Friday, December 12, 2014

The Awakening

The Awakening (1980)
Dir. Mike Newell
Written by Clive Exton, Chris Bryant, Allan Scott. Based on novel by Bram Stoker
Starring Charlton Heston, Susannah York, Jill Townsend, Stephanie Zimbalist, Ian McDiarmid

So here we got no less than muthafuckin’ Charlton Heston (WAYNE’S WORLD 2) starring in an adaptation of a Bram Stoker Novel (You know, Bram Stoker, from BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA) directed by Mike Newell (HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, DONNIE BRASCO) lensed by famed cinematographer Jack Cardiff (THE AFRICAN QUEEN, THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA) and edited by the venerable Terry Rawling (ALIEN, CHARIOTS OF FIRE). And yet you’ve never heard of it. Wonder why that is?

The answer would be that this a mostly dull, curiously unfocused tale of a mummy’s revenge. Honestly it would be almost completely pointless except for a fun way-over-the-top performance by Heston (in a British accent, sometimes?) and some nicely lensed images from Newell (in his sophomore film) and Cardiff. Basically, it revolved around (British?) Egyptologist Matthew Corbeck, a guy so fucking obsessed with Egyptology that while he’s in Egypt on the verge of one of the most major archeological discoveries of all time he chooses to actually be on site doing work rather than staying home with his pregnant wife (Jill Townsend, THE SEVEN-PERCENT SOLUTION). The movie and the wife seem to regard this decision as roughly equivalent to genocide, and not just of some little wimpy native tribe or something, I’m talkin’ genocide of attractive wealthy white people with little blonde girls. Maybe 1980 was just a different time --I guess they did have that sitcom A Different World so that might explain it-- but I have a hard time getting mad at this poor motherfucker for the apparent crime of being an Egyptologist. I mean, what the fuck did the wife think was going to happen when she agreed to go with him to Egypt? Why would he bother to go to another fucking continent if it was just to sit in a hotel room with his whiny pregnant wife? Women are just the worst, amiright fellas? #Gamergate.

The most interesting Egyptologist in the world.

Anyway, wifey’s not currying much favor with me by standing in the way of a great scientific discovery just cuz she gets bored sitting in desert tents, but I gotta admit it turns out she was right, conducting archeological studies on Egyptian tombs is a bad idea. As soon as they open the damn thing people start dying right and left. Well, mainly right, not so much left since it happens pretty infrequently over the course of many years, but still. As the years pass, this guy Corbeck can’t seem to learn his lesson and stop being interested in archeology, which again, what a fucking tragic character flaw. But curiously, his now-18-year-old daughter Margaret (Stephanie Zimbalist, Remington Steele) who was born the same day as he opened that fateful tomb not that that has anything to do with the plot, I don’t even know why I would mention it, is almost as into Egyptology as he is, and in fact is starting to get a little pushy about wanting to try some ancient Egyptian ritual rigamarole.

The big problem here is that the film spends way too long getting to this point, and once it finally gets there doesn’t seem to have a clear plan for where to go next. It can’t seem to resolve around a central character; Margaret has probably as much screen time as Chuck, but not really any kind of character arc. Heston, ostensibly the protagonist (or at least the only one with a conflict) gives a weirdly opaque (British?) performance so despite his enojyable overacting (do Egyptologists really shout and grimace so much all the time?), you can never quite tell what his deal is. I guess he gets possessed, too? Or something? The whole affair has a very LORDS OF SALEM problem with protagonists who are passive victims. Nobody really seems to have any idea what is happening to them, nor does there really seem to be much they could do about it even if they wanted to. So we’re left with a lot of listless scenes of people acting vaguely weird while Heston sweats in the toasty Egyptian sun (and man, motherfucker sweats a LOT; I’m not sure if he’s acting weird because he’s possessed or just woozy from dehydration) not really having much to do.  

People with beards that prodigious would be wise to avoid open flames.

