Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Pyramid

The Pyramid (2014)
Dir  Grégory Levasseur
Written by Daniel Meersand and Nick Simon
Starring Ashley Hinshaw, Denis O'Hare, James Buckley and Daniel Amerman

THE PYRAMID is a very, very stupid but maybe kinda endearingly dorky attempt at a newfangled spin on a very, very old genre: it’s the tale of a bunch of moronic white archeologists who pay a terrible price for entering the a sacred Egyptian tomb (that’s the old part) but with a bunch of cheap digital cameras that more or less commit to a found-footage approach (that’s the newfangled part). There are a few halfhearted attempts at updates on the formula (get this, it’s not a pyramid… it’s an upside-down-underground-SUPERpyramid!) but mostly it’s exactly what this formula has promised since the dawn of time, only uglier, because found footage.

At least this time it’s supposed to be a documentary crew with professional cameras, so some of it is not as outright hideous as you might expect, just kind of dull and ugly. And like an inexplicably increasing number of these films seem to be doing, it also seems perfectly willing to abandon any actual found-footage perspective when it becomes inconvenient to try and figure out how to show what’s going on. I guess it doesn’t bother me that they do this if it’s in service of showing us something cool as opposed to sticking it out and just turning the visuals into a confused mess, but...  why even bother at that point? And if you’re shooting an obvious unmotivated angle, why not at least use a nicer camera? Like most found-footage debacles, there are a handful of sequences where shooting from a character’s perspective kinda works, I guess, but a whole lot of this one -- increasingly everything, towards the end-- abandons any pretense that someone in the film is shooting this footage, but retains the ugly handheld digital aesthetic. WHY? There’s no reason in the world they couldn’t have just shot this like a real film, with a few scattered sequences of found footage dropped in where they make sense. It’s obviously what director Grégory Levasseur (co-writer/second-unit director on most of Alexandre Aja’s features) wants to do anyway, so why go through the motions of making the whole thing look visually displeasing and spatially confusing when you obviously don’t even really care about the stupid gimmick in the first place?

Who is shooting this, exactly?

Not that there’s really much to see anyway. I guess filmgoers --and especially horror fans-- have kind of tacitly accepted that movies nowadays will be unpleasant eyesores. But do they have to be so damn uneventful? At least with normal film you can establish some atmosphere, build up a little suspense. Here, during the long stretches that nothing is happening, it’s every bit as dull as the most patience-taxing overlong youtube clip of someone waving their cameraphone around at nothing, except it’s minutes on end instead of 45 seconds. THE PYRAMID takes an unforgivably long time to get going, and even once it gets moving offers pretty scant rewards untils the very end. I like that there’s a (spoiler) pissed-off Egyptian god instead of the more standard Mummy, but what else does this place have? Cats? Fucking CATS? And CG cats, to boot? Plus, like, one sand trap and one spike pit? That’s it, that’s all there is in this supposedly giant underground pyramid? Those are the only things you could think to do with this concept? The very last shot is spoiled in the trailer, so that should give you some idea about just how little content the poor advertising people had to work with in their Herculean task of trying to convince you there’s something in this debacle worth putting in your eyeballs.

If it has a saving grace --and it doesn’t, but being a positive individual I try to find some good and I enjoy a challenge-- it has to be, strange as it may sound, the acting. No no, it’s not good acting, don’t be absurd. What it is, is bad acting. Rich, thick, piping hot bad acting, and an enviable surplus of it. Not the usual grim, disaffected nonacting you get these days, but that old kind of bad acting that I thought went extinct with the invention of irony in the mid-90s. The kind of earnest, wide-eyed enthusiasm which allows the blond archeologist here (Ashley Hinshaw, CHRONICLE, +1) to turn simple exposition into a weird free-form poetry with the accents peppered through with whimsical indifference. “Dad, can you stop BEING an Archeologist for one second!?” she whines, with a reckless abandon that borders on the genuinely courageous. It’s terrible, of course, but I’ll grant it gives the whole endeavor an agreeably honest schlockiness that makes it hard to be too angry at it. And Denis O’Hare (who we previously encountered playing Charles B. Pierce’s fictional son in THE TOWN THAT DREADED REMAKES), clearly aware of the kind of movie he’s making, plays the whole part with a bemused smirk that makes him fun to watch even when he’s not actually saying or doing anything interesting, which is the whole film.

