Mike Newell’s The Awakening is a mummy movie trying all the tricks to be a classic while being wedged uncomfortably between the post-Universal and Hammer films era and the campy adventure genre reimagining of the Fraser take. Like a dry desert heat, that can hard pill to swallow for a lot of horror fans. So, come take a look back with us while we peel the bandages off this film and see what’s inside The Awakening which turns 40 on Halloween, 2020.
An archeologist discovers his daughter is possessed by the spirit of an Egyptian queen. To save mankind, he must destroy her.
Classic mummy movies have always had a tough go in the modern horror genre because they are tied to a now largely uninteresting and sometimes silly mystical premise. It took me quite a while in my exploration of horror to get to the mummy subgenre, and even longer before I began to finally appreciate it.
The Awakening is a modern take on the book, The Jewel of the Seven Stars, penned by none other than Bram Stoker, the creator of the world’s most famous vampire, Count Dracula. Stoker’s love of Egypt shines through in the countless factual details found in the book, and The Awakening does it justice with an on location shooting that is so lacking in modern cinema today.
Director Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 2005) did an amazing job capturing Egypt in all its cinematic glory. From grand landscapes in the Valley of the Kings where the tombs are located to subtle shots where an open window is all that is needed to remind us that we are in an exotic, faraway land, the tone of the film is consistently visually breathtaking.
The Awakening does have its drawbacks when it comes to pacing as it tends to be sluggish at times and suffers the inevitable comparisons to The Exorcist (1973) which had been released to critical acclaim just a few years prior. The one thing The Awakening does that I wished The Exorcist did do was spend the appropriate amount of time in the beginning in Egypt. I always wanted to dig around a bit more in Iraq at the beginning of William Friedkin’s epic and have always felt a little cheated as the beginning was some of its most interesting moments. So, points awarded to The Awakening.
The iconic Charlton Heston (Ben-Hur 1959, The Ten Commandments 1956, Soylent Green 1973) plays the archeologist Matthew Corbeck who is obsessed with finding a long lost Egyptian queen… to the point where he is obsessed like a drug addict. Heston’s character leaves his wife, who is going into labor 2 months early, to continue his frantic search for the mummy queen’s tomb.
Dr. Corbeck’s discovery of the tomb is intercut with scenes of the temporary stillbirth of his daughter, Margaret (later played by Stephanie Zimbalist (Steele TV series), while the overlapping audio suggests the two scenarios in tandem are more than just a coincidence. Now, Queen Tera will stop at nothing free herself from her prison of death.[asd2]
Personally, I really enjoy this film. I love pretty much anything horror-related that was made in the ’70s and ’80s. That, combined with the fact that I love the mummy subgenre and ancient Egyptian history, makes this film doubly satisfying. I was surprised to learn while researching for this article exactly how enamored Bram Stoker was with Egyptian culture and history. The Queen Tera character was based on Queen Hatshepsut who has a fascinating history of her own. I would suggest that anyone interested read up on her history. I’ll even leave a link to a fun little video here.
All in all, The Awakening falls into the same category that all pre-Brendan Fraser Mummy franchise films do. If you love mummy films and everything ancient Egypt-related, then this is definitely one to check off your list. But if slower paced films with lots of dialogue about old Egyptian mysticism isn’t your bag, I would steer clear and maybe just give The Exorcist a solid re-watch.
Have a safe and Happy Halloween, and as always…