Monday, February 15, 2010

Dawn of the Not Zombie

The biggest problem with mummy movies is the sheer fragility of those ancient bodies. How can anybody fear a monster that’s as easy to destroy as a home-knit Christmas sweater?
Dawn of the Mummy makes a valiant attempt to change this, namely, by cashing in on another early morning titled cult favorite from the late 1970s. Not a bad approach. Not a not-fun movie.
Quick Plot: 
In ancient Egypt, a high priestess enslaves a bunch of servants in an undead allegiance to an entombed king. I think. 
Flash forward to “the present day” where a trio of bandits led by a very tall white guy (Barry Sattels) who finds everything hysterical seeks to rob the familiar pyramid of its gold. They laugh. A lot.

Meanwhile, a group of NYC models with less personality than a bottle of foundation and their jerky photographer head overseas for a sandy fashion shoot. Eventually--and I stress that word ever so much--they stumble upon the tomb being inconsistently guarded by the maniacally laughing giraffe of a thief and his googly limbed sidekicks.

Having watched my share of America’s Net Top Model (by share, I mean the entire series and I’ll thank you not to judge), I know that any wacky locale makes for great editorial shots. Seriously, Tyra’s minions once posed lowered in coffins, on top of elephants, and inside a meat locker while wearing nothing but raw steak. It was amazing.

So the movie. be honest, the first hour is a tad more compelling than Tyra Banks’ performance in Halloween: Resurrection. Nothing really happens, save for awkward photo shoots featuring close-ups of the camera lights slowly melting open mummy pores. There’s a weird hesitation to venture into exploitation territory. Pretty models skinny dip, but no skin is shown. A woman faints, is carried to safety, and later awakened by the man who caught her lurking in her bedroom. They kiss. End of scene. For the film’s time and nature, it’s surprisingly tame.
At the same time, director Frank Agrama stages some visually stirring moments of shambling monsters against the cinematic skyline of Egypt. Why the mummies rotate between limping, speed walking, and shooting across time and space to beat frantically fleeing jeeps isn’t quite explained, but quibbling with details in a zombmummy hybrid is a waste of time. This, coupled with the overenthusiastic dubbing, is WHY we love these kinds of buried treasures.

By the time we come to Dawn of the Mummy’s climax, i.e., the wedding feast to put all cocktail hours to shame, we can’t not be content. Yes, we had to suffer through an incredibly dull first half, but the film’s tail end offers one of the better noshing attacks I’ve seen in a while. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s great; just that I haven’t seen many man-eating zombie mummies onscreen.
High Points
As just mentioned, the wedding feast to inspire any Egyptian a quiet elopement is wonderfully executed
A rather messy paper mache-ish dummy who gets axed is...

Low Points
Aside from Rick, not a single character has any real discernible personality (unless you count clipping your toenails and being offended by the clipping of toenails)
Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead shares this irk: why is it that the undead’s faces rot like fruit left for a month on a heater, while their torsos seems to have the impenetrable strength of a Twinkie?

Lessons Learned
Seducing a model is incredibly easy, providing your have dangerously blue eyes and a hyena-like laugh
Comforting a model is almost as simple: just cradle her head, then roll it back and forth with the soft touch of a polar bear
Do I really need to tell you to always heed the warning shouted ominously by the black toothed witch woman who just happens to hang out near the undead?
Egyptian weddings are a great time as long as you don’t invite the flesh-eating mummies
Here’s a sample from the notes I kept while watching this film: 
disco AND folk music....yay...and ugh
lyric: “there’s a rainbow that suits the color in your eyes”
something happen, please
dude laughs a lot
huzzah! feast!
That sums up a lot of Dawn of the Mummy. Awful for many reasons, and yet somehow charming for its time (1981), subject matter, and shy approach to exploitation. The DVD includes an entertaining and self-aware commentary from director Frank Agrama, but overall, this is probably more of a one-time rental to pop on when you need some low-grade cheese. Enjoy it for what it is. In the right mood, you won’t be disappointed. 


  1. Sounds awesome, I think? The paper mache-ish ax to the head might be enough to sell me though! There's nothing worse than a movie like this being boring, but movies like this usually have that one thing that makes you enjoy them for some reason.

  2. I wrote an email to GGTMC a little while ago and you've reminded me that I was probably remembering there being nudity when there wasn't actually any. Oops. Maybe I was getting it mixed up with that other gore film with models, Entrails of a Virgin (I'm positive there was nudity in that one). Either way, great review, I'm glad to hear you kinda liked it.

  3. Matt: The first hour is certainly boring and normally that's enough to kill this type of film, but it's boring in an odd early '80s way, which somehow makes it worthy of a watch. You might dig it, but it's not something you should go abouts speed skating to see.

    Guitarbrother: I believe it was your email and another listener's voicemail that inspired me to check out this film. It definitely SEEMS like it should be nudity-filled and there are plenty of opportunities, but I think the Egyptian filming location was partly responsible for the tame sexuality. Believe me, I don't mind it (especially as the gore is tops) but I can imagine many a male being slightly let down by the abundance of models in sexy situations and full clothing. And yes, I totally did kinda like it!

  4. Emily--I actually watched this movie with commentary for my review over at my site, and the lack of nudity is addressed--Agrama is actually an Egyptian filmmaker, and working in Egypt under strict censorship rules made nudity a non-starter. They were okay with all the gut-munching and dummy violence, however. I guess America isn't the only country that's weird that way. :P

    And Rick (Barry Sattels) is definitely the best thing about this movie. The screen lights up every time he's on it, and dims noticeably when he's gone. ;)

  5. This sounds a little Herschell Gordon Lewis-y in the slow camp set-up department. Yay or nay?

    I'll be checking this one out.

  6. Found your review and I loved it dear Vicar! Gotta love that nudity=bad, violence=a-ok system of beliefs. Funny as I was just listening to the latest Night of the Living Podcast and a similar issue came up in regards to violence and language censorship in Australia, a land where female breasts can wag themselves all over television. Strange world we live in eh?

    And hell yes Barry Sattels! No wonder why the model slept with him (we assume) so easily. Dude's dripping with maniacal charisma!

    PoT: I'm embarrassed to say my HGL knowledge is next to nil. You'll have to watch DotM soon to find the answer! Or I'll have to finally get moving and watch some HGL stat and come back with my own answer. Either way, we've both got homework!

  7. Wow Ive somehow managed to never hear of this flick, if its as 80s as you say it is Im all in!

  8. Well Carl, it's more EARLY '80s than leg warmers and ALF, but there is roller skating and fashion model fun that feels like it's taking the world into a new generation of tackiness.