Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Oddball Film Report: THE MUMMY AND THE CURSE OF THE JACKALS (1969)

Note: This piece was written for www.jabootu.net's Video Cheese feature and has been printed here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.
 
Anthony Eisley*

THE MUMMY AND THE CURSE OF THE JACKALS (1969 - color)
        "Anthony Eisley learns THE MIGHTY GORGA wasn't such a bad entry on his filmography."

(* I could find no stills from this movie, obviously, so I opted for a portrait of star Anthony Eisley. Weirdly, however, I was unable to find a good one, so I present this pic of him enjoying one of his better assignments on an episode of TV's all-time classic cop show Dragnet. Either that or The Invaders....)

    This was a bitter-sweet experience. On the one hand, I'd found another regional monster movie from the late 60's, one so obscure that not a single one of my reference books had any mention of it! Plus, it starred Anthony Eisley! I've always been a fan of Eisley's and it was terrific to see another film of his,  and a monster movie I hadn't seen before to boot! 

   On the other hand, if Eisley decided to hit the bottle about this time in his career, I wouldn't have blamed him (I'm not saying he DID hit the sauce, mind you, just that I would understand if he did. His Hawaiian Eye days seem so long gone at this point. To think, Al Adamson pictures were still ahead, poor man). 

   To be frank, this is a pretty terrible movie. Most of my joy came from finding such an obscure item. But it's no gem, it's a rather ugly stone caked in dirt from under the doorstep.

   One thing I should mention is the musical score, which sounds more suited to an Italian spy movie (one of the cheaper ones) than an American monster movie. It's catchy, but so tonally weird this could ONLY be a product of the 60's.

   Okay, at least things move quickly. As we open, scientist Eisley and his friends Bob and Donna are discussing his new mummy while hanging out in his abandoned house outside Las Vegas. They note the unusual nature of the sarcophagus, as it has a glass top, and the Princess Anaka inside it is perfectly preserved. The picture is nothing if not educational, as I had no idea the ancient Egyptians were so skilled at constructing glass sheets. 

   Actually, this is covered by the characters, who can't explain how it is the Egyptians had glass sheeting of modern quality. They were even more advanced than we think, however, as a later flashback scene will show the glass was applied to the sarcophagus in the form of a roll of clear plastic! It's stretched over the opening and then sprinkled with a liquid hardener! That's Star Trek technology right there!

   As Bob and Donna leave, Eisley asks to be locked in overnight so he may expose the supposed "Curse of the Jackals" that is to befall anyone who sees the mummified Anaka by light of the full moon (or falls asleep in the same room, or some such). In short order, Eisley goes to bed on a nearby cot and suddenly transforms into a werewolf (well, were-jackal, technically). There was absolutely no warning things would go in this direction!

    Okay, first thing we notice here is that Tony is the only guy on this set who can act*. Because of this, the film will be resting on his shoulders, yet he's now wearing a mask that makes him look like a deranged teddy bear. (Moreover, we will glimpse more than once Tony's quite human neck poke out from under the mask....) Not the most impressive monster the movies have seen, by any means.

(*John Carradine will join him later for a brief cameo, for which the star receives second billing, and save at least a couple of scenes.)   

   Although I haven't seen it, this same monster costume was used for a comic Dracula movie sold through Something Weird Video (DRACULA, THE DIRTY OLD MAN? Either that or it's DVD co-feature GUESS WHAT HAPPENED TO COUNT DRACULA). A clip from it is among the numerous goodies to be found on the DVD The Monsters Crash The Pajama Party Spook Show Spectacular, showing a werewolf attack at a drive-in theater. It appeared to be a straight (home-made) monster movie dubbed into a comedy for release. The werewolf in that film was created from the exact 'were-jackal' mask and claws used here.

   After a few minutes of the were-jackal breaking free and killing a couple of policemen, the creature goes back to bed and wakes up as Tony. Oh, but this isn't just a werewolf movie... 

   Tony goes through a couple of spells before we move into the next phase of things. When in his right mind, he keeps studying up on the Princess in an effort to figure out how to open the sarcophagus. It's somewhere in here we get a flashback to a familiar mummy story. The Princess, you see, is something special to Isis, the Egyptian goddess of something or other, and there's concern she might be bitten by a jackal, so she's encased in the sarcophagus...

   Amid the handy little items applying to the Princess is that she will reawaken 4,000+ years in the future and have the magical ability to speak whatever language is in use at that time. That's certainly convenient! Moreover, Tony studies the date to figure the year of her return just happens to be 1969! There's also a second mummy in the room.

