Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Angels of Death VI: Girl Mummies

Sitting here in the tomb that is my office building on the day before the high holy feast of Thanksgiving, I'm reminded of mummies... excavated from the depths.. and how excited I was to learn the new MUMMY was going to be a girl! Again! Another adaptation/variation on Bram Stoker's 1903 novella, "Jewel of the Seven Stars" perhaps? 

The tale of a mummy hand severed from a powerful Egyptian priestess, the "Stars" has been adapted / riffed on several times over the years, more than any male mummy's source material, thank you. The 1932 Universal film was based--like 1931's Dracula, on a John L. Balderston play, and followed a very similar route. The Stoker story of "Stars" was a unique, real original-off all on its own crazy reincarnation tangent. The first adaptation was by Hammer in 1973 --the right year, country, approach, right studio and right actress in the central double role. Twenty-five years later--in a hipster riff on Ireland, alcoholism, and the Hammer film, more than Stoker's story was Michael Almereyda's The Eternal. The same year came the made for cable or VHS version, rife with 80s Cinemax-style sex and gore. 

Stoker's girl mummy didn't really stop there or begin there. The first girl mummy appeared in a 40s Universal Mummy sequel and there's a 70s Curtis Harrington TVM that's partially inspired by Stoker as well as Universal. In short, the girl mummy is immortal!  Unstoppable. Even Tom Cruise, I imagined--hearing he'd be replacing genial lummox Brendan Fraser as the romantic lead--wouldn't be able to sink this lady's chances at mythic world domination. 

But our great goddess Tera still waits, in the ether, for the right hand to bring her into the new century. 

Functioning as a fine 'fear of the vaginal chthonic hydra' tale example of Victorian horror literature, cursed only with (two) unsatisfactory (rushed?) endings, "Stars" concerns an ancient evil ancient mummy priestess whose hand is cut off (shades of Demonoid) and whose soul travels the cosmos for aeons until the time is right to return in a new body. She waits for when the 'seven stars' in the Big Dipper align in accordance with a mystic jewel on a ring on her severed mummified yet perfectly preserved hand. She psychically calls to the Egyptologist of her choice from his pell-mell lodgings in Whitehall, whispering to him where to dig, and making his wife back in London gives birth right at the moment he first lays eyes on her perfectly preserved corpse. Naturally she's a reincarnation dead ringer for this ancient priestess, and there's some tricky aeon-spanning cosmic scroll shit going down. 

Time and again, this mummy broad shall rise! 
Come sacrifice a bird with me, then, in the forlorn hope we'll one day get more movies about genuinely badass ancient sexy goddesses, the types beyond good and evil due to their vast expanse travels and epoch-spanning existence. Let us praise SHE who dares view human life the way we might view dandelions or insects. 

We cannot judge Ahmanet, or Tera, "She who cannot be named" anymore than a turkey can judge us for not taking a moment to honor its sacrifice, to feel its pain, to sing it to heaven as we sit down to devour its plucked and roasted carcass for our November holiday. We can't expect her care about our welfare any more than the ghosts of the long-slain Native Americans can be expected to care about our blind adherence to the 'family' tradition of honoring their (foolish?) generosity. 

Soon we'll all be in the same hunting ground anyway and hopefully all past strife will be forgotten. We'll become as the stardust in the wind... 

Not Tera, though. She'll still be waiting, always, outside space/time -- a unified coherence of energy no aeon's cosmic tedium can diminish. 

 Sofia Boutella as Ahmanet
(2017) Dir Alex Kurtzman
**  / **1/2

If you look gamely into the rubble of collective abuse heaped on this year's MUMMY a true fan may find a true treasure in the form of lithe Algerian dancer/actress Sofia Boutella. As the warrior priestess assassin Ahmanet, Boutella (in the prologue) kills the pharaoh's baby or some lovely thing and is mummified alive in an unmarked tomb. Naturally she astral travels, tracing the seams in the fabric of time and space, riding the centuries like a surfboard until she's found just the right sky cult-brainwashed, Illuminati orgy-crashing, aging A-list actor to exhume her and see her safely ferried across the channel to jolly England. Damn right I'm talkin' bout you, Tom! 

