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Posts Tagged ‘Seth Holt’

Let us conduct a small thought experiment in which I ask you to think of words which might reasonably be expected to occur in the title of a horror movie with an ancient Egyptian theme, and then try to guess what you come up with. ‘Mummy’ is kind of a no-brainer; I expect that ‘Tomb’, ‘Curse’, ‘Blood’ and ‘Ghost’ would also be in with a good chance of making the top ten. Of course, should you actually happen across a movie with a title like Curse of the Mummy’s Ghost, it probably means you’re in for something thoroughly undistinguished. The alternative possibility is that you’ve actually found something much less traditional which has had a very generic title slapped on it by nervous executives.

This is what happened in the case of Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, a 1971 Hammer movie directed (mostly) by Seth Holt, with uncredited work also done by Hammer top banana Michael Carreras. This is one of many adaptations that have been done over the years of the novel The Jewel of Seven Stars, written by Dracula author Bram Stoker (so you can understand Hammer’s interest in the property). However, that title doesn’t really scream lurid horror in the way the company probably wanted, and it’s very easy to imagine various men in suits sitting around the boardroom table shuffling bits of paper about with words like ‘Tomb’ and ‘Blood’ on them until they came up with a title that struck the right note.

(Note how they manage to get Valerie Leon’s bust onto the same poster *twice*.)

The right note it may strike, but it still does nothing to communicate the style or tone of the movie, which is a bit different from that of the traditional mummy movie. Things get underway with a sort of low-budget cosmic zoom, over which a wibbly-wobbly Valerie Leon is superimposed, having some sort of nightmare. (I feel I should make clear that it is the shot of Leon which is wibbly-wobbly, not that I am doing a puerile gag about the actress herself being particularly wibbly-wobbly. Although, having said that, the first thing that catches your eye in a veritable iron grip is Leon’s spectacular decolletage, which is so prominently featured throughout the movie it practically deserves its own billing in the credits.)

The cosmic zoom resolves in what turns out to be ancient Egypt (realised on a soundstage at Elstree), where a bunch of priests are up to no good in the tomb of a beautiful woman (the camera duly pans up Leon’s torso, for – lo! – it is she again). Leon’s hand gets chopped off and thrown to the local wild dogs, something gets poured up her nose – just a typical day in the land of the Pharoahs I guess. However, as the priests leave there is a sudden sandstorm, which concludes with them all sprawled on the ground with their throats ripped out, while the severed hand is crawling back into the tomb. (Hammer’s crawling hand is, all things considered, less of a trouper than the one Amicus regularly employed, and has less screentime in the movie than you might expect.)

What any of this means takes a while to become clear – one of the merits of this movie is that it’s not afraid to take its time when it comes to the exposition. It transpires that Leon has a dual role, as both the woman in the tomb, Tera, and someone in the present day, named Margaret Fuchs (yes, I know. Please, please, let’s really not go there). Margaret is the daughter of distinguished Egyptologist Professor Fuchs (Andrew Keir, not for the first time in his career playing the Peter Cushing role), and approaching a significant birthday, apparently (the film hedges its bets by staying a bit vague about this). He gives her a ring we have previously seen on the crawling hand’s finger, there are various other weird and ominous occurrences.

It turns out that Fuchs was the leader of an expedition which dug up Tera’s tomb, finding the body of the woman to be in eerily perfect condition. It also becomes apparent that Mrs Fuchs died in childbirth at exactly the same moment her husband first saw Tera’s body. This would count as a fairly heavy hint to most people, but not the prof. Rather against the preferences of the rest of the expedition, he has – somehow – managed to bring Tera’s body back to England without anyone noticing, and installed her in a replica of the tomb he has had built in the very spacious cellar of his home. Well, you’ve got to have a hobby, I suppose. The rest of the expedition have gone their separate ways, each hanging on to one of Tera’s sacred relics.