To be frankly honest (usually the best subset of honest in the reviewing arts) this is not a good movie at all, but I suppose at least it’s stupid and harmless enough to make it workable to be enjoyed with some drunk friends and a lot of beer. But even so, you could probably do a lot better.

Play it Again, Samhain

  • TAGLINE: You Only Enter Once. Terrifying.
  • SEQUEL: No
  • REMAKE: No
  • BELOVED HORROR ICON: None, unless you want to count producer Alexandre Aja.
  • BOOBIES: None
  • MULLETS: None
  • DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: Heart removed
  • MONSTER: Yes, plus some monster cats which are really just mean regular cats which are computerized for some reason.
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): No
  • EVIL CULT: Again, the problems definitely have something to do with the Egyptian religion, but it seems like it was pretty mainstream back then.
  • VOYEURISM: Yes, there's a camera-bot who tastefully spies on our heroine getting dressed.
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Low, theatrical production from last year.
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: Egyptologists have gotten moderately less racist than their Mummy movie heydey, but they haven't gotten any better at staying alive. And worse at filming things.
  • TITLE ACCURACY: Definitely an actual Pyramid here, even if its some kind of underground superpyramid. Not that the shape turns out to be important or anything.
  • ALEX MADE IT THROUGH AWAKE: Weirdly, yes. I think she kinda liked it.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Jess Franco's Dracula

Jess Franco’s Dracula (1970) aka Count Dracula
Dir. Jesus Franco
Written by Augusto Finocchi
Starring Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, Klaus Kinski, Soledad Miranda, Fred Williams

Jesus “Jess” Franco did not make good movies. Let’s just put that out there to start with; this is not a good director, this is not even an interesting director, this is a guy who put his name on multiple films which were just incoherent Frankenmovies composed of grafted-together bits of unrelated footage. And that was in his prime, before he moved on to no-budget shot-on-video softcore pornos. But he was prolific. George Carlin once quipped, "I never fucked a ten... but one night, I fucked five twos." Well, Jesus Franco never directed a ten-star movie... but in 1970 alone, he made at least five twos. Surprisingly, though, this isn’t one of them. I mean, it’s not a ten, obviously, oh dear god no. But it’s a solid five, maybe even a six if you’re feeling generous. As my buddy Dan P put it, that in itself makes this “possibly Jess Franco’s least terrible movie.”

This becomes somewhat miraculous when I mention that not only is a Franco movie, it’s also a Dracula movie. And Dracula movies are, as a rule, not good. Considering the ubiquity of the character, he’s got an absolutely dismal track record of appearing in good movies, especially when they’re directly based on the original Bram Stoker novel. Which is sort of understandable, because Stoker’s novel is nigh-on unadaptable; its epistolary structure, army of minor characters (just how many fuckin’ suitors need to get involved in a plot about an amorous vampire for fuck’s sake?!), and somewhat lackluster ending have defeated everyone from Dario Argento to Guy Maddin over the years. I’ve never seen the Martin Landau or Jack Palance versions, but judging from the apparent consensus on them, I’m prepared to suggest that Hammer’s 1958 HORROR OF DRACULA might well be the only adaptation which could legitimately be called great, or close to it.*

Franco’s version is not close to great, because if it was it would not be a Jesus Franco film. But it is a surprisingly effective retelling of the classic tale, this time with Christopher Lee reinventing his definitive role by wearing a mustache. I’m not really sure why Lee would take this part --for all intents and purposes, a remake of the film that kicked off his career as a horror icon-- especially while he was still appearing in Hammer’s Dracula series (it came out the same year as SCARS OF DRACULA). But perhaps it had something to do with making an attempt at a slightly more faithful version to Stoker’s original novel. I’ve read a few accounts which suggest the movie was sold that way, though I can find no primary confirmation of that. There are a few details which are more faithful -- the mustache, Drac’s history as a warrior, his appearance getting more youthful as he drinks blood-- but overall it’s not so much more rigorously faithful that it stands out amongst its many peers. Like all adaptations, some consolidation of characters and locations becomes necessary, but, unexpectedly, herein lies its strength. Of all the Dracula adaptations, this may well have one of the best narrative structures. I know that's a weird thing to say about a Franco movie, but there you have it.