Along the way, in the middle stretch, come the highlights: a vast murder of CGI crows ripping through the plane's windshield; a great sandstorm made of crushed London window glass whooshing down the city streets, bouncing off the buildings as it rushes forward like thick smoke up the neck of a giant whooshing Graphix bong; Boutella's arched back and smiling/chanting when in chains in the Mi6/Torchwood offshoot's secret chamber. Required to convey great reams of unholy ancient power with little more than a half-smile, she's so cool even Russell Crowe as a burly Jekyll-Hyde-cum-Allan Quatermass hybrid group leader seems anemic by comparison. Saddled with mountains of terrible dialogue, he seems to shrink away inside his burliness in an incoherent blur. Any scene between him and Tom, full of bad acting arguments, is a cause for the bathroom break. There's never a doubt in our minds who amongst the whole dreary lot is the most sympathetic, the coolest, and the most succinctly delineated, no matter how awful the things she may treat us. 

And if Crowe's coming off bad, you can only imagine how Cruise--ever determined to appear waggish--comes off. Instead of --as in the story--a stodgy British Egyptologist, or a gallant Victorian doctor would-be-fiancee, he's the male version of Lara Croft. Endangering his friends via unsanctioned tomb plundering while supposedly working for the US Army (or Halliburton). There's a certain amount of heroism inherent in his character's plundering ancient sites for posterity minutes ahead of idol-smashing ISIS, or grabbing things for museums before that strange and all-powerful black budget group Russell is heading disappears them forever. But he's still a doofus and expects us to like him so much he has to constantly preen for the camera. He knows it's not working, and he's not good enough to fake his own cocky vanity.  

Another wrankle is we're expected to root for or like Russell for being the head of an MI6 archeologist division, a British version of our own MAJESTIC-12, who keep all the fun monster stuff from the monster-starved public. At a certain point, avoiding panic becomes choking off the true wonder of the world at its root --keeping us in a monsterless dark ages of buzzkillery. With a decent rewrite, this aspect could be explored in counterweight to the ISIS relic-smashing frenzy --as if each organization is determined to prune off any evidence of a world outside their own narrow definition of reality. Naturally that idea, too, has been smashed, subsumed under the massive weight of Cruise's white dwarf ego. His clear uneasiness in playing 'light' action comedy makes the whole ship lurch with seasick moral swaying. 

That's not to say it's beyond him. When his overwhelming narcissism is welded to the right role (as in MAGNOLIA, TROPIC THUNDER), he can be magnificent, beyond awesome. But how often do these parts come along? How few of his diamond characters are flawed to the point of cracking apart, rather than merely bedecked with some slight scratch of 'brash cockiness' that some underwritten female exposition totem is sure she can buff to a like-new sparkle?  

I'm not a fan of the 90s MUMMY films (the 1999 'remake' and its sequels), but I respect their good-natured goofiness, their complicated, romantically-forlorn pharaoh villain, and that Rock Hudson-meets-Jim Belushi of the Middle East, Brendan Frazier. A big lovable slobbery sheep dog of a man, Frazier doesn't need to be adored in the compulsive insecure perennially self-flagellating way of Napoleonic terriers like Cruise. Frazier loves women, he doesn't need their love first. But Cruise is the opposite. Cruise needs to see women seeing (and wanting) him. We didn't understand that in the 80s. Now it just seems tragic. 

He's still got it though. Look at how young he looks! 

In this MUMMY there's actually two strong women with a weakness for Tom. Annabelle Wallis - (above) is the requisite Michael Bay-style 'cool' archeologist in tight fetishized 'safari' shorts who wishes he'd take things a but more seriously (Wally Ford in THE MUMMMY'S HAND seem stoic in contrast to Cruise's stilted mugging in the face of danger). The other is Boutella's Ahmanet, who can create sandstorms out of broken glass and murders of crows and re-animate the dead and keep Tom young for all eternity (!) -and what's more she's well acted--not hammily but sinuously and compassionately--by the Algerian-born dancer/actress Sofia Boutella.

