Saturday, October 5, 2013
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires
The famed Dr. Van Helsing (the always great Peter Cushing, playing this role for the umpteenth time) teams up with a martial artist (the also always great David Chiang, doing a good job pretending to speak English) to take on the 7 Golden Vampires, vicious Chinese ghouls resurrected by Dracula who have been terrorizing Chiang's ancestral village for ages.
Here we are, back with this year's YVIAHMMAOIHTNQ, this time entitled "In Space, No One Can Hear Your Vice is a Horror Movie Marathon and Only I have the Netflix Queue." I look forward to watching a shit ton of horror movie yet again, and blogging about them... for about a week or so, then I'm really going to get sick of writing. But worry not, I shall press on.
I decided to start this year's marathon with Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, a co-production between Hammer and the Shaw Brothers that attempts to mix gothic horror with kung-fu, as it worked as a perfect transition to this month's festivities. The past few months I've been on something of a Honk Kong movie kick (some might say infatuation), with a particular focus on kung-fu cinema. This in particular means I've watched a lot of Shaw Brothers movies as of late.
I was also excited because the film, while credited solely to British horror stalwart Roy Ward Baker, apparently had scenes directed by the late, great Chang Cheh, essentially the quintissential kung fu director. It appears Baker's action scenes weren't up to snuff, so the Shaws insisted on bringing in Chang to punch up the violence. I've grown to be a huge fan of Chang's over the past few months. The man directed or co-directed nearly a hundred movies in his life (most in a 15-20 year period), and I have seen some 30+ of them. And the amazing thing is: all of them were at least good, pretty much all of them were very good, and probably close to a third were flat out great.
I don't think this really counts, since his contributions were minimal, but this would technically be the first Chang film that I just did not like. Although the Shaw Brothers would have been thriving in the mid 70's, shitting out like a million movies per year, Hammer was in it's waning days, and much of this production feels a bit half-assed. I'm not sure if it was the budget, unfamiliarity with shooting in Hong Kong, or what, but director Baker manages to evoke little of the gothic atmosphere and classiness of the classic Hammer productions. The film is talky and slow despite having nearly no plot, and save Cushing and Chiang the cast isn't very interesting. Chang's action doesn't clash as awkwardly with Baker's style as I might have thought, but from a man who directed some of the best action scenes of all time it's clear that he didn't bring his A-game. There's a nice moment or two, maybe, but mostly it consists of shots of uninspired choreography cut with awkward reaction shots of the British cast not doing cool things.
The vampires themselves, though cheap looking, kind of have a cool design to them, and I liked their weird blood-draining chamber where they tie-up their victims. Other than that, the only part of the film I'd actively praise is that Cushing and Chiang have a genuine chemistry together, and I would have liked to have seen them team up in an actually good movie. Cushing was a weird looking dude probably best remembered for creepy and villanous roles, but I always liked him best in good guy mode, where he could disply his not-inconsiderable charm.
Whatever juice the filmmakers were hoping to get from the culture clash premise isn't enough to get the motor running. They fail to capitalize on using the Chinese architecture and landscape to create any mood or atmosphere, any use of Chinese folklore to add mystery and exoticness to the monsters is superficial, and the fun few ideas (like that Chinese vampires would be vulernable to a Buddha statue the same way European vampires are to a crucifix) don't pay off in any meaningful or entertaining way. In fact, the film is so uninspired and Euro-centric, despite it's location, that the lead villain is actually Dracula (not played by Christopher Lee, who had the good sense not to get involved). Instead we get a particularly dull Hammer film shot on cheap sets and ugly locations (half the movie seems to take place in an empty plain), with mediocre kung-fu scenes randomly inserted.