Bleeding in from two different cultural sources, Dracula lore shifts from a place of English Catholicism and into the teachings of Chinese Buddha. To Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, the purpose is unchanged; Buddha statues replace the Christian cross in anti-vampire firepower. More so, it’s a way for this kung-fu/horror mash-up to feel wholly exotic to a western audience.
In the early going, there’s a clash of customs. Cushing speaks to a class on vampirism and its reality. A mere one Chinese student believes Cushing’s Van Helsing, clearly unaware of this character’s prior exploits in this field. Van Helsing is rejected like an outsider, demeaned and treated like a sub-par visitor from the west.
Raw in its source of exploitation, women serve as fodder. Vampires attack a small Chinese town on the hunt for females, ripping open their tops for no reason other than to add slimy nudity rather than Stoker’s careful eroticism. Set primarily in 1904, Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires isn’t high on women anyway. “A woman couldn’t make such a hazardous trip!” spouts Peter Cushing regarding a journey to destroy a vampire clan of Chinese legend. Two women go on this jaunt in the end. It doesn’t end well for either of them.
Once past this first act, the group ventures out, banding together like an international gang of vampire hunters. Ghostbusters, but set in 1904 – and with kicking. Cultural cliches limit themselves to the genre’s norms, that weary exoticism of the far east and how often it’s used by western cinema.
Ghostbusters, but set in 1904 – and with kicking
Ghostbusters, but set in 1904 – and with kicking
For its climax, Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires pulls a reversal of cliché: It’s the monsters angrily marching toward the village rather than citizens charging the castle. Thin characterization earns a bit of pay-off, and credit is due for unpredictability, although everything prior is nothing less than a slog.
A few Shaw Brothers martial arts battles pit a clan of seven brothers (and one sister) against the title monsters. It’s routine stuff. The real entertainment is watching then 61-year old Peter Cushing act out a choreographed kung-fu routine with a torch. It’s more flailing with fire, but still.
There’s enough hokey gore, some supremely well-lit scenery, but the genre stew amounts to little. The reanimated hopping vampire of eastern folklore looks awkward under the lens of this British production, and leaving eastern interpretations wholly unexplored. The exercise exists to push Cushing onto the screen as a Van Helsing a final time, pitting him against a European Dracula in an Asian body. That’s shamefully mundane.
Shout promotes a new 2K scan for this release, bringing Hammer’s original cut to HD. A thin, mild grain sits over the image, a touch busy during some nighttime scenery if adding some needed exploitation grit. Shout’s encode handles things without dropping to noise.
Notable is the color, at times aggressive. In the early scenes, Cushing’s flesh tone looks more neon. Reds bleed a touch. Generally, things stay in control. The blue outfit worn by Szu Shih looks spectacular. Landscapes produce pleasing greens, natural and pure, with zest that belies Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires’ age.
With this new master comes inconsistent if adequate detail. Some of this lies with the source cinematography. Elsewhere, fidelity jumps, adding texture in close and resolving scenery. Set details stick out, the budget hidden by way of dark alleyways. Black levels and contrast lose nothing to time.
Dust/dirt is (generally) the only print imperfection. There’s a lot of it left here. Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires needs another pass of clean-up, but that’s unlikely given the obscurity and at least any physical damage was dealt with.
Note as a bonus, the US edition (that cuts around 10-minutes and reshuffles a lot of scenes) is also here in HD. While the opening credits come from an SD source, this cut as whole also receives the HD treatment with the same quality as the above.
What’s left of the score is mush. What’s left of the dialog, well, that’s mush too. This is not great even with the most lenient of critical ears. Highs wane and lows dissolve as if covered by mud. Dubbing creates natural deviations in dialog quality, but either end endures distortion. Note this is all audible, just messy.
Excessive popping jumps in before the first sound is even uttered. That continues all through the run time. At least DTS-HD offers this source uncompressed.
Historian Bruce Hallenbeck provides a commentary, lean on info and at times just speaking on what’s happening on screen. Rick Baker (not the make-up artist, rather the historian) provides his thoughts in a separate interview, running 19-minutes. That’s the better of the two.
Star David Chiang features in an interview for six-minutes, a slice from a longer documentary. Trailers and a gallery of stills bring this release to an end.
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Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires
Peter Cushing’s final time playing Van Helsing comes in the tepid Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, blending kung-fu and Hammer horror.
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