DECEMBER 22 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE AWAKENING
Charlton Heston was one hunky piece of bare-chested American made ape flesh. That he was a lanky, square-jawed, pillar of machismo may explain his appeal to some extent but if we are being honest his fame was built on sweaty pecs. In fact if one considers just 2 of his 127 credits “Ben Hur” and “Planet of the Apes” his bare torso screen time still eclipses the shirtless tally of the collective filmographies of all the actors in “The Expendables”. In 1980 Chuck Heston was approaching the tail end of a leading man run that lasted the better part of 30 years and included turns as John the Baptist, Moses, and the unforgettable Whip Hoxworth. At 57, it seemed unlikely that old Judah Ben-Hur would again be called onto unveil his swarthy breastplate to the world, but fans who admire the man’s oiled up skin were in for one more treat.
“The Awakening” sees Heston playing determined Egyptologist Matthew Corbeck, an academic cum treasure hunter who is looking for the lost tomb of an obscure and reputedly evil Egyptian queen. His pregnant wife Anne is begrudgingly whiling away her days in a not-so nearby villa as Matt scours the countryside side for Queen Kara’s tomb with his almost attractive assistant Jane Turner. Eventually Corbeck and his crew unearth Kara’s tomb. Simultaneous to this event a nearly comatose Anne miscarries in a Cairo hospital. Unbeknownst to Matt, moments after his baby is pronounced dead, he pops the cork on Kara’s sarcophagus and many miles away the deceased baby Margaret is miraculously restored to life. When Anne discovers that Matt returned to the dig as she lay catatonic in her hospital bed she leaves with Margaret for the U.S.
Eighteen years go by and through some shady dealings Matt manages to get Kara’s mummified corpse out of Egypt and back to his stomping ground in London. He also manages to get his daughter, theretofore sequestered by her spiteful mother, to visit him in London town. Margaret is bitten by the same bug that her dad is, namely the prophecy of Kara’s second coming. Together they decide to go and see Kara’s tomb in Egypt. While there they discover the previously missing canopic jars (urns containing Kara’s vital organs). Now completely obsessed with The Queen’s resurrection, Matt and Margaret smuggle the jars back to England so that they might complete a ritual and bring the cruel queen back from the beyond. Needless to say things go pear-shaped pretty quickly.
This movie is not quite the lost treasure that I remember it being. Thirty years have not been kind to the pacing and some of the acting, especially Stephanie Zimbalist as Margaret is too Shatner-esque. The latter accusation is interesting considering that it is Chuck Heston and Bill Shatner that seem to share the slack-in-tow-line style of dramatic interpretation. Not to worry Big Charlton has his fair share of performance potholes. Of course you may not notice if you are a fan of wet, bristly man-busts. I would guesstimate that our leading man goes without a shirt or at least unbuttoned for something like 25% of the film; no small feat for an HGH-less beefcake pushing 60. No small feat for any viewer that is not partial to the old ‘otter’ look being offered up here.
If it seems like I am spending an inordinate amount of time on the old man’s lack of wardrobe it is because at its core “The Awakening” is not that interesting. Even less so when one considers that the formula is exactly the same as Hammer’s delightful 1971 cleavage fest “Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb” with Heston’s hirsute bosom standing in for Valerie Leon’s huuuge…tracts of land.
The film does have some nice moments and technically speaking the sound design is really well done. I also appreciate director Mike Newell’s willingness to take more than an informational approach to the locations by lingering on landscapes, allowing the dusty Egyptian vistas to come to life and involve the viewer with a sense of place. As far as the horror elements go, the miscarriage/ dead baby sequence is truly chilling. Beyond that a couple of inventive kills dot a map of non-magnetic drama.
In the final analysis, the other adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Jewel of the 7 Stars” that being the aforementioned “Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb” is so much more fun than this film. The drag in the narrative, the awkward performances and the relative lack of action throughout relegate it to the realm of utterly forgettable. This may be a surprise to some viewers coming from a director like Newell who has made some memorable films like “Donnie Brasco” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. But a closer look at his filmography and it becomes clear that even Newell can find it hard to manage elements (“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”). Do yourself a favor skip “The Awakening” and check out Valerie Leon’s incredible body…of acting talent. Or if you are really thirsting for some Heston go back to 1958’s “Touch of Evil” or 1982’s “Mother Lode”
DECEMBER 22 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE AWAKENING
I DON'T know how many times the movies have had to teach this valuable lesson: don't go rummaging in the tombs of malevolent dictators who would just as soon stay dead. These people have a way of coming back and making trouble. Nevertheless, ''The Awakening'' is a spooky, skilfully made horror film about archeologists who uncover the inscription ''Do Not Approach the Nameless One Lest Your Soul Be Withered'' and still keep on digging. There are withered souls before the adventure is over, and yours may be among them. ''The Awakening'' will give you a good scare.
It can't be said that a film that casts Charlton Heston in the role of an Englishman has gotten off on the right foot. But ''The Awakening'' is eerie enough to take the humor right out of lines like ''Fungus! Aerobic action! Viral Contamination!,'' which Mr. Heston delivers in his capacity as Matthew Corbeck, a British Egyptologist. Mr. Heston struggles hard perfecting his accent, though American audiences might find him miscast even if he sounded like Winston Churchill. (He doesn't.) In any case, Mr. Heston does well enough so that it's possible to forget he is Mr. Heston.
