Horror Bites - Guess Who's Back?


Part of the Great Cinematic Catharsis Hammer-Amicus Blogathon

There are certain Hammer horror films that I tend to forget about over time, and then every so often they come to mind and I think hey, I'll give that another go. With a title as evocative as this how could you not? Well unfortunately this is another case of the name being better than the movie, in the same way the names of their Dracula and Frankenstein sequels got more catchy as the films got worse. It shouldn't be the case since like their other Mummy features this isn't part of a continuing narrative at all. It's not borrowing from the Universal series either this time. But despite it featuring familiar faces such as Andrew Keir and having a plot taken from a Bram Stoker story, things never really work the way they should. Let's take a peek inside the burial chamber and see what sort of rot lies in wait...

The opening isn't too bad, but there are warning signs along the way that a few faults may start to develop. After a star field sequence in the credits that looks like something from a science fiction B-movie we're eventually shown a scene in ancient Egypt. Here a group of priests bury evil Queen Tera, and for some reason or another (probably budgetary ones) the ceremony involves her being left without the usual bandages. Instead they simply pour a mystery liquid up her nose and then chop one of her hands off. That old chestnut. The set and the costumes are pretty good, but there are no elaborate make-up jobs to be found here, and no intricate mummification appliances. In a film with a mummy title it's a bad omen.

Despite this lack of wrapping Tera doesn't even decay over the centuries. Nobody spent any time making the title character look grotesque or intimidating in any way, even for a brief first act sequence. I know it's the '70s and their leading lady has to be shown (in some ways that are sleazier than others) but ultimately it just comes off as cheap. The rest of the opening shock sequence is kind of laughable as Tera's severed hand is thrown to a pack of wild dogs until it starts crawling about by itself, and then a supernatural sandstorm kills all the priests by... slashing their throats? Your guess is as good as mine. A lot of people end up dying with this same sort of injury as things go on, maybe it's symbolic. Maybe they just wanted some extra gore in the movie whether it made sense or not.

This whole intro is then revealed to be the nightmare of Margaret (Valerie Leon) whose father Julian (Andrew Keir) led a team to very same tomb just before she was born. It's also her birthday in a few days. In fact Margaret's birth was moments after they found the sarcophagus and read Tera's name from a ring on that same severed hand. What a coincidence! Of course this is yet another story about life, death, and reincarnation, so you can imagine what is going to happen next. To cheer her up dear old dad gives Margaret a present for the big day... and it's the same ring from the tomb. He doesn't bother telling her about the expedition or that whole bleeding wrist stump escapade, but I suppose that's probably for the best.

The problem is that this priceless relic just looks like a gawdy piece of tat. Like a lump of red plastic or a huge boiled sweet. Again this comes off as really cheap (in terms of the production as well as her father's birthday planning skills). Margaret seems pretty happy anyway and she doesn't mind when dad tells her never to take off this huge impractical rock. People keep saying how beautiful it looks which makes the whole thing even funnier. The low budget also strikes again when ancient powers start to surface in Margaret, and the Egyptologists who have all the other artefacts from the excavation start to die. It's an interesting idea to have urns that look like a cobra and a jackal causing violence to people that resembles an animal attack, but the execution is shoddy and it lacks both the tension and the quality needed to make it all effective.

It's frustrating because there are some reasonably good ideas here, but they're are either too vague or too poorly implemented. The stars aligning, the doomed grave robbers, the spirit of an ancient ruler finding a living host -- it's pretty basic stuff. But most of the time this is just a slog. The original story had the ring itself as the key to Tera's return, but here Margaret is wearing it the whole time. It's unclear how that will help her (if it even can) and why some of the team members are trying to aide the still slumbering queen. Others seem to have new lives, and others have lost their minds, so the effect of any curse is unclear. Meanwhile the central mystery is too transparent since we know Margaret looks exactly like Tera's perfectly preserved face, and there's not enough atmosphere or shock value elsewhere to carry the narrative. Maybe it's because so much of it is just set in a her father's basement.

Elsewhere they've simply given up trying to adapt the source material and instead focused on showing Margaret/Tera in a series of revealing outfits. Having Valerie Leon eating bananas and strolling about in the moonlight wearing nothing but the Jewel of the Seven Stars might have been a thing they thought would fly when she was in the Carry On series, but it's a bit distracting and classless here. Purely as a horror movie this is all far too meandering and often rather unconvincing, without the creeping dread you'd want from a resurrection plot or the sort of Hammer glamour you'd expect from the studio if this was a period piece. There's a nice ending at least where they finally use some bandages to bookend the whole thing, but it's just not enough and in the end this feels too dry and dessicated even for this genre.



This isn't an Amicus film, but it does mark the first collaboration between producers Subotsky and Rosenberg so it can probably be considered a first step along that twisted road . It does feature Christopher Lee after all, and his presence always adds gravitas even if his American accent is a bit shaky at times. All of the British actors do their best but it's always a little wobbly. However I digress, let's not get bogged down by the details -- there isn't even a city involved. The alternate title Horror Hotel is more accurate, but neither of these names gives away any real details in a story that is actually about witches.

The opening sequence may not be Black Sunday, but it does still retain a certain level of impact with its use of crooked angles, rolling fog and black and white photography to depict a witch being burnt at the stake. (She turned me into a newt!) Overall it's a great looking movie with lots of dark and moody sequences in a New England village called Whitewood; a weird place full of staring locals and secret passages. After taking a shine to his student Nan Barlow (Venetia Stephenson) history Professor Driscoll (Lee) recommends that she does some extra field research on witchcraft for her history paper in this very town. Of course she accepts and drives over alone to stay there a while. What could go wrong?

Quickly it's very apparent that some of the characters we saw in the opening are still alive and kicking, as it seems that deals with the devil are a good way to stave off the crow's feet. All it takes is a penchant for human sacrifice. Not everyone in the place is so suspicious, and a local bookshop proprietor is actually pretty normal. But thing's aren't looking good for Nan whose inquisitive nature is quickly used against her. It's a good start with a few nice shock moments. The second half of the film however is weaker, and as more friends of Nan arrive the eerie moments from her arrival are all just repeated beat for beat. Afterwards a pretty standard investigation story plays out as the true nature of Whitewood is revealed.

The ending is certainly fiery but the action packed escape moments are sometimes laughable as a whole band of bumbling cultists fails to stop solitary intruders. It does at least maintain a certain bleak atmosphere as things progress, but despite a few sudden deaths it often feels like things are resolved too easily which drains the tension. There are also several odd similarities to Psycho here (in both structure and certain shots used) but it's hard to say if this was intentional as they were released so closely together. If you're looking for an occult thriller it's enjoyable enough, but overall this is a stage setter for the more memorable productions that were to follow after the Amicus logo appeared in 1962.