Mummy Dearest

mummyd0

Hammer Films produced four Mummy movies between 1959 and 1971 and this coming Saturday (Oct. 25th) TCM is airing one of my favorites, Seth Holt’s BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1971). This unabashedly sexy horror extravaganza was the last Mummy movie produced by the ‘Studio that Dripped Blood’ and thanks to a great cast and some creative directing choices it turned out to be one of their best. But before it reached the screen the production was plagued by some serious setbacks that seemed to resemble the effects of a ‘mummy’s curse’ that’s often associated with doomed adventure seekers and tomb raiders. Was it just circumstance and bad luck or did something supernatural interfere with the making of the film? Read on to find out!

Loosely based on Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB is a surprisingly gory (by Hammer standards) variation of the typical mummy story involving a group of explorers that discover a cursed mummy’s tomb and unwittingly unleash a monster on the world. But this time the monster isn’t a lumbering cloth-wrapped creature, it’s a beautiful curvaceous brunette named Queen Tera (Valerie Leon) wearing a bejeweled gold laden costume. The evil mummy Queen plans to vanquish her enemies, gather her plundered treasure and walk the earth in a new human form but that won’t be easy. First she must take control of a lookalike young woman named Margret (also played by Leon) who was born on the same day that Margret’s father (Andrew Keir) and his cronies unearthed Queen Tera’s tomb in Egypt.

mummud1

mummyd1

mummyd4

mummyd2

mummyd3

The cast is uniformly terrific and includes many horror and science fiction film veterans that genre fans should recognize. Bond girl Valerie Leon leads the pack and the statuesque beauty is perfect in her duel role as a naïve young woman and a cutthroat queen who is able to easily bend men to her will. Although she only appeared in one Hammer production Leon is the epitome of ‘Hammer Glamor.’ Leon’s father is played by Andrew Keir who was a familiar face in Hammer films thanks to his memorable appearances in THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (1962), THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES (1964), DRACULA; PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), THE VIKING QUEEN (1967) and QUATERMASS AND THE PITT (1967). Other familiar faces include James Villiers (THE DAMNED; 1963, THE NANNY; 1965, REPULSION; 1965, ASYLUM; 1972, ETC.), Rosalie Crutchley (THE GAMMA PEOPLE; 1956, THE HAUNTING; 1963, WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO?; 1971, AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS; 1973, ETC.), Aubrey Morris (BLOOD BEAST FROM OUTER SPACE; 1965, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE; 1971, THE WICKER MAN; 1973, LIFEFORCE; 1985, ETC.) and James Cossins (THE LAST CONTINENT; 1968, HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN; 1971, DEATH LINE; 1972, FEAR IN THE NIGHT; 1972, ETC.). Most surprisingly, 68-year-old George Coulouris shows up as an asylum inmate driven mad by the discovery of the lovely Mummy’s tomb. Coulouris is probably best remembered by classic film fans for his award-winning role in CITIZEN KANE (1941) but late in his career he appeared in a number of horror films including THE SKULL (1965) and THE ANTICHRIST (1974).

Andrew Keir’s role was originally supposed to be played by Peter Cushing but as I mentioned earlier, the film survived some major setbacks before it was released. Was BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB truly cursed? I’m sure that’s what a few cast members must have assumed when Peter Cushing was suddenly forced to leave the film after his wife’s health took a turn for the worse. When she died a few days later the sad turn of events shocked the cast and crew. Unfortunately this wouldn’t be the only death that occurred during film production. Director Seth Holt was particularly taken aback by the news. Holt had helmed two of Hammer’s most distinguished black and white films, SCREAM OF FEAR (1961) and THE NANNY (1965) but BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB would be his first and final full-color film for the studio. The director was highly respected by Hammer producers who gave Holt full control over his films. This meant that he had final say over the script and the editing but the heavy workload as well as the tremendous responsibility must have been taxing. 5 weeks into the 6 week shooting schedule, Seth Holt suffered a fatal heart attack. The director was only 48-years-old and his sudden and unexpected death was blamed on excessive alcohol use combined with exhaustion. In the wake of this unfortunate incident, Hammer producer and director Michael Carreras (MANIAC; 1963, THE LOST CONTINENT; 1968, PREHISTORIC WOMEN; 1967, SHATTER; 1974, ETC.) was forced to step in and finish the film but fortunately Holt left behind detailed notes and instructions on how he had planned to complete the movie. In turn, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB still retains much of Holt’s unique sensibility and visual flair. With only a handful of movies under his belt, Seth Holt managed to establish himself as a distinct talent who remains an important part of Hammer horror history.

mummyd00

BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB airs on TCM Saturday Oct. at 9:15AM PST/12:15PM EST. This exceptional late Hammer film is followed by a string of great horror classics including MAD LOVE (1935), which I wrote about last year and THE HAUNTING (1963), which was the focus of my tribute to the late great Julie Harris.

2 Responses Mummy Dearest
Posted By swac44 : October 24, 2014 12:32 pm

I saw quite a bit of Ms. Leon as a pre-teen, in both The Spy Who Loved Me and Revenge of the Pink Panther, both of which my parents took me to see in the theatre (we never missed a film in either franchise), but I see I would also have encountered her in the Carry On comedies (she was in 7 of them), which aired frequently on Canadian TV, and the Monty Python-esque comedy series The Goodies, which aired locally every weekday after school. Too bad she didn’t hang around Hammer Studios longer, this entry is indeed a treat from the studio’s late period.

Posted By DBenson : November 1, 2014 7:38 pm

VCI released eight double-feature Carry On discs, including commentaries on a handful of them (ported over from an earlier British release, it sounds like). Ms. Leon is on a couple, I think. Mostly chatting about the film at hand with another of the actors but sometimes discussing her other work, including this.

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.