   Once the Princess was in place and her slaves speared to death by the royal guards (that always happens in these things, although the numerous female screams seem odd since we only see male slaves....), one of the priests (or whatever he is) goes back and tries to open the sarcophagus.  He's caught and sentenced to watch over the Princess for all time. So the male mummy has the same backstory as the Universal one. He's mummified alive and has his tongue removed (in most versions of this story the tongue is cut out, but here it's yanked out by hand! Not sure that can be done one handed, but the cow tongue the guy is holding is easily the only thing here that would keep the film from being rated G).

   (There's also an elliptically revealed backstory that the two mummies were being flown to Las Vegas for a major scientific convention when the plane developed engine trouble and plummeted into Lake Mead. Although we never learn how, Tony was able to retrieve the mummies and cart them to his abandoned estate outside town.) 

   So anyway, we've got TWO mummies on hand! One is the princess, a slender brunette intent on making Tony her slave, and the other is a traditional -if plump- Kharis-type mummy who shuffles along with a limp and one arm held close to his chest. In other words, they tried to make him as much like Lon Chaney as possible. And actually, he has a pretty neat -if hard to make out- makeup with only one eye visible. (At first, anyway. Later, one of his victims grabs the wrappings on his face and rips them away to reveal a rather comical bugged-out eye which doesn't match his other in even the most remote fashion!)

   So, anyway, during one of his were-jackal phases, Tony scares a hobo who has snuck into his house. The hobo manages to escape, but in so doing cracks the glass covering the princess and she revives. She's already been exerting some power over Tony which has made him fall in love with her, and that only gets worse now that she's fully alive again. Tony runs out to buy some modern clothes for the Princess, and runs across Bob at the store. Bob invites Tony out to dinner and he brings along Anaka, calling her "Connie."

   Over dinner, "Connie" begins to put a spell over Bob via her mystical ring. For a touch of irony, the gang is eating in a burlesque joint and there's a dancer in Egyptian garb gyrating on stage as the gang finishes up their dinner. This is never commented upon, so I guess it's just color. Meanwhile, the Mummy has awakened and goes on the town to find his beloved Princess.

   The Mummy makes it to the Las Vegas strip, always a few steps behind Anaka and her party. In a particularly odd bit, we cut to the dressing room of a stripper. Said stripper is wearing some of the most bizarre eye make-up I've ever seen, so instead of watching the scene, I was trying to figure out if this was supposed to be a woman or a transvestite. When the Mummy suddenly grabs her from behind, therefore, I was so misdirected that it came as a complete shock! Of course, adding to the surreal nature of the scene is that the Mummy doesn't appear to've entered through a door or window or anything. He's just suddenly there!

   (Important plot point, she's the victim who pulls away some of the wrappings.)

   Tony and the gang leave so as to show "Connie" the sights of the strip. Right after they leave, the Mummy shambles on stage and grabs the Egyptian-costumed dancer as if she were a rag doll. Having killed two young women in roughly the same number of minutes, the Mummy continues his way.

   On their drive, Tony starts to feel strange as another were-jackal spell begins to come over him. He decides to walk while the others drive around a bit. Soon, both monsters are running around loose in the city! (Weirdly, a living mummy and a were-jackal don't attract much attention from the crowds gathered on the strip. In fact, they'll even wander through busy establishments and be completely ignored by the patrons!!!)

   Eventually, Anaka lures Bob off the road into a little wooded area the monsters are converging on. Fortunately, Tony passes out before he can kill Bob. However, Bob is momentarily possessed by Isis! You might be interested to know that, unlike her adorable namesake crime-fighter of Saturday morning television, Isis has gremlin ears! At any rate, Isis has a job for Anaka, which is to re-introduce the Egyptian mythology to 20th Century man. The Mummy, the Were-jackal, and unknowingly bewitched Bob will all aid Anaka in her duties.

   Such is the plan, anyway. Since the Mummy and the Jackal both have a thing for the Anaka, they'll be duelling before the film is over. Also, Anaka keeps her flunkies a secret. Seems she'd go a lot farther in converting the 20th Century world to Isis-worship were she to openly present her little playmates to the public.

   Tony still loves Anaka, but she makes it clear to him that he's only her servant. The police drive out to Tony's place and bring along his old professor, who is naturally being played by John Carradine. This is actually pretty nice, as John for a change of pace isn't playing a monster or a grumpy old coot. Instead, he's playing a pretty happy character, and it feels good to see it.

   John questions Tony, but Tony is keeping quiet on the mummy thing. There's an implication here that Tony may be in some legal trouble in addition to everything else, as he may've transported the mummies to the States without permission or something. Although this isn't very clear, I'm thinking the Egyptian authorities believe Tony made off with the mummies and then caused the plane to crash into Lake Mead as part of some insurance scam. 

