Friday, February 26, 2016


Xtro (1983)
Dir. and written by Harry Bromley Davenport
Starring Bernice Stegers, Philip Sayer, Danny Brainin, Simon Nash, Maryam d'Abo

19 minutes into XTRO, a woman gets mouth-raped by a slimy alien tentacle and graphically gives birth to a full-grown adult man, who chews through his umbilical cord and walks off bloody and naked into the night. I feel like we should get that little detail out of the way right off the bat, just put it out there, lay our cards on the table. Relationships are all about communication and there you go, I just communicated something to you as clearly as I know how. I seriously considered going even further and making a gif of it, just so you wouldn’t have any lingering doubts, but I know some of you read this at work, and this is definitely not the thing you want to be fired over. I don’t want to disappoint you but please know that I have your best interests at heart. Oh all right, just one still:

Click here at your peril.

So that’s the kinda thing we’re dealing with here. This was a little much for the time, and it landed the film squarely on the UK’s infamous “Video Nasty” list, which made it susceptible to seizure and destruction under obscenity charges, making it a hard sell in its native England. It also didn’t go over so hot here in the US, where it piqued Roger Ebert into a fit of moralizing (always his Achilles heel): "Most exploitation movies are bad, but not necessarily painful to watch. They may be incompetent, they may be predictable, they may be badly acted or awkwardly directed, but at some level the filmmakers are enjoying themselves and at least trying to entertain an audience. "Xtro" is an exception, a completely depressing, nihilistic film, an exercise in sadness....It's movies like this that give movies a bad name." I’m sure XTRO felt like Marty McFly, telling an audience of angry, confused viewers, “I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet... But your kids are gonna love it.”

Well, I don’t know if the kids are ever going to love this one, but boy, I sure did. That birth scene is repellent enough and in such outrageously bad taste that I can understand why it completely dominates people’s memory of the film (especially since it happens so early on, totally out of the blue). Hell, it's the one thing I remembered about the movie, having seen it about 15 years ago back when when I was still a naive young genre buff. In most low-budget exploitation movies like this, that would be its one trick and the rest of it would be the usual boring hokum. But XTRO isn’t nearly done. XTRO is just getting started. The birth scene probably isn’t even in the top five weirdest things here. I don’t know if I was just too traumatized from the opening 20 minutes to notice when I first saw this or what, but this is a movie which starts out crazy and just gets crazier. By the end of a movie, a dwarf in a clown costume will be delivering alien eggs from a mutated babysitter nestled in a huge cocoon suspended over a bathtub.

The plot is your basic SHADOW OF A DOUBT riff, with alien dads instead of sexy uncles, with a little MY FAVORITE WIFE mixed in, but also with aliens. But that part is fairly standard. Basically, nice guy dad Sam (Phillip Sayer, forgotten 80’s TV stuff, “Boy in London House” in THE HUNGER) disappears one day in a flash of light in front of his adorable young kid Tony. Three years later, his put-upon wife (Bernice Stegers, woah, she was in Fellini’s CITY OF WOMEN! As “woman on train,” but still.*) has a new boyfriend named Joe (Danny Brainin, no other major roles though he did play Jerry Rubin in the TV movie John and Yoko) and is starting to get her life back together. Guess who walks through the door. Yup, it’s Sam, hoping to pick up his life where he left off. Obviously her new Beau isn’t too thrilled about this situation, but Sam’s got nowhere else to go, and she still has unresolved feelings about him and also they have a kid together and gosh, this really is a very emotionally fraught situation. He says he doesn’t remember what happened to him, and Joe doesn’t want to say anything, but come on, what was he, born yesterday? Of course in Sam’s case he actually was, because remember that bloody naked man who crawled out of that poor lady’s completely inadequate hoo-ha? Yup, that was him. So now we’ve got a situation which could only be adequately resolved by Jerry Springer, but unfortunately he was busy running for Governor of Ohio at the time (really! look it up!), so these guys are shit out of luck.

