Dawn of the Mummy
Medium: film
Year: 1981
Director: Frank Agrama [Farouk Agrama]
Writer: Frank Agrama, Ronald Dobrin, Daria Price
Keywords: horror, mummies, zombies
Country: USA, Egypt, Italy
Actor: Brenda King, Barry Sattels, George Peck, John Salvo, Ibrahim Khan, Joan Levy, Ellen Faison, Dianne Beatty, Ali Gohar, Ahmed Rateb, Bahar Saied, Ali Azab, Ahmed Laban, Laila Nasr
Format: 93 minutes
Website category: Horror 1970/80s
Review date: 6 April 2009
In 3000 BC, Seferaman was rather messily mummified with much intoning of curses. Five millennia later, a bunch of grave robbers and fashion models do the inevitable and dumb thing and defile his tomb. Unsurprisingly this makes him cranky. Maybe they interrupted his wet dream just before the good bit? Anyway, Seferaman wheels out his army of zombies and sets out to slaughter anyone in the same continent.
Dawn of the Mummy is basically rubbish, but it's not without minor points of interest. The first is that it's a mummy gore film. There aren't many of those, you know. The English-speaking tradition seems to hold that mummy movies should be stately, dignified and a bit boring. Admittedly Stephen Sommers doesn't fit into that category, but he's not making movies so much as kiddie theme park rides. However if you're willing to venture off to Egypt and Spain, you'll find attempts to put blood into the genre. There's Paul Naschy's The Mummy's Revenge (1973) and then of course this film. I don't know of any more.
As a gore film, this is quite juicy. I admit this isn't judging by a particularly elevated standard, but it's the level on which the film works best. It takes quite a while for the dead to unleash their all-out assault, but when they do it's worth waiting for. They're zombies in all but name, chomping flesh with the best of them. Bizarrely they're not even dessicated, despite having spent five millennia dead in a desert, but instead are acid-laden and oozing. If these mummies grab you, they'll dissolve the flesh on your hand or face. On the downside there's an extremely amusing gore shot as a machete chops an obvious model head, but ten out of ten for effort. I couldn't call this a gore classic, but it has a seedy low-budget look that's rather refreshing. There's an immediacy about it that's rare in mummy films.
All this makes for interesting scenes of mummification. If you've ever read about what the ancient Egyptians used to do to a mummy-to-be, you'll know that these are some of the most revolting procedures ever done by human beings to each other. You'd think any horror film would give its eye teeth for that kind of material, but nope. Normally you never see it... except here. We're spared details like the brain being pulled out through the nose on a hook, but we see more than enough to know what's going on. You can even use the place of incision to date these procedures to the earlier mummification rituals (up to the 18th Dynasty), although there's nothing particularly historical about internal organs slopping into a bowl. Stomach, intestines, liver... yummy!
The other thing I like about this film is that like Countess Dracula, it's been made by people who are actually from the country in question. This is a mummy film made in Egypt by Egyptians. It's not drooling over the historical costumes and then ignoring the country as it really is. Admittedly we do have an omen-chanting local who believes all those 5000-year-old legends, but there's also plenty of genuine Arabic flavour. We see belly dancing, a wedding and lots of grotty African back streets. They have camels. Even the opening sequence feels oddly authentic simply for having green bits in its desert.
There's a brief cutaway in New York and the lead characters are American, but otherwise this is the real deal. The interiors were filmed in studios in Cairo. The writer-producer-director and his crew were Egyptian. I respect that.
The only downside of all this is a lack of nudity, since shooting in Egypt meant always having a Government Film Censor on set. They weren't allowed to linger too long on even a kiss. This might not sound so bad, but the script doesn't seem to have realised its production limitations and has dutifully included a shower scene, a sex scene and even midnight skinny-dipping in an oasis, despite the fact that everything we see is family-friendly. Well, if your idea of "family friendly" includes flesh-chomping zombie attacks. Mind you, apparently a crewmember would take the censor off for a drink if they wanted to show a little more leg than usual during the next five minutes. Furthermore the models are tall and glamorous in a way that's probably sexier for being clothed. Flopping their tits out would merely have drawn attention to the fact that they don't have any.
I haven't yet mentioned the story or characters, which is because they're hardly worth talking about. The cast are... okay. Some of the extras are very obviously not professional actors, but at least everyone involved in the model shoot feels natural. That's the nearest I can find to a compliment. This isn't the kind of movie you watch for its character work. As for the script, it's happy to include scenes like the one where one of the models gets woken up by someone putting their hands around her throat. Fortunately he's only pretending to throttle her, so naturally they have sex. Incidentally she'd only met this chap the day before (when he shot at her), while earlier that day she'd had a fatal encounter with a mutilated Arab. Naturally this sex session is never mentioned or referred to again.
Dawn of the Mummy is thumpingly a B-movie. It's hokum, without pretentions. One couldn't claim that it's aspiring to any kind of artistic worth, but the mere fact of its existence makes it not without interest. As far as I know, it's the only mummy gore film that's actually Egyptian.