Monday, October 21, 2013

Hammer Halloween Blogathon: Blood from the Mummy's Tomb

In 1959, Hammer released The Mummy, another remake of a Universal classic, to follow The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula (aka Dracula). Like its predecessors, The Mummy was a stylish, gothic rendering filled with action, shocks and topnotch performances from Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. But quite unlike the previous two, sequels were slow to follow and weren’t nearly as memorable. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) was a sluggish B-movie, while The Mummy’s Shroud (1967), admittedly a vast improvement over Curse, is still largely unremarkable. Seth Holt’s Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) would prove to be a much different film.

Tera in her sarcophagus

An archaeological team unearths an ancient tomb in Egypt, in which resides the body of a priestess. The decision to disturb the tomb has dire results even before they take relics – the wife of Fuchs (Andrew Keir) dies giving birth to the couple’s daughter, Margaret, at the same time the discovery is made. Years later, Margaret (Valerie Leon) is the mirror image of Tera (Leon again), the Egyptian priestess, whose perfectly preserved remains lie in a sarcophagus in Fuchs’ basement, a recreation of the tomb. Margaret’s birthday is looming, and it’s the ideal time for Tera’s resurrection, her lost soul collecting her purloined relics, as well as the lives of the people who are holding them. 
This tomb doesn't look inviting.
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, adapted from Bram Stoker’s novel, The Jewel of Seven Stars, is a stellar film, drenched in atmosphere and a markedly somber tone. There’s nothing to marvel in the Egyptian tomb--it’s dark and dank, like the place of death that it is. The nights are covered in fog; a mental institution, where one of the archaeological team winds up, is a place of long corridors and deep shadows; and Margaret stands in never-ending gusts of wind without a visible source.

This relentlessly spooky ambiance comes through characters and performances as well. Dandridge (Hugh Burden) is petrified when he sees the grown Margaret, before the audience knows the full story of Tera (“It was her… She who has no name”). Corbeck (James Villiers) is hiding in a seemingly abandoned house across the street from Fuchs. Helen (Rosalie Crutchley), working as a fortune teller, sees a foreboding image of the seven stars (the same seven that form the Big Dipper). Director Holt also gives life to the inanimate relics by way of shadows and their mere presence when people are attacked by something unseen. Even the recurrent image of Tera is chilling, despite spending most of the film lying in a sarcophagus, eyes closed and looking very much dead.

She's tall, too.
Valerie Leon is impressive in the lead. For a good part of the film, Margaret is mesmerized, making return trips to the basement to stare at the priestess or the slowly restored relics. It’s a gradual transformation: she’s initially dazed but eventually it’s hard to tell if Margaret is simply captivated or if Tera has completely possessed her. The beautiful, rather lanky actress – just an inch shy of six feet – either matches her co-stars in height or towers over them. It’s an imposing posture that augments an already marvelous performance.

Peter Cushing was originally cast as Margaret’s father, Fuchs. But he left after just a day of filming because his wife was ill. Director Holt died with a week of shooting remaining, and filming was completed by producer/director Michael Carreras, son of Hammer co-founder James Carreras. Cushing’s wife also died before the production’s end. Carreras’ work on the film is seamless with the scenes already shot by Holt; it certainly doesn’t look like a movie made by two different directors.

Corbeck's hiding place.
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb wasn’t the only adaptation of the Stoker novel. The 1970 British telefilm, Curse of the Mummy, actually made it to screens (albeit small) first. Later versions included The Awakening (1980), Mike Newell’s feature film debut, with Charlton Heston, Susannah York and a pre­-Remington Steele Stephanie Zimbalist; Fred Olen Ray’s The Tomb (1986), starring John Carradine, Cameron Mitchell and Sybil Danning; and the 1998 straight-to-video Bram Stoker’s Legend of the Mummy (aka Bram Stoker’s The Mummy) with Louis Gossett, Jr. and featuring Aubrey Morris playing a doctor, much like his character in Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. Margaret’s boyfriend, played by Mark Edwards, is named Tod Browning after the director of another Stoker adaptation, Universal’s classic 1931 Dracula.

