Chuck Heston versus a mummy? He should certainly outgun any ancient Egyptian menace. Yet the movie is more of a possession one than the traditional mummy flick. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have something to offer.
Archeologist Matthew Corbeck (Charlton Heston) is obsessed with finding the lost tomb of Queen Kara. So much so that he is neglecting his very pregnant wife Anne (Jill Townsend) and spending much time in the desert with his assistant Jane (Susannah York). When he does discover the tomb he hammers away on the entrance with a sledgehammer. Each blow causes Anne to have violent contractions.
After getting the comatose Anne to the hospital, Matthew can’t help but go back to the dig. As he further explores the tomb, Anne begins to give birth but the child is stillborn.
Just as Matthew opens the sarcophagus, the dead child breathes again. Cut forward 18 years, Matthew is divorced from Anne, married to Jane, and gets an unexpected visit from his daughter Margaret (Stephanie Zimbalist). He takes her back to Egypt to visit the tomb and her destiny as a vessel of Queen Kara begins.
The Awakening (1980) is based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel Jewel of Seven Stars (1903) and is the feature debut of director Mike Newell and early work from Zimbalist. She does look rather fetching, but more in the early scenes than when she’s forced to snarl after being possessed.
However, the real star of the film is Charlton Heston and we spend much of the narrative with him more than his daughter. Those expecting the traditional mummy film will come away disappointed.
This film may owe more to the Omen (1976) than to those old Universal movies. The Omen did feature an old school Hollywood lead, a mystery (that might not be so mysterious – we know the characters are under the influence of evil), nice scenery, and our heroes don’t walk away from their experience unscathed.
The Omen did feature a series of creative kills that the Awakening seems to lack. On the good side, the acting of the Awakening is top notch. Heston is his solid self and he’s given ample support from his costars. I do wish there had been a bit more development on Margaret, but Heston was the marquee name.
The Awakening also features some excellent cinematography by the legendary Jack Cardiff and may be the first mummy movie to actually be shot in Egypt and not some backlot. Not that there’s ever a shambling mummy to see. The plot is a bit of a slow burn and will be much too slow for modern eyes.
The Awakening is presented in widescreen (1.85:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 televisions. There are no special features, there’s barely even a menu. Play is your only selection.
The Awakening has some good points, but a traditional mummy movie it is not. Heston fans will be delighted but those expecting a stuntman in bandages may come away disappointed. Fans of the film will be happy that the film was released from the tomb by the Warner Archives.
The Awakening can be purchased at the Warner Archive Collection.