FEBRUARY 25, 2012
At the time of Universal's big budget, largely horror-free version of The Mummy in 1999, there were other projects in development that would be more up our alley, including one from Clive Barker. Instead of that, we got Tale Of The Mummy, a Dimension/Miramax production directed by Highlander's Russell Mulcahy, which I find interesting since the Dimension-ized Highlander sequels were the ones he wasn't involved with. Over the years I hadn't heard many positive remarks about the film, and I had sort of forgotten about it until I got sent the new Blu-ray to review.
Well I'll be damned - it's actually pretty fun. Coming in at the standard Dimension length of 88 minutes, the action never stops for too long, and I usually enjoy the "bad guy takes particular body parts from victims in order to recreate someone/something" plot that this follows, as our "resurrected" mummy (named Talos) needs the organs from folks who were reincarnated from his body over the years (luckily, they're all in London!). In a fun twist, not everyone is reincarnated as a human, giving the film one of horror's few (relatively) justified dog killings. Oddly, Mulcahy's next film also had one of these plots; the Seven ripoff Resurrection had a guy putting body parts together to make Christ.
It's also chock full of familiar faces of every variety, making it more interesting in this department than it was at the time. You get a few genre vets (Christopher Lee, Shelly Duvall) mixed with fun character actors like Jon Polito, Michael Lerner, and Sean Pertwee, and even a bona fide Bond legend (Honor Blackman). But there are also early turns by Gerard Butler and Jack Davenport (watch Smash, by the way! It's pretty damn good.), which turned out to be beneficial for the former, as it's probably how he secured the title role in Dimension's Dracula 2000. All of this helps make up for the unfortunate fact that the two leads are the dullest in the cast; Louise Lombard is nice enough to look at but has very little presence (very much a "Wes Craven presents" kind of heroine), and Jason Scott Lee has a very limited range which is not utilized here - he doesn't fight anyone! Instead he just delivers lots of exposition and even engages in the most out of nowhere romantic subplot I've seen in a while. Can't help but wonder how much more interesting this stuff would have been if he and Davenport switched roles, especially since the movie never bothers to take advantage of Lee's considerable prowess as an ass-kicker.
But again, it moves along nicely, so it's not too big of a deal. Davenport and Lee are the cops trying to figure out who is behind these killings in which organs are removed, giving the film a sort of serial killer vibe in the early scenes, albeit one with big cheesy FX scenes, which are hit and miss in terms of how good they look. Some probably looked terrible even back when the movie was first released (particularly Talos' final form, which is pure PS1 cut-scene style), but others are pretty good and unique - anyone who was ever disappointed with the lack of a "bandage" Mummy in the original Universal film or whatever will be happy to know that the wraps play an important part in many of the kill scenes, wrapping around folks or acting like tentacles. Kind of goofy, sure, but I can't recall seeing that in any other Mummy film (can anyone correct me?). And there's a practical half-formed Mummy in the 3rd act that looks pretty awesome, so there's something.
Mulcahy also tones down his usual music video style, which was a relief as it can get a bit tiresome (not to mention help date his films). He still tosses in some lens flare and flash, but nowhere near as excessive as in Resurrection or the Highlanders. He also gets good mileage out of the London setting, which sticks out in particular nowadays after seeing the terrible London sequence in the 2nd Mummy film, a scene that probably cost more than this entire film. The opening flashback sequence (featuring Lee) is also fun as it recalls the older films (desert, archaeological digs, etc), paying homage to their predecessors before modernizing it, something that the Brendan Fraser films also lacked as those retained the 1920s period. In a way it's kind of like Dracula 2000 in that regard, although in some ways more successful since it lacks that movie's goofy "Judas" twist and excessive plugs for Virgin Megastore (also, no pop stars in this one).
Back to the 88 minute runtime for a second - as is customary for a Dimension film, there is a longer cut out there that runs 20-25 minutes longer. Movie Censorship has a pretty detailed account of the cut stuff, which is mostly character-based (shocking, I know), including a lot of potentially fun banter between Lee and Davenport and a scene or two that would have softened the randomness of Lee and Lombard's romance. Some of the mystery involving what Talos was up to also would have been a little more clear with this information, though it's hardly an incoherent mess like Halloween 6 or other movies that Dimension hacked to pieces.
Sadly, nothing on the site suggests that the ending was fleshed out any more in the longer cut, which is a surprise since I was pretty convinced it was reworked, given how confusing it is. I honestly have no idea what happens in the last 2-3 minutes in the movie; I THINK we find out that one character was working with Talos all along, and Lee was one of the unknowing organ holders all along, but it's very clunky at best (and there's no real fight against Talos either). It doesn't help that the sound mix is pretty far from demo quality; the action scenes were too loud and the dialogue too low at my normal volume setting (and no subtitles are available). Picture quality was better than I've seen on other Echo Bridge blu-rays, however (and at the right 2.35:1 aspect ratio, woo!). They even made a menu and included the trailer, so maybe they took the criticism of their first batch of high def releases to heart.
As I said on Twitter, it's not a movie you need to hunt down or move to the top of your queue, but in the realm of DTV Dimension releases, it's a lot more enjoyable and "classy" than anyone could have expected, and again it's fun to see such an eclectic cast (almost every person in the movie is recognizable). I'll take it over either of the modern Mummy sequels, that's for sure (haven't watched the original in a decade but I recall it being a pretty fun Indiana Jones style adventure, plus a very fetching Rachel Weisz before she turned into a "serious", joyless actress).
What say you?