Dawn of the Mummy (1981)
"A monstrous, chilling terror stalking the living..."
In the Egyptian desert, a team of archaeologists has unearthed the tomb of the ancient pharaoh Safiraman. Nearby a group of fashion models are looking for a location for their latest photo shoot and come across the tomb. Their trespassing awakens the mummified Safiraman who resurrects his army of undead followers to assist him in killing those responsible for desecrating his tomb.
Clearly more influenced by George A. Romero and Lucio Fulci's exploits into the zombie genre rather than anything Universal did back in the 30s and 40s with their bandage-clad fiends, this 'mummy' film could easily be mistaken for yet another cheap zombie exploitation flick along the lines of Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 or Oasis of the Zombies. Bearing little resemblance to classic mummy film formula, with the added bonus that it was shot in Egypt to give it a bit of authenticity, Dawn of the Mummy has become something of a begrudging cult classic. It has been extremely hard to find in the UK: first being the victim of the Video Nasties scare of the 1980s where copies of it were seized and confiscated under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and then with a limited uncut DVD release in 2003 which is now as hard to find now as leprechaun’s treasure.
You wouldn’t get the impression that this film is as trashy as it’s cracked up to be (and definitely not worthy of being a 'Video Nasty') once you sit down to watch. Dawn of the Mummy takes ages to get going and by this I mean ages. It’s a good fifty minutes before anything worthwhile happens. Before then we've given lots of horrid dialogue with the fashion models, some overacting by the American who is looking for the treasure and little else of note. All the characters ever seem to do is wander between the village, the camp where they are shooting their photo spreads and the tomb. The film does run like your traditional mummy flick at this point, with a tomb being unearthed and an ancient evil being unleashed. Only there is one thing sorely missing - the mummy! The titular creature is hardly anywhere to be found, relegated to background lurking - if he was even lucky to get a few seconds of screen time.
The characters are so irritating too and you’re rooting for the mummy to hurry up and start dishing out some revenge for their indiscretions. Funnily enough, according to the film notes on the DVD, this is exactly what the director set out to do – make you cheer on the mummy. Well Mr Agrama, you didn’t do a good job, you did a great job! The quicker these whiny assholes are mashed down into pulpy papyrus, the better. Despite the presence of a lot of nubile young female models, the flesh is kept hidden and the brief sexual encounters are fully clothed ordeals. Considering the sleazy nature of the exploitation horror films made during this period, the lack of nudity is startling. It’s also no surprise to find out that the actors can’t act at all. No one in this film can. The only decent actor is the guy in the mummy outfit and that’s simply because all he has to do is stand there or walk slowly towards the camera. The make-up effects for the mummy are pretty reasonable – he’s a guy in bandages but they seem to be coated in slime, blood or something. He looks like he just walked out of a swamp.
Sandwiched in the middle of this early monotony is a superbly nightmarish sequence in which Safiraman's rotting zombie army slowly rise from their desert graves, set against the sunrise. It’s an unnerving sequence which quite frankly looks amazing and deserved a lot better than to be stuck in this. This happens around the three quarters of an hour mark and you’d expect things to pick up now that Safiraman has assembled his army. But despite the odd quick mummy attack here and there, the film continues to drag for another half an hour at least. The zombie army has been resurrected. The mummy is clearly angry. Why the wait for the carnage to commence?
Despite the utterly tedious first two thirds which will the test of patience of any die-hard horror fans, Dawn of the Mummy does have a killer final act and this is where it gathers all of its marks. This is the sort of low-brow trash I was expecting to see as the mummy and his followers finally begin to do their damage. It begins with the discovery of a severed head in the tomb which leads to the mummy and the zombies following someone back to the camp. Let the zombie mayhem begin. People are set upon by gangs of zombies, their throats bitted into, faces ripped apart, intestines wrenched out and brains chewed from smashed skulls. It’s been dubbed ‘the goriest mummy film of all time’ and that wouldn’t be too far from the truth – however it’s the zombies that do the majority of the dirty work and the mummy kind of just stands back and watches everything unfold. The film’s highlight set piece is when the zombie army gate-crashes the wedding ceremony in the village by making an unscheduled visit to the bridal tent before letting loose on the villagers. To the strains of Shuki Levy’s Egyptian-twanged disco score, the attack sequence is a right hoot and begs the question of why they couldn’t have done something like this a little earlier in the film instead of leaving it until the final twenty minutes. Dawn of the Mummy is dogged down by constantly poor lighting and as most of the attacks are shot outside in the dark, it can be hard to make out what is going on at times. Though the sickly sounds of organs squelching and flesh-eating is never in question.
It is an arduous struggle to get past the first half of Dawn of the Mummy but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with one of the more entertaining zombie flicks of its period: a guilty pleasure of trashy exploitation at it’s finest. If the entire film had been as enjoyable as the last half, you’d be looking at a bone fide classic right here. It's a film that you wish had pinned its colours to the mast a lot earlier.
Dawn of the Mummy
Director(s): Frank Agrama
Writer(s): Daria Price (screenplay), Ronald Dobrin (screenplay), Frank Agrama (screenplay)
Actor(s): Brenda Siemer Scheider, Barry Sattels, George Peck, John Salvo, Ibrahim Khan, Joan Levy, Ellene Faison
Duration: 93 mins