Sometimes you need to clear the cobwebs and just talk about a movie you enjoy. And some movies just roll over your critical faculties until all you can do is enumerate the ways in which the movie is awesome. THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES is such a movie. And it is awesome for so, so many reasons.
A co-production of Hammer Films and the Shaw Brothers, LEGEND is every bit as delightful as you'd hope from that promising combo. Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), on a lecture tour of China, finds his words and warnings falling on deaf ears. But the student Hsi Ching (David Chiang) is all ears, and enlists the good doctor on a mission to liberate his village from the death grip of a cult of insidious vampires. And we just kick back and watch the two halves on this co-production find some awesome common ground, as Hammer atmospherics and earthiness serve as a springboard for honorable kung fu warriors taking on a slew of HK-style hopping vampires and the hideously-made-up vampire disciples that control them.
The American edit, THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEET DRACULA, feels more like the desperate cash-in on the kung fu craze that the movie fundamentally was (and I suspect it was cut to fit on the bottoms of double bills). What's charming about LEGEND is that it feels less like a cash-in and more like a conversation, with two directors well versed in their respective traditions (Roy Ward Baker and a shamefully uncredited Chang Cheh) giving and taking, with a script that puts these traditions on equal, mutually respectful footing.
And holy crap, look at Cushing.
Cushing must have been about 60 when the cameras started rolling on this, and one can only speculate on what he thought of the insane movie he'd been drop-kicked into. But damned if he doesn't give it his all. You get your usual authoritarian and involving delivery of vampire history, and his dialogue with Chiang is absolutely winning, elevating the thing into a charming, East/West buddy movie. And though Cushing doesn't fly on any wires or execute any flying kicks, he's not too old to get his hands a little dirty in the fight sequences (see above). A look into the archives (including Cushing's costume sketches for the film) suggests that he was no less engaged in working on this film than any of his others. And it's easy to imagine him looking around the set, watching these fighters executing their choreography, shrugging and saying "I'll do what I can." And then going to work.
And that's as fine an image to hold of the man on this, the week of his centenary. Wishing the late Peter Cushing a very happy 100th birthday, and submitting this piece in honor of the Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon happening all week.