There's no comparison of course between the two girls: Boutella wins every contest except for the 'swallowing colonialist patriarchal morality dogma' challenge, but from a mile off it's easy to guess who Tom ends up with. Since chunks in the middle--the sandstorm and crows in particular--are good enough that we briefly wonder why the film got such a razzing, it's not hard to guess audiences were really irritated by a protracted stilted awful final act when, you know, he has to make a decision. Stay young forever with a hot crazy Algerian dancer, or accept the sands of time with Wallis. Come on Tom, change the channel!

I decided to stop watching right after the part of the climax wherein it looks like Tom's going to willingly die on the altar of Ahmanet's ceremonial dagger and then reincarnate as his ageless, deathless, immortal self in order to 'live' cosmically with her, ever after. The scene drags, so there's plenty of time to get up and press stop or to FF and scroll up to the credits and pretend it ends with the destruction of the world. Do that and it's **1/2 rather than **. And really, two stars are only because of the way Boutella moves, and that Mona Lisa smile while she generates her plagues and murderous magic.

One day, please lord, let a lady mummy win a hand!

And lastly, Tom, if you're so desperate to appear an 'ageless male' that you need to be seen saying no to immortal beings who want to grant you eternal youth, may I suggest you say it to your 'handler' next time? I'm sure the ghost of Captain Ron will be most amused at your independence. Can't you hear the cruel echo of Satanic laughter accompanying the film's 'bomb' stature? That's Ron, Tom! That's Ron!

But I didn't write all this to bash Cruise. I wrote it to praise Boutella, who wins our loyalty almost as fervently in the MUMMY as when she played Jaylah in STAR TREK BEYOND (left): a cute alien with white skin and black tribal cat markings (denoting the Clan of the Cave Bear's ancient alien ancestor?), scrabbling for survival in a world occupied by the ISIS-ishmaniac Krall (Idris Elba) and his vast marauding army. There she's made a home in an invisibility shield-protected ancient starship that crashed long ago, and welcomes the shipwrecked Enterprise crew aboard, forming a nicely platonic bond with Mr. Scott, and proudly blasting her "loud beats and screaming" from an old boom box. The imperious way she kicks back in the captain's chair, and doesn't surrender it to Kirk, forcing him to stand around by her side, is worth seeing the film in and of itself. It also gives us us a chance to see the way a real man handles a potentially emasculating moment (Cruise would have demanded such a moment be edited out).

One last great thing about Boutella: she is one of the few dancers-turned-actress who don't exaggerate and luxuriate their every movement. You know what I mean: they lead with their necks, moving shoulders sinuously, the rest of their bodies following in an exaggerated serpentine sway, ending with pendulum hips the bob up and down to some unseen sound wave. Boutella instead moves with an extraordinary blend of carnal rock swagger, gravitational grace, and disarming earnestness. She acts not just with her whole body but with everything else as well. She's fully present, yet she doesn't rub it in our face. She doesn't show off, she just dazzles.

And, being Algerian, she's so much more vivid a mummy than just another white B-movie star coated in tanning bronze. She makes such makes an ideal incarnate of.... what? The MUMMY people call her ultimate evil but I prefer what Corbeck (James Villers) says of the Ahmanet-like Tara in Hammer's BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB: Tera is far beyond the laws and dogma of her time -- and of ours!”  In the words of the brazen Mr. Subtlety,
Writer Christopher Wicking somewhat craftily universalizes the lingering doubts Stoker’s characters had in the absolute correctness of their beliefs, to go beyond the cultural into the philosophical.. “Beyond good and evil?” asks Margaret. “Love, hate. She’s a law beyond good and evil" notes Corbeck, "and if we could find out how far beyond… how much we can learn.” There’s a certain moral horror there, a sudden, gut-wrenching shift that occurs when the stable ground suddenly and jarringly moves beneath you, destroying your illusions of a constant, comforting reality. The characters can hardly deny that maybe this five-thousand-year-old magical spirit might know better than they do. Who are they to call her “evil” when her understanding of the universe is clearly so much more profound than theirs? 