The screenplay, by Augusto Finocchi (EMMANUELLE ON TABOO ISLAND, the Ruggero Deodato-directed Spaghetti Western I quattro del pater noster) actually does something rather smart. After the initial confrontation in Dracula’s Transylvanian castle --inevitably a highlight of any Dracula adaptation, and one which doesn’t disappoint here-- Jonathan Harker (Fred Williams, minor parts in JULIET OF THE SPIRITS and A BRIDGE TOO FAR, good for him!) is taken to a sanitarium, where he is confined when no one believes his story. At this very same sanitarium is one R. M. Renfield (Klaus Kinski, who himself would play the Count a decade later in Herzog’s NOSFERATU), who is cared for by Dr. Seward (Paul Mueller, NIGHTMARE CASTLE, I VAMPIRI, FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD, VAMPYROS LESBOS). And of course, Harker’s fiancé Mina (Maria Rohm, the 1972 Orson Welles TREASURE ISLAND, which now that I look also featured Mueller) would want to come and visit the poor fellow, and she brings along her friend Lucy (Franco muse Soledad Miranda, VAMPYROS LESBOS) and eventually Lucy’s fiancé, Quincey Morris (Jack Taylor, how cow, Mr. Sporting Apparel Magnate himself from GHOST GALLEON!). And would you believe the whole place is run by none other than Mr. Abraham Van Helsing (Herbert Lom, ASYLUM, THE PINK PANTHER)? And you’ll never guess who ends up moving in across the street.

See what happened there? All the main characters, save the omitted Arthur Holmwood, have been transplanted to the same location! This nifty little bit of story economy makes it infinitely easier to organize our many protagonists and corrall Stoker’s meandering narrative into something a little more direct. I’m not saying this is a work of genius or anything, but it really streamlines the whole narrative in a way which naturally includes all the major players and events (though alas, it necessarily omits my favorite part, the tale of the doomed vessel Demeter). As an effective synthesis of a very tricky winding work of literature, I really find it a rather astounding success. The dialogue itself is nothing too special, of course, but it also smartly avoids dialogue when it can, particularly in the character of Renfield. Kinski gets second billing here with only one spoken word of dialogue, but he earns it through his intense, sensitive portrayal of the bug-eating madman, driven insane by a previous encounter with Dracula. Where other actors have gone gleefully mega --see the manic Tom Waits in Coppola’s version or the giggling Roland Topor in Herzog’s-- here, Kinski, an actor who could out-mega anyone, instead goes small, inward; his Renfield is a man who’s stormy inner life is unknowable to us, but his big, haunted blue eyes scream out his wordless torment. It’s a rather magnificently tragic performance, particularly notable in that he interacts with the main characters virtually not at all, and spends the entire movie in a single padded room, mostly alone, silently immersed in an all-consuming alternate reality entirely in his own head.

As is customary for a Dracula movie, the first act, at Dracula’s castle, is the strongest. The leadup is pure atmosphere, and the tiny budget actually works to its benefit, resulting in a stark minimalism that highlights the coldness and agoraphobic enormity of the nearly-empty castle rooms. Fred Williams does about as well with the generally useless Jonathan Harker role as anyone ever has (which is to say, he’s not actively bad) and Lee is obviously enjoying his older, somewhat chattier version of the Count, who expounds at length about his ancestral history in a great dinner sequence. Once Harker heads back to civilization --closely followed by Drac-- things very gradually kinda peter out, as the predictable notes of the vampiric visits on Lucy and eventually Mina are played out in serviceable but hardly inspired standard form. Lom seems half-asleep as Van Helsing, and though Kinski is mesmerizing, he’s a small part and quite isolated from the main plot. But at least there’s enough going on to keep the story moving along at a decent pace. Meanwhile, expect plenty of dated zooms in and out; no new fact can pass without Franco individually zooming in on each actor’s disarmingly placid non-reaction.