Actually typing all that out and having read the sentence “SHADOW OF A DOUBT meets MY FAVORITE WIFE with aliens,” even the basic premise sounds pretty weird. But trust me, it gets weirder. When he’s alone for two minutes, Sam can’t help but eat the eggs laid by Tony’s pet snake, and then, I dunno, he spits something into his bellybutton or something, and I think Tony turns into an alien too. If I sound hesitant to put a label on this behavior, it’s because despite the big clues about a slimy, face-hugging creature coming out of the sky in a flash of light, there are some things here which are pretty atypical of the traditional alien encounter. For example, when a mean old lady downstairs kills his snake, Tony --I don’t know, uses telekinesis?-- to get a toy soldier to come kill her. And by “toy soldier,” I mean a Dolph-Lundgren-sized army man with a static plastic face and a fully functional automatic rifle kicks in her door and bayonets her to death while she’s cowering under her bed.

And also there’s that silent dwarf in a clown suit who appears to him from time to time, accompanied by circus music. It’s so weird it seems like it must be a dream or a symbol or something, but then he braces himself at the top of an elevator like a ninja and jumps onto their perpetually nude live-in maid (Maryam d'Abo, who four years later would be Bond Girl #15 in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS), so I guess he must be real. But then he turns their apartment into the last segment of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and starts putting alien (?) eggs in a refrigerator full of guacamole, and… well, it’s complicated. Boy, the Xtros must have the most complicated life cycle in the whole animal kingdom, three years in the making, passing through several bodies, at least two planets, and multiple unpleasant birthing processes. And in my opinion most animals don’t require the help of a clown to facilitate their reproductive needs, though I guess it couldn’t hurt. Maybe that’s what those giant pandas are missing.

Anyway, if I haven’t made it obvious yet, this is a consistently fucking crazy, dreamy and surreal alien nightmare. What I may not have made as clear is that Ebert is sort of right, this is not the total hoot you might think it is. “Completely depressing, nihilistic film, an exercise in sadness” might be a little extreme, but director Harry Bromley Davenport (the completely unrelated XTRO 2: THE SECOND ENCOUNTER and XTRO 3: WATCH THE SKIES, neither of which has any dwarfs in clown suits and are therefore inherently inferior, and are also inferior in every other imaginable way) is definitely taking this very seriously. It’s impossible to make anything this outlandish and not have at least a very slight sense of fun, but Ebert is generally correct that the tone is quite dour and more committed to milking the situation for eeriness and paranoia than fishing for shlocky showpieces. What Ebert disappointingly doesn’t seem to acknowledge is that it’s actually surprisingly adept at this task. Its imaginative grotesqueries are acted with just the right blend of realism and horror strangeness, and it puts a surprising degree of care into the painful emotional situation the mom gets caught in. It’s a sign of the movie’s strength that even though the monster looks great, the movie’s pretty compelling when he’s not on-screen, too. None of the cast really went on to any huge success (except, predictably, the naked blond who doesn’t even make that look very convincing) but they actually do a pretty good job getting the right ambiguous tone here; strange and kind of opaque but rooted in enough reality that we can get invested in their bizarre situation.

It’s not often that a movie can provide this many “holy shit, what did I just watch?” moments while not losing track of its narrative center, and I think it makes XTRO genuinely special. Completely unappreciated at its time, it’s since developed something of a cult following, including what I consider to be its finest hour when those guys at RedLetterMedia (best known for delivering what is probably the definitive fish-meets-barrel summation of the obvious problems with the STAR WARS prequels) picked it at random from a list of movies they assumed would be terrible, and were so won over by it they ended up hailing it as a genre masterpiece. It’s pretty unusual for a woman to give birth to a fully grown alien in a man suit, it’s unusual for a 6-foot-tall toy to murder an old lady in her home, and it’s unusual for a dwarf in a clown suit to mummify a nude live-in-maid. But it’s fucking unimaginable for snarky nerds on the internet to change their mind about something they think they won’t like. That’s what I’m going to remember 15 years from now. I still don’t know what an Xtro is, but it has my respect.