Valerie Leon as Margaret/Tera
(1971) Dir. Seth Holt

The first time I saw this I fell madly in love with Valerie Leon and the story itself. As if echoing the reincarnation elements of the story, I got a weird sense of de ja vu the first time it came on (TCM, I think) since I was reading Bram Stoker's novella--The Jewel of the Seven Stars--at the exact same time it was on! Me not knowing the film was actually based on said novella until about halfway through (since I missed the credits). Since the story is all cosmic deja vu it was a perfect meta moment for me. What are the odds, after all, that I'd read a super obscure Stoker story right before seeing this relatively obscure Hammer film, not knowing in advance it was an adaptation of what I was in the middle of reading? A zillion to one? Was that any different than how Queen Tera 'chooses' archeologist Andrew Keir from across time and space to discover her tomb since his then-unborn daughter Leon is her reincarnated self, thus ensuring her tomb accoutrements be at hand when the 'seven stars' are aligned as depicted in her magic ring? Just as Margaret "happens" to  have been given the Jewel of the Seven Stars ring on the proper birthday for her to be inhabited by the ancient mummy who just happens to look identical to her, so too did I exist just to read Stoker's story and then bask in Valerie Leon's rock and roll-meets-Emma Peel swagger making her the perfect partner for her beyond good-and-evil aesthete Steed, James Villers.

Oh Valerie... to see this film to enjoy the way her mere presence so intimidates and terrorizes a legion of British character actors they run shrieking from the room! "It was her!" notes a terrified tomb excavator, "as large as life-- she who has no name!!" The the intelligent Jimmy Sangster script never overstates the obvious or wastes time with the inevitable doubting boyfriend; named puckishly "Todd Browning" even he admits "she has some sort of power, that's obvious." And he never even flinches when she suddenly becomes Tera to get the tomb familiars from the various Brits. And the way Leon suddenly becomes imperious and cool is masterfully done.

To top it off, she has a cool gay evil bestie. A swaggering aesthete who'd be right at home blackmailing REBECCA or helping Dorian Gray hide the body of one of his snooping lovers, James Villers is so slick, and his relationship with Tera/Margaret up there with of all the great conniving bitch/bemused aesthete relationships in movies (ALL ABOUT EVE, MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING spring to mind, as well as of course TV's Avengers) that it's like a wellspring from which modern mummy vitality flows beyond time and space.

PS - If all that 'you have to die to live forever' jazz seems confusing it's likely the result of the Egyptology's widespread study in Victorian England, a craze climaxing with the King Tut's tomb discovery in 1922. This stuff would be a trend in Stoker's time, like spiritualism and phrenology was in the previous century (Stoker even spends a sentence or two giving a few of his characters  phrenological descriptions), and thus more aspects of the ancient beliefs were widely known, rich with sexy currency:

In ancient Egyptian belief, for example, according to the Smithsonian:
The idea of "spirit" was complex involving really three spirits: the ka, ba, and akh. The ka, a "double" of the person, would remain in the tomb and needed the offerings and objects there. The ba, or "soul", was free to fly out of the tomb and return to it. And it was the akh, perhaps translated as "spirit", which had to travel through the Underworld to the Final Judgment and entrance to the Afterlife. To the Egyptian, all three were essential
So in this case, Tera wants to... what exactly? Why Tera wouldn't just take over Margaret's body is a mystery that can only be answered by the laws of pulp fiction. There needs to be a bloody sacrificial climax in which Stoker's lack of control over the ending/s of his original story becomes immanent. We can guess that Tera's ka needs her tomb objects (which Keir has deliberately spread amongst  various expedition members to keep them separate, much like Set hiding the body parts of Osiris) to totally reincarnate. But why bother? Her unaged body is still young in the Hammer version, so the purpose of all this is vague. Possessed Leon's Tera/Margaret visits each expedition member and takes the animal sculptures and then the ghost animals kills their keepers in a flurry of close-ups, for no clear reason.

