Saturday, February 09, 2019

Pharaoh’s Curse – review

Director: Lee Sholem

Release date: 1957

Contains spoilers

I stumbled across a poster for this film, which led to a description (and a mention of blood drinking) and then tracking the film on Daily Motion. It is a film very much of its time, a real Boys Own adventure, a cast taking things seriously (which works well juxtaposed against the hokum and the comedy character).

It is an Egyptology based film but it isn’t a mummy movie – not really and… well lets get into the supernatural element later and start with a couple of beat up soldiers…

Captain Storm and the Sergeants
The film starts with a report being passed to Col Cross (Ralph Clanton). The soldiers (or one of them, the other has had his tongue cut out) report that their encampment has been overrun and the other soldiers massacred. This is the British army, in Egypt in around 1902, and they are facing resistance. The whole scene is to give us a context only and ends with a rock through a window and Cross having the soldiers sent to hospital. He calls for Capt. Storm (Mark Dana). There is an unauthorised expedition looking for a tomb, so Storm and two men are to go and bring them back. They are to take the wife, Sylvia (Diane Brewster), of expedition leader Robert Quentin (George N. Neise) with them.

Sylvia and Storm flirt
The film harks back to earlier cinema in that it maintains the need to have a comic relief character. This is in the form of Sgt Smolett (Terence de Marney, Beast of Morocco) who often bitches about his wife (and how he’ll trade his stripes, on discharge, for the Foreign Legion just to avoid her) to his straight man foil Sgt Gromley (Richard Peel, Munster, Go Home!). It is Smolett that also seems inept as they journey. That journey is the long route round to avoid trouble. As they camp at night (and after a quick flirt between Storm and Sylvia) a figure walks into camp.

Ziva Rodann as Simira
She is Simira (Ziva Rodann) and they quickly establish that she too is looking for the expedition as her brother, Numar (Alvaro Guillot), is with them (and she must get there before it is too late). After Storm refuses her quick route she vanishes in the night as does their pack horse and food. They find her again later and then they run out of water. Eventually, after Sylvia is stung by a scorpion and Storm saves her life, he agrees to take a quick route but, when at the tomb site, Simira intones that they are too late.

Numar collapses
Down in the tomb they have found a sarcophagus (though not the royal burial chamber). It is opened and Quentin orders the wrapping of the mummy be removed. As it is cut into Numar grabs his face and collapses. At first they think it is something or nothing but, back at camp, suddenly he appears to be aging rapidly (no one comments on the fact that Simira seems unmoved by her brother’s plight). Worse still, the mummy has vanished and there are new cat-like tracks in the chamber.

A handy cartouche informs them that the sarcophagus contained the high priest who killed himself so as to guard the king’s tomb. They find out later that the curse will have him possess someone (Numar) and gain strength through blood. The first victim is one of the horses and Numar is shot at as he escapes from the scene into the tomb. After that, however, it is Sgt Gromley who is drained – the vein that is tapped collapsed through the pressure of removing his blood.

left with an arm
Numar, however, is also not doing so good. Impervious to bullets, Storm does manage to grab his arm and pull it off. The flesh is dried and disintegrating – the blood is keeping him going and his flesh will crumble if he doesn't ingest the red stuff. This would sound like a vampiric possession however the film changes tack later. It is suggested that rather than possessed, he is the reincarnation of the High Priest who accompanied the expedition to protect the tomb as tasked through the eons. Where the mummy went is not answered (perhaps it simply crumbled to dust). It is also implied that Simira is the reincarnation of the Goddess Bast (she wears a Bast medallion) and can change into a cat creature – we don’t see anything bar a shadow and wicked scratches down the face one of the expedition.

the vampire
The film is fun – its budget, it isn’t earth shattering but Storm is all jolly hockey sticks, Sylvia is played quite nobly – revealing her reason for travelling to her husband was to tell him face to face that their marriage was over. Ziva Rodann manages to make Simira smoulder even though her default is to stand stoically and say very little. I liked the idea of the vampiric guard and, whether possession or his soul's vampiric nature activating, it was a neat idea even if he was a tad too shuffling to be sinister – his victims made up for it by standing petrified rather than lightly jogging out of the way. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

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