It kind of makes me sad to think of a film, particularly a horror one, as being “cursed”; this assignation of doom feels somewhat exploitative (okay, very much so) towards an unfortunate group of events. Having said that, I had no idea of the troubled production of Hammer Films’ Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) until after watching it, and I’m glad that I didn’t. First of all, you can’t tell by what’s on the screen, and secondly, it shelves the pall that would hang over the whole affair had I known beforehand. Sort of like I’m doing right now for those to whom this is new. Oops.
But we’re here, so I’ll pull the bandaid and move on: Peter Cushing completed one day of shooting before being informed his wife was gravely ill and left the production; director Seth Holt (The Nanny) died of a heart attack five weeks into the six week shoot; and a crewmember died in a motorcycle accident. May they rest well.
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb was released as the second half of a double bill with Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (also ‘71 from Hammer) on its home turf in October, and the following May in North America. The film was not a success with audiences, but did receive some praise from critics, including The Village Voice’s Michael McKegney who wrote, “I recommend it to anyone not incurably indifferent to the horror genre”. (Easy with the effusions there Michael, you're liable to pull something.) Aside from Hammer continuing to update its horror content with liberal doses of skin - on and off the bone - the film is the first to bring Bram Stoker’s novel Jewel of the Seven Stars to the big screen. And it still stands as the best.
What’s a poor girl to do when she has nightmares of being an evil Egyptian princess named Tera who hides in a tomb waiting to be reborn to take over the world? Why manifest it of course; a giant ruby ring given by her father the archeologist sees to it that Margaret (Valerie Leon of the Carry On series) becomes Tera and lays waste to those who took her artifacts.
Oh that’s okay I brought my own record scratch, thanks! Who and how and what is going on here? Well, let’s back up possibly 18 or 21 years prior during the birth of Margaret; while her mother agonizes in a hospital in London, her father Professor Fuchs (Andrew Keir - Quatermass and the Pit) and his cohorts are knee-deep in sand, relics, and impossibly preserved, psychotic princesses. (Sure just one, but she’s a lot.) As Fuchs removes the ring from Tera’s already removed hand, Margaret is born. Then dies. Then is born again. Mom never gets that chance (sound the sad trombone).
Flash forward said amount of years as mentioned above (I don’t recall Margaret’s age being stated, and I’m not sure what they’re going for with the late-20s Leon in the role so I’m guessing), and Fuchs presents the ring to her the night before her birthday. With that in motion, all of Fuchs’ former associates start dying, usually with a touch of wind and a proper throat ripping; it isn’t for nothing that Margaret begins to feel empowered by Tera, even as her body and spirit are hijacked. Will she be able to stop the rise of Tera or will she be doomed for all eternity?
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb isn’t particularly lavish (the paucity of budget is apparent in the very limited sets), there isn’t a bandage to be found, and it doesn’t really get moving until the second half when Tera makes her presence more pronounced. However, Holt’s direction is never less than engaging, the script is sharp and witty, and Leon not only brings an ethereal beauty but a disarming honesty and range I wasn’t aware was there. She sells the conflict raging within all while looking breathtaking; the strength of her performance lies in the fact that one spends more time waiting on her words than her walk. James Villiers (For Your Eyes Only) brings a campy elan to his role as Corbeck, the former member of Fuchs’ team who plans to team with Tera for a bit of that good old world domination.
And how does that play out? In a whirlwind of spectacular effects and dramatic action? No, because it doesn’t need it (nor could it afford to); Holt and screenwriter Christopher Wicking (Scream and Scream Again) lean on solid characterizations realized by competent performers to tell their tale of temptation, but when they do spill blood it is done in short, dramatic bursts of crimson glory. There’s no way in hell Hammer was going to sit out the plasma wars of modern cinematic battle.
So I say this: Instead of focusing on what Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb sadly lost on its way to the screen, maybe we should celebrate its creation. After all, you wouldn’t want Tera’s resurrection to be in vain, would you?
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb is available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE (1987)