Though these murders are the film's weakest moments actually (as Holt's camera zooms in and out on inexpressive statues and close-ups of wild-eyed old English hams for far too long); in between, it's pretty grand watching Leon sweep through Hammer's semi-realistic sets, her long fashionable nightgown or purple overcoat billowing from otherworldly gusts of air out of the broken windows with the curtains and glass shards, a black choker over alabaster neck, her gorgeous un-augmented, womanly body (the type of sex symbol all but gone from today's marquee), her assured gutsy diction and voice (1), the sly way she underplays recklessly in a double role, that sexy imperiousness when she pretends to be or is Queen Tera and the way pretending becomes reality, those sleepy, drowsy bedroom eyes, it all coheres into,  for my money, the best of all girl mummies. Just look at that awesomely haughty ambivalence in her eyes above! She could be watching us slowly drown, disrobe in bed, or plead for mercy, it's all the same in the end. As Margaret later notes: to Tera, who has seen millennia come and go, everyone but her is just dust in the wind.

Like her insanely perfect black nightgown (and a later pink one), it fits that Leon is the only woman role/s in the cast (aside from a museum assistant, an older woman psychic), and the rest are all mostly terrified middle aged males of no small talent or stature, ripping into the material that's still as ageless and only slightly moldy as it was a century ago, all cowed by this young beauty and the ancient beautiful 'beyond good and evil' force swelling within her.

Allison Elliott as Nora/Niamh
(1998) Dir. Michael Amereyda

The 1990s had already seen one trippy European bog mummy film, this with a male/eunuch shaman with some still active 'flybane' mushrooms in his pocket reincarnated as a rabid nymphomaniacal Communist with one spoon in her lover's brain (See The Ancient She-Shaman and her Shrooming Exhumer). But the frothing at the mouth stylizations of Zulawski are hard to sink into as a genre horror film and the rote 'innocent girl possessed by an executed, entombed or defiled soul for its methodic revenge' thing of Hammer's a hard rut to get out of. Almereyda mixes the two just right: there's enough druggie downtown acumen to make it decent company next to Jarmusch and Abel Ferrara, and enough wry nods to the classics to fit next to Freund, Hammer, and Lewton. I don't have to read a Wiki to know Almereyda is a true blue classic horror film lover, for The Eternal pulses with the found value rhythms of Ulmer, the rustic seethings of Hammer, and the murk of the moody Browning. Even the deadpan macabre wit of Whale flows through in a steady bucket trickle. If you know these names, Almeyreda's Eternal is the film for you, Johnny-O. Ignore the bad RT and imdb scores. What do they know about the ancient gems, severed hands, genetic alcoholism or Iron Age moral compromises?

In my old review, looking it over (here), I realize how off-track I got bemoaning its lack of exposure/distribution due to, in my opinion, a terribly bland overused title and shabby cover art that makes it look like a washed-out softcore SOV waste of time. I only found it through researching Almereyda's imdb page  after basking in the glory of Nadja, (rather belatedly). But after another recent viewing I feel ready to try and write about the amazing qualities of Alison Elliot's low-key double performance. Coming out of a centuries-long sleep as Niamh the bog mummy, she's both ambivalently homicidal and sexually starved, and thirsty, yet still seems mostly  dead - a hard combination to pull off. She stabs Walken while making out with him, eyeing his death throes with the dispassion of someone still mostly unconscious. Clad in a Walken's slick dark red robe, her hair flowing wet and wild, her carnal open-mouthed wordless needy eyes towards her mortal counterpart's husband Jim (Jared Harris), who bounces around the place like a cool hipster. We learn too he has no job, living off Nora's inheritance, so of course he's fancy free, and the news of the son not being his (but rather some townie idiot's) doesn't translate to less fun fatherly affection --his main crime is trying to taper off his wife's alcoholism while indulging his own on the DL, the punter. It's natural then that the climax involves Niamh grabbing the son and holding him hostage in the basement. How does Jared try to free him? Of course by being friendly and offering her the whiskey bottle. While Nora and the surviving humans watch in shock (Nora slowly deteriorating as Niamh gets stronger); he and Niamh start drinking dancing together and we start to like this mummy more than we like anyone else; and we like everyone by that point, even the locals.

After all, it's not Niamh's fault that Uncle Bill (Walken) found her body down in the basement and cleaned her off, or that Nora's increasing headaches are a side effect of Niamh either becoming her or sucking up her akh. How can she help being a force of nature. Talking about her before she wakes up, Bill theorizes, in grand Walken style, a version of Corbeck's beyond good an evil speech:  "She was uncontrollably herself," he says. "It was the Iron Age -- you had to a do lot of nasty things to get by."

