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DVD SAVANT

Savant Guest Review:

Blood from the Mummy's Tomb


Blood From the Mummy's Tomb
Anchor Bay
1971 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 93m.
Starring Andrew Kier, Valerie Leon, James Villiers, Hugh Burden and George Coulouris
Cinematography Arthur Grant
Production Designer Scott MacGregor
Film Editor Peter Weatherly
Original Music Tristram Cary
Writing credits Christopher Wicking from the novel by Bram Stoker
Produced by Howard Brandy
Directed by Seth Holt (and Michael Carreras, uncredited)

Reviewed by Gary Teetzel

Based on Bram Stoker's The Jewel of the Seven Stars, Hammer's Blood From the Mummy's Tomb has sharply divided horror fans over the years, with most finding it confusing and dull, while a few passionate defenders have hailed it as an underappreciated gem. Unreleased on home video in the United States, and rarely shown on television, the film's relative scarcity, combined with its controversial reputation and stories of its "cursed" production, placed the film high on the must-see list of many a Hammer buff. Now that Anchor Bay has added Blood From the Mummys Tomb to their ever-expanding Hammer Collection, fans will get a chance to judge it for themselves.

Synopsis:

During an expedition to Egypt with four others, archeologist Julian Fuchs (Andrew Kier) discovers the perfectly preserved body of Queen Tera (Valerie Leon), an evil sorceress killed by priests who feared her power. At the moment he discovers her name, inscribed on a ring found on her severed right hand, his wife dies giving birth to their daughter, Margaret. Years later, Fuchs gives the ring to Margaret (also Valerie Leon), on the eve of her birthday. As Margaret and her boyfriend Tod (Mark Edwards) try to discover the origins of the ring, strange events begin to occur. Expedition members are terrified when they see Margaret, due to her uncanny resemblance to Tera. Others experience strange, prophetic visions. Professor Fuchs himself is attacked by an unseen force. After Tod and Margaret discover Tera's body in a sarcophagus in Fuchs' basement, Corbeck (James Villiers), a veteran of the original expedition, reveals to them that Tera is preparing to return to the world of the living. To do so she requires sacred relics kept by the expedition members - and Margaret herself. Unlike the others, Corbeck does not fear Tera, for he hopes to unlock the secrets of her power and use it for himself. Soon, the expedition members begin to die horrible deaths, the relics are stolen, and Margaret finds herself battling Tera's evil influence to save her own soul and perhaps the very future of mankind.

Blood From the Mummy's Tomb got its reputation as a 'cursed' film due to two tragic deaths that occurred during filming. First, Peter Cushing, originally cast as Professor Fuchs, bowed out after one day's work when his wife's failing health took a turn for the worse. She died shortly thereafter, forcing Cushing to also back out of his commitment to appear in Hammer's Lust For a Vampire (coming soon from Anchor Bay). Secondly, director Seth Holt died of a heart attack before shooting was completed. Hammer chief Michael Carreras examined the Holt footage and was shocked to find incomplete coverage of several scenes. After briefly considering starting from scratch with a new director, Carreras himself stepped in to finish the film.  1

Being a mish-mash of footage from two directors, it is not surprising that the final product lacks any sort of cohesive visual style. The direction feels pedestrian at best. Camera setups display a workmanlike professionalism, but little imagination. The pacing is slack, so the story never generates much tension. Several scenes seem to begin and/or end very abruptly. (At one point there is a cut to a new scene featuring Professor Fuchs standing by some Egyptian artifacts, but it takes a while before the audience can figure out whether the scene is present day or a flashback to the expedition.) Although some fans have tended to attribute the film's directorial deficiencies solely to Michael Carreras, Seth Holt clearly deserves his share of the blame. Perhaps he didn't have a feel for the material, or perhaps his tense relationship with producer Howard Brandy interfered with his creativity, but Holt's footage shows little of the visual flair and assured handling that he brought to Hammer's Taste of Fear (a.k.a. Scream of Fear) or The Nanny.

Ultimately, Blood From the Mummy's Tomb suffers from a far greater problem than weak direction: a script that is both confusing and uninvolving. Screenwriter Christopher Wicking penned several horror screenplays from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, all of them poorly structured and dull. Blood From the Mummy's Tomb ranks with the notoriously incoherent Scream and Scream Again as his worst work. Countless questions remain unanswered: Where has Professor Fuchs been keeping Tera's body all these years? If it's been in his basement all this time, why has Margaret never seen it? (And how in blazes did he get it past customs?!) Is he motivated solely by scientific curiosity, or has Tera been secretly manipulating him? Expedition member Helen Dickerson (Rosalie Crutchley) is shown to be a fortune teller in the present day. If she has always been a fortune teller, what was she doing as part of Fuchs' expedition? If she used to be an archeologist, why did she change professions? Why didn't the expedition members simply destroy Tera's artifacts, since they've lived in fear of her using them to regain power? If Tera is possessing Margaret, why bother to resurrect her old body? If not, why does Margaret look like her?