When something regrettable befalls Fuchs in the cellar, leaving him bedridden and unable to speak, his old colleague Corbeck (James Villiers) abandons his hobby of stalking the family and provides the necessary exposition. It seems that Tera’s astral being has been hanging around all this time waiting to resume possession of her body, which they can bring about provided the sacred relics are gathered together and the appropriate incantations intoned (in English) over her corpse.

Of course, it’s round about this point that the film starts to become thoroughly unravelled: why would anyone other than a lunatic want to assist with the resurrection of someone apparently so evil their name has been scorched from the history books? Margaret mainly seems to go along with the scheme because the script requires that she does. It’s not quite the case that people do baffling things for no reason whatsoever, but this element of the plot could certainly use more work. The same could be said for the rest of what’s going on here. Is Margaret supposed to be the reincarnation of Tera? (It’s a common enough trope in mummy movies.) If so, how does that square with them trying to resurrect Tera in her original body? It is all a bit bemusing.

Mind you, there are many unintentionally puzzling things going on in this movie, not least of which is when it’s supposed to be set. The obvious setting for this kind of film is the 1920s, and indeed Margaret’s boyfriend drives a vintage car of some sort; the various scenes of the expedition entering the tomb certainly have a twenties sort of vibe to them – but Leon’s costumes as Margaret are those of someone from the early 1970s. Again, one is slightly bemused. I can’t help but recall the insightful observation that Carry On films are always much more fun when they’re done in period costume; the same is true of Hammer horror movies, of course.

Valerie Leon did six Carry On films, which is a respectable total (or at least as respectable as Carry On films get), not to mention a couple of Bond films; this is her only major role for Hammer. As Hammer glamour girls go, this performance is in the upper bracket – there’s not much actually wrong with it, and Leon does give the part a curiously vulnerable, wistful edge (though this may be the result of the camera constantly panning down onto her chest any time it is in shot). She makes as good an impression as anyone, although it must be said this is not one of those Hammer movies which is lifted by the acting.

Any discussion of why brings us to the curious case of the curse of Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. As mentioned, the film was originally set to headline Peter Cushing as Professor Fuchs, but a day into shooting he was forced to drop out due to the terminal illness of his wife; Andrew Keir was recruited to fill in at virtually no notice. I think Keir gives one of his usual solid performances, but Leon’s considered opinion is merely that he was ‘perfectly adequate’, which I’m pretty sure qualifies as faint praise. (Making up the rest of the cast are the usual sort of recognisable faces – character performers like James Cossins and Hugh Burden, the odd surprising appearance by someone fallen on hard times (George Coulouris, on this occasion), and someone young who was never seen again, in this case Mark Edwards as Leon’s love interest.)

Quite apart from losing Cushing, the film lost its actual director Seth Holt five weeks into a six week shoot, when he died of a heart attack literally on set. Carreras finished the movie, despite complaining that Holt’s footage was simply incoherent: whether he was right or not, there is at least one bit which simply doesn’t work – a character supposedly dies in a car crash, but it is painfully obvious that the car is standing still throughout the entire sequence.

One wonders whether a version of Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb with the full participation of Peter Cushing and Seth Holt would have been a better movie. There is certainly potential here: the set-piece killings do almost anticipate The Omen in some ways, and the film does benefit, I think, from not including all the weary old cliches of the mummy movies that preceded it: most obviously, there is a near-total absence of the famous image of the bandage-wrapped figure stumbling about. The closest the film comes is in the final moments, and here it may even be intended as a knowing piece of self-parody, or subversion of the form – however, the rest of it is so bereft of this kind of wit that this seems rather unlikely. Mostly it just feels like a film going through the motions: there is a lot of Kensington Gore, a little bit of nudity (Leon employed a body double), some dubious hocus-pocus and an attempt at doing something different with the ending that somehow ends up lacking in impact. Not the most rewarding of movies, but Hammer fans should find it passes the time fairly agreeably.

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