Despite being almost unknown and nearly insignificant on the horror film circuit, The Awakening boasts a couple of famous firsts: it was the first (and only) horror movie for screen legend Charlton Heston, and also the first “mummy movie” actually filmed in Egypt (and with assistance from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, no less). The location and sets practically overshadow Heston as the star of this film, but unfortunately, neither could deliver the production from mediocrity. Oh, what promise it showed early on before falling apart scene by scene!
Before getting to the synopsis, let’s just say this is an Egyptian carbon-copy of The Omen. A child is born as something evil, people die one by one in horrific deaths, there is plenty of ritual and symbolism, and finally, the main character searches for cryptic answers. Unlike The Omen, this film does not pack much of a punch. In fact, there are no scares at all. You will not jump, cringe, or even wrinkle your nose. It’s as un-scary as a movie could be. Part of me appreciates the film-makers not going to sordid lengths for cheap thrills, but the other part of me says this is a horror movie and you have to get me at least once.
The desert, ruins, and museums of Egypt serve as a wonderful backdrop and elevate The Awakening beyond other similar films. The sets do not look like sets, but the real deal. There is nothing cheap about this movie except for the limited special effects. In The Omen, perhaps the many on-screen deaths did not terrify you, per se, but they were pretty intense, realistic, and shockingly violent. Here, the death scenes are nothing but pure cheese. Unconvincing blood, sloppy editing, and a cartoonish level of violence. It’s unforgivable when you manage to