out, whether against the undead, gangsters or bandits. It all plays out about the same.
The exception is the big climactic battle at the village, where plot armour is stripped away and central characters die horribly. This whole sequence is a glorious mess of blood and fire, moving at a breakneck speed. My only complaint was the way Mai Kwei, the sister, was quickly demoted from arse-kicking warrior to damsel in distress just to motivate the heroes.
If your taste in horror runs to amiable, old-fashioned nonsense, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires might be just your cauldron of blood.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Dark August (USA, 1976)
- Huesera: The Bone Woman (Mexico/Peru, 2022)
- The Banishing (UK, 2020)
- Brooklyn 45 (USA, 2023)
- Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (Japan, 1995)
- Pyewacket (Canada, 2017)
- Grave Robbers (Mexico, 1989)
- You Might Be The Killer (USA, 2018)
- No One Will Save You (USA, 2023)
- The Sect (Italy, 1991)
- Last Night in Soho (UK, 2021)
- Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Spain, 2017)
- 47 Metres Down (UK/USA, 2017)
- The Oskars Fantasy (Philippines, 2022)
- In the Earth (UK, 2021)
- Something in the Dirt (USA, 2022)
- Blood Flower (Malaysia, 2023)
- Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Canada, 1987)
- Older Gods (UK, 2023)
- Come to Daddy (New Zealand, 2020)
- Shrew’s Nest (Spain, 2014)
- Totally Killer (USA, 2023)
- The Premonition (USA, 1976)
- Murder Me, Monster (Argentina, 2018)
- The Gruesome Twosome (USA, 1967)
- Talk to Me (Australia, 2023)
- Gaia (South Africa, 2021)
- Demon (Poland, 2015)
- Juju Stories (Nigeria, 2022)
- El Conde (Chile, 2023)
- The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Hong Kong/UK, 1974)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!