If you’re a child of the 1980s, you probably remember seeing the poster art for Dawn of the Mummy or one of its highly effective trailers. Like me, you may have thought to yourself, “Killer mummies and flesh-eating zombies in the same movie? I’m in!”
Well, I hope I’m not the first to burst your nostalgic bubble by telling you that Dawn of the Mummy is a steamy coil of cinematic boredom. Despite some choice scenes of zombie carnage at the end of the film, Dawn of the Mummy isn’t so much a movie as it is a chore.
Dawn of the Mummy opens in Egypt in 3000 BC (why is it always a round number?). In a loosely edited sequence, we infer that a great and evil Pharaoh has died. As his body is being prepared for burial, a strange woman oversees the proceedings and gives the requisite speech about a curse for all those who attempt to enter the tomb, blah, blah, blah. In addition to shoehorning the title of the movie into the dialogue, there’s also a zombie twist: should the Pharaoh be disturbed, he’ll rise with an army of corpses.
Fast forward to modern day (ie. 1981) where three grave robbers blow the ever-loving-shit out of the tomb to gain access to the creamy, delicious treasure inside — not unlike a Cadbury Cream Egg if instead of cream sugar it contained inexplicably poisonous green gas and zombie terror. After the tomb is opened, there are several scenes showing men entering the tomb only to have their faces melted off by an ancient gas. What has this to do with the plot. Oh, silly goose. That’s not the kind of question you ask about Dawn of the Mummy. You’re supposed to ask, “Why am I watching this?”
George Peck, who plays Rick the lead robber, chews up the scenery like a madman while boggling the camera with the largest pair of crazy-eyes I’ve ever seen. If Rick is to Fred of Scooby-Doo, then Karib (Ibrahim Khan) is the Shaggy of this grave-robbing mystery machine. Despite those wide, crazy eyes of his, Rick doesn’t foresee his plans going awry by putting the bumbling Karib on watch, but as luck should have it, a group of New York fashion models driving through the Egyptian desert stumble upon his little dig when Karib starts shooting at them. Running contrary to all grave-robber logic, Rick decides to let the models use the tomb as their new shooting location.
The desert’s a pretty remote place, and Rick would have no problem shooting these self-entitled New York fashionistas and hiding their bodies in the tomb, but he decides to let them shoot anyway so they’ll go the hell away and leave him to recover all the treasure. Or perhaps he’s hoping to make contacts in New York’s neckerchief fashion scene?
This cast of vapid young actors playing the models and photographers are so annoying and clearly marked as mummy food that they don’t command much need for description. Yet, as uninteresting as they may be, the movie’s explanation for why they and they alone cause the mummy to reanimate is a slice of low-budget, bone-headed nonsense. It’s the heat of the set lights that finally cause the mummy to wake. Despite the heat of the desert, the loud demolition of his tomb, and the tromping about of catty models and stuck-up photographers, like a photo-sensitive drunk stumbling towards the blinds on the morning of a tasty hangover, it’s the lights that gets the mummy moving.
As far as low-budget mummies go, this one doesn’t look too bad. With a clearly defined face wrinkled and coated in an inky black mess, the mummy looks appropriately sinister and aged. The zombie army that follows him, however, don’t look so professional. Yet, they are the subject of the film’s only great sequence: an indeterminate number of stiff, undead corpses rising up from beneath the Egyptian sand.
I’m starting to make this movie sound better than it is. Nothing can do justice to the sheer number of filler scenes and dead weight this movie carries around for the bulk of its running time. I even stopped trying to make fun of the movie because there was no way Dawn of the Mummy was going to turn out to be ‘so-bad-its-good’. It’s just bad. Soon things are going to get gory, but at this point we have to deal with boring scenes of models lazing around, going to the nearby town, and altogether contributing nothing to the story except by occasionally dieing and moving us slowly towards a lumbering conclusion.
You know those zombies you were waiting for? You know all that gut-munching and fleshy violence you’ve been anticipating? Well, it finally happens in the movie’s notorious climax when a mob of spry zombies stumble / run into town and begin to slaughter and eat anyone they can lay their dusty hands on.
There’s plenty of low-budget intestine-eating as the movie comes to a stop and basically forgets there’s even a mummy around. Like the best low-budget Italian zombie films, Dawn of the Mummy attempts to justify its lack of story, logic, and severe lack of production value and entertainment merit with buckets of stinky innards and goofy-faced zombies eager to chow down.
However, the zombie carnage erupts too late to save this rambling mess of a mummy movie. Everything comes to a close in the most predictable way possible. In the immortal words of Dr. Hebert, “Fire! And lots of it.” The mummy comes to an end by going up in flames as if it were dipped in all the oil of the Middle East. Yet, a defiant bandaged hand reaching up before the end credits roll hints at a sequel that never came to be.
Dawn of the Mummy is about an hour and twenty minutes of barren landscape you have to trudge through in order to reach a ten minute oasis of zombie goodness. And I use “goodness” in a relative sense; as in, it’s as good as cheap Italian cinema can offer.
Dawn of the Mummy can be found on DVD in North America courtesy of Madacy Entertainment. The picture quality is from a dubious VHS transfer with sketchy sound. As special features, the DVD includes a trailer for Road Ends and a director commentary that I can’t be bothered to listen to.