As it is with Tara in Blood from the Mummy's Tomb and Boutella in the new mummy movie, even after all the death and chaos she wreaks, we excuse Niamh from our same self-governing morality because of this 'beyond good and evil' idea. Though as a druid her ways and traditions are far less chronicled (2), her power is undeniable and though we may fall under the bedroom eyed sway of Elliot's dreamy Niamh, we have to ultimately side with the generic composition of the nuclear family. Right or wrong, we're living in modern linear time. Whomever its real father might be.  (full review here)

Amy Locane as Margaret / Tera 
(1998) Dir. Jeffrey Obrow

Coming out the same year as Michael Almereyda's looser adaptation, The Eternal, Obrow's adaptation of Bram Stoker's novella Jewel of the Seven Stars (1903), Legend of the Mummy, follows the source material sufficiently close to warrant its "Bram Stoker's" prefix. As with Hammer's Blood from the Mummy's Tomb, it also finds a better ending. Filmed in the flat grey sky way that often denotes "Vancouver" (though shot in SF) and set mostly in and around a rather modern looking street corner mansion, it's very ROTM in a lot of ways (softcore grinding, cheap gore, etc.) but there's a different (black-ish) actress as the ancient Terra (Rachel Naples), which is unusual (usually Margaret and Terra are usually played by the same woman), and Louis Gossett Jr. is Corbeck! How novel to have blackness return to ancient Egypt!

It's still pretty lousy, but if you're a fan of girl mummies, you'll want to see it anyway. Amy Locane makes a very low-key, lovely, and intriguing Margaret: becoming more and more imperious and reserved as Terra takes her over, Locane makes small, tiny behavioral and facial changes; the music and lighting don't have to do a thing to make you notice how quietly low-keyly evil she's grown even though you never noticed the moment she changed. Aubrey Morris plays the same family doctor part he played in 1971's Blood! Lloyd Bochner is Margaret's comatose Egyptologist father! What a cast!

Ugh, I forgot about the rest of cast. 

Aside from those mentioned above, the bulk of the cast are pure dreckitude: as Sgt. Daw, Mark Lindsay Chapman seems to think the film is set in Victorian England so he hams it up with a thick Brit accent like he's in a Mike Leigh film; Eric Lutes is flat-out terrible as the romantic lead Robert; Gossett alternates between overt hamminess and half-asleep disconnect, as if mentally firing his agent alternating with trying to do such a bad job he gets replaced. As for Obrow's directing, the various strands of occultist plotting in Stoker's material routinely get too subtle for him, making full engagement difficult. (I had to watch it in reverse, skipping back chapters from the end, to make it stranger for myself).

Variations from Stoker's text include a lot more mummies on the grounds than just Tera, including one or two who come alive and chase or kill humans for no real reason (except maybe because it's expected in a mummy movie); and there are mummy pieces (as in limbs) buried all around the house for Corbeck and Robert to dig up. Contemporary victims of Terra's indifference are tossed into a basement quicksand pit with little passages that open up to release lots of giant cockroaches, that.... slowly... climb.... on.... faces. Is that necessary though?

Luckily Obrow is faithful to the text where it counts, like the big ceremonial climax: Light and shadow make the ceremonial cavern come alive in wild ways; the dusty tomb look recreated for this ceremony outclasses even the Hammer version, which never looked like more than an ordinary basement with hieroglyphs painted on the walls. The goriest and most sex-filled of girl mummy films on this list, Legend of the Mummy has its cat-chewed charms and doesn't deserve the terrible 2.7 it gets on imdb (last I checked). And of all of them, this has probably the 'happiest' ending as far as evil is concerned. Long live Terra!