The screenplay's greatest weakness is its failure to make Tera a compelling villain. All we know about her is that she wields great supernatural power, and kills anyone who gets in her way. What are her larger aims? What did she do to make the priests fear her? What is the significance of the torn throats on her victims? Without understanding her motivations, goals, powers or background, Tera becomes a mere abstract concept (Queen of Evil), and not a character. Consequently, it is difficult to find her very menacing or even interesting.


Hammer could always be relied upon to round up a solid cast of English character actors, and Blood From the Mummy's Tomb is no exception. Hammer veteran Andrew Kier (Dracula--Prince of Darkness, Quatermass and the Pit) skillfully conveys the intellectual curiosity that impairs Fuchs' judgement, and the slowly growing sense of dread he feels as Tera's return nears. He brings weight and authority to a role that could easily have been a cliché, and it is unfortunate that the script gives him so little to do. (He spends most of the middle third of the film bedridden as a result of Tera's attack.) James Villiers gets the showiest role in the film as Tera's would-be disciple, the villainous Corbeck. Villiers gives Corbeck an air of smug superiority and detachment; he doesn't care about good or evil or people dying just so long as he gets what he's after. (He seems mildly amused by the fear the other characters exhibit.) At times reminiscent of George Sanders, his performance is perhaps the best thing in the film.

In the central role(s) of Margaret/Tera, former model Valerie Leon does her best, but is undermined by the script's vagueness as to how much Margaret is her own person, how much she is a puppet of Tera, and how much she is Tera reincarnated. Mark Edwards as her boyfriend Tod Browning (named in honor of the director of another Bram Stoker adaptation, the 1931 Dracula) is adequate but forgettable. The rest of the cast is made up of reliable veterans like Hugh Burden, George Coulouris, Rosalie Crutchley and Aubrey Morris.

Aside from the small and cheap-looking Egyptian sets, the production values demonstrate Hammer's characteristic talent for skillfully disguising their modest budgets. Arthur Grant's cinematography is up to the standards of his earlier Hammer efforts (including two entries in the Dracula series, two Frankenstein films, Curse of the Werewolf and The Phantom of the Opera), and Tristram Cary contributes a fine score. Unfortunately, in the end the efforts of a talented cast and crew are unable to compensate for the script's fatal flaws.


Fans may continue to argue over the merits of Blood From the Mummy's Tomb for years to come, but there can be little debate over the quality of Anchor Bay's DVD, which is a first-rate package all around. The disc features an attractive 16:9 transfer of the uncut British version. (American distributor AIP trimmed the violence and gore to secure a PG rating.) The source print is in very good condition, with sharp detail, good color and minimal signs of age or wear. The mono sound won't be used to demonstrate anyone's high-end home theater sound system, but it is clear and demonstrates a good range for a thirty-year old low-budget film.

The disc also contains an assortment of extras that are much more interesting than the dull World of Hammer episodes that graced earlier Anchor Bay Hammer DVDs. First up is Curse of Blood From the Mummy's Tomb, a mini-documentary running 9:27 and consisting of new interviews with Valerie Leon and Christopher Wicking. Also included are a British trailer, a U.S. TV spot, two AIP radio spots that accompany a montage of posters and pressbook ads, and a still gallery presented in the form of a six-minute montage. Hidden on the Extras Menu is an Easter Egg: highlight the ring held by Hugh Burden, and the viewer will be lead to another still gallery containing 8 stills of Peter Cushing from his single day of work on the film.

As if this weren't enough, Anchor Bay is including a bonus disc with the first 10,000 copies sold: The Hammer Trailer Collection. Originally produced as a giveaway item for a chain of video stores, the disc includes trailers for the first batch of 20 Hammer films licensed by Anchor Bay. The titles represented include Dracula - Prince of Darkness, The Devil Rides Out, The Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile and two that have not yet been released on DVD, A Challenge For Robin Hood and Shatter. The total running time is 46:58.

All in all, Anchor Bay's DVD of Blood From the Mummy's Tomb should prove irresistible to die-hard Hammer fans. More casual fans would be well-advised to rent the film first to determine if they will side with the film's detractors . . . or fall under the spell of Tera and join its growing number of champions.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Blood From the Mummy's Tomb rates:
Movie: Fair
Video: Excellent
Sound: Very good
Supplements: Interviews with Valerie Leon and Christopher Wicking; trailer, TV spot and radio spot; still gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 14, 2001


Footnotes:

1. Much of this production information comes from The Hammer Story by Marcus Hearn and Alan Barnes (1997, Titan Books)
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Review Text © Copyright 2007 Gary Teetzel
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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