Dawn of the Mummy (1981) -**
It is a common and entirely understandable misconception that Dawn of the Mummy is an Italian film— a misconception I once harbored myself, as a matter of fact. After all, there are a tremendous number of Italian names listed in the crew credits, and Dawn of the Mummy has a feel to it that is almost identical to that of a typical Italian zombie movie. But the real situation is something much stranger. Dawn of the Mummy was made with money originating mostly in the United States by Cairo-based producer Frank Agrama for his recently formed Harmony Gold company. If you were an anime fan in the 1980’s, you almost certainly know Harmony Gold, along with the names of Frank Agrama and his brother, Ahmed. Most notably, they were the ones who brought “Super Dimension Fortress Macross,” “Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross,” and “Genesis Climber Mospeada” into the English-speaking world under the collective title, “Robotech.” Long before that, however, Agrama had been a fairly big wheel in the Egyptian movie industry (which, despite its obscurity in the West, is actually one of the oldest in the world), directing some 30 films and producing even more. And if his work in Dawn of the Mummy has a distinct Italian flavor, it is only to be expected, for it was always to Italy that Egyptian filmmakers had mainly looked for inspiration, going all the way back to the silent era. Unfortunately, the Italians whose output it most resembles are not Mario Bava or Agrama’s professed friend, Dario Argento, but rather those notorious nitwits, Bruno Mattei and Andrea Bianchi.
In one of the longest pre-credits sequences on record, Dawn of the Mummy begins in “Egypt, 3000 B.C.” A small village is raided and several of its youths enslaved by the Pharaoh Safiraman— who knew the pharaohs led slave-raids in person, or would content themselves to do so at the head of an “army” consisting of just three other guys? Flash forward then to the time of Safiraman’s burial. The high priestess (Laila Nasr) intones the usual bunch of shit about Osiris and the divinity of the departed king, and then places the usual curse over the mummy and its grave-goods: “If ever this tomb is disturbed, Safiraman will rise and kill. His armies will rise and kill.” Finally, she herds the six slaves who had been hauling around the pharaoh’s treasure into the burial chamber, which she then floods with poison gas.
Some five millennia later, the entrance to Safiraman’s tomb is dynamited open. These are not Egyptologists at work, but a ring of grave-robbers led by a bleached-blonde American named Rick (Barry Sattels). Just as Rick Dyejob and his fucktard native sidekicks, Karib (Ibrahim Khan) and Tariq (Ali Gohar)— henceforth known for simplicity’s sake as the al-Fuqtard Brothers— are making their plans for plundering the tomb (they’ll have to wait at least one full day, so as to allow the poison gas within it to dissipate), they are accosted by a crazy old hag from the nearest village who goes by the name of Zena. Zena spouts off madly about how Rick and his cohorts have desecrated a sacred site, and how any minute now, Safiraman an his armies of the dead will “rise and kill!” And considering that Zena is played by the same actress as the high priestess in the last scene, I’d say Rick and his boys would do well to listen to her. But of course they don’t, and neither do the trio of Bedouins who show up that night, sneak by the passed-out al-Fuqtard Brothers (kids, friends don’t let friends drink and guard ancient tombs), and get themselves killed by the face-melting gas with which the pharaoh’s grave was booby-trapped.
Meanwhile, back in New York, some fashion magazine or other is gearing up to send a photographer and a team of models over to its Egyptian correspondent, Hamid. Photographer Bill (Curse of the Puppet Master’s George Peck), makeup tech Jenny (Joan Levy), and models Lisa (Osa’s Brenda King), Melinda (Ellen Faison, from New York Nights and The Daughter: I, a Woman III), Joan (Dianne Beatty), and Gary (John Salvo) are to trek out to the environs of a village called Barqa, and put together a spread for the magazine’s next issue. Barqa, unsurprisingly, is the hamlet where Zena lives, and the part of the countryside where Bill plans on shooting is right down the hill from Safiraman’s tomb. The photo-shoot folks naturally cross paths with the grave-robbers, and when he gets a look inside the tomb, Bill knows that it is exactly what he needs to give his pictures some edge. Bill unaccountably bullies Rick into letting him set up in the tomb, and he and his team get to work.
