Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: Kung Fu Vampires & Medieval Christians

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, June 18, 2019 01:25pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month’s Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi where I review recent Blu-ray releases. This month I review a crazy cult vampire kung fu zombie movie and a cinematic masterpiece about a Christian painter in the Middle Ages.

The Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires, Shout Factory/Scream Factory:
This was the only time that the mighty Hammer Studios teamed up with the Shaw Brothers, but they should have made a habit of it. This delirious kung fu vampire zombie film is one of the most entertaining movies either studio produced. It kind of combines what both studios did best. On the Hammer side, you have actors like Peter Cushing playing distinguished aristocrats and the studio's beautiful gothic neon technicolor cinematography. On the Shaw Brothers side of things, you have hideous monsters, surreal flourishes in the story and images, and some of the best kung fu fighting you'll ever see. When you mix them together it's like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of pure horror movie fun. The film starts with a Chinese villain traveling to Transylvania to enlist Count Dracula's help in reincarnating the legendary seven golden vampires in his homeland. Dracula instead steals his identity and travels himself to China to become the new ruler of these vampires of the far east. Meanwhile, Doctor Van Helsing (played by Peter Cushing) is giving a lecture tour in China, trying to warn the country's scientists of the vampire scourge. He tells them that he has heard legends of a town terrorized by a group of seven vampires. He's pretty much laughed off the stage by everyone except for one man who knows the doctor is telling the truth. The man's name is Hsi Ching and he's from the town the seven golden vampires have recently returned to. He and his seven brothers enlist the aid of Van Helsing, and, with the help of a traveling dilettante heiress who underwrites the expedition, they all take off to defeat the monsters. What follows is a series of adventures that plays like an Indiana Jones movie infested with vampires and zombies. The film is filled with action scenes that are like a form of kung fu ballet. The vampires have a literal army of zombies and the fight scenes are non-stop.

The Shaw Brothers' interpretations of the vampires are quite different from the western versions of the undead. From Todd Browning's original Dracula to Hammer's own vampire films, the bloodsuckers are always portrayed as attractive creatures who can use their sexual appeal to lure their victims. This is not the case in this movie. Here you will see some of the most butt ugly vampires in cinema history. They are truly hideous and frightening -- a nice alternative to the suave and debonair vamps we are used to.

Shout Factory's new Blu-ray edition is the best looking version of the film so far, but it's not flawless. Some of the scenes look blurry or soft. Since other scenes in the film look sharp and perfect, I can only assume that these rough-looking scenes were due to shortcomings in the original film elements. It's not a deal-breaker but certain scenes here and there do look pretty crappy. You get two versions of the film on this, Hammer's original uncut release and then the much shorter US version. I prefer Hammer's original cut; it has more detail and nuance, and the story just flows more smoothly. Both films have been remastered in high definition and you get some nice bonus materials like trailers, a commentary track, and an interview with a film historian who gives a detailed history of the production of the movie. If you've never seen a Hammer film before, this is as good a place as any to start.

Andrei Rublev, Criterion Collection:
I've often fantasized about living in other time periods in history. I've never wanted to live in the middle ages though and movies like this really drive that home. This film shows what an endless patch of misery, illness, and cruelty the Dark Ages were. Against a bleak landscape of poverty, famine, and superstition, groups like the Tartars, Christians, Pagans, and peasants constantly battle each other for domination of a traumatized population that is just trying to survive. This is the world that Andrei Rublev lives in. Andrei is a talented and devout Christian painter who wants nothing more than to paint images of God in a world where it increasingly appears that he does not exist. Christianity is in almost every scene of this movie but I'm not quite sure what director Andrei Tarkovsky's take on the religion is. Throughout the three hours of this film, devout Christians are constantly crying out for God's mercy but their lord never shows his face and just keeps piling on misery after misery. There is no redemption, no miracle, and despite its constant religious overtones, Tarkovsky's movie seems relentlessly existential in its bleakness. There is no lightness and no humor in this film, it's three merciless hours of pain and sadness. It's also quite slow and dull. In fact, at one point while we were watching this I turned to my wife and said, "I know this is a biography of a famous medieval painter, but it feels more like watching paint dry." At one point, there is a pagan fertility ritual filmed in such a formal and artistic way that even that becomes dull. "Did Tarkovsky just manage to make a mass orgy scene boring?" I thought to myself while watching it. That being said, there's no denying that this film is a masterpiece. Every five minutes you see a shot or scene that is so artistically beautiful that you'll end up freezing it or re-watching it just to soak in its beautiful construction and composition.

There are two versions of the film in this set, which clock in at three and three and a half hours respectively, and even though getting through them is a long hard slog, ultimately it is a rewarding journey. I learned a lot about Russian history by watching this film and got an actual visceral appreciation of what it was like to live in those god forsaken times. Great art isn't always easy or fun and Andrei Rublev is a good example of this. Criterion's new Blu-ray of this film is the best version so far. As I said before, you get two different edits of the film and the new restoration of Tarkovsky's preferred cut is flawless and stunning. There are many bonus features, including making-of documentaries and other essays. You even get a copy of Tarkovsky's first film, Steamroller And Violin, which he did as his graduate thesis at film school

Relevant Tags

Russian Films (1), World Cinema (7), Andrei Tarkovsky (4), Peter Cushing (5), Shaw Brothers (1), Hammer Studios (3), Vampires (10), Blu-rays (13), Horror (215), Film (186), Cult Films (22), Cult Film (27), Movie Moment (15), Jon Longhi (27), Christians (2), Hammer Films (4), Hammer Horror (4), Kung Fu (1), Russian Film (2)