*She would go on to a rich career in movies with names that sound like other movies. Woah, she was in JULIETTE OF THE SPIRITS? Oh wait, no, it’s just JULIE’S SPIRITS. THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY?? Oh wait, it’s THE GREAT RIVIERA TRAIN ROBBERY. ENEMY OF THE STATE?! No, ENEMIES OF THE STATE (TV movie). TIME BANDITS?! No, SKY BANDITS.


Play it Again, Samhain

  • TAGLINE: When Tony Grows Up, He's Going To Be Just Like Daddy.
  • SEQUEL: First of three sequels, with a forth promised a few years ago but still not delivered.
  • REMAKE: None
  • SLUMMING A-LISTER: None, although Maryam d'Abo probably sort of counts, being a Bond Girl and all.
  • BOOBIES: There's at least three entirely superfluous nude scenes with d'Abo.
  • MULLETS: None as such, though a couple characters are definitely threatening to go full mullet.
  • SEXUAL ASSAULT: Alien face-rape.
  • DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: Skin ripped off.
  • MONSTER: Yes, weird alien
  • POSSESSION: Yes, it's definitely a possession movie.
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): No
  • (UNCANNY) VALLEY OF THE DOLLS: Yeah, the weird life-sized soldier guy.
  • VOYEURISM: Yes, XTRO watches a woman in her home before attacking her.
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Medium, a fairly landmark cult film.
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: Surely we can all agree that late-term abortions should be available to women who were non-consensually impregnated with adult-sized alien doppelgangers?
  • TITLE ACCURACY: I still don't know what an Xtro is, but I guess that thing is one?
  • ALEX MADE IT THROUGH AWAKE: N/A, which is too bad because she'd have liked it.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Blood From The Mummy's Tomb

Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb (1971)
Dir. Seth Holt, Michael Carreras (uncredited)
Written by Christopher Wicking
Starring Valerie Leon, Andrew Keir, Mark Edwards, James Villiers, Hugh Burden, Aubrey Morris

By the waning days of Hammer in the early 70s, the studio had produced exactly zero Mummy movies of any merit, despite three attempts in 1959, 1964, and 1967. They’re all cosmetically different, but they all feature essentially the same premise, which is, in itself, more or less a hodge-podge of recycled elements from the four Universal Studios sequels to their 1932 film THE MUMMY: Basically, a handful of racist white archeologists uncover a hidden tomb from the good old days, and a fiendish modern-day Egyptian with roots in the ancient traditions revives a guardian-Mummy to punish them for their transgressions. And you know what? None of them are very good. Not the original MUMMY, not THE MUMMY’S HAND, not THE MUMMY’S TOMB, not THE MUMMY’S CURSE, not Hammer’s THE MUMMY (1959), not CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB, not THE MUMMY’S SHROUD. With a near-zero success rate by 1971, one could only wonder why it was that people couldn’t seem to resist the lure of more Mummy movies. Failure had not seemed much of a deterrent for Hammer up to this point, but with very similar attempts from some of their top talent all ending up in the same middling rehashes, one can hardly help approaching their final Mummy movie, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB, with a bit of trepidation. Was there really any new ground to cover here?

In fact, this final entry in Hammer’s Mummy series would go a very different route. The first three borrow heavily from the template of mummy fiction pioneered by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his 1892 story Lot No. 249, and used, at least on a fundamental level, in the vast majority of Mummy fiction that followed it, particularly in the cinema (though notably not the 1932 THE MUMMY which brought the character to the screen for the first time). Doyle’s vision of The Mummy as a murderous puppet of vengeance resurrected by a modern-day believer is, in fact, so ubiquitous that you’d be forgiven for assuming it underlied the entire mythos behind the iconic monster. But you’d be wrong.

Hammer’s fourth film to feature the word “mummy” in the title adapts a completely different source, the other great fount of the mummy mythos, Bram Stoker’s 1903 novel The Jewel of the Seven Stars. While I can’t help but wonder if Stoker’s wasn’t at least subliminally influenced by Doyle’s mummy tales (particular his earlier 1890 tale The Ring Of Thoth, which posits a very different kind of ancient Egyptian magic -- a curse of eternal life rather than a curse of unnatural resurrection), his take on the material is starkly different in its mechanics, avoiding the template of Lot No 249 and imagining a very distinct species of mummified menace.

