The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires
In our continuing series of articles 'The bloke down the pub' tells us all about his favourite Hammer Horror films. In his thirteenth review he's praising the lunacy of ol' Pete Cushing's swan song as that most indomitable of vampire hunters, Van Helsing in 1974's The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.
Sometimes people have terrible ideas. And make no mistake about it my friend, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires is a terrible idea. It’s an idea so bad I wish I had been in the room just to see the expression on people’s faces while they were listening to it, expressions that I can only imagine ranged from supremely aghast to utterly incredulous. Or it could have been a real three in the morning decision; a roomful of tired Hammer execs, slumped over printouts of their accounts, wondering if they can even afford another bottle of the cheap whiskey they’re currently drowning in, when someone raises their old head from the table just long enough to say:
And lo! The legend was born. Because if I was to tell you that out there there is a movie that’s an exact cross between The Magnificent Seven, Enter The Dragon and The Horror of Dracula you would tell me to sod off. And then if I was to tell you that alright, what about a movie where seven warrior brothers are led into battle against kung fu vampires and their army of the undead by Peter Cushing you’d say ‘OK, OK. I will watch that movie.’ And why wouldn’t you? Everyone enjoys a barmy movie don’t they? A movie where nothing should go together and yet somehow, miraculously, it does.
I mean, this is Cushing’s final film as Van Helsing! He must have been more than a bit worried when they told him that this was going to be sort of like a horror movie, only with more kung fu; which, having been completely absent from all Hammer horror films up to this point is a pretty significant increase. ‘Is this to be my legacy?’ Pete must have wondered as various gentlemen in brightly coloured fighting duds leapt about the place engaging mad hairy faced vampires with unconvincing teeth in hand to hand combat? And yet, he seems to be enjoying it as much as anyone. You can see him looking around and approving of the way Van Helsing is leading the right kind of army for this vampire situation. I mean, these vampires have swords for a start and can fight and move like nobody’s business. This is definitely going to call for local talent. He may only be the wise old man of the piece but he knows his vampire onions, no matter what culture they’re from. You get the sense with old Pete that he’s alright with pretty much everything as long as it’s something he believes Van Helsing would do. And not, I don’t believe, from any misguided sense of purity of character or any of that nonsense, but because he knows people care about Van Helsing and they look to him as a very particular kind of hero and don’t want that mucked about with for the sake of rebooting the bloody role or any of that cobblers. But he knows that if Van Helsing found himself in China hunting a horde of vampires terrorising a village then he would want some local lads to lead into the fray, a touch of the old sang-froid where this particular neck of the woods is concerned. So what if they’re all dressed in easy-to-see-coming robes and have weapons instead of character? It turns out that I for one prefer - this is the first brother, he uses a dirty great spear, here’s the second brother, he shoots arrows - far more than this is Harry, he’s a troubled loner with addiction problems blah blah blah. We’re taking down vampires with Kung Fu my son, we don’t need character arcs where we’re going.
Anyway, you want a bit of the personal touch? How about not one, but two love stories? One tragic, one not - just for the sake of balance. And one of them involving Van Helsing’s son! Because there’s an idea to make the blood run cold, previously popular lead character getting on in years magically acquires dashing photogenic son. It can only end badly. Except the son of Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing turns out to be a sort of nice but dim Bertie Wooster sort of fellow, a real Englishman abroad. A bit of ‘Hey ho! I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, but I’ll give it a damn good go!’ Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pining for more Son of Van Helsing movies, but let’s face it, that could have been a disastrous decision. But just like everything else in this movie, it’s sort of sweet and fun and somehow, it works!
The whole thing is so deeply peculiar that it’s impossible not to like it. From the army of the undead who march by hopping lightly from foot to foot in a very Pythonesque manner to a roomful of university students walking out of Van Helsing’s lecture because they think he’s just a barmy old man, the whole film is stuffed with these very likeable touches that reveal a pleasing lack of vanity on the part of the Hammer Horror lads involved and an admirable commitment to awesome fight scenes and creepy mise-en-scene from the kung fu crowd.
I bet Pete ended up being pretty pleased with the whole thing, because he and Hammer didn’t go out with Van Helsing trading on past glories, rehashing the same film they’d made a hundred times before. They asked a barmy, barmy question - and this very weird, slightly ridiculous, and very fun movie was the answer. And that’s the sort of thinking that deserves a salute in my opinion. Speaking of which…