Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971)
"A severed hand beckons from an open grave!"
At the exact moment that a group of Egyptologists discover the tomb of evil queen Tera, the wife of the leader of the expedition gives birth to a girl before she dies during childbirth. Years later, as the girl grows up into a beautiful young woman, the members of the expedition each begin to mystery die one-by-one.
The early 70s was a testing time for Hammer because they weren't able to adapt to growing trends in the market quick enough. Audiences had grown used to the quaint, old fashioned Gothic horrors by now and wanted more, especially with American films such as Rosemary's Baby and Night of the Living Dead offering much more sophisticated and graphic horror. Attempts to breach out into fantasy had failed, their psychological horrors never caught on and even new ideas they tried for horror films just didn't have the same attraction. With no clue as to what to do next, it drastically tried to breathe new life into its dying franchises. Ralph Bates was brought in to replace Peter Cushing as a younger Baron Frankenstein in The Horror of Frankenstein and the Dracula series was moved into the 20th century with Dracula A.D. 1972, as well as the introduction of more graphic sex and gore into other Hammer films. So it was deemed necessary to turn its mummy franchise away from watching a man in bandages stalk old explorers to something a little more interesting and appealing. Whilst one can argue that the notion of such a change is warranted given the stagnant and repetitive formula of the previous couple of sequels, this double-edged sword will lead to accusations that it's not a 'true' mummy film if ever there was a thought. However, Blood from the Mummy's Tomb is certainly a valiant attempt to inject some new life into the tired formula.
Based around 'The Jewel of the Seven Stars,' a 1903 novel by Bram Stoker, the film seems to have been hit by some sort of Egyptian curse itself. Hammer legend Peter Cushing had been cast in the lead role but left the production after one day of filming when his wife was diagnosed with an illness and he had to care for her. Then five weeks into a six-week shoot, director Seth Holt suddenly died from a heart attack resulting in Hammer head Michael Carreras taking over to finish and then edit the film. However, it become clear that Holt had deviated from the screenplay and the material shot didn't really gel together well. Knowing the problems surrounding the film certainly adds to the ambiance and Blood from the Mummy's Tomb continuously feels uneasy, surreal and, at times, dreamlike - given it's production history, it is far better than it had any right to be.
It's a little slow-going, especially the first half of the film, but it's setting its pieces up for the second half when the supernatural angle really comes into force and characters begin to die off. Though Blood from the Mummy's Tomb follows the usual typical mummy formula, with Egyptian curses and all, we do not have a typical bandage-wearing antagonist. People are attacked from the point of view of whoever/whatever is killing them and so rather than audiences just shrugging and realising it's the man in bandages, there is some element of mystery and suspense to find out the big twist. In some respects, it works as a proto-slasher with the characters being killed off before the big reveal. Blood from the Mummy's Tomb is surprisingly bloody too with neck bites and a stumpy wrist spurting out the red stuff whenever required. This was one of the first Hammer films to bring their old school gothic touch into a more modern setting as they tried to change with the times instead of churning out period horror. The combination of the modern with the gothic looks like some sort of real life nightmare: streets, houses and alleys suddenly take on a whole new menace with the sense that something malevolent is lurking there. Unfortunately, the film rarely sets foot outside and the fog-drenched streets are replaced by dimly-lit basements and bland house sets.
Blood from the Mummy's Tomb works for other reasons, most notably Valerie Leon. There's sex bombs from the 60s and 70s but she's got to be up there with the best of them. Looking like an extra from a Russ Meyer film, Leon slips into a variety of skimpy outfits to reveal her extremely ample figure more than once. The director knows she's the major attraction of the film and he's not wrong there. Leon is just drop dead stunning. No other words can describe her. She is simply mesmerising on the screen and has an amazing sensual presence thanks to her beauty and figure. As Margaret, she has an interesting character arc throughout the film which could have been poorly performed by some of Hammer's previous well-endowed actresses who looked good but couldn't act to save their lives.
Andrew Keir stepped into Cushing's role when he withdrew. Keir was no stranger to Hammer horror having played the title role in Quatermass and the Pit as well as a supporting role in Dracula, Prince of Darkness. He's a solid, dependable actor who isn't given a lot to do here but does what he has to with the usual commitment and drive. James Villiers slimes it up as the shady and unscrupulous Corbeck, marking a change for an English bad guy instead of the stereotypical fez-wearing Egyptian cultist. All of the cast do a good job of bringing their characters to life and getting us to believe in this Egyptian curse.
Blood from the Mummy's Tomb is a decent effort from Hammer considering it's without its major assets both in front of and behind the camera. Given the troubled production it had and how played out the mummy formula had become at this point in time, the film does a commendable job of trying to put a fresh spin on everything. It works but not as well as it could have done.
Blood from the Mummy's Tomb
Director(s): Seth Holt
Writer(s): Christopher Wicking (screenplay), Bram Stoker (novel "Jewel of the Seven Stars")
Actor(s): Andrew Keir, Valerie Leon, James Villiers, Hugh Burden, George Coulouris, Mark Edwards, Rosalie Crutchley
Duration: 94 mins