As the movie begins, Corbeck is at work uncovering the tomb of Queen Kara, a project with which he has become obsessed. He and his kittenish assistant, played by Susannah York, have been ignoring his pregnant wife, played by Jill Townsend. And the wife goes into premature labor just as the reluctant Kara is coaxed out of her grave.
The movie's director, Mike Newell, intersperses tomb-opening footage with shots of Corbeck's wife doubling over in agony, and each blow to the door of the tomb is accompanied by a loud, terrifying noise that seems to strike directly at the pregnant wife. Mr. Newell's tactic, here and throughout the movie, is to develop the horror indirectly, by suggestion and association, leaving most of it to the viewer's imagination. Sometimes ''The Awakening'' intimates a danger that never materializes, and sometimes it doesn't quite make sense. But for the most part the movie pays off.
''The Awakening,'' which opens today at the Gemini, the Cinerama and other theaters, is based upon Bram Stoker's novel ''The Jewel of Seven Stars,'' a novel that, like Mr. Stoker's ''Dracula,'' involves a father's efforts to save his daughter from a supernatural figure determined to possess her. In this case, 18 years after the discovery of the tomb, Corbeck must make sure his daughter Margaret, played by Stephanie Zimbalist, is not taken over by Kara's spirit. It seems that Kara seduced and destroyed her own father. If you're one smidgen smarter than the principals, you may realize Corbeck would be wise to stay out of Margaret's way.
Mr. Newell's direction of ''The Awakening'' recalls the first portion of ''The Exorcist,'' with its emphasis on finding scientific proof for events that are unexplainable, and its cool, reasonably classy method of keeping the audience mystified and nervous. To his credit, Mr. Newell keeps a tight rein on the scariest effects, saving them for just the right moments and building to an ending that, in view of the way such movies almost inevitably end, is a surprise. The movie has a slow middle, but by the last moments it has more than rallied.
Much of the action has an Egyptian setting, and the scenery, not surprisingly, is beautiful. The actors are convincingly frightened and baffled. Miss Zimbalist's increasing creepiness is more a matter of makeup than of attitude, but she fares nicely in lighter, funnier scenes. Near the end of the story, when it's clear something about her is amiss, she visits the obligatory psychiatrist, declaring ''I don't feel like me anymore.'' Bah, he tells her. We all feel that way sometimes. Well, she certainly shows him a thing or two!
THE AWAKENING, directed by Mike Newell; screenplay by Allan Scott, Chris Bryant and Clive Exton; based on the ''The Jewel of Seven Stars'' by Bram Stoker; director of photography, Jack Cardiff; film editor, Terry Rawlings; music by Claude Bolling; produced by Robert Solo; released by Orion Pictures. At the Gemini Twin, R.K.O. 86th Street and Cinerama theaters. Running time: 100 minutes. This film is rated R.
DECEMBER 22 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE AWAKENING
There is something undeniably spooky about walking into an enclosed tomb that has housed dead people for centuries. Around every corner, you expect a disembodied hand to reach out and grab you by the throat. And the subtle sounds from deep within the rock are enough to make you imagine all the horrors of hell awaiting you, if you dare to touch something you shouldn’t. Is it any wonder that I have bad horror movies on the mind while I tour Egypt?
The Awakening (1980) is another schlocky horror movie about Egypt, based very loosely (and I do mean, very loosely) on Bram Stoker’s novel The Jewel of the Seven Stars. English archaeologist Matthew Corbeck (Charlton Heston) undertakes an expedition to find the forgotten tomb (don’t they all?) of the Egyptian princess Kara, despite the rumor of the awful, hideous, terrible, miserable, spooky curse to befall anyone who disturbs the tomb. Eighteen years later, his daughter Margaret (Stephanie Zimbalist), who was born at the very moment of the tomb's opening, begins to behave very oddly. Could it be that the spirit of Kara now possesses Margaret? Or has Margaret just arrived at that very cranky time of the month?
In 1976, The Omen was a big hit, so Warner Brothers jumped on that bandwagon and tried to create their own big budget horror hit. But The Omen was kinda, sorta good, while this movie is not. It’s a good looking movie, shot on location in Egypt, but you can feel your I.Q. plummeting with each passing minute. First of all, it’s odd that an ancient princess would bother with a lowly archaeologist, even if he did disturb her eternal rest. I mean, couldn’t she have found a crown prince or at the very least a young, strapping fortune hunter to bedevil instead? Why did it have to be Charlton Heston? If that weren’t bad enough, Zimbalist, once possessed, starts looking at daddy with something more than daughterly love. Ewwww.
This movie’s idea of riveting suspense is to have Heston rambling on and on in his stentorian tones about the history of the tomb. Zimbalist then seems to roll her eyes back into her head, and I couldn’t tell if she was suddenly beset by a princess possession or merely bored into a coma. The movie does have a few effective, grisly deaths, but even here the details aren’t quite right. A woman gets punctured by a huge piece of glass, first seen as the sharp pointy edge enters her torso. In the very next shot, the sharp pointy edge is sticking out of her torso, as if suggesting to the idiots watching the movie that, indeed, that must have hurt like hell. Funny, I thought her screams of agony did that.
- by Jonathan Lewis