Oh I'm sorry, did I break your concentration?

Fundamentally, its horror comes from a totally different place. Instead of threatening us with murder at the hands of a resurrected corpse, Jewel is essentially a possession tale. It concerns a young Englishman named Malcolm, who is caught up in a strange situation when his fiance’s Egyptologist father suffers a mysterious attack which leaves him comatose. Gradually, it becomes clear that the source of the trouble is the (inanimate) mummy of an ancient queen named Tera, who intends to use the offending Englishmen to bring about her resurrection, possibly in the body of Malcolm’s fiance (who has been acting disturbing assertive recently, much to the horror of her male Victorian cohorts).

If that sounds vaguely familiar, why, it’s because we’ve encountered it before, as it was also the basis for the 1980 film THE AWAKENING, which featured none other than Chuck Heston (JEAN CLAUDE VAN DAMME’S THE ORDER) as the recumbent British (?!) Egyptologist. BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB has virtually nothing in common with that one, despite being ostensibly based on the same story, save the very loosest connection to a female mummy with designs on the body of an Egyptologist’s daughter. Other than that, they share not a single specific character or event, except, oddly, a character named “Corbeck” who is a villain here, the hero in the 1980 version, and, splitting the difference, a minor side character in the novel. In fact, the two films are more similar in what they lack: they both curiously minimize (to the point of omission) the main character from Stoker’s story --the barrister Malcolm who serves as a narrator-- and consequently both suffer from a serious lack of protagonist. While it’s true that Malcolm is more of an audience surrogate than a narratively crucial actor in Stoker’s tale, neither movie finds an adequate solution to the fact that both of the more important characters --the Egyptologist and his daughter-- are incapacitated or inactive for long chunks of the narrative, leaving no one around to consistently move the story along.

The Hammer version --the first direct screen adaptation of the story-- does have one advantage over its 1980 successor (and, for my money, the book itself): it’s much more eventful. The novel is almost structured as a stage play, mostly unravelling over one night, in one location (perhaps understandable, as Stoker’s day job was managing the Lyceum Theater in London). It’s a little short on whammy. Much of it is devoted to lengthy flashbacks and exposition, as well as detailed (and, apparently, quite accurate) descriptions of ancient Egyptian culture and artifacts. BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB helpfully adds a kind of slasher structure; the malevolent spirit here has a side goal of killing off everyone possessing one of its purloined artifacts, resulting in a series of grisly murders which give the whole enterprise a little oomph and establish it a little more clearly in the familiar tropes of the horror genre.

But even so, it’s an odd one. For example, it has no mummy in it, which seems kind of bold for a movie with the world “Mummy” right there in the title. At this point in Hammer’s Mummy cycle I admit I’d be willing to try anything, but even so, they usually reserved that level of flagrant false advertising for their posters. There is an ancient Egyptian princess named Tera (Valerie Leon, small roles in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN) recovered from an ancient tomb and everything, but she looks pristine and is not in any way mummified, which is completely understandable because come on, look at those boobs. Are you really gonna mummify those? What kind of monster would hide that from the world?

Of course, it should come as no surprise to you by this point that her discoverer, Dr. Fuchs (Andrew Keir, who replaced Brian Donlevy as Quatermass in QUATERMASS AND THE PIT*), has a beautiful daughter named Margaret (also Valerie Leon) who --you might want to sit down, this is really going to shock you-- looks identical to Tera, even has the same early 70’s hairdo. And, not to belabor this point, but the same amazing boobs, which the movie prominently displays every single second of runtime it can think of a reason to put Leon on-screen.**

Just to illustrate my point, mind you, not because I wanted to make this gif for any prurient reason.