Meredith Baxter as Rena / Bast
(1974-TVM) Dir. Curtis Harington 

Dividing its inspiration between Lewton's Cat People and Stoker's Jewel, Curtis Harrington's richly referential/reverential TV movie concerns a mummy chick brought to life when an imprisoning amulet is removed from its neck by a thief breaking into a recently deceased Egyptologist's relic collection. Soon a shy little catlike girl named Reina (Meredith Baxter) is getting a job at a spooky Satanic bookshop run by Gale Sondergaard (after her predecessor mysteriously falls from her 10th story balcony). Everyone associated with the amulet as it makes the rounds of pawn shops dies a grisly death by cat attack, but not before Harrington gives some eccentric character actors some bits of business and a few lines, so we can recognize them from the old classics, and probably a couple of bucks for a day's pay in their pockets!

Though just a short, cheap little TV movie, Cat Creature flows with a special Lewton-esque sensitivity and melancholy, with Baxter's subdued low-key vibe casting an intriguing spell over everything around her. Making her first friend in an archeologist (David Heddison) helping the cops track the killer down, she makes you want to put a shawl over her and take her walking in the park as the magic hour fades to a chill October night. Like all the mummy women, she's beyond good and evil, yet it's inevitable that she can't continue living in world void of tolerance for senseless killing (full review: here)

1. Virginia Christine - as Ananka / Amina
(1944) Dir. Leslie Goodwins
Accessing some pulpy core of dream poetry, the final entry in Universal's Mummy cycle manages to evoke nocturnal contrasts between cheery warmth (the opening scene in Tante Berthe's homey little tavern) and darkness (the ruined abbey climax) not unlike the mix of Dante's, the Italian restaurant vs. the chilly Satanist salon in Val Lewton's Seventh Victim. (only here the black Bettie Page bangs belong to willowy lovely reincarnated mummy princess and not the dour, short and suicidal Satanist. The acting isn't great, except by a weird few, again almost by accident: as Kharis, Lon Chaney gives a small master class in how to act a role with just your eyes and one bandaged arm; Peter Coe's weirdly silken vacuousness as the requisite fez wearing high priest would be bad in a normal film but here serves the hypnotic spells fairly well; Martin Kolseck is great (as always) in a small role as his aide; Dennis Moore is insufferable as the entitled prick archaeologist; and Virginia Christine rocks in he dual role (?) of mummified Princess Ananka and her own (later?) reincarnation, Amina. Neither of her characters' arcs make any sense, but that can be explained as the will of Amon Ra.

Christine's acting is understandably uneven as the role is a hybrid of so many script glitches there's no way to play it except as a hot amnesiac. To recap: Amina was a (modern age) archeologist in the previous film in the series, The Mummy's Ghost. Kharis carries her into the swamp at the end, after he recognizes her as the reincarnation of his lost Ananka. But unlike say, Yvonne Furneax in Hammer's 1959 Mummy, rather than be rescued from the swamp at the last minute, she's 'turned' somehow by his touch and begins to age into a mummy herself, all without explanation. It seems rather unfair. Why reincarnate at all if an old flame can just yank you back into your ancient shroud the minute he decides to shamble into town?

The last in the series, Curse is different than the usual 'slog, bog and snog' formula of its predecessors. This is Amina's story more than Kharis's. We see her first as a figure emerging from the dried mud at the bottom of a claw loader scoop hole during a swamp drainage project: it's as if she's coming out of a clay mould: her face almost like a half-formed clay sculpture come to life. She arises, caked in dirt but clearly loving feel the touch of the sun, which beams down at her, Ra-like, and she staggers along looking for a puddle to wash in; if anyone sees her, they ignore her, just another walk of shame. We've been there, we city-folk, pulling ourselves off the floor after what seems like a 25 year black-out, weaving home from the party of the night before, warmed by the afternoon sun, still in our filth-encrusted party clothes, walking through the morning commuters like a phantom. Weirder things happen every day, so there's no reason that vibe can't be evoked. For example, why are the workmen saying it's time to quit for the day and go home when the blazing sun is still high in the noonday sky? No wonder the foreman is stressed.

