Egyptian archaeology was a big deal when I was a kid, and all because of one guy…King Tut. During the 70’s, the exhibition of King Tut’s treasures toured museums around the world and was so popular that people lined up to see it. Steve Martin even had a hit song about it. I can remember when Tut came to the Field Museum in Chicago in 1977. The first time my family tried to go see the exhibit there was a line out the door and down the street. We decided to try again a few weeks later. Even at that young age, I found it all very fascinating. Given the national obsession with the “boy king” it’s understandable that Hollywood would try to cash in with some mummy films of their own. One such film was based on a 1903 novel by Dracula author Bram Stoker, The Jewel of the Seven Stars. The film went for a much simpler title. From 1980, it’s The Awakening.
We begin at the site of an Egyptian archaeological dig. Matthew Corbeck (Charlton Heston) is obsessed with finding the tomb of a young Egyptian queen whose name has been pretty much erased from other historical records due to her ruthlessness and cruelty. His pregnant wife Anne (Jill Townsend) is with him, but she is intensely jealous of Matt’s assistant Jane (Susannah York).
One day, Matt and Jane find what appears to be the evil queen Kara’s tomb. Despite warnings, they open it. At that very moment Anne begins to have intense and premature contractions. Matt later finds his wife and takes her to the hospital. However, he is anxious to return to the dig, so he leaves her in the care of the doctors. A short time later, as Matt tries to open the sarcophagus of the queen, Anne goes into labor again. She ends up giving delivering a stillborn baby girl. However, as the coffin is finally opened, the baby suddenly springs to life. Matt continues to be obsessed with his find, however. He soon gets some opposition from the Egyptian government regarding the relics. Strangely, the official who informs Matt of this ends up dying in grisly fashion when a bizarre accident happens on the dig. Meanwhile, Anne is feeling neglected by her husband. Her baby girl is named Margaret, but Matt doesn’t get to see her for very long. Anne, still convinced Matt is having an affair with Jane, takes her new daughter and leaves.
We now jump 18 years into the future. Matt is now married to Jane (go figure) and is a professor in London. He receives word from Egypt that time is taking it’s toll with the mummy of Queen Kara which leads him to investigate for himself. Matt again ends up arguing with Egyptian officials about bringing the mummy back to England so he can run tests. Strangely, the official who disagrees with him ends up dying in a messy car on pedestrian accident. Now the path is clear to bring Queen Kara to England.
Meanwhile, the now 18 year-old Margaret (Stephanie Zimbalist) feels a deep desire to visit her father in England. As she spends time with her father, she begins to learn about the stories of Queen Kara’s cruelness, and how she became romantic with her own father before having him killed. At the same time, Margaret begins to display odd behaviors, such as kissing her old man full on the lips in one scene, and bodies begin to pile up. Matt soon begins to believe that his daughter is being possessed by the spirit of the mummy and the only hope to save her is to perform an ancient Egyptian ceremony before it’s too late.
This same Bram Stoker story was also adapted into a 1971 film from Hammer, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, which I reviewed during last year’s Halloween series. In true Hammer fashion, that film is a much more stylish and effective film than The Awakening turns out to be. As a matter of fact, this film ends up being a lot of build up with very little payoff. As far as I’m concerned, the ending of this film should’ve come about 25 minutes in. I’m trying not to give away the ending, but when all is said and done, one can’t help but feel that a much better horror story begins right where this movie ends.
This is the second film helmed by director Mike Newell, who would later bring us the likes of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I think it’s fair to say he hadn’t quite hit his groove yet, as the film has numerous problems with the pacing. It also doesn’t help that Heston lays it on incredibly thick in this one. Basically this is Charlton Heston doing his worst Charlton Heston impersonation. His performance is cartoony, at best. On the other hand, Stephanie Zimbalist is actually quite good here, though she doesn’t really get much of a chance to impress. Again, right at the point where her performance becomes really effective, the movie ends. I also can’t forget to mention a fun, but short, appearance by a pre-Palpatine Ian McDiarmid as a psychiatrist has an unfortunate session with Margaret.
The Awakening certainly has solid material to draw from. After all, the Stoker novel it is based on has been adapted successfully before. In the end, though, the film is all build up with no payoff. It does end up winning the ironic title award, though. Groan if you want to, but The Awakening may just put you to sleep.