An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…
These reviews reveal plot twists.
Setting: There’s a prologue in Transylvania in 1804. The main bulk of the movie is set in China 100 years later, firstly in Chongqing (or Chung King as the caption spells it) then in the countryside.
Faithful to the novel? Not in the slightest. This was Hammer Films’ ninth Dracula movie in 16 years. It ignores the modern-day reboot of the previous two entries in the series, and heads back to a turn-of-the-19th-century setting. After the prologue, in which a Taoist monk (Chan Shen) awakens a docile Count Dracula (John Forbes-Robertson, taking over from Christopher Lee, who’d finally jacked it in) to ask for his help, all the action takes place in China. This was because this film was a co-production between Hammer and the Shaw Brothers Studio of Hong Kong. Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) – seemingly the same version of the character seen in Dracula and Brides of Dracula – is lecturing at a university in China. He talks about his encounters with the famous vampire Count Dracula then recounts rumours of seven vampires who have been terrorising rural China. Most of his students are cynical, but a man called Hsi Ching (David Chiang) believes him and tells him he knows where the vamps are. Eventually, a team is assembled: Van Helsing and his son, Leyland (Robin Stewart); a rich Scandinavian woman called Vanessa Buren (Julie Ege), who agrees to fund the expedition because she needs to leave town quickly; and Hsi Chiang and his kung-fu-proficient siblings. They head to the village, intent on destroying the vampires. Various fight scenes ensue, then at the climax Van Helsing realises that the vamps’ leader is Dracula is disguise.
Best performance: As always, Peter Cushing plays his part with total commitment. You never get the sense that he’s phoning it in or just doing a film for the fee, do you?
Best bit: More than a Dracula movie, this is a Hong Kong-produced martial-arts flick. There are crash-zooms and whip pans and loud fake sound effects for every punch or slap. Great stuff.
Review: You have to admire Hammer for trying different things. After setting two Dracula movies in the modern day, they then tried to breathe new life into this series by moving the action to China and blending their house style with the kung-fu phenomenon. The result is by no means a masterpiece, but it passes the time well enough and is a fun little vampire film. Written by Don Houghton – a true Sinophile – the plot is simple beyond belief. But the mythological context (and non-European landscape) gives the story a interesting setting, while shots of zombies rising from the grave are as striking as any image in a Hammer Dracula. The film is also lit with bold, expressionist colours. Only some gnarly special effects and poor monster make-up really disappoint.
Seven bat medallions out of 10