Friday, April 25, 2008

DAWN OF THE MUMMY or When is a Mummy Film Not a Mummy Film?

I can't say that I've ever been a huge fan of movies featuring a mummy as the central villain. By their very nature these re-animated, frequently Egyptian monstrosities shamble after their victims with a lurching gait that makes the Frankenstein monster look like a Kenyan marathoner. Frankly, mummy movies tend to put me to sleep for what seems like thousands of years, which might explain my nearly 30 year avoidance of DAWN OF THE MUMMY, a much-discussed 80s mummy flick that has large camps of both detractors and fans. In my continuing effort to catch up on some overlooked trash from the 70s, 80s and 90s I gave DAWN a quick spin.

After the requisite ancient Egyptian pre-credit sequence featuring mummification, curses, and an army of poor saps who get buried with the ruler because they know where he's buried, we turn to the present day (or, in this case, 1981). A trio of treasure hunters/grave robbers led by Rick (Barry Sattels) have found the secret tomb and after avoiding the killer poison gas – which apparently also causes burnt skin and shameless overacting – they begin the job of desecrating the tomb in the name of gold, Gold, GOLD!

Since it is 1981, cue the surreptitiously-shot NYC street footage (complete with a roller boogie aerobic workout getup) as we're introduced to a group of fashion models and their photographer looking for their big break. Apparently, they're unable to find suitable sets in the pop culture capital of the world so they jet to the desert for a make-or-break magazine spread that'll make them all famous. And wouldn't you know it, they break down near Rick and Co., one of whom suspects the modeling troupe of thieves out to steal the gold they're stealing. A stray bullet or two piques the models' interest and pretty soon they've barged in on the tomb, figuring it'll be the perfect setting for their groundbreaking magazine spread.

I'll admit that director Frank Agrama (who also wrote the flick's story, directed QUEEN KONG and became a major behind-the-scenes force in the Robotech world) does a competent job of putting the players into place and the first 30 minutes certainly had my attention thanks to the trashy 80s vibe (drugs, asinine behavior, dopey characters doing idiotic things) and the outrageously over-the-top acting from Sattels, possibly one of the biggest hambones to ever step in front of a camera lensing a C-grade horror flick.

Unfortunately, it's soon clear why detractors have labeled the flick YAWN OF THE MUMMY and the cheapie DVD transfer of the disc I watched didn't help matters any. The middle of the flick takes what feels like forever to play out as assistants get their hands burned and the mummy that had been boiling and smoking in the center of the room suddenly disappears, a fact that nobody in the group seems to notice. Further indignities like their horses having their throats ripped open and a guy whose face is melting off stumble into camp also have little or no impact on this squadron of brain surgeons.

It's only when Melinda gets attacked by the slow-moving but admittedly spooky mummy and his army on zombified, flesh-chomping guardians that DAWN kicks back into gear and recaptures my interest. Once it turns into a mummy flick in name only and unleashes the zombie followers on the models, grave robbers, and an entire village celebrating a wedding, the blood starts flowing, things get a little wet and it becomes much more like the Italian gut-munchers that were all the rage at the time. And hold such a special place in my heart.

Too bad the most readily available DVD for the flick features such a wretched presentation. The mummy/zombie attack on the camp is almost indecipherable and I'd probably rate the flick higher if I could see what the hell was going on during some the juicy-sounding gut-munching. Anchor Bay did put out an import version which is reportedly much clearer, but I don't know if I'm interested enough in DAWN to seek it out for a repeat viewing.

After catching up with DAWN it's easy to see why the flick has its detractors as well as its defenders. A laborious middle had me itching to hit the fast-forward (though I resisted) but the first and last thirds of the flick were filled with enough 80s trash and (visible) throat-tearing and entrail-fondling that my inner gorehound was more than satisfied.

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