Both Fuchs and his daughter are experiencing various levels of mind-whammy courtesy of Tera, and spend a lot of time wandering around with lax expressions and a thousand-yard stare, which I’d be tempted to say is probably Leon’s best move as an actor. But that isn’t really fair, she’s actually fine in both her somewhat vague roles, plus, again, boobs. Even so, the script has Keir comatose for most of the movie, and Margaret is stuck in one of those regrettable LORDS OF SALEM type roles where she’s getting increasingly possessed but doesn’t really know why or have anything she can do about it, making her a hoplessly passive protagonist (to the extent she can even be called by that name). 

Recognizing this and perhaps taking a cue from THE MUMMY’S SHROUD, they introduce a villain (James Villiers, ASYLUM, as well as a few early Hammers including THE NANNY and THE DAMNED) to give the proceedings a little structure lost from a lack of a clear central character. It helps a little (though it’s a bit unclear how his plan to reanimate the Mummy is different from Fuch’s plan --which is also to reanimate the Mummy-- even though they seem to hate each other), but actually the film works better when it’s not trying so hard to patch over its inelegantly constructed narrative. The story’s all over the place, piling up characters and meaningless subplots while simultaneously over-explaining and obscuring the mechanics of the supposedly central conflict here, which I guess, gun to my head, I’d have to define as, “who should have control over Margaret’s body?” At the very least, the movie seems to be vaguely constructed to posit as its most tangible conflict, “stopping Tera from doing, you know, whatever." But inexplicably, no character ever emerges who seems to have much interest in doing that, nor any ability to do so in any case. But somehow that doesn’t really hurt the film as much as it should. It should, by all outward appearances, be a frustrating mess. Somehow instead it’s intriguing, disjointed, bizarre and hypnotic. I don’t know that I really “get” it, but I like it.

Director Seth Holt (TASTE OF FEAR, THE NANNY) is, despite his sparse output, often regarded as Hammer’s most adroit director (including by no less an authority on the subject than Christopher Lee), and he amply demonstrates why he deserves that title here, crafting sequences and shots which are subtly stylish and elusively evocative, from the vaguely surreal pre-credits mummification scene onwards. It’s actually quite gorey for a Hammer film (many a throat is graphically ripped out) but it gets more mileage from its mysterious atmosphere (aided by a strong score from Tristram Cary [QUATERMASS AND THE PIT and THE LADYKILLERS]) than its bloodletting.  

Holt seems to be the first director to tackle the subject of The Mummy who gets --at least on some level-- that there’s something to this concept beyond “eeew, it’s dead, and it’s trying to grab me!” which is good, because whatever its flaws (and they are myriad) Jewel of the Seven Stars is definitely a story which is grappling with a lot of anxieties about identity that have nothing to do with marauding ghouls. We’ll delve a little more deeply into the novel in my forthcoming book-length “A Cultural Anthropology of Mummy Fiction,” but for now suffice to say it’s a novel deeply soaked in the anxieties of early 20th-century social upheaval and colonialist angst. The Mummy, at its most obvious symbolic level, is a revenge of the natives against their oppressors; I think it little coincidence that Lot No. 249 was written about ten years into the British armed occupation of Egypt, and Jewel of the Seven Stars about ten years after that.

But while the earlier work is somewhat more literal in its threat of bodily harm done to invaders, Seven Stars is something more existential, a fear that somehow while the colonized may appear comatose, they might just be quietly conspiring to steal our very soul. A rational fear? Of course not, but fears rarely are. I doubt Stoker was ahead of his time enough to realize it, but surely this was the deep, vague paranoia that inevitably comes with rationalizing your way into doing something that you know, on some fundamental level, is as wrong as could be. It’s a paranoid nightmare, but maybe on some level it’s also kind of a comforting fantasy to see the arrogant British getting exactly what’s coming to them, courtesy of a potent symbol of the ancient greatness of a now-oppressed people. And, of course, it serves as a perfect victim-blaming rationale to continue that oppression. It’s egomania delicately balanced with deep-seated self-doubt; the consuming insecurity behind all controlling bullies. Curiously, and perhaps tellingly, Seven Stars contains a chapter --deleted in later editions-- which makes explicit a detail which is almost always studiously ignored by supernatural horror writers: if Queen Tera does manage to outfox the English and use her magic to reincarnate, it doesn’t just mean the English lose, it means they’re wrong. About everything, about their most fundamental assumptions about the universe and their place in it. Most obviously about God -- their conception of Christianity certainly would not allow for ancient God-Queens stealing the bodies of young virgins-- but even more so, about the inherent superiority of their culture and moral worldview. It’s this existential dread about identity which underlies the more traditional possession elements of the novel, and makes it unique and provocative in a way the somewhat turgid narrative doesn’t even come close to.