Now I’ve seen a lot of stupid excuses for bringing the dead to life in cheap horror movies over the years, but Dawn of the Mummy has one I’ve honestly never encountered before. When Safiraman finally gets around to rising and killing, it isn’t the dynamiting of his burial chamber or even Karib al-Fuqtard’s slitting open of his wrappings to get at the pharaoh’s golden crook and flail that pushes him over the edge. (Although somebody— I’m guessing it’s supposed to be Zena— does kill Karib immediately thereafter and replace the pilfered artifacts.) Rather, what makes Safiraman sufficiently pissed off to get up out of his sarcophagus and kick some ass is the heat of the klieg lights Bill sets up in the burial chamber for the purpose of illuminating his models! Safiraman then summons his zombie slaves (all six of them) from their resting places in the surrounding desert (which is kind of strange, seeing as how they were all gassed to death right inside his tomb), and the seven undead proceed to… Well, honestly, they really don’t do much of anything. At least not for several days, at the end of which Safiraman drops in on Tariq al-Fuqtard at his butcher shop and kills him with a meat cleaver, while the zombies kill Melinda after she takes a swim by herself in the middle of the night at the oasis where she and her coworkers have made their camp. The real action begins a day or so later still, when the mummy and his minions (the numbers of which have inexplicably increased by at least an order of magnitude, although they all still manage to be played by the same six extras) waylay Rick, Bill, and Jenny in rapid succession, then head into Barqa to crash Omar the hash dealer’s wedding party. (Omar is played by Ahmed Rateb.) Gut-munching reigns supreme until Lisa, Joan, Hamid, and Gary think to try blowing Safiraman up with the grave-robbers’ remaining dynamite. It doesn’t kill the resurrected pharaoh, but it does at least prove fatal to the movie, which ends right as Safiraman’s hand reaches up out of a pile of rubble.
Dawn of the Mummy is not a film for the novice, let me tell you. Much as I’d like to say otherwise about what must surely be the world’s first (and maybe only) gore movie about a living mummy, Frank Agrama packed enough Deep Hurting into its 98 minutes to lay the casual viewer low for days at a stretch. The first 30 minutes and the final fifteen offer some flashes of entertainment value, what with the hilariously appalling acting of Barry Sattels, Laila Nasr, Ibrahim Khan, and Ali Gohar, and the rather enjoyable climactic zombie bloodbath, but that long stretch in the middle… ugh. The events beginning with the arrival of the models at Safiraman’s grave and leading up to the final outbreak of gory mayhem on Omar’s wedding night follow no apparent pattern. There seems to be no chain of causality linking the events of the film’s midsection, and most of those events would be deadly dull even if they did look to be adding up to anything that could justly be called a plot. When it’s just, “Ooh— it’s another photo shoot… Look! Now they’re going to the hash bar… Wait a minute— how come Omar wants Gary to be his best man?!” the result is a good 50 minutes during which it is next to impossible to keep your attention from roaming indiscriminately like the camel jockeys that can sometimes be seen wandering to and fro in the background. When that happens, I recommend you try to figure out the identities of the two corpses and one severed head that pop up at random moments during the course of the film, or why none of the characters seem to have any interest in getting to the bottom of that mystery themselves. Or possibly you could try to divine the reason for the grave-robbers’ disdain for any of Safiraman’s treasures other than those that are made of gold. You could also do what I did the first time I watched Dawn of the Mummy, and occupy yourself with the effort of getting it straight just which of the mostly interchangeable Americans matches each of the seldom-uttered names. Of course, the wisest course of action might be simply to forgo watching Dawn of the Mummy at all…