There movie runs a tad too long at 101 minutes, and a lot too uneventfully most of the time. But while the kills are way too infrequent, I gotta admit that when they kill, they kill hard. If the movie has a saving grace, it’s the sheer overkill it lays down on its rare victims; anyone getting killed here suffers a minimum of two or three times the death that would be visited on the bodycount of a normal slasher. Several times here the victim will seem decisively and definitively dead, and then the movie decides to go the extra mile to double-tap them just to be sure. One soldier falls about a thousand feet off a cliff, breaks every bone in his body bouncing off the jagged cliff walls, and THEN gets tangled up in a rope and hung before he hits the ground. A lady falls off a roof into a glass greenhouse, breaks every bone in her body, THEN there’s a hanging shard of glass to cut her head off. A minor character gets stabbed by spring-loaded statue with sword, which admittedly is only one death but it’s a good one. And it’s not enough that this poor guy gets impaled on a syringe, he’s gonna get stabbed about 20 times before he finally kicks it. Oh, also the guy in question is Ian McDiarmid (The Emperor), so overkilling him is probably worth a few extra points. It’s cool to see him in here, seems like he doesn’t do a lot of movies, plus he has a huge red fro and looks a little like a laid-back Phil Spector. Gotta like that, right?

The ancient Egyptians had rockin' metal faces.

So this one has some high points, and of course it’s enjoyable to watch a real titan of acting like Heston hamming it up in a straight faced killer Mummy movie.* I might be a little more forgiving if it had a little more mummy action, though. What the fuck is the deal with these mummy movies, like this one or the 1932 Karloff THE MUMMY or the terrible 1999 TRANCE: THE ETERNAL KISS OF THE MUMMY, that think what we want is a mummy movie which just has some guy get possessed and skulk around? Look at the fucking poster for this movie you assholes, what the fuck do you see? Some possessed guy? No, it’s a goddam creepy glowing-eyed MUMMY. Where is the mummy in these mummy movies, I ask? Let’s get some guy wrapped up in bandages stumbling around eating some mutherfuckers, OK? Next year I’ve got Hammer’s MUMMY series on the list, so hopefully they can avoid this apparently tempting pitfall and make a series of mummy movies that actually has a mummy in it. In the meantime, this one ain’t a disaster, but it should probably be a lot better than it is.

OH, also as a side note you can’t just fucking throw a kinky incestual kiss in there out of the blue in the middle of your movie and then act like its no big deal and never mention it again. Jesus guys. What the fuck.

Still gotta like seeing Chuck in something like this, though. Hey, it’s better than his other big archeologist role in Van Damme’s THE ORDER. Plus he’s (sometimes) doing a (British?) accent! If that doesn’t sell you on this one, it’s seriously time to re-examine your priorities in life.

*He would return to the subject of Egyptology for the controversial 1993 documentary MYSTERY OF THE SPHINX, in which Heston’s narration makes it sound extremely convincing that the Sphinx’s water erosion is evidence that it’s thousands of years older than “mainstream” Egyptologists believe. The geologist who makes the claims is now a regular on Ancient Aliens, so maybe it’s a tad harder to endorse this line of reasoning today than it was in 1993. But shit, if they got Heston to narrate Ancient Aliens I got a feeling I’d take those claims a lot more seriously, too. Anyway I don’t know if Heston got the idea while shooting THE AWAKENING or not; as a scientist, I’m merely reporting what I see.


The Hunt For Dread October

  • LITERARY ADAPTATION: Yes, of Bram Stoker's other, other famous horror novel The Jewel of Seven Stars.
  • SEQUEL: None
  • REMAKE: None, although there's a couple other movies with the same name.
  • SLUMMING A-LISTER: Charlton Heston, possibly at the time Academy-Award nominated actress Susannah York as well.
  • BOOBIES: ....I honestly do not recall.
  • DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: Embalmed organs in jars, head sliced off
  • THE UNDEAD: Mummy!
  • POSSESSION: Yes, it's more a possession movie than a mummy one.
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): No
  • EVIL CULT: I can't recall if the awakened Mummy was the result of an evil cult or just normal mainstream ancient Egyptian religion.
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: High, especially considering the cast and talent
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: Just as BLOOD BEAST TERROR taught us to beware entomologists and WEREWOLF OF LONDON taught us to hate and fear botanists, now we learn that Egyptologists are also an untrustworthy and dangerous lot.
  • TITLE ACCURACY: The mummy kinda awakens, I guess. I'll allow it.

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