Then begins Amina/Ananka's odyssey of somnambulistic drifting. Cajun Joe, who just left his bulldozer back where she came out of the mud, now spots her while walking home (he must have got lost. Again it makes no sense as he should be home by now, considering how clean she's made herself via a small puddle, hair dry and combed). Joe takes her to Tante Berthe's cafe, as-ah she will-ah know what to do-ah (she's probably a midwife as well as saloonkeeper). Sweet Berthe puts this amnesiac hottie (with very modern Bettie Page bangs) to bed in her room; almost immediately the mummy bursts in and kills poor Berthe like some slow-mo one-armed strangler ex-husband, jealous even of a well-meaning older woman. Terrified. Ananka runs off into the swamps again, and the killing and stalking goes on. In the best section, she's rescued by the archeologists in the area and we see her basking in the sun doing research via microscope, looking at old recovered bandages from Kharis, her firsthand memories wowing smug Dennis Moore. She could find a nice niche in that field even though the men would probably take credit. (the self-entitled way Moore says "you could be a great help to me" makes you want to smack him) but the mummy always shows up like that abusive stalker ex, killing anyone who tries to protect her or promote her, so he can drag her back down into her outmoded gender straitjacket.

On the surface there doesn't seem to be much thought put into Curse at all but it manages to use its limitations and stupidity to access the same twilight realm occupied by Carnival of Souls and Dementia. And it's an unusual sort of tragic. Seeing people basically killed for being good samaritans makes us feel the pain and waste of these murders ala Lewton's Leopard Man from the previous year. Tante Berthe is loved by everyone in her corner of the bayou, including us, so when she's killed for trying to protect Ananka we feel it. We mourn for a victim for the first time in the whole series - she's more than just some tomb robbing white man. And the foreigner Egyptian conspirators give off an air of domestic terrorism. Why command Kharis to kill indiscriminately if not for some ancient cult zealotry and impersonal hatred against first world capitalism and Christian decency?

But as with the others in this list, what gives the film it its real alchemical magic is the girl mummy, and the actress who plays her. It's the posh accent, confidence and cat woman litheness of Virginia Christine as Ananka that makes it a small gem. A colorful Italian local in the bayou notes "it's been-a 25 years since a mummy drag a girl in the swamp." But what girl? The last film was only made the year before; there she was just an archeologist named Amina and played by a different actress. This time we're compelled to gaze deep onto those modern bangs and wonder. Who is she really?

There is no real answer so we're better off trusting that it 'feels right' and that's what dream logic is all about. And Christine is great at splitting the difference ("its like I was two different people... two different worlds.").

Bearing out the split/subject aspect is the similarly coiffed and tempered Kay Linaker as the drainage project foreman's understanding assistant. 100% 20th century, she's the 'lucky' girl who winds up with the leaden lead, Dennis Moore. Amina meanwhile reverts to the bandaged dead Ananka as soon as her head hits the sarcophagus pillow. Why she rapidly ages back into mummy bandages at the end (just as she did in the previous film) is never explained, but by then, like a psychoanalyst session, the hour is up. The dream ends.

And we keep the memory, of how the brief tragedy of Amina's plight luckily is offset by her fashion-forward bangs and use of a night dress as evening swamp-wear. I don't generally like those Betty Page bangs --you have to be damn hot, willowy and with the right mix of bad girl, demure kitten, and assertive intellect to pull them off.  Amina/Virginia Christine has all that and a good dress designer too. Since her character is neither here nor there as far as soul-body-mind-incarnation-century cohesion, her dress is neither nightgown nor formal evening dress but a sublime hybrid. She could either be lost on her way home after an all-night party in the 50s or sleepwalking in the Victorian age. Christine pulls both options off at once (in 1944), and looks damned great being carried around by Lon. Man, she's so leggy, when Kharis is carrying her uphill, her feet almost touch the ground.

Naturally the more I see this film the more I forget its weaknesses, but amnesia has always been the B-movie lovers' friend. Is that why 'forgettable' and 'dreamlike' go so hand in hand, and why these girl mummies are like the ultimate in repeat viewing anti-heroines?

I forget, but it seems like I wrote this all before... 


1. Knowing Hammer, she's maybe dubbed - but don't spoil it for me by confirming that rumor. 

3. (I'm not mentioning some of the really bad riffs, especially the ones who make the mummy a man, or who downplay the fear of the feminine angle)
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