Devoid of their Dracula, Hammer House Of Horror cast around for something else to stake their vampire franchise to. I’m guessing screenwriter Don Houghton must have been listening to the radio in his office One can only imagine that the radio was playing in writer Don Houghton’s Bray Studios office as he contemplated a blank sheet of paper and a ninth Dracula movie. Maybe Carl Douglas deserves a partial story credit?

While lecturing in China, Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) agrees to help seven kung fu trained siblings to reclaim their ancestral mountain village, now the rule of seven vampires who are protected by an army of undead slaves. Unbeknownst to Van Helsing, the leader of the seven golden vampires is none other than his arch-nemesis Count Dracula.

Opening in Transylvania 1804, we encounter a Chinese pilgrim making his way towards a familiar locale. It turns out he’s there to raise Dracula, this time played by John Forbes-Robertson (dubbed by David de Keyser). In a progressive blow for equality, Dracula reverse-whitewashes himself and adopts the persona of this pilgrim, vowing to travel to China and get the auric evildoing band back together.

Cushing’s initial appearance, as Van Helsing lecturing at a Chinese University, allows him to dump a whole lot of exposition on the audience as he recounts the legend of the seven golden vampires but it also contributes to the feeling that rather than being written as a cohesive whole, this is a movie which was built around an existing  Hong Kong Shaw Brothers production, in much the same way as Japanese cartoons like “Science Ninja Team Gatchaman” became “Battle Of The Planets” with some judicious edits and new footage.

There’s a certain dusty charm to the whole affair as the siblings recruit Van Helsing, his son Leyland Van Helsing (Robin Stewart) and independent adventuress Vanessa Buren (Julie Edge) to accompany them on a trek through the decidedly uncinematic Chinese landscape to seek this cursed village. Along the way, the group comes under attack several times and while the Caucasian cast members largely take a back-seat during all the chop-socky action, Leyland Van Helsing develops a patented double punch technique that ranks alongside James T Kirk’s more famous fighting manoeuvres.

While everyone is kung-fu fighting, very few if any of them are as fast as lightning. The action is fairly pedestrian and deeply repetitive, more acrobatic than combative. There are still some fun moments, such as when one of the seven ‘boss’ level vampires is taken out by a punch through the dusty heart – although thanks to the cheap and cheerful effects, the would-be bloodsucker ends up looking like Statler from “The Muppets” – but there’s just not enough of the sharp-witted fight choreography of the genre’s better exponents to make up for all the tame spins and leaps.

Mixing vampire mythology in with kung fu artistry can make for a great movie (see “Blade”) but “The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires” isn’t it. To facilitate much of the action, the vampires and their undead army fight and kill with swords not teeth and seem oddly content to let the blood go to waste. Houghton’s script never really manages to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western vampire mythology nor find anything interesting to do with either. As a kung fu movie, it’s just about passable. As a Dracula movie, it’s B- at best. When Peter Cushing finally stakes Dracula in the final boss battle, it really was the end for Hammer’s Dracula. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.



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