But the movie does have one other high point: Drac, it seems, had a penchant for decorating his new digs with poorly-mounted taxidermied animals of every variety, which results in the movie’s best scene when our heroes arrive at his castle to have the morbid menagerie begin twitching and caterwauling at them. It’s possible the movie intends to suggest the animals actually come to life and incorrectly believes this can be communicated by jiggling clearly stuffed animals in front of the camera, but I prefer to believe its exactly what it looks like: the sawdust-saturated animals skins just start shaking and squawking stationary in place, maybe less aggressive than they are simply horrified at their own unnatural half-life. At any rate, Franco does much better with his approach to dead animals than he does with “live” ones; the bat puppets that occasionally crop up could not look more comical. Say what you want about CG, but flying animals are not a great medium for puppetry.

Like all Dracula films, this one struggles with Stoker’s finale, which always suffers from a strange sense of deflation. One minute, Drac is exsanguinating pretty women at his leisure and our heroes are powerless to stop him (here, he even drops by Van Helsing's study to gloat) and the next minute, he’s fleeing London in terror and getting dispatched in his sleep. He kinda goes out like a chump, and there’s never a satisfying sense of when the balance of power shifts. At least in this case they also throw his flaming corpse off a huge cliff, which demonstrates some hustle. It’s no surprise a Franco movie has a less-than-inspired ending, but at least there’s a little hustle here. That’s not exactly high praise, but it’s unexpected enough it’s worth pointing out. Considering the sheer volume of Dracula adaptations out there, I cannot, in good conscience, call this anywhere close to essential viewing. That much was pretty well assumed going in; the fact that it actually does offer the Dracula completist a few genuine pleasures is a welcome surprise. If you absolutely must watch just one Spanish Dracula adaptation where Christopher Lee has a mustache, you could do a lot worse.

*Excluding, of course, the two NOSFERATUs, which adapt a good bit of the Dracula story but clearly have their own thing going.


Play it Again, Samhain

  • TAGLINE: None that I can find
  • LITERARY ADAPTATION: Yes, of Stoker's Dracula
  • SEQUEL: No
  • REMAKE: Bringing Lee back puts it very close to a direct remake of Hammer's The Horror Of Dracula from 1958
  • BELOVED HORROR ICON: Lee, Klaus Kinski, Herbert Lom, I guess Franco, maybe.
  • BOOBIES: None
  • MULLETS: None
  • THE UNDEAD: Vampire!
  • POSSESSION: Drac definitely has an effect on the mind's of Renfield and Mina.
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): No
  • TRANSMOGRIFICATION: Vampire to bat
  • VOYEURISM: Drac enjoys watching ladies sleep.
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Mid-high.
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: Mustaches are game changers.
  • TITLE ACCURACY: Definitely an actual Dracula here, and was definitely directed by Franco.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Mummy’s Shroud

The Mummy’s Shroud (1967)
Dir. John Gilling
Written by John Gilling, Anthony Hinds
Starring Andre Morell, David Buck, John Phillips, Maggie Kimberly, Elizabeth Sellars, Michael Ripper

Well, who’d have thought it possible? 15 years after the events of CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB, and 20 years after the events of the original Hammer Production of THE MUMMY, well… this is really embarrassing, you’re not going to believe this, but the same thing happens again! Yet another team of racist British archaeologists uncover yet another mummy with yet another tragic backstory to flash back to, resulting in yet another painful Arab stereotype (plus a gypsy stereotype for good measure?) resurrecting the durn thing for some revenge. This time, at least, the girlfriend-archaeologist is a blonde so we don’t have to hear that she’s the exact double of an ancient Egyptian queen. Progress is being made.

