I'd been dribbling to watch this for months. It stars Valerie Leon! Let the rest of the film be rubbish; I didn't care. Her contract may or may not have had a no-nudity clause (though an ill-lit bedroom moment would appear to give the lie to that rumour) but at least she'd have plenty of push-up nightgowns. Yup. Making the most of Ms Leon's impressive assets, this film gives the lie to any notion that Wonderbras are a recent invention. There's nothing as eye-popping as some of the film's publicity stills (which could surely have been included as DVD extras in a photo gallery?) but she's definitely easy on the eye. Strangely pale-faced, but lovely.
Side-note for the culturally illiterate: Valerie Leon was a mainstay of the legendary Carry On films. Tall, beautiful and busty, she did a fair amount of movie work - including The Spy Who Loved Me and Never Say Never Again, albeit barely recognisable in the latter.
This film is based on a Bram Stoker novel, The Jewel of the Seven Stars. This wasn't a good sign. Stoker wrote one famous novel (Dracula) and a load of tripe that somehow tends to get adapted for film anyway. Ken Russell's Lair of the White Worm was a Stoker adaptation too. Bizarrely, given Hammer's fondness for period adaptations, they dragged Stoker's novel into the present day. I can't see any reason for them to do this, but for me it made this film reminiscent of an early Pertwee Doctor Who story. It even stars Channing (Hugh Burden) from Spearhead from Space!
The story has a few surprises up its sleeve. The romantic leads (traditionally the weak link in Hammer movies) don't end up plodding through the usual predictabilities and are even quite well played! Valerie Leon occasionally seems to be sleepwalking, but Mark Edwards puts in a wholehearted performance. The resolution of his plot thread is jarringly abrupt, but perhaps the more effective for being so. Characters who are obviously being groomed for death don't get murdered, while one's often in the dark about who are the goodies and who are the baddies (or if, indeed, there are any of the former).
A couple of things distracted me. There's a character called Tod Browning, which set me wondering whether this was an actual name from Stoker's novel or a nod to the director of, among others, the original 1931 Bela Lugosi Dracula, Freaks and London after Midnight. There's also a hospital porter who's a dead ringer vocally for Richard Briers.
Unfortunate fact: apparently the director, Seth Holt, died before completing this film.
Overall, this isn't a bad movie. It's not an all-time classic, but it trots efficiently through its 90-minute running time without committing any obvious atrocities. The Egyptology is always good for a laugh, with psychotic inanimate objects and the hieroglyphic equivalent of girlie mags all over the walls of Tera's tomb. Presumably they liked a handy-shandy in Ancient Egypt as much as the rest of us, even if they couldn't draw to save their lives. I'm undecided about the merits of dragging Stoker's original into the 1970s, but somehow the film retains a Victorian feel anyway. There's a flashback in which the main characters look exactly the same despite ostensibly being twenty-five years younger, but somehow such things in Hammer movies just add to the charm. I enjoyed it.