Directed by: Seth Holt, Michael Carreras (uncredited)
Starring: Andrew Keir, Valerie Leon, James Villiers, Hugh Burden, George Coulouris, Mark Edwards, Rosalie Crutchley, Aubrey Morris
The first thing you should know about Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971) is that, while there is blood and there is a tomb, there's no mummy — only a perfectly preserved, ancient Egyptian evil queen (minus a hand). Knowing this from the onset will prevent any disappointment at not finding one of those bandaged bogeys generally associated with the mummy sub-genre. Actually, this entry from Hammer Films in its decline is probably the studio's best mummy picture, which is not saying all that much. (I expect Hammerphiles to get riled up right about now.) Loosely adapted from Bram Stoker's Jewel of Seven Stars, it's a reasonably effective reincarnation thriller with a surprisingly high body count, some amusingly cheesy gore and a (mostly) better-than-average cast.
The film was a notoriously troubled production — since it's a horror picture, it's often called "cursed." First of all, the original star, Peter Cushing, left the film in the early stages when his wife died. He was replaced by Andrew Keir (Five Million Years to Earth). Keir was fine in a role that must have been fairly restful, since a chunk of it is spent lying in a supernaturally-induced coma. More troublesome was the death of director Seth Holt (alcoholism claimed him at the age of 47) a week before the end of shooting. He had apparently departed a good deal from the screenplay, making his intentions something of a mystery. Hammer producer Michael Carreras stepped in (without screen credit) and managed to create something largely coherent out of it. Chances are that some of the more questionable aspects of the film — how the professor managed to slip this one-handed dead woman in a sarcophagus past customs, and who designed his ancient Egyptian basement to house her — were always there.
The film takes place — apart from the ancient Egypt stuff — in settings that can only be called economical, though the film pays lip service to our notions of "swinging London" in some of the interiors, our hero's vintage MG sports car and some of the costumes. (Aubrey Morris as the slightly shifty family medico is a rare treat in velvet and cool shades.) Truth to tell, it works better — or at least seems less forced — than the efforts to make the Hammer product cooler with the following year's Dracula A.D. 1972. If nothing else, the atmosphere can be called agreeable — in typically somewhat overlit Hammer terms — which is about as much as one could reasonably hope for.
The story about this ancient evil being reincarnated in Professor Julian Fuch's (Keir) daughter Margaret (Valerie Leon) — who, not coincidentally, was born just as the professor and his company unearthed Queen Tera (also played by Leon) — is adequate. Certainly, it's better handled than Mike Newell's 1980 version, The Awakening, starring Charlton Heston (apparently channeling George C. Scott). The biggest drawback is that the whole thing seems a little confused over whether the professor wants to save his daughter or help out Queen Tera. To say that his actions are not always clear is an understatement. This probably isn't helped by the rather blank performance of Valerie Leon, who appears to be in the film mostly to display her prodigious cleavage in a variety of outfits designed for that purpose. (Never forget that Hammer's fortunes were as much founded in bosoms as in blood.) She looks smashing eating a banana, though.
All the way around, Blood from the Mummy's Tomb is far from a great horror movie, but it's considerably better than its relative obscurity outside hardcore Hammer circles would suggest. Looked at today — 40-plus years after the fact — it has a certain quaint charm. It also has an ending that makes one wonder if Roman Polanski caught this movie somewhere along the way. Granted, what Polanski does with a similar image in The Tenant (1976) is in an altogether different -- and much more complex -- league, but it's also strikingly similar in its basics.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Blood from the Mummy's Tomb Thursday, Jan. 2, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
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