You may rightly be dubious of the third-time’s-the-charm optimism of remaking the same basic plot for a third time (not even counting the original Universal Mummy movies it rips off) despite its current record of resulting in exactly zero acceptable mummy movies. But if we must try it yet again --and for the last time, I should add, since the fourth sequel BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB doesn’t even have a mummy in it-- I’m marginally happy to report that this is marginally better than the other two, arguably the “best” version of this dated and regressive languid convolution laboring feverishly to build a movie around the basic idea that a Mummy gets revenge on a handful of white people. It was not at all worth taking 256 minute and three movies to get there, but fuck it, this is the world we have, not the one we want. And if we’ve got to accept living in a world with three basically identical Hammer Mummy movies, we might as well try and enjoy what we got, and at least THE MUMMY’S SHROUD makes that about as painless as we could dare hope by this point.

It’s biggest success is that it wrenches the same story from the first two into a more workable form by introducing a clear villain. If they can’t give us someone to like (and why would they start now?) at least they need to give us someone to hate. And this one does exactly that. Oh, it has some supposed heroes --David Buck (voices in Bakshi’s LORD OF THE RINGS and THE DARK CRYSTAL), Tim Barrett (THE DEADLY BEES), Maggie Kimberly (small part in THE CONQUEROR WORM, nothing else) and --promisingly-- Hammer staple André Morell (HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES)-- as the archaeology crew scheduled for some Mummy-related fatalities. This cadre of players are, to their credit, rather more ingratiating than your typical generic pretty young Hammer kids. But the movie’s chief improvement on its predecessors is its villain, Shakespearean actor John Phillips (VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, TORTURE GARDEN, QUADROPHENIA) as the cold-blooded financier behind the operation. Phillips is not an overwhelmingly charismatic performer, but the movie finds setting him up as a irredeemable asshole to be an enormously helpful organizing influence. The previously versions had been irreparably crippled by their protagonists’ necessary passivity for the majority of the movie -- far too much time is spent trying to figure out what’s going on for any narrative conflict to gain momentum. Having someone we can root against gives our more heroic protagonists something to oppose, energizing them and also giving the inevitable mummy attacks a little more urgency, since we badly want to see this fucker get his canopic jarred, if you get my meaning.

Several more cosmetic details help too. Although Morell has a disappointingly small part (and looks like he’s seen some years of hard living between the previous years’ PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and this role) the movie, unable to deliver as much Morell as you want, compensates with lots of Michael Ripper as a put-upon sidekick for the villain. Ripper is far and away the most enjoyable character in the movie as the the nebbish assistant, and his constant humiliations do a lot to solidify our hatred of his employer. And hey, he’s not in brownface, so that’s automatically an improvement from last time. The guys stuck in brownface this go-round are Richard Warner (also VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED) and Roger Delgado (“The Master” in the John Pertwee Dr. Who series). Delgado end ups with yet another distressing villainous stereotype (augmented by an equally broad Catherine Lacey [THE LADY VANISHES, SHADOW OF THE CAT] as his mother, who is, I guess, some kind of Egyptian Gypsy fortune teller with a crystal ball and everything?), but at least Warner gets to play a good guy; in fact, his inspector character is portrayed quite positively, certainly the only Arab character in the whole film series to be afforded any dignity. Again, that’s pretty faint praise, but an unambiguous improvement.  

I’m divided about the Mummy itself, which has a new look that features a somewhat goofy-looking painted-on face and some sort of weird mummy gauntlets. His attacks are a slight improvement, featuring more gimmicks (burning a guy with photographic acid!) but the biggest improvement is in the backstory. It’s just as unnecessary as in the previous iterations, but at least they stick it right at the beginning here, as a prologue and not a momentum-killing sidestory jammed haphazardly into the middle of the action. More importantly, the backstory is, for once, kind of interesting; it seems this mummy was a real nice dude once upon a time, a bodyguard for a child-king who fell victim to a murderous regime change. Unable to protect his young ward in life, the devoted manservant attempts to do so in death -- a surprisingly touching wrinkle which adds pathos and color to the title character, a rather dry and bloodless (ha!) instrument for destruction in the other films. The fact that we know the Mummy’s backstory matters not at all -- he’s used in the exact same manner as  the previous two films-- but our memory of the kindly, devoted bald man from the opening sequence* colors his reappearance as a desiccated corpse emblazoned with a daffy emoticon on his face, and adds a subtle layer of tragedy to the whole thing (particularly his gruesome final comeuppance, which seems like a much-earned release for the poor guy). Besides, Seeing the former child-king to whom he devoted his life --and to some extent seems to regard as a surrogate son-- unceremoniously displayed as a shriveled, naked raisin of a corpse (a rather startlingly realistic and grotesque prop, natch) for mildly interested British museum-goers actually does manage to feel like a cruel insult, so for once we can somewhat understand the outrage. He also has by far the best death of the series, a legitimately cool effects shot of a crumbling mummy ripping itself to pieces, which displays genuine hustle the series mostly lacks.

