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Egyptologist Matthew Corbeck (Charlton Heston) and his assistant Jane (Susannah York) break into the tomb of a disgraced queen which had been lost for 3800 years. At that very moment Corbeck's pregnant wife, Anne (Jill Townsend) is wracked with pain and gives premature birth to a daughter who is apparently still-born, but miraculously survives. Eighteen years later Corbeck is still obsessed by the ancient Queen Kara and her mummified remains. The evil Queen had committed incest, genocide and patricide in her time and had vowed to return in another life. Corbeck discovers all the secrets, the planets and the stars that need to line up for Kara's comeback, but there are dire consequences, if she reigns on earth again.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
Charlton Heston was 56 and his epic work was behind him; Susannah York was not yet 40, but was never much more than blonde, blue-eyed and pretty, and Mike Newell was a television hack, with 50 mediocre credits, who was directing on the big screen for the first time. Bram Stoker's Jewel Of The Seven Stars, a bloody tale of ancient tombs and vengeful queens, had been filmed once before by Hammer horror as Blood From The Mummy's Tomb (1971) and there was a hint of desperation about this hasty backup despite the bigger budget and authentic Egyptian locations.

Newell imagined a sophisticated upgrade that was more spook than spoof, with a low-key body count and only the faintest whiff of incest. But the first blow to credibility comes when falling stones disturb a thin layer of shifting sand to reveal a pristine hieroglyphic tableau which Jane deciphers on the spot with barely the blink of an eye: "Here the Gods come not at any summer. Do not approach The Nameless One, lest your soul be withered...The Nameless One must not Live Again." OK, we get the garbled message, but the mind boggles as to how the ancient Egyptians might have inscribed a word like "withered" so that it could be so easily translated after 3800 years of wind and sand.

Such expediencies always work against films that rely on scientific factors, however tenuous they might be. For the love of movies, we are blessed with the capacity to "suspend belief," but it's a taller order, to suspend disbelief in the stentorian presence of that great wooden horse of an actor, Charlton Heston. He was sheer oak as Ben Hur, El Cid and as Moses, Messenger Of God but as Michelangelo, Marc Antony and on the bridge of the Midway (1976) he was as stiff as a cigar-store Indian and here, as a well-fed Egyptologist he simply should not be seen with his shirt off. The commanding physique has sagged and Michael Moore has done much to obliterate his presence. Interest in mummy movies came a decade after the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922. Boris Karloff scared audiences witless in the 1932 original, but once the novelty turned commonly fans found little to fear from the lumbering monsters which lurched about in their filthy rags.

By the time of Brendan Fraser, The Mummy (1999) had morphed into a vision of spectacle and the films were sensibly more fun than fearsome. Heston was never known for his humour, and like the Hammer version of Stoker's novel, The Awakening errs on the side of a deadly seriousness that confuses such nonsense with intelligence. Townsend, as Corbeck's disenchanted then abandoned spouse is effective at her most anguished; Zimbalist reveals why her small talents were always confined to the small screen and York, diffident and lazy, makes no impact at all. Newell, whose later credits include Four Weddings And A Funeral, Pushing Tin and the next Harry Potter movie, orchestrates a few grisly killings in the manner of The Omen, but it's the veteran cameraman Jack Cardiff (Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes), whose dazzling use of sunlight and shade lends the film a touch of class...in keeping with Claude Bolling's genuinely eerie score.

Significantly, neither Heston nor Cardiff mention The Awakening in their biographies ... it's as if they've put the experience long to bed, except that DVD has a habit of resurrecting the dead.

Published October 28, 2004

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(UK, 1980)

CAST: Charlton Heston, Stephanie Zimbalist, Susannah York

DIRECTOR: Mike Newell

SCRIPT: Allan Scott, Chris Bryant, Clive Exton

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen. 2.0 Mono



DVD RELEASE: August 15, 2004

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