Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971)
If there is one thing you will really remember about Blood from the Mummy's Tomb, it is Valerie Leon's bosom. It's rather hard not to notice, since they really make sure you see her breasts from just about every angle, and by the end you've seen just about every inch of them barring her nipples. Beyond Valerie's voluptuousness, however, Blood from the Mummy's Tomb is an enjoyable little Hammer Horror film, providing a bit of fresh variety to a story that was, even in the 70s, a bit cliche.
Blood from the Mummy's Tomb is your typical mummy fare. We focus on the fate of Professor Fuchs (Andrew Keir), archaeologist, and his companions. This group unearths an Egyptian tomb, where they discover the mummified remains of the ancient and beautiful Queen Tera (Valerie Leon). Then, in a plan that totally disregards customs laws and common sense, they manage to divvy up the entire contents of the tomb and bring it back to England with them, including Tera's body. Upon his return to England, Professor Fuchs gives Tera's ring to his daughter Margaret (also Valerie Leon). This sets into motion your usual mummy's curse, where each of the tomb robbers gets picked off one by one, leaving Professor Fuchs desperately trying to stop it before it claims his life as well.
The real highlight of how this film works is the fact that while the plot follows the typical mummy curse formula, we do not have a typical mummy antagonist. There is no bandage-wrapped, shambling monster lunging after its victims. Each time a victim is hunted down, it is shot in POV and close-up, so that we never see the attacker. We see the artifacts the victims took from the tomb, various wounds, their own sheer panic, but never what actually is attacking them. We’re kept in suspense, the monster’s anonymity doing wonders at keeping up the dramatic tension. We’re never faced with the let down of 'oh, it's just a mummy'. Instead, it's kept vague, the killings managing to be gripping sequences, thanks to the editing and shot composition.
Which brings us to the wonderful cinematography. While this movie is the product of two directors (Seth Holt died before the film was completed and Michael Carreras stepped in), the film's visual style remains consistent. The camera is used to build tension, jumping to POV shots when necessary, but never so much as to be gimmicky. While sometimes the film relaxes into a standard medium shot/close-up pattern, this only serves to make the breaks from said standard shots stand out more. For example, during a wonderful sequence at the asylum, the camera pans quickly from cell door to cell door, stopping at each door, the camera held at an extreme dutch angle, while we hear the mad screams of the inmate inside. This technique completely unsettles the viewer, dramatically grabbing their attention. By making sure to break up the standard establishing shot/close up routine with bouts of extreme close-ups and non-standard camera angles, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb manages to keep its visual style fresh and invigorating
The cinematography is complimented by the film’s unique atmosphere. This isn't a gritty horror, desaturated and dark. While shadows are used to heighten the suspense during the flashbacks to the titular mummy's tomb, the film is otherwise quite well lit. Rather than overwhelming the set, the shadows are cleverly used to make the limited nature of the otherwise colorful and detailed studio seem more expansive and grandiose, The sets are brightly hued, the tomb heiroglyphs just popping with color and giving life and spectacle to every shot. While not as strikingly bright as some films, such as The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb is just fun to look at. It provides for a warm, lush visual world, one that just happens to have a killer mummy curse in it.
If this film has any downfalls, is that the movie isn't all that... horrific. Portents of doom in the stars can build a mood of suspense and dread, but not when the vision is of the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper is not intimidating. It's a giant ladle. No one fears ladles, except the .0001 percent of the population with ladlephobia. Even though the tension built when people are attacked by the curse is quite effective, it is eventually meaningless. We know that these people are doomed to die; that's the point of the curse. The ongoing suspense is mainly about how the curse is manifesting, making the film almost more of a blood soaked mystery than a truly horrific tale.
Ultimately, what Blood from the Mummy's Tomb is, is a sort of proto-slasher. Not in the sense of Hitchcock's Psycho as the basic blueprint of theme, but in the sense of structure and trappings. We have a tale that ultimately revolves around one woman, Margaret, and people she knows being killed off one by one in a gruesome manner. Each death has a sense of inevitability, which means the entertainment and suspense does not revolve around whether or not they'll survive, but in the actual act of watching them die. While the film doesn't feature rampant sex or nudity, there is the aforementioned gratuitous cleavage, and even a rather suggestive scene where Margaret is in bed with her lover and just happens to be eating a banana. The film teases at the sexuality, which, for the time period, was incredibly risqué. Take these elements, crank them into overdrive, and you end up with the same feel as Halloween or Friday the 13th.
Blood from the Mummy's Tomb is a compelling mystery illustrated using captivating imagery, namely blood, breasts, and beautiful sets. Add in a delicious ending, which I dare not spoil, and you have a wonderful capstone of extreme irony to top off the film. Mixing the familiar story of the mummy curse film but yet eschewing a lot of the typical element of that story, Blood from the Mummy's Tomb is not brilliance, but it sure is fun.