So there’s a lot of good here; the mummy looks a little silly, but he’s trying a bit harder and the overall story is much sleeker and better constructed. It sports generally stronger acting than the previous ones, and a more satisfying overall structure, even if it looks a little rinky-dink compared to Terence Fisher’s stately original.

But it’s still not all that great. In fact, if you must watch just one of these three nearly identical movies, I’d probably recommend the first one over this -- it’s a lot clunkier narratively (and more racist) but it probably boasts the definitive version of this iconography, which, it turns out, is really the only important thing anyway. I’ve been complaining for years that purported mummy movies like the 1932 Karloff version and the Chuck Heston THE AWAKENING don’t deliver any actual mummies, but after three middling attempts by Hammer to remedy that concern, I guess I’m finally forced to admit that this may be a concept that just plain doesn’t work. It’s a losing proposition from the get-go, riddled with fundamentally insurmountable problems which have nothing to do with execution.

To my mind, the problems with this basic premise are threefold:

1: Inherently passive protagonists. By its very nature, the structure of THE MUMMY, CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB and THE MUMMY’S SHROUD necessitates protagonists who don’t understand what’s happening to them and, until the very end, have no idea how to help themselves. Their story is built as a mystery, where they gradually realize there’s some ethnic type sending the mummy to bump them off one by one, and eventually figure out there’s some kind of sacred scroll they have to read at it or something. But of course we, the audience, already know all this stuff, it’s no surprise to us that there’s a mummy after them and we already know who’s behind it and why. This inevitably leads to the tiresome setup where our ostensible main characters gradually (and not especially cinematically) realize things the audience has known since frame one, a narrative miscalculation which is almost invariably a death knell for any movie which attempts it. It’s why poor Peter Cushing barely even registers until the final half-hour of the first movie, why the second movie has no recognizable leads at all, and this one finds any amount of urgency only in its villain.

2: A curiously dull monster. This one is harder to fathom, because, come on, mummy! It’s just conventional wisdom by this point that this is one of those iconic, immortal cinematic monsters, a cultural assumption which began when it became one of the flagship Universal Monsters and strengthened with Hammer’s insistence over the course of three movies that Universal must have known what they were doing. But has there ever actually been a good mummy film? Not that I can find. Not a single one. The origin of the mummy as a horror antagonist -- which we will explore ad nauseum in our next installment, I assure you-- does have deep enough roots that I think it’s fair to say there must be something there, but whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to have made it to the big screen. The Mummy, as he appears in his lengthy film career and especially in these three Hammer films, simply doesn’t have a lot going on. As I mentioned in the last review, he’s essentially just a solitary zombie that can’t bite you. The wrappings are a rather poor substitute for cadaverous gorey gristle, and even the best of them --Lee, obviously, with his towering menace-- are unable to impart much distinctness to the creature as a physical threat. All he can do is strangle or bludgeon you, and that’s only if you’re dumb enough to let him corner you somewhere you can’t maneuver away from. Not exactly the stuff of nightmares. But even if it did something cool --and it’s a moot point, since the single cool mummy beat in the entirety of the three movies is its own death in this one-- I think it would still be a losing battle because the movies are saddled with:

