The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires/The Seven Brothers meet Dracula 1999 Horror Movie Review
Horror movies Review
An extravagant claim but one I’m gonna endeavor to back up.
‘Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires’ is the last horror picture Peter Cushing made for Hammer - and he’s magnificent. He plays Van Helsing, (yes.. honest!)and to his eternal credit he looks believably close to tears every time he utters an emotionally-charged line like: “In Europe it is the crucifix, in Asia, the image of the Lord Buddha”.
I adore Peter Cushing anyway, and to see him in any film is good for me but to see him in a work of this magnitude and gravitas is a real treat. He must be lying there now, thinking about his 50-odd year career, each performance building up to: “My knowledge is restricted to the Western Hemisphere”.
Strangely, there’s not much in Peter Cushing’s autobiography about ‘LOT7GV’ which is unfathomable.
Julie Ege is the female lead; a Scandinavian buxom-vamp fresh from her Oscar-nominated role as Voluptua in ‘Up Pompeii-the Movie’; (“There’s no decorum/ in the forum/and they’re quite at home in the hippy-drome, you can chose who you prefer/‘coz Ben Him looks like Ben HER!!”) and the biting satire-twins ‘Not Now Darling’ and ‘Rentadick’.
One disreputable publication described her performance as ‘a pair of t*ts with a Swedish accent’, just goes to show that however much genuine talent you have, you can never drag the gutter press erm..out of the gutter. (!)
Robin Stewart plays the ‘young hero’ role. He’s a classically trained comedy actor, mostly seen with Sid ‘Sir’ James in the abject Brit-Com ‘Bless This House’ and wearing a kaftan in the Michael Armstrong 60’s slasher: ‘the Haunted House of Horror’ - a gory travesty with Frankie Avalon and Mark Wynter(yes.. honest!).
Viewing Stewart’s performance as Leyland van Helsing (a FANTASTIC analogy with the Bolshevic-run 1970’s car giant British Leyland, whose workers spent the whole decade on pointless strike) it’s easy to criticise, but he is in fact showing ‘solidarity’ with his lion-hearted co-unionists. This is breathtakingly poignant and relevant; it’s not every-one that can fight 50 heavily armed kung-fu zombie vagabonds with the conviction of a house-brick. ‘Red’ Ron and all the other commies back in Blighty held out at their braziers for another year on the strength of Stewart’s subtly and deftly understated showing.
Count Dracula, present in every scene and the central evil core of the movie, is played by John Forbes Robertson in the campest make-up in British cinema - all pinks, greens, bat-eyebrows and lipstick. Much criticised among the unknowing (described in another disreputable publication (not really - it was the same one!) as a ‘pantomime dame’), but it put me in mind of Olivier’s Oberon in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’(another - slightly lesser - work of feminism and sexual ambiguity) and JFR’s performance as one of British literature and world cinema’s most recognisable and serious characters, just HAS to be experienced:
As the villain he has all the best lines: “A curse on you and your house!” “I am Dracula; Lord of Darkness, Master of the Vampires, Prince of the Undead, Ruler of the Damned!” (yes.. honest!) and “Right! van Helsing - you will once more see my face… before you die! Behold van Helsing - look on me, now.” You’ll fill up - as I did - at the magisterial impact of it all.
Music is by James Bernard, re-jigging themes from his previous scores, and even here ‘LOT7GV’ wins. Not many blockbusters were recycling in the wasteful, excessive 70’s. The Bond movies for example, had Sir Roger Moore flying all over the world, inadvertently ruining it. So well done Hammer!
The plot is so sophisticated and progressive, no-one can understand it. Unkindly scorn holds sway. Stupid critics pathetically concentrate on the appalling special effects(post-modernism); atrocious action (satirical slapstick) and the cavernous holes in the script(delicious irony) as justification of universal condemnation. How wrong can you be?
The ‘7’ of the title also refers to van Helsing’s companions; 6 lads and a girl heading to their remote village to destroy ‘7’ vampires that have plagued them for centuries and this is where the feminism and sexual ambiguity comes in.
The ‘sister’ can fight kung-fu nearly as good as the men (yes.. honest) in a film set in 1904(!) and only dies when she weakens for love. What a gal. Rest easy Emily; it seems chaining your bra to the railings wasn’t for nothing after all.
Director Roy Ward Baker claims his masterpiece was flawed by studio interference (In this instance, co-financiers the Shaw Brothers; based in Hong Kong and who know nothing about making martial arts movies). They should’ve just let the ex-English public school prefect to his vision, he was obviously so in-tune with the aesthetics of the medium, their pettiness could easily have ruined the film.
‘LOT7GV’ is deliberately hysterical. Some beautiful, screaming girls with their breasts revealed as they lie strapped down next to a bubbling cauldron of blood, is vital to the plot in a real sense, as well as the abstract that Ward Baker is delicately invoking. Tears rolled down my cheeks as the scene unfolded, so moved was I by its multi-layered intensity and relativism.
So you see, there can be no doubt as to the claims of ‘LOT7GV’. I’ve only scratched the surface here - the action sequences seriously challenge Kurosawa and the terror, so originally and tensely conveyed, is as full-blooded and awesome as any Jacobean tragedy.
Acting is Welles-perfection and production is refreshingly minimalist and compact.
Much like ‘2001’, ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ or ‘Jaws’; the locations are so visual and forceful, you feel like you’re actually there in Szechwan Province with Peter and the boys, vanquishing vampires and returning the world to safety and contentment.
And isn’t it wonderful that since Hammer/Baker’s uber-treatise on cultural bonding and the futility of violence was released in 1974, there hasn’t been a single war.
Now, you tell me, could anything but the greatest film ever made do that?