Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires

As i have pointed out, most movie ideas are bad. You have no idea how they go from pitch to post-production. But The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires was genius the moment it was conceived: Cross a British Hammer vampire film with a Shaw Brothers kung fu action flick. Who, sitting in the back row of a theater balcony on the Deuce, eating oleo popcorn and Milk Duds, forty of Old E in a paper bag and joints a'rollin, could ask for anything more?
However, awesome + awesome does not always = ultramegaawesome. Sometimes it just = pretty damn awesome. The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires has its flaws, but it also has it moments and is, overall, an enjoyable flick. We open where any good vampire movie should open: "Transylvania 1804." A Chinese guy in dragon robe & walrus mustache drag  is climbing up a hill as a shocked Eastern European peasant looks on. After flinching before a random roadside cross, he finds Dracula's tomb, does some chanting and calls Drac out of his coffin.
"Who dares to disturb the sancity of Dracula?" Wha? Sanctity? Sanctity as in "the state or quality of being holy, sacred, or saintly." I thought that was the last thing Dracula would want to relax in the middle of.

... and -- wait! That's not Christopher Lee! Nope, Christopher Lee could not be bothered with this gig. Which is weird: I didn't know there was a movie Christopher Lee wouldn't do.

So, anyway, Droopy Mustache explains to "Dracula" that he's come all this way because there used to be seven vampires in his province and now there's only six and only six vampires gets no respect. Help me, Godfather! "Dracula" decides China sounds like a good place to move his vampire base, so he possesses Droopy Mustache and the credits roll!
Next thing we see, it's Chung King in 1904 and Professor Van Helsing -- Peter Cushing! Like he's supposed to be! Thank god! He's lecturing a class on vampires in China. As he tells the story of vampire attacks on villages, we focus in one one student in particular and then soft-focus into a flashback. A flashback that is what all flashbacks should be: A ten-minute kung fu battle involving the undead...

Humble farmer decides to save daughter from vampire sacrifice. Farmer goes to vampire hangout, frees daughter, but the vampires go apeshit. Farmer makes it out of the building -- but wait! What's that coming out of the ground? It's a rotting human hand! Zombie! Zombies! Zombie army! Apparently, in China, the vampires can summon zombies. I guess that's why Dracula decided to move his operation here: Cheap zombie labor.
Post-flashback, most of the students walk out, but the one we focused on remains. At a cocktail party after the lecture, we meet assorted Brits and Chinese, Van Helsing's son and a rich Scandinavian widow who's traveling the world in search of adventure. Yadda yadda, student pleads with Van Helsing to accompany him to his ancestral village and help wipe out the vampires.

Art first it's no go, but after everyone is attacked in the street and the Seven Brothers show off their mad skills -- and the foxy Swedish widow agrees to foot the bills -- the groups takes off through remote countryside to distant village to defeat the Seven Golden Vampires. From here on out, it's just alternating kung fu battles and Cushing-delivered exposition with occasional pan shots of the landscape. Rather than try to enumerate every kick, punch and "Long ago...," let us just list a few of the things one picks up while watching The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.

1. Grindhouse math: If there are seven brothers and their one sister fighting nintey-eight zombies and six vampires, how many undead does each kung fu warrior get to kill? If each one gets to kill one vampire, how many kung fu warriors will not get to kill their own vampire?
2. The widow may bring her platinum AmEx, but you will grow tired of her cowering behind you during battles. And sometimes even when there is not a battle.
3. American zombies move in a sort of smacked-out goosestep, Chinese zombies do the bunny hop.
4. Vampires apparently hire third-graders to make their masks and swords. The undead do not concern themselves with the possible dangers of exposing young children to massive amounts of metallic spray paint.
5. Peter Cushing is one of the few men who can carry off a pith helmet adorned with flowing scarf without looking like Truman Capote vacationing in Tangier.
6. Vampires get really upset if you steal their belt buckles. The belt buckle is the source of a vampire's power.
7. It's nice to see that, for once, the male romantic lead looks at the shrieking, helpless, big-breasted blonde in the corset and the butt-kicking, take-care-of-myself girl in pigtails and satin pajamas and makes the right decision.
8. No matter what kind of monster costume you're making, a gorilla suit is always a great place to start.
9. When you enter a deep, dark cave in vampire territory, and you run across bats and skeletons, please don't act surprised when they are followed by vampires.
10. True love means impaling yourself on the same sharp stick.

The Shaw Brothers had done western co-productions before, such as Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (kung fu blaxploitation) and Virgins of the Seven Seas, a German co-production (kung fu Eurosleaze). Hammer had reportedly planned a follow-up, specifically a Bollywood/Hammer co-pro (whoa). The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires isn't the best of Hammer or the best of the Shaw Brothers, but it's still got plenty of the ingredients for a good time at the movies.

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