Blood from the Mummy's Tomb - Trailer
Part of its unique strangeness also comes from its unusually (for 1971) bold editing, as you can see here (this is actually two scenes spliced together in the trailer, but the individual cuts are illustrative of the overall style, at least in its most aggressive scenes)

By the premiere of BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB in 1971, things were a little different -- the colonial days were well and truly over, and the days of multiculturalism (or at least less overt racism) were arriving. But there’s still the ghost of that identity anxiety which haunts the script. Writer Christopher Wicking (MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER) somewhat craftily universalizes the lingering doubts Stoker’s characters had in the absolute correctness of their beliefs, to go beyond the cultural into the philosophical. “Tera is far beyond the laws and dogma of her time -- and of ours!” the villainous Corbeck says. “Beyond good and evil?” asks Margaret. “Love, hate. She’s a law beyond good and evil, and if we could find out how far beyond… how much we can learn.” There’s a certain moral horror there, a sudden, gut-wrenching shift that occurs when the stable ground suddenly and jarringly moves beneath you, destroying your illusions of a constant, comforting reality. The characters can hardly deny that maybe this five-thousand-year-old magical spirit might know better than they do. Who are they to call her “evil” when her understanding of the universe is clearly so much more profound than theirs? No wonder no one seems much able or willing to resist her!

Not that I’m trying to imply BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB is exactly philosophical or that it has a message or anything. Just that at least on some nebulous poetic level, the filmmakers here seem to place the horror somewhere other than simply the throat-ripping ghost jackals (though they gamely include those, too). It’s what gives the whole enterprise the dreamy, unhinged quality it exudes with a surprising, but somewhat implacable, potency. Sometimes its overt  --as in the film’s arguable standout sequence, a frenetically edited and masterfully filmed death in a screaming madhouse-- but other times it’s more subtle, like the skin-crawling voyeurism of sleeping Margaret being surreptitiously watched from across the street by an unknown man. Although their boundary-pushing sex and gore were the catalyst that pushed Hammer to huge popular appeal, I’m inclined to think this fairly late entry is one of the purest iterations of their best impulses. It’s got the boobs and blood you want, but it’s more focused on the eerie gothic atmosphere you need, which is especially remarkable in that it’s a rare modern-set Hammer film.

It’s also almost unbelievable that it came out this well when you realize what a troubled production this one underwent. Production began with reliable old Peter Cushing in the lead role as Fuchs (it would have been his second go-round with a “Mummy,” after starring in Hammer’s 1959 film THE MUMMY); after only a day or two of shooting, however, his wife had taken ill and he had to leave the set. Ten days later she was dead, and an inconsolable Cushing was unable to return to the film (by his next starring role in 1972, his grief had taken such a physical toll on him that he had to be recast from “father” to “grandfather” of an actress only three years younger than Leon was here). Production resumed with Keir in his role, but was thrown off-track again by the untimely death of director Holt, who suffered an on-set of a heart attack, literally collapsing into the arms of actor Audrey Morris (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, LISZTOMANIA). Holt died five weeks into a six-week shoot, and the film was finished by stalwart Hammer producer and sometimes-director Michael Carreras, who had already directed the tepid CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB. Carreras is no one’s idea of a classic director (though his oft-overlooked 1963 gimmick killer British giallo MANIAC is actually pretty good) but maybe Queen Tera got to him or something, because he really stepped up his game for this one, even apparently directing the film’s best sequence, the frenzied madhouse murder.

A still from Cushing's one day on-set. Keir is perfectly fine, but obviously this would have been better.

With a production backstory like that --plus a meager budget of around £200,000 (roughly $2,500,000 dollars today) and a punishing six-week shoot-- it’s pretty miraculous the movie is any damn good at all. It’s not without its problems, of course -- the cast is professional but hardly elevates the material, everything’s a bit overlit, and, more troublingly, the climax itself is clumsily edited and baffling in a less fun way the the rest of the film -- but shit, for a fourth sequel in a series with no previous films which could properly be called “good,” and all that far too late in Hammer’s life for us to reasonably expect anything legitimately worthwhile (DRACULA AD: 1972, possibly the studio’s artistic nadir, would follow the next year)... this is vastly better than it would be at all sane to hope for. It’s one of Hammer’s strangest and most intriguingly nightmarish exercises, but with just enough cheeky fun to keep from being entirely stodgy (they even name the extraneous boyfriend “Tod Browning” -- perhaps the very first instance of a horror character named in tribute to a beloved genre director, a trend which would eventually become inescapable?).

Aside from THE AWAKENING, Jewel of the Seven Stars would be adapted twice more: by Fred Olen Ray as THE TOMB in 1986 (though the fact that the fifth-billed character is “Stripper” suggests that it might be a somewhat loose adaptation) and in 1998 under the inexplicable title BRAM STOKER’S LEGEND OF THE MUMMY starring… Louis Gossett Jr?? I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say that even though I haven’t seen either of those, this is definitively the best film adaptation. It took more than 70 years from the first cinematic Mummy movie, and they even had to lose the title character to pull it off, but for one brief, glorious second, Hammer actually did the impossible and made a pretty durn good movie with the word “Mummy” in its title. The world should have probably gotten together and agreed to let the concept slip away into the abyss on a high note, but you know how these guys are, they never learn. The mummies keep getting older, we stay the same age.

* Much to Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale’s happiness, but to my great annoyance. I get that his original Quatermass is a more classic British weenie, but Donlevy’s abrasive, hard-nosed American take on the character is far and away the most interesting thing about the first two movies. Sensitive, blue-eyed Keir is a fine actor, but a bit more predictable.

** Lest you think it’s just me being pervy here, even the old fuddy-duddys over at Turner Classic Movies use the phrase “admirably ample bosom” in the first sentence of their plot description. At least I waited til you’d eaten your vegetables in the form of painstaking historical context.



Play it Again, Samhain

  • TAGLINE: A Severed Hand Beckons From An Open Grave!
  • LITERARY ADAPTATION: Yes, of Bram Stoker's Jewel of the Seven Stars.
  • SEQUEL: Final of four loose sequels which are not really related to each other.
  • REMAKE: The novel was adapted into at least three more films, though they're not direct remakes.
  • BELOVED HORROR ICON: I don't know that Holt directed enough films to qualify as beloved. Keir was in a couple Hammer movies, but I dunno.
  • BOOBIES: They show absolutely every single inch of flesh other than the nipple.
  • MULLETS: None
  • DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: Hand lopped off, throat ripped out.
  • THE UNDEAD: Mummy! (?)
  • POSSESSION: Yes, it's primarily a possession movie.
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): No
  • EVIL CULT: It seems like Tera had some pretty unorthodox religious ideas even for her time, so I'll say yes in this case. Although, does the fact that she turns out to be completely correct kinda negate the whole "cult" thing?
  • TRANSMOGRIFICATION: Ancient Egyptian Valerie Leon into Modern Day Valerie Leon. She may also turn into a Jackal or Leopard or something, it's a little vague.
  • VOYEURISM: Yes, Corbeck is spying on Margaret from the house across the street.
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Medium, a major release, but from the latter days of Hammer.
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: No matter how many bold artistic decisions you make, people are mostly just going to remember the boobs.
  • TITLE ACCURACY: While maaaybe technically correct in the loosest possible sense of the words "mummy" "blood" and "tomb," I think it's a little too misleading to completely vindicate. Call it 80%
Margaret/Tera talks with a female archaeologist about herself.