3: A plot which disempowers the mummy. Yes, the weird thing about all three of these mummy movies  --as well as every Universal Mummy movie I’ve seen (save the first)-- is that they effectively undermine the role of the mummy in his own movie! Like Tim Burton’s badly ill-conceived and overthought SLEEPY HOLLOW, the film is entirely precipitated upon our anticipation of its primary antagonist… who is then summarily reduced to a petty thug by an uninteresting and unimportant puppet master! Fucking why? ALL THREE of these Hammer films prattle on at length about the curse which falls upon those who violate the sanctity of the mummy’s tomb, but in all three cases the mummy itself is weirdly ambivalent about the whole thing, and it takes a more motivated modern character to command him. So even though the films each take long, painfully unnecessary sidetracks to explore the titular mummy’s backstory, it turns out to not matter in the slightest, or really even be related to what he’s doing in the present day. He might as well be a hired goon for all the actual investment he has in any of this. And since the real villain is merely a thoroughly contemporary religious fanatic,** the single most interesting aspect of the Mummy himself -- his connection to the indisputably amazing and mysterious ancient Egyptian culture, with all the enticing possibilities that conjures in the imagination-- is completely minimized and trivialized. The mummy could be a supernatural enforcer from any culture and any time period, for all the difference that it makes to the plot of these movies.

These three fairly immutable points are more than enough to thwart even a writer and director of John Gilling’s (THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS, THE REPTILE, THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES) high caliber. Gilling was by no means Hammer’s strongest visualist, but for my money he was one of their most consistently strong writers, generally crafting more compelling characters (and particularly female characters, as he did with PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and does again here, albeit somewhat less impactfully) and better-structured narratives than most of his peers. Alas, the structure here more or less defeats him -- this iteration of the story solves many of the glaring pacing and narrative issues from the previous two, but it still doesn’t add up to much. Most of the best parts, in fact, tend to come from his care for tertiary characters like Ripper’s put-upon yes-man and Warner’s thoughtful, maturely performed inspector, rather than any of the real genre goods. It’s not a disaster as a whole -- it certainly offers more pleasures than irritations, even if those pleasures are of a decidedly mild character-- but those three crippling facts are enough to rob it of the necessary juice it badly needed to justify its existence as essentially the third retread of the same plot. Any goodwill it was once granted is, by this time, utterly exhausted; the engine has run dry. But Hammer was not quite done with the Mummy yet -- and the fourth entry was to take a starkly different direction. Prepare yourself, dear reader, for BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB.

*Weirdly, stuntman and sometimes-actor Dickie Owens, who plays the mummy in CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB but not the character that turns into the mummy in the flashback, would reverse those roles here, portraying the eventual mummy during his life, but NOT in his mummified form.

**Partially code for “guy who thinks it’s a little fucked up that these crazy Brits have stormed into the country at gunpoint and spent the last hundred years stealing every treasure they can lay their hands on and carting them back to their homeland to be gawked at by repressed Victorian thrill-seekers under a thin veneer of cultural curiosity.”




Play it Again, Samhain

  • TAGLINE: Nightmare Terror From The Tomb! promises one poster; Beware the Beat... of Cloth-wrapped Feet! the other advises. Obviously I love it when taglines wax poetic, and that second tagline is potent enough to hang a gimmicky mummy-themed disco song on.
  • LITERARY ADAPTATION: Still loosely based on a few of the original Universal Mummy sequels.
  • SEQUEL: Third in a series of four
  • REMAKE: Only to the extent that it borrows elements from older movies
  • BELOVED HORROR ICON: Andre Morell, Michael Ripper, director John Gilling
  • BOOBIES: None
  • MULLETS: None
  • DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: Mummy dismembers itself at the end, pretty cool.
  • THE UNDEAD: Mummy!
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): No
  • EVIL CULT: Well, the modern day guys ordering the mummy around seem to have some religious justification.
  • TRANSMOGRIFICATION: Ancient Egyptian into Mummy
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Medium, a mid-level production from Hammer’s heyday.
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: Don't paint a face on a mummy, come on guys, did we really have to have this one spelled out?
  • TITLE ACCURACY: Definitely an actual Mummy here, and a shroud is a plot point.

It's definitely a better structured and more enjoyable movie than the second one, but I still cannot in good conscience give it a 4-star rating. Think C+