Dawn of the Mummy
U.S.A. / 1981
Directed by Farouk ("Frank") Agrama
Starring
Brenda King
George Peck
Joan Levy
Color / 97 Minutes / R
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Madacy Home Video
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
3
    4   10 = Highest Rating  
I can see why this low budget gut-muncher has sometimes been mistaken for a film in the Italian zombie-cannibal cycle of the late 1970s-early '80s. In tone and spirit it's very similar to such fare. But though the director of photography and gore effects supervisor were indeed Italian, Dawn of the Mummy was financed with American money, stars (mostly) American actors and was directed by "Frank" (Farouk) Agrama, an Egyptian immigrant who graduated from UCLA. Whatever merits he may have possessed as a filmmaker (and the subject of this review isn't exactly a masterpiece), Agrama was a fortuitous choice to helm a project lensed almost entirely on location in Egypt... Since most of the crew was hired locally, he could at least order them around in their native tongue.
    Virtually every mummy movie made revolves around the same theme: an ancient tomb is defiled, whether for archeological knowledge or greed, and the undead occupant shambles forth to destroy the violators.
Dawn of the Mummy is no exception. Instead of Kharis or Im-ho-tep, the monster here is named Safirman apparently some kind of fearsome warlord before he died. He's shown being embalmed and interred in a pre-titles prologue, set in 3000 BC, complete with high priestess placing a curse on his sealed, treasure-laden tomb. Should anyone enter to steal the gold, Safirman is pledged to "rise and kill." He won't be all by his lonesome, either. His guards and retainers, buried alive with him, will also return to life to serve their master.
    Enter a trio of modern day fortune hunters, led by an excitable American named Bill (George Peck, who resembles Owen Wilson without the funny-looking nose). They break into Safirman's tomb but can't immediately locate the hidden treasure. One of the men, dimwitted Karib (Ibrahim Khan), is severely spooked by the legends surrounding the place but Bill holds him in check with his wild-eyed enthusiasm for gold. Their search is interrupted, however, by the arrival of a group of Americans out on a fashion shoot in the Egyptian desert. These New York fashionistas three female models, a male model, a makeup/wardrobe assistant and the photographer make camp at a nearby oasis. Bill and his cohorts can't easily brush them off so they let them use the tomb as a backdrop without telling them about the treasure.
    Unfortunately this rather modest setup takes nearly 40 minutes to transpire. Though the curse is supposed to kick in as soon as the mummy's tomb is unsealed, it takes the heat from the photographer's portable lights to truly activate him. Once Safirman gets his lazy ass in gear, his "army" of soldiers all six of 'em rise up from the desert sands with the breaking of dawn, like zombies emerging from the grave. (This is actually an effective sequence, despite the fact that Safirman's servants were buried inside the tomb with him.) Things pick up considerably now, as the mummy starts knocking off models and treasure hunters one by one. Ultimately, the rather contrived and episodic proceedings culminate in a surprisingly gory flesh-munching frenzy as Safirman and his living dead acolytes attack a wedding party in a nearby town. The mummy's soldiers, you see, devour the people they kill just like the zombies in those Romero-inspired Italian flicks.
    While the makeup and gore effects are better than expected (the look of the reanimated Safirman is reminiscent of Christopher Lee's portrayal in 1959's The Mummy), just about everything else in the film is a disaster. Fortunately, some of this nonsense is unintentionally funny. The acting is especially abominable. Top (or should I say bottom) honors in that department go to Peck (Curse of the Puppetmaster) as Tomb Raider Bill. His hammy, over-the-top mugging is a thing to behold. Other sources of amusement include a handful of white mice being tossed onto an actor from off-camera they're supposed to be rats and a severed head that inexplicably drops from the ceiling. (How'd it get there?) Also inexplicable is the ability of Safirman and his legion of zombies to get from the tomb to the oasis and the town (and sometimes back again) on foot, faster than the characters riding horses and driving jeeps. (Hey, wait a minute... nobody said nuthin' bout no teleportin'!)
    Despite a few chuckles, though, there are just no two ways about it: Dawn of the Mummy is a really crappy movie. But if you've the capacity to laugh at atrocious acting and enjoy a bit of gore (of the innard-pulling variety) and you possess a certain degree of patience it might prove an agreeable time-waster... On second thought, probably not. None of the women get naked. Better to watch Fulci's Zombie again for umpteenth time.

This is the Region 1 DVD of Dawn of the Mummy released by Madacy, a company specializing in generally poor-to-mediocre transfers of public domain titles. The disc at hand is obviously a VHS dupe (probably bootlegged) tracking lines are visible for a minute or so during a desert driving scene about 12 minutes into of the film. Night sequences are much too dark and some daylight scenes are washed out; there's quite a bit of grain, too.Basically, the fullframe transfer leans to the crummy side but is tolerable given the disc's fire-sale price. (It can be purchased at retail chains like Best Buy for $6.) The same can be said of the audio, which exhibits omnipresent tape hiss and occasional moments of scratchiness.
    The packaging text tells some bald-faced lies about the extras included. It lists "Theatrical Trailer" and "Other Theatrical Trailers", although there's actually only one on the disc (and not for the main feature): Road Ends, a 1997 direct-to-video action thriller which shows just where actors like Peter Coyote, Dennis Hopper and Chris Sarandon disappeared to in the last few years. (I would have much rather seen the Dawn of the Mummy promo instead.) Surprising for a Madacy DVD, this one comes with a full-fledged audio commentary by director Agrama, moderated by actor-entrepreneur Del Howison (Renfield in The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula). I don't think it was recorded for this particular release, so it must have been "ported" (i.e., stolen) from another source. (Anchor Bay issued a Region 2 version in Europe but I'm not familiar with the contents.) It's an amiable Q & A session that imparts genuinely interesting factoids about the production, with major emphasis on the shooting conditions while on location in Egypt.
2/09/04

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