   While an interesting twist, nothing else in the film implies this. Indeed, Tony was looking forward to showing the mummies off as the upcoming scientific conference! More problematic is the fact that John produces a couple of snapshots which are apparently the only photographic evidence of Anaka's glass-topped sarcophagus. You'd think a discovery like that would have been put on the wires pretty quickly, but I guess no one else has seen these photos aside from the Egyptian authorities and John!

   Anyway, John fails to get anything out of Tony. Although, he does get to meet "Connie" before he leaves. A bit sharper than Bob and Donna, or else immune to Anaka's hypnosis, John seems to know who "Connie" really is. He even calls her "Anaka" before he departs, testing her!

   Somewhere in here, the hobo from earlier runs into the Mummy and gets strangled. This doesn't play like a calculated attempt to destroy a potential witness as much as it does the need to film something that was made up on the spot. The whole bit plays like they had some daylight left and the rest of a roll of film to burn off, so they decided to take whoever in their cast was still in make-up and improvise a little scene they could pad the film with. I can't confirm that's what this is, but it sure feels like it!

   While Tony and Anaka are over at Bob and Donna's for dinner, John and the Police detective search Tony's house. They find the Mummy's sarcophagus and establish the similarity of the 4,000 year old mold inside the case with that found in the wrappings clutched in the dead girl's hand. Both are convinced Tony is mixed up in serious trouble, but John advises holding off on his arrest. John is convinced of the fact that Tony is under Anaka's power during periods of the full moon, and that after tonight it will be easier to talk to Tony as the full moon fades.

   If that's the case or not, we'll never know. We cut back to Tony, "Connie", Bob, and Donna discussing the earlier murders. Tony puts forth the idea that maybe the deaths were warranted (although since they seemed completely random, I'm not sure how this serves Anaka). This turns off the others, naturally. Donna excuses herself to go next door to make a phone call! She disappears into the next room, the door to the outside being directly behind her! Tony also walks off, but has a jackal spell at the end of the hallway.

   Bob questions "Connie" who finally lets him in on the fact that she's really Anaka. Then Tony the Jackal-man attacks. I can't remember if he gets killed, but Bob is taken out of the picture. Then the Mummy breaks in through the picture window. Anaka tries to stop the creatures from fighting by using her ring. The Mummy lowers the hand he keeps clutched to his chest in Lon Chaney fashion to reveal a precious gem which apparently counteracts Anaka's hypno-ring! Okay.... At any rate, the pair have a mojo contest and the Mummy wins.

   Scooping up Anaka, the Mummy wanders outside. The Jackal-man gives chase. All three end up on the shores of what I assume is supposed to be Lake Mead, where the Mummy puts Anaka on the ground before joining the Jackal-man for the climactic fight scene. This takes the monsters out into the waters of the lake. As they thrash about, Anaka begins to decay!!!!! Not sure why, but it would seem Isis has abandoned Anaka and she crumbles to dust as the monsters vanish under the waters of the lake. The End. 

   I'm not really sure what I can say about the film (although I would like to note it features the most conscientious werewolf in movie history, as the Jackal-man makes a habit of closing doors behind himself!). It's goofy as all get-out, as the description indicates. It's also pretty bare. The whole affair feels like a home movie that was shot in bits and pieces and never finished (and indeed it seems the original version of the film, much like THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE, wasn't finished and a whole new climax was rushed together so the film could be called complete). 

   From what I can tell, the film went completely unreleased until it popped up on home video in the 80's. Unless the negative is still knocking around in someone's attic, I'd say a pristine release is out of the question. At the very least, the video was pressed for the rental market and thus will still play like new if in moderately good condition.

   The main problem here is that the transfer is too soft, too dark, and appears to be slightly compressed (as if the top and bottom of the image have been ever so slightly pushed toward each other). Still, given the rarity of this particular film, I'd wager a better transfer doesn't even exist. (And I must note, it didn't look as bad during my second screening.)

   I remain puzzled as to why a mummy/werewolf/Anthony Eisley/John Carradine movie can remain so obscure, but there you go. It's not a very pretty treasure, but it's rarity gives it a sense of value just the same! THE MUMMY AND THE CURSE OF THE JACKALS now reigns as one of the crown jewels of my cinematic library. And yes, I know how sad that is.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Blaisdell's Beauties -in COLOR!!!

Paul's first movie monster, from THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES

INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN

THE SHE CREATURE


Paul Blaisdell, with Kathy Burns(?)


Kathy Burns and Jackie Blaisdell meet the monster!

Bob Burns and Paul Blaisdell, during the making of INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN