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So Beautiful, But So Evil is Tera

Hammer’s Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb

(#3 in The Month of Hammer Horror)

by Tony Nash)

(Spoilers present)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

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Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) R *****

Andrew Keir: Professor Julian Fuchs

Valerie Leon: Margaret Fuchs / Queen Tera

James Villars: Mr. Corbeck

Mark Edwards: Tod Browning

Rosalie Crutchley: Helen Dickerson

Hugh Burden: Geoffrey Dandridge

George Coulouris: Professor Berrigan

Aubrey Morris: Dr. Putnam

Tamara Ustinov: Veronica

Written by: Christopher Wicking

Based on the novel Jewel of the Seven Stars by Bram Stoker

Directed by: Seth Holt (post production and reshoots by Michael Carreras)

Synopsis: As she reaches her birthday, Margaret Fuchs begins having bizarre dreams, including visions of a beautiful Egyptian Queen having her hand severed and mummified alive. When her father Julian Fuchs, an Egyptologist, gives her a ring as an early birthday present, the dreams become more intense and her personality seems to change into that of the Queen. It’s soon discovered Julian and several colleagues had unearthed the tomb of an evil sorceress named Tera, who was also a ruler of Egypt at just the same time Margaret was born. Why do the two events seem connected?

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Hammer’s final Mummy film takes a very dark and atmospheric look at the subject and plot. Made in the era when they started to lean more towards sex and violence to keep up with new Horror trends, this one comes right in the middle with enough sexuality and violence to be effective, but not overbearing. Taking a page from the Boris Karloff original, the Mummy character is the actual villain of the piece instead of a devoted cult member reciting spells to bring the creature to life. The events depicted go into the true supernatural, forces from beyond pulling and driving the characters to their eventual fates. Gone is the plot device of revenge for the desecration of a tomb and the fanatical zealot who’s determined to see to it the decree of the curse is upheld, instead a power-hungry sorceress looking to dominate the world and become humanity’s supreme ruler is the main focus of the film. Also gone is the classic bandaged/shambling Mummy character and instead a very beautiful, jewel incrusted-flowing robed, frozen in a deep slumber Queen who is awaiting to be awaken so she can finish her plans dominates the screen. Another nice touch is that the events are all a part of prophesy that was foreseen long ago.  This completely different turn around the classic genre provides a new and interesting take on a type of film that had become stale to an extent, as at the time there was little to improve Mummy films on.

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An interesting point of note is that the film was based off of the little known Bram Stoker novel Jewel of the Seven Stars, which deals in exactly the same plot. Characters and plot elements are switched from book to film, but on the whole is a fairly faithful adaptation to the source material. In a surprising turn, Hammer managed to improve on Stoker’s original ending and made it much more ambiguous, mysterious, and scary. As Stoker’s original title didn’t seem appropriate for a Horror film and the writers and producers stuck on what to actually call it, settled on the somewhat lackluster, at the time, Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb,  though given what happens to the majority of the film’s characters now seems a very appropriate title.

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Valerie Leon, an actress whom Hammer planned on having as a companion sex symbol to other leading lady Ingrid Pitt, is wonderful, alluring, and even a little frightening in the dual role of Margaret and Queen Tera. As Margaret, Leon plays her as a woman who wanted to lead a normal life until learning her father’s stumbling on to the resting place of the most evil woman in the world led her to be reborn in the woman’s image and as the vessel for her to return to life and to rule over humanity with an iron fist. Both intrigued and frightened by what could very well happen Leon has Margaret straddle between her own identity and the identity of Queen Tera’s, at times enjoying the power and confidence Tera wields. As Queen Tera, Leon portrays her as a tyrant looking to extend her stronghold on the world well after her lifetime. What makes her scary is the dark powers at her command and the self assuredness she wields it with. The opening moments of the film have her summoning spiritual jackals to kill the priests who have just mummified her in a death like slumber and severed the hand that was the source of her abilities and this really helps to clarify how powerful and dangerous she is. That she pre-ordained those who would discover her and the woman who would vessel her spirit in the 20th century again shows the extent of what she can do. Even though the majority of the film has her in the death like sleep, just looking at her has viewers getting this feeling she is not someone to take lightly.

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Andrew Keir, who could be looked at as a poor man’s Peter Cushing, as he often took roles Cushing either wasn’t interested in doing, or was already attached to another film, is quite good in the role of Prof. Fuchs. Unlike his colleagues of the expedition, Fuchs is somewhat aware of the terrible fate that awaits humanity from what he uncovered long ago. Keir plays Fuchs as a man who doesn’t want to ensure Queen Tera’s rebirth on Earth, but forces and powers beyond his control keep pushing him to act on the Queen’s behalf. This aspect makes Fuchs a tragic figure as he knows the truth, but is also completely powerless to stop it. This harkens back to stories in Science Fiction, in that there are many things out there in the universe that man isn’t meant to know and men like Fuchs and colleagues must pay the ultimate penalty for it. Keir has Fuchs make desperate attempts to warn both Margaret and her boyfriend of the looming danger, but injuries and other circumstances prevent his doing so. Both he and Margaret realize towards the end they must break away long enough to put an end to the nightmare, even at the costs of their lives.

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James Villars, a now somewhat forgotten British character actor, is a slimy delight as the mad and greedy Corbeck. A former colleague of Prof. Fuchs who was also a member of his expedition to Tera’s tomb, Villars recognizes the Queen as his key to power and fortune, willingly obeying the silent signals she transmits from beyond the grave. It ends up being Corbeck who helps the events move along and the tragedies that befall the other members of the expedition, hoping to ensure Queen Tera rises. Villars takes over the zealot character previously played by George Pastell, John Carradine, Roger Delgado, and Turhan Bey, but instead of being a loyal follower of a Cult sworn to protect the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs, he’s completely out for himself, desiring only the wealth and prestige he believes Tera can obtain for him when he helps to resurrect her. Villars plays Corbeck as so obsessed with his own gains he fails to realize Tera is a force and power he can’t hope to control and will surely be her first victim when she eventually rises from her slumber.

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Two other interesting, albeit sad notes, to the film’s history, was the departure of the original lead actor and the death of the original director. Peter Cushing was set to play Prof. Fuchs, a nod to his appearance in the 1959 original, but a call of his wife’s declining health on the first day of shooting forced the actor to depart and care for the woman he loved. Seth Holt, the director, had completed most of the shooting, when one day he suddenly collapsed on set and was pronounced dead not long after of a heart attack. Michael Carreras, a long time writer, producer, and director for Hammer, who was producing the film, stepped in to finish the last days of shooting, and some retakes while in post-production, but because little of what Holt shot had to be changed drastically, Carreras insisted Holt’s name be kept as the sole director.

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One item that would’ve greatly added to the film would’ve been some flashback sequences showing what Tera was like while she was alive, as she’s only animated toward the end of the film. Such scenes would’ve helped her characterization greatly and made her even more menacing and scary than she already was. This omission doesn’t hurt the film in any way, though their inclusion would have added even more intrigue and suspense.

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Brooding, atmospheric, and eerie, Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb is a truly original and unique take on the classic Horror theme. It really is unlike anything ever seen before and is really a shame that it didn’t revive the franchise for future projects as the ending clearly left the door open for a sequel. It’s a not a talked about film as much as many other Hammer films, but is certainly a underrated and hidden gem that deserves reevaluation and rediscovery. The first of Hammer’s Mummy films offered a great reinterpretation of the original American version and the fourth and final film offered a complete recycling and revamping of the genre that took it in a whole new direction, once again showing how diverse and creative Hammer was.

(This is my 2nd favorite Mummy film and 2nd favorite Hammer film. When I first viewed the UK DVD last year, I was thrown for a loop how eerie and dark it was, but impressed and  in awe at the same time at how different it was. My R rating is my own personal one, as while it’s rated PG in the US, the UK rating is 15 and Australia has it as M/R +18 due to a brief nude scene and the sudden bursts of throat ripping. The rating is totally up to personal tastes and what each individual sees as overly violent, but I felt R was appropriate for my blog. This one I highly recommend for those interested in seeing what else can be done with Mummy films. The DVD and Blu Ray from the UK and the Blu Ray from Australia are both excellent in quality and audio.)

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