Leon, unfortunately, was not cast in leading roles very often. She also starred in a number of Hammer’s Carry On movies and had appearances in both an official and unofficial Bond film – she was a hotel receptionist in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) with Roger Moore and one of Bond’s conquests in 1983’s Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery. Villiers starred in a Bond film as well, For Your Eyes Only (1981), as the MI6 Chief of Staff; he and Geoffrey Keen as the Minister of Defence were essentially sharing the role of M, after the script was rewritten due to the death of the original M, Bernard Lee. Villiers, however, did not appear in future 007 outings. Actor Morris specialized in cult films, also cropping up in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973).

Alleys: Just as spooky as tombs.
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb did not receive much notice or acclaim when first released--it was released as a double-bill in support of Roy Ward Baker’s Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. But it has since gone on to become a cult film. It is definitely one of Hammer’s best – a mummy film so gripping and moody that it didn’t even need the iconic bandage-wrapped figure. Just a tall, radiant, alluring woman. In a coffin.

This post is part of the Hammer Halloween Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film & TV Café. Click here view the complete blogathon schedule.


  1. Sark, it's awesome to read one of your fine reviews at the Cafe again! This underrated "mummy" movie was a great pick for the blogathon; I've never understood why it didn't garner more attention. It's very well-done--no small feat given the production turbulence. I agree that Valerie does quite well in the lead role and, of course, she's stunning. It's puzzling that Hammer didn't cast her in more of its horror films (as they did with Veronica Carlson). It'd be interesting to know what scenes were directed by whom. Considering he wasn't a director by trade, Carreras was a competent craftsman. He also had a hand in another underrated Hammer film, the entertaining and bizarre LOST CONTINENT.

  2. Fantastic write-up! As much as I love the Hammer Dracula and Frankenstein series, I'm ashamed to admit I've never seen any of the studio's Mummy releases. I'm not sure why that is, except to guess these were not shown on television as often, which is how I was introduced to the others. Must remedy this oversight!


  3. Excellent review, Sark, of a lesser known Hammer film. What a fascinating back story! Valerie Leon is gorgeous and I also find her absence from other Hammer works surprising. I like how the last four letters of Margaret backwards spell out Tera. Frankly, I would find it way creepy to have a sarcophagus in my basement.

  4. Great to see you back at the Cafe, Sark! I too really liked this movie, and have not seen it in a long time. I remember being so impressed by Leon, and now that you point it out, also wonder at her absence in movies after her amazing presence in this movie. I did not know that this movie was based on a Stoker novel, a piece of ignorance I am ashamed/surprised at since I'm a pretty big reader! Excellent history of the cast and crew involved in the film ... actually, excellent review!

  5. Until those big-budget CGI Mummy fests starring Brendan Fraser, I never saw a mummy movie I didn't like. I like all the Hammer mummy movies, though think the first, "The Mummy" and "Blood From the Mummy's Tomb" were their best. This one has a great mood to it, with the creepiness factor nicely played. I agree about Leon, and thought she should have had a bigger career. But any actress who starred in a Hammer movie, and has a role in a 007 film, probably has more recognition than many a more "serious" actress. Regardless, a fine title to the Hammer pantheon.

  6. Yikes! I am not a fan of the horror film, but you make me want to see this, you devil.

  7. Hmmmm.... I don't remember being all that impressed the first time I saw Blood from the Mummy's Tomb, but then again that was a long time ago. I have a copy somewhere, and will definitely be hunting it down based on this review! Critics have not been particularly kind to it over the years, but this is probably the jewel of all the films that have attempted to adapt Stoker's "Jewel of the Seven Stars." (I've seen The Awakening and it is a snoozer).

  8. Best part of this blogathon? A growing list of movies I NEED to watch. Thanks for participating.

  9. Almost sounds too scary for me. I gotta see this!

  10. A new movie to me and I now want to see it!