1/8/11

Dawn of the Mummy (1981) Mummy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?

In a world sick with werewolves, zombies, and vampires, where is the love for the mummies? Those long dead bound up pharaohs used to be a staple of the horror film back in the Universal era, and over the years there have been a few attempts at remaking the original tale, most notably by Hammer films in 1959. These days if you mention The Mummy to someone, Karloff is not even the first thing that comes to mind. Instead, Brendon Frasier’s series of cut rate Indiana Jones movies featuring the mummy have become the modern touchstone. So, for ages I’ve been casting out feelers for a contemporary mummy movie that didn’t star George of the Jungle. I finally got my wish, (or perhaps my curse) when I ran across a copy of Dawn of the Mummy, an early ‘80’s entry into the mummy genre that recasts the wrapped up rascals as zombies with hieroglyphs.

Sometimes people are just not ready to "meat" the
mummy!
As things usually happen in mummy movies, things get rolling three thousand years ago when evil Pharaoh Seferaman is put to rest and a curse is placed on his tomb. Fast forward to present day Egypt, and Rick (Barry Sattels), a tomb raider with Steve Martin-esque looks, dynamites his way into Seferaman’s tomb and sets off the ancient curse. Seeing as he’s ready to make off the with the treasure, the last thing Rick needs is for a group of fashion models to show up and demand to take pictures in the tomb, but of course, that’s what happens. Gary (John Salvo) and his gaggle of fabulously attired ‘80’s models are soon mixed up in the mummy’s curse. Seferaman and his faceless minions become an unstoppable force ready to kill anyone in their path.

I think this guy has a brother on an island in the tropics. 
There’s little doubt in my mind that director Frank Agrama had seen a number of Italian zombie films,  and with a little twist he recast the zombies with Egypt’s favorite undead menace, mummies, he wrapped it all up in an Egyptian flag. Before I checked out Dawn of the Mummies, Frank Agrama wasn‘t on my radar, though Robotech fans might know him as the man who first brought the series to America and fans of the truly bizarre might know his 1976 feminist giant ape film Queen Kong (she captures Ray Fay, need I say more.) Agrama, who also co-wrote the screenplay for Dawn of the Mummy, populates his film with grave robbers, vapid Westerners, and general scoundrels. Basically all the types of people that a proud native of the land of pharaohs would like to see get a whooping from a mummy. In the end, the only survivors are those who tried the hardest to get their respective groups to leave the area.

Well exccccuuuuseeee meeee! (for breaking into your
tomb to raid your priceless treasures.) 
There’s not much to say about the cast, but the highlight among them was Barry Sattels, the jerky, semi-psycho tomb raider who resembled my favorite wild and crazy guy. He played a wonderful sleaze ball, and his manic greed for gold is one of the films most entertaining moment. In fact overreactions are key in this film, no matter if it’s finding a treasure and screaming, “Gold! Gold! Gold!” as loud as you can or screaming wildly for help while you’ve got a huge lead on the mummy, Agrama clearly wanted his cast to really go for it. As far as the fashion models and photographers go, they are so annoying that I was eagerly awaiting their run-in with the mummies. I honestly never learned any of their names apart from Gary, the pothead, and that was only because he was involved in Dawn of the Mummy’s best sequence, a mummy/zombie attack on a wedding party.

You've been dead 3000 years, get to come back,
and you still can't muster a smile?
Speaking of the mummies, they are really the best part of the film. While there is only one real main mummy, a suitably gaunt small headed individual with all the good looks of the famous zombie from Fulci’s Zombi 2. He’s assisted by a number of faceless, flesh eating zombie cronies. The combination of the two makes for an unsettling batch of baddies. Plus they’ve got special mummy powers never seen before Dawn of the Mummy. Their touch can burn flesh right off you, they seem unbeholden to natural laws of movement (run as fast as you can, even though they’re walking they still seem to keep up), and most importantly they seem to be chock full of flammable oil. While this might seem like a design flaw in the whole indestructible monster thing, well, it is. Still it makes for a great finish for the baddies as they don’t just come unraveled and go away. (Yeah I’m looking at you Monster Squad.)

Where's Ms. Jaye when you need him?
(And yes, that is a Top Model joke.)
Agrama’s Dawn of the Mummy is the type of film whose rating belies how much fun watching the film actually is. From the opening historical flashback to the explosive finish, Dawn of the Mummy pulls from the conventions of the mummy film and the zombie flick to create something entirely new. Sadly, this was the last title that Frank Agrama directed before retiring from the big chair to focus on producing content, but this last effort produced a mummy film exactly like I was searching for. Would I still like to see another modern mummy flick done right? You bet your sweet Tutankhamun that I would, but until then I got something new on my list, a super gory gill-man film. Until I find that, come on back Monday for another visit with The King of Wilmington and Uncle Stevie’s Maximum Overdrive!

Bugg Rating

3 comments:

  1. I had similar thoughts on this one a few months back. Love the STeve Martin psycho, but the characters were even more disposable than usual for its era. That wedding massacre is incredible, and the design of the zombies is neat but the film doesn't quite know what to do with the mashup of mummies and zombies. Are there any decent mummy movies out there? I think The Monster Squad kind of killed their scare factor by showing them how easy it would be to just unravel.

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  2. Yeah, this is basically a zombie film, just with mummies. Swap out 'creepy cemetery' for 'Egyptian pyramid' and you get the gist of it.

    One funny thing to note is that this film really looks like it was filmed entirely in Egypt, while other films have failed. Case in point: 'Manhattan Baby.'

    It's still not, you know, good though.

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  3. @Emily- I'm still looking for other Mummy movies. I've heard there's one out of Spain, but I haven't been able to track it down yet. I would love to see one that was a real gorefest!

    @TimTEO1- Nah,it's not good per se, but it was fun to watch. I think having an Egyptian director surely helps in the authenticity department.

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