Friday, December 14, 2018

Past Misdeeds: La Venganza De La Momia (1973)

aka The Mummy's Revenge

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts presented with only  basic re-writes and improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Egypt during the 18th Dynasty. Pharaoh Amenhotep (Paul Naschy) - please don't ask which Amenhotep he's supposed to be - is too much of a tyrant even for ancient Egyptian expectations of leadership. The pharaoh and his favourite concubine Amarna (Rina Ottolina) just love to enliven a meal by torturing virgins to death, and making a drink out of said virgins' blood.

The couple lives the evil dream until the high priest of Amun-Ra decides that enough is enough with the virgin killing, and poisons them. Because a mere death by poison isn't enough to pay for Amenhotep's misdeeds, the priest curses the pharaoh's soul to be forever trapped in the body of his mummy, never to be able to even step in front of the gods for them to weigh his worthiness.

Centuries later, in the Victorian era to be exact, a couple of married American archaeologists, Nathan (Jack Taylor) and Abigail Stern (María Silva) open Amenhotep's hidden tomb, and carry the pharaoh's mummy, his sarcophagus and a few papyri to the British Museum for Natural History. The couple's expedition was financed by Sir Douglas Carter (Eduardo Calvo). Carter once was an adventurous archaeologist like them, but now he is elderly, wheelchair-bound and rather sickly. Taking care of him takes up most of the time of his daughter Helen (Rina Ottolina again - and we all know what that means in a mummy movie).

Some time later, Egyptian archaeologist Assad Bey (Naschy again) and his girlfriend/assistant Zanufer (Helga Liné) arrive in London and take an interest in Amenhotep's mummy. Carter is surprisingly willing to share his findings with them. The first thing he does is excitedly reading one of the papyri to the new colleagues. In it Amenhotep - warned of the danger to his life by prophetic dreams - lays down how his mummy can be revived. It only takes the sacrifice of three virgins…

And wouldn't you know it, Assad Bey and Zanufer are cultists out to revive Assad Bey's ancestor Amenhotep, so that he can punish those who steal and abuse Egyptian culture?

London's virgin population soon finds itself greatly threatened and Amenhotep's mummy (also Naschy, of course) is revived and "disappears" from the museum after unnecessarily crushing the skull of a poor watchman. Amenhotep turns out to be a talking member of the mummy species, so he explains the next step of his plans to Assad Bey and Zanufer himself. Before he will do anything else, the ex-pharaoh wants to revive his beloved Amarna - say what you will about him, but at least Amenhotep is devoted to the woman he loves. To that end, he needs another seven virgins. Poor virgins of London.

While the virgins are hunted down - I'd really love to know how our Egyptian friends manage to hone in on them so easily, they are not all brides just before the wedding night after all - London's police force is doing sod all. Fortunately, Professor Stone wants his mummy back, and even though he doesn't believe in walking mummies and curses, he does think Assad Bey and Zanufer are somehow involved in the disappearance of Amenhotep. Hopefully, he and Abigail can do something about it before all seven further virgins are bled dry. Obviously, Amenhotep has set eyes on Helen as the obvious choice for his new Amarna.

Everyone even slightly familiar with the body of work of Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy probably realizes that one of the ambitions of his life must have been to play the role of every classic (as in "featured in a classic Universal movie") movie monster at least once in his life. By 1973, there was only the mummy left, so a mummy Naschy became in a film directed by Carlos Aured, and of course written by himself.

For once, and very much to my surprise, Naschy doesn't write his character as a jerk the script insists is a tragic figure even though he clearly isn't. Amenhotep is an unrepentant bastard whose only positive character trait is his love for Amarna, but since Amarna is just as much of a monster as he is, this theoretically positive character trait is only cause for a lot of dead virgins and crushed heads. Of course, Naschy still can't help himself and includes a kissing scene between the mummy and Helen, but at least she's pretty much sleepwalking in that scene and it's important for the film's ending, so we don't necessarily have to read it as another one of Naschy's thousands of attempts to write all of his characters as sexually irresistible to all women they meet.

Naschy's other role as Assad Bey is a bit more complex. He's not a much more moral character than Amenhotep is, but his evil is of a more human dimension, infused with enough doubts to make him somewhat sympathetic without the film ever making the mistake of some of the Daninsky films of pretending he is the film's true hero. It's not too difficult to understand Bey's motivation - the slow bleeding out of his country's culture by western graverobbers with a more pleasant title - the problem lies with his methods. Insert my "what have these virgins ever done to you speech?" here.

There is a surprising amount of interesting and likeable detail in the film's script: there's the insinuation that Sir Carter's marriage with his Egyptian wife couldn't withstand the pressure that sort of thing would have had to survive in the Victorian era; the lovely way the American archaeologist couple does everything together, from archaeology to puzzling over mysteries Scotland Yard is too dumb to solve to breaking and entering, an idea of how couples are supposed to work together that is also darkly mirrored in Zanufer and Amenhotep and absolutely speaks to my romantic spirit; the way Zanufer changes her mind about her life's work once she realizes what a bad influence Amenhotep is on Assad Bey and learns to like Helen. It's all a bit deeper than you'd need things in what is at its core a simple monster romp to be, and makes the movie a much more interesting watch. The script is also more tightly constructed than many of Naschy's films are, with all appropriate transitional scenes there and accounted for, no important scene only talked about after the fact instead of shown, and character development that makes perfect sense in the world of pulp horror.

Carlos Aured's direction works well with this script. The film's detailed (how do I know the film is set in the Victorian era? Because there's a picture of Victoria hanging on the Inspector's wall) yet not exactly naturalistic sets and the handful of location shots seem deeply - and fittingly - influenced by early Universal horror, with a lot of fog and shadows whenever Amenhotep stalks his virginal prey but also with some minor, appreciable, gore effects like in the scene where Amenhotep decides that none of the seven virgins he, Assad Bey and Zanufer caught is pretty enough to host Amarna's soul to his satisfaction, and goes on to crush one virgin head after the other like a petulant child. One wouldn't call Aured's direction tight today, but there's a nice enough flow to the proceedings.

All in all, La Venganza De La Momia may be a relatively minor entry into Naschy's body of work, but it's also one of the man's films that is neither batshit insane nor slapdash mummery, and might make a good entry point for viewers looking to start with Naschy without wanting to go in at the deep end. It should be a fun time for anyone.

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