The Awakening (1980)
“They thought they had buried her forever!”
Director: Mike Newell
Cast: Charlton Heston, Susannah York, Jill Townsend
Synopsis: An archeologist discovers his daughter is possessed by the spirit of an Egyptian queen. To save mankind he must destroy her.
I don’t understand why filmmakers keep returning to the Bram Stoker novel The Jewel of Seven Stars. Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb was released less than a decade earlier than this effort and was just as bad. I wonder whether it would have been revisited had Stoker not written Dracula, one of the cornerstones of the horror genre. Certainly, the makers of this movie must have been aware of the earlier Hammer effort and felt they could do a better job. Well, how wrong they were. An ageing Charlton Heston stars, and claimed at the time that it was his only horror movie. I know The Omega Man and Soylent Green are both SF movies, but I’d have thought they both had some claim to having at least a foothold in the horror genre. Not that it matters, because The Awakening is so poor in nearly every department that it barely qualifies as a horror movie, anyway. The only thing it has going for it is that it was apparently the first Mummy movie actually filmed (partly) in Egypt.
It opens in Egypt in 1962 where archaeologist Matthew Corbeck is busy hunting for the tomb of Kara, a female pharaoh who was so evil that her name has been struck from the history books. He’s assisted by Jane Turner (Susannah York), while his seven months pregnant wife, Anne (Jill Townsend) mopes around at the camp, growing increasingly jealous of the close working relationship shared by her husband and his assistant. This section of the movie is actually a (fairly lengthy) prologue to the main action, which means Heston and York are both way too old for their parts at this point, and you can’t help wondering just why Corbeck would bring his heavily pregnant wife to such an uncomfortably hot and dusty climate so that she can sit around with nothing to do all day. Anne is alone at the camp when Corbeck finally stumbles upon Kara’s tomb, and each hammer blow he delivers on the seal to her sarcophagus becomes a crippling labour pain for her, and their daughter, Margaret (Stephanie Zimbalist) is stillborn. However, in one of those twists that moviemakers feel needs no rational explanation, the breath of the newly unearthed Kara breathes life into the babe just as nurses have covered her ready for the morgue.
Fast forward eighteen years and Corbeck is a university professor. As Heston wore no make-up to make him look more youthful during the prologue, someone had the bright idea of sticking an unconvincing straggly beard onto his cheeks to show how much he’d aged. They didn’t bother doing anything to York, who looked forty in 1962 and still looks 40 in 1980. She and Corbeck are now a couple, so Anne, who now lives in America with her daughter, was apparently right to have her doubts about them. Just as Corbeck’s daughter approaches her eighteenth birthday, he receives word from Egypt that the mummy of Kara is deteriorating and hurries off to investigate.
Of course, it’s no surprise to anyone other than the characters in this sorry tale just what is going on, and it’s quite astonishing just how badly talented filmmakers and writers can screw up a straightforward story so badly. Newell went on to direct Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and Donnie Brasco (1997), while co-writers Chris Bryant and Clive Exton have, respectively, the 1973 horror classic Don’t Look Now and 10 Rillington Place (1971) to their credit. Ok, so Exton also wrote Red Sonja (1985), but he was obviously capable of writing quality material. But this is merely a pale rip-off of previous movies, borrowing elements from The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1975) and unsuccessfully attempting to graft them onto Stoker’s pedestrian tale.
The series of ‘mysterious’ deaths that surround events concerning the moving of Kara to London (at the same time that Margaret visits London to pay a surprise visit on her father) were fairly tame even by 1970s standards. One guy falls off a cliff, another gets run over (which might just as easily be due to his lack of knowledge of the Green Cross Code rather than an ancient curse, because he definitely didn’t look left, right, and left again before crossing), one guy gets speared by a booby trap in Kara’s tomb, and Susannah York suffers a watered down version of the fate suffered by David Warner in The Omen. And the closer the movie gets to its anti-climactic final act, the more disjointed and chaotic it becomes. Perhaps I saw an edited version, but one brief scene has Margaret, breathing heavily, watching her father sliding across the floor towards the safe in which Kara’s innards are housed, and that’s it. The next moment, Heston’s having a bloody wrist bandaged with no explanation as to what just happened. Chances are though, that you’ll have given up watching long before this moment in the movie — unless, that is, you’re unfortunate enough to have given yourself the task of reviewing this sorry mess.
(Reviewed 9th September 2013)