Friday, February 22, 2008

Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971): or, A Girl's Best Friend is Her Mummy


There are two good reasons to watch Blood from the Mummy's Tomb: Valerie Leon.

Okay, that's an easy joke--and one that frankly has to be made--but it's not entirely accurate. While the camera (and the viewer) spend a great deal of the flick's running time leering over Ms. Leon's protuberant gifts, they're actually only a couple of the things that make this Hammer horror worth watching. A well-done take on the Egyptian Priestess-Resurrection story, BftMT also boasts an excellent cast, some nicely disturbing imagery, and some dated but nontheless effective gore that should keep Mad Movie enthusiasts grinning from the opening frames to the final frantic denouement.

Of course, Valerie's talents don't hurt things either.

After an extended credits sequence we open with a nice tight shot of Valerie's heaving bosom, a sight from which we will never stray far for the remainder of the flick. She's sleeping fitfully, disturbed by a nightmare/flashback that the director graciously lets us in on. A group of suspiciously pasty ancient Egyptian priests stands over a sarcophogus that contains the inert form of Ms. Leon, all done up like King Tut night at the Tops N' Bottoms Gentlemen's Club. The first shock of the flick comes as they put a sleeping draught up her nose and then ritualistically chop off her right hand. Then one of the priests takes the purloined paw outside and throws it to a pack of snarling dogs! Brutal.

The short-handed Valerie is then sealed in the tomb, and the priests step outside only to find the mangled remains of the dog finally came up with the digits. Then a sudden sandstorm blows the men down, and when the silicon clears all the priests lie dead with their throats ripped out! Next we get a wonderful scene with the severed hand crawling Addams-family "Thing"-style across the sand and back into the tomb. Cue Valerie to wake up screaming. A strong opening by any standard.

Resurrection or Bust

The next morning Valerie (her character's name is Margaret Fuchs--pronounced "FOOKS," of course) comes downstairs to meet her Egyptologist father, portrayed with bearded intensity by Andrew Keir, who Mad Movie fans will doubtless recognize as the indomitable Dr. Quatermas from the excellent 1967 British sci-fi classic Quatermass and the Pit. We learn quickly that the next day is Valerie's birthday, and Dr. Fuchs has an early present for her--a ring with a ruby the size of a sliced beet which seems to reflect a constellation in its facets. Dr. Fuchs is strangely insistent that his daughter wear the ring at all times, and she, being a good little Daddy's girl, agrees. Meanwhile, a smartly-dressed man in the abandoned house next door is spying on young Ms. Fuchs, for who knows what evil purpose.

After a quick visit to an insane asylum where we find an aged inmate having strange visions in his cell, we jump back to Valerie as she drops in on her boyfriend, Tod Browning (obviously a nod to the Dracula director; this film also claims to be based on a story by Bram Stoker). We get more cinematic ogling of Valerie's cleavage, and her character even half-way acknowledges this when she says to Tod, "Sometimes I think there are only two things you want me for!" Nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say no more.

Tod is a bit of an amateur parapsychologist--naturally--and when Valerie shows him her birthday present he gets very interested and suggests they take it to a friend of his for an appraisal. The friend is Professor Geoffrey Dandridge (played with hangdog earnestness by Hugh Burden), who unbeknownst to the young couple was a colleague of Dr. Fuchs back when the two of them and their pals used to go around robbing ancient Egyptian tombs. When he sees Valerie for the first time the old man suffers a mild coronary, which could be considered a natural reaction to Ms. Leon's gorgosity but in this case has other, more ominous significance. We then cut to a gypsy telling fortunes and seeing the ring's constellation in her crystal ball, for reasons that will be clear in a few minutes.

Come on, now.

Again we're back to Valerie in a post-coital pose with Tod. (Zang.) She's dreaming again, the standard mummy story: predestination, reincarnation, the survival of the soul through the centuries. We see Dr. Fuchs, Professor Dandridge, the creepy spy from next door, the lunatic and the gypsy woman all entering the tomb from Valerie's original dream. There they find the body of Tara, the legendary Egyptian Queen of Darkness, uncorrupted in her sarcophagus, her severed hand curled at the foot of her tomb like a faithful pet.

What's more, at the very moment the tomb is opened and Tara's name is spoken for the first time in millenia by Dr. Fuchs, back in London Mrs. Fuchs dies in childbirth, delivering a still-born daughter. A moment later, however, the baby resuscitates, presumably incarnated with the soul of the demon priestess. Valerie wakes up again, feeling something's wrong and home and she must get back--which gives her to opportunity to do the requisite gratuitous moonlit butt-shot, for which Tod and we can only be grateful.

Over the course of the next few scenes it becomes clear that the expedition members have each kept one of the relics from Tara's tomb against the time when she would be fully reincarnated and regain her dark power on earth: the gypsy has a cat statue, the lunatic a cobra, Professor Dandridge a sacred jackal's skull, creepy spy-guy Corbeck the Scroll of Life™, and Dr. Fuchs the Jewel of the Seven Stars. Not to be outdone, though, Fuchs also has Tara's body in a locked basement room (with strong necrophiliac implications on a corpse that looks exactly like his daughter--eew), where he also seems to have installed Tara's entire tomb, including the altar and heiroglyphic-bearing walls! You just can't leave anything not bolted down when British archaeologists are about, that much is clear.

Mummy knows breast.

Of course Valerie/Margaret is the reincarnation of Valerie/Tera, a victim of a supernatural conspiracy that started at her birth and has manipulated her ever since. As the expedition members start shuffling off their mortal coils (with the help of the evil Corbeck) and the relics are reassembled in Dr. Fuch's Romper Tomb, Tara's soul gains strength and starts controlling Valerie's actions. It must be said that Valerie's transformation from a confused child into an imperious, evil dark Queen wears well on her, ramping up her sexiness considerably. No small feat.

Once the night of the ritual arrives with just a few of the original parties there to witness it, we get treated to an abortive transubstantiation ritual, a sudden change of heart, and a struggle between Valerie/Margaret and Valerie/Tara for who will have control of that rockin' bod and who will be dust. Who wins? Well, your guess is as good as mine and the filmmakers'. Maybe better.

As usual with a Hammer production, the movie looks great. The hallmark bright colors and sumptuous period costumes (for the ancient Egyptian scenes) are in full effect, and Ms. Leon's wardrobe of a few dresses and several gauzy nightgowns is nothing short of gorgeous. And while the camera work is mostly static, a few of the supernatural attack scenes display some entertaining inventiveness--particularly a dizzying sequence in the insane asylum with Dutch tilts, gibbering lunatics, and strange chants that was actually pretty unsettling. The gore effects are pretty good for the time as well, with ripped-out throats, that ragged, crawling hand, and several nice shots of Tara's stump pumping bright red gouts of blood each time a victim is dispatched.

Andrew Keir in The Nick Nolte Story

And of course the acting is a lot of fun as well. Keir is blustery and great, but it's really James Villiers as the mad archaeologist Corbeck who steals the show, delivering several great eeevil speeches and seducing the faltering Margaret to embrace her dark side. (When she asks what will become of her father after Tara's resurrection, Corbeck scoffs, "We cannot afford the weak...The meek will not inherit the earth. They wouldn't know what to do with it!") And Aubrey Morris, most memorable for his role as Malcom McDowell's completely twisted parole officer in A Clockwork Orange, turns in a delightfully weird performance in a bit role as the Fuchs family physician. The rest of the cast you could take or leave, and as for Valerie Leon--well, she does the best she can with what they give her, and what she's been given.

That said, the film is not without its weaknesses. Though the gore effects are nicely done, the camera lingers a bit too long on them in most scenes, allowing you to study the rubbery applications where a quicker cut might have claimed more realism. And while Corbeck's mad monologues are a highlight, he has perhaps too many of them in too short a stretch, almost to the point of ridiculousness. And the turn on which the climactic ritual hinges is a bit weak and obvious, though the earthquake and open-ended epilogue almost make up for it. Lastly, except for that moonlight mooning, Valerie stays stubbornly if seductively clothed--which could be a plus for some, a minus for others, depending on your tolerance for tease.

"Oh, Vicar! You were wonderful!"

But there are some Mad Movie details that will either delight or frustrate you--corpses that are obviously breathing, overuse of that famous sampled wolf-howl, and a car crash effect done entirely through jump-cut edits. My favorite WTF detail: when Valerie/Tara appears to claim the cat statue from the gypsy woman, the old lady's door is answered by a flamingly gay beefy boy (complete with long, red-painted fingernails and eye-shadow!), who was never introduced and flees the scene once the cat hits the fan, never to be seen or commented on again--except for what has to be the best screen credit in cinema history, as he's listed in the closing credits as "SATURNINE YOUNG MAN." I don't know what he's doing in the film, but I'm glad he's there.

I enjoyed Blood from the Mummy's Tomb a lot, and recommend it with a 2.5 thumb rating. The conspiracy angle is well done, the whole thing is suitably manic, and you'll never see a better showcase for Ms. Leon's talents. Really, what more do you need?

6 comments:

Karswell said...

You're in total Hammer mode this week. Hamma time!

Do you do your own screen captures?

The Vicar of VHS said...

Hey, it was YOUR blog that made me decide to break this one out and give it a viewing! And I'm glad I did, too.

Lately I've been doing my own screen captures, though occasionally I'll find some stills I like online. For this one, I did all the caps.

Jo said...

I need to get schooled in Hammer films.

But I need to rent this one, sounds fabulous- plus, that girl offers a whole lotta talent, ha.

The Vicar of VHS said...

An extra treat, Mad Movie fans! I've just discovered Valerie Leon's Official Website, complete with many videos, photos (check out that crazy leather catsuit pose on the front page! Swooon!), and even a personal message from Ms. Leon herself, still quite lovely in her early 60s. You can definitely count the Vicar among your fans, Ms. Leon!

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Save vs Poison said...

The Stoker novel this is loosely based on is _Jewel of the Seven Stars_. Weird little novel to be sure.

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