Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Stoker's Jewel

As you know, I like adventure horror, or even horror with adventure trappings. Everyone is familiar with 'Dracula', but author Bram Stoker also penned a classic mummy tale, 'The Jewel of the Seven Stars', a 1903 tale about an archeologist who tries to resurrect an ancient Egyptian queen from the dead. Complications arise from the apparent possession of the archeologist's daughter by the queen's spirit. This story has influenced all subsequent mummy horror tales, especially films, and its original unhappy ending was changed by Stoker shortly before his death. That ending has most of the main characters dying, but the replacement ending is often offered in reprints as an appendix.
'The Jewel of the Seven Stars' is told with the same sense of impending horror and doom that works so well in Dracula. It has been filmed twice: the 1971 Hammer production of Blood From The Mummy's Tomb starring the Andrew Keir (aka 'Professor Quatermass') with the delectable Valerie Leon; and the 1980 film The Awakening, starring Charlton Heston and Stephanie Zimbalist (of Remington Steele). Each has its merits, but I'm presently watching my annual October screening of the Hammer version.
Blood From The Mummy's Tomb (BFTMT) originally starred Peter Cushing, probably the most legendary Hammer star (with Christopher Lee), and there were even scenes shot with him. It seems the movie suffered the mummy's 'curse' for, after the first day of shooting, Cushing learned his wife was diagnosed with emphysema, so he left the film, replaced by Keir. Then director Seth Holt dropped dead on the set five weeks into the shoot. Another director finished the final week of filming. In spite of this bit of misfortune, the movie was completed and considered a general success.
What I like about the film is Valerie Leon...and of course the spooky fun of ancient tombs and archeological horror...and Valerie Leon. Seriously, It's always nice when she's on screen. But there's plenty more for the adventure fan, especially the scene when the archeologists are seen in flashback as they enter the queen's tomb late one night and find her perfectly preserved -- except where her hand was chopped off and the wrist stump begins to ooze fresh blood! What follows is that sense of foreboding they all experience as one by one they see clues of the return of the queen.
Except for the bright lighting (it would have been a tad spookier with more dramatic lighting, honestly), BFTMT is pretty good Hammer and worth watching, for us diehards. Just like BFTMT, The Awakening has an archaeologist(Heston) opening the tomb of an ancient Egyptian queen at the exact moment his daughter is born.
Years later, the teenaged daughter displays malevolent changes in personality, and people begin to die. Heston soon comes to believe that the cruel queen's ghost possesses his daughter and intends to resurrect herself through the girl. It's been a while since I saw this film (the 1980 release, as a matter of fact), so I'm going to watch it again before I comment further. I recall it didn't do very well, but that isn't always a determining factor in whether I like a film or not.
One can also see the influence of the story in The Mummy II, wherein Rachel Weisz learns she is an Egyptian princess reincarnated. But those movies, in spite of some cool adventure elements, sacrificed the horror for annoying CGI smears and a slightly annoying bad fantasy touch. I would like to see more movies like BFTMT and The Awakening, which emphasize the mysterious aspects of the horror because this is a natural by-product of adventure. Horror adventure is simply where the trail leads to the dark side of the supernatural shenanigans which shadowy jungles and creepy lost temples promise. Hmmm...sounds like a movie in production that I'm intimately familiar with...

1 comment:

Walter Bosley said...
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