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Thanks to Anchor Bay Entertainment, many Hammer Films productions are now available in re-mastered, letterboxed editions. However, by this time, after exhausting some of the most anticipated titles in the Hammer catalog, such as Quatermass and the Pit and The Reptile, Anchor Bay has turned to some of Hammer's less heralded movies. For example, the latest batch of releases from Anchor Bay gives us one of the weaker entries in the Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing Dracula series, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, as well as a pair of co-productions with the Hong Kong-based Shaw Brothers, a much maligned vampire movie called The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires and a crime drama with Stuart Whitman called Shatter. These movies definitely don't represent Hammer at its best. By the mid '70s, the studio's movies had become increasingly tedious. However, these movies aren't without interest. In fact, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, presented here in a restored edition, emerges as one of Hammer's most underrated movies, with several truly macabre sequences. It is definitely not in the same category as some of Hammer's finer work in the gothic horror vein, but it's an eerie, atmospheric horror tale.
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires
If you'd like a lesson in how movie distributors can screw up a movie, this video provides a perfect opportunity. On the tape, you'll find two versions of The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. The first version is the original, uncut version (89 minutes). And the second version is the American release version, as re-edited, re-titled (as The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula), and distributed by Dynamite Entertainment (75 minutes). The original movie, as delivered by director Roy Ward Baker, is a severely flawed but inspired piece of horror filmmaking. Filmed in partnership with Shaw Brothers in Hong Kong, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires gives us a bizarre mix of European and Asian attitudes toward vampires, mixed with some martial arts sequences. Peter Cushing stars in familiar guise as vampire hunter Van Helsing. He ventures to China to help destroy the 7 Golden Vampires, who have been calling the dead to rise from their graves and march as an army on the neighboring town. Cushing is assisted by the fetching Julie Ege and a squadron of martial arts experts. Warner Bros. turned down the opportunity to distribute the movie. As a result the movie sat on Hammer's shelves for five years before Dynamite Entertainment acquired it. However, Dynamite re-edited the movie into an incomprehensible mess. Whereas the original gave us only tantalizing glimpses of the scar-faced vampires before allowing us to see them summon the dead from their graves, the American version slaps together many of the most horrific scenes together in the movie's first few minutes. This quest to restore chronological order to the events has the result of destroying the movie's suspense. All the big shocking scenes when the cemetery headstones topple over and zombies stumble forth are wasted in the American version. In the original British version, the movie isn't without its problems. In particular, the scenes with the undead shambling forth and wreaking havoc on a Chinese village seem filmed by a different unit. I'm guessing most of the footage involving the vampires and the undead was filmed by the Shaw Brothers with little or no involvement from Hammer. These sequences have a completely different atmosphere from the rest of the movie, and feature shocking doses of nudity and torture. The film stock itself is different, providing less intense colors. Director Roy Ward Baker said about the production, "The difficulties were enormous. The Shaw Brothers told me that they wanted their own director to shoot all the Kung Fu scenes 'because we do it a certain way.' I said, 'That's all well and good, but I'm the director and I've got a little experience in action, thank you.' Shooting in Hong Kong sounds like a wonderful idea ... if you've never been to Hong Kong." Studio interference also enforced a framing structure with John Forbes-Robinson as Dracula (by this time, Christopher Lee had sworn to never play the role again). These scenes are best forgotten entirely.
Filmed back to back with The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, Shatter was the second and last of Hammer's co-productions with the Shaw Brothers. After filming for Golden Vampires was completed, producer Michael Carreras asked Peter Cushing to extend his stay in Hong Kong so that he could appear in a few scenes of Shatter--and therefore, Cushing is third billed in the credits. However, his appearance is little more than a cameo. (This would prove to be Cushing's final film for Hammer.) Stuart Whitman plays the title character, a professional assassin: "The toughest man alive!" screams the narrator on the theatrical trailer (also included on this video). But he's not exactly the smartest exterminator in the world: "I'm a professional. I get paid for my work--always!" he yells. However, he doesn't exactly know who contracted him to perform a hit. So he stumbles through the back streets of Hong Kong, trying to figure out how he's going to get paid. His plight is such a patently ridiculous one that Shatter looks incompetent, hardly "the toughest man alive." Part of the problem, however, is tied to the movie's troubled production history. American director Monte Hellman filmed many sequences for Shatter, but after Carreras saw the action footage, he fired Hellman and refilmed many scenes himself. As a result, the movie feels cobbled together--the kind of movie where action sequences were filmed first and then the writers tried to figure out how to tie them together. Not surprisingly, on several occasions, the story stops dead while the characters discuss the motivating background events. Fortunately, however, Hong Kong actor Ti Lung is also on hand, and he easily out shines Whitman (who looks tired and haggard in comparison). Ti Lung gives a charismatic performance and his Kung Fu action scenes are impressive, but the movie itself was never released to theaters. It was Ti Lung's only shot at stardom in the West, and soon afterwards he returned to the Shaw Brothers assembly line productions. (In 1976, he starred in the popular Shaolin Temple.)
The Satanic Rites of Dracula
The Satanic Rites of Dracula followed the lead of Dracula AD 1972 by giving us a Dracula tale set in the present day. However, the Dracula legend drew much of its power from its relationship to Victorian England and Transylvania, as shown by previous Hammer movies such as Dracula (U.S. title: Horror of Dracula) and Dracula--Prince of Darkness. Without a gothic atmosphere, the vampire legend lost much of its force. But by this time, however, with each movie providing dwindling returns, Hammer was desperate to try new directions. The Satanic Rites of Dracula was not the answer. In fact Warner Bros. (the studio that typically released Hammer movies in America) refused to release Satanic Rites. The movie collected dust for five years before it finally found a distributor in America (and then it was distributed as Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride, never mind that no bride exists in the movie!). In many ways, it's one of Hammer's more disappointing vampire movies. The screenplay fails to give the audience anyone to really care about. Instead, we get a group of colorless government agents acting like Avengers rejects. (Co-star Joanna Lumley would actually star as Purdy in The New Avengers.) Michael Coles, unfortunately, reprises his role from Dracula AD 1972 as "Inspector Murray"--dressed in vintage '70s fashions with wide lapels and long hair. Joanna Lumley (of Absolutely Fabulous fame) is also on hand as Van Helsing's plucky niece. In one of the movie's best scenes, she gets trapped in the basement of a mansion with a half dozen female vampires who are all chained to the walls (lucky for Lumley). Cushing adds some needed passion to the vampire hunting while Christopher Lee is largely absent until the final few minutes. He described his role as "a cross between Fu Manchu and Howard Hughes." In spite of the weak screenplay by Don Houghton and the misguided attempt to update the Dracula legend for contemporary audiences, The Satanic Rites of Dracula nonetheless is one of the better looking movies from Hammer's waning days.
In addition to The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, Shatter, and The Satanic Rites of Dracula, Anchor Bay's Hammer Collection includes The Reptile, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Lost Continent, Rasputin the Mad Monk, Plague of the Zombies, and Quatermass and the Pit. All the movies in the series are presented in widescreen format. In addition, the videos include theatrical trailers. Suggested retail price: $14.95 each. For more information, we suggest you check out the Web site for The Hammer Horror Collector's Network, "The Official Hammer Fan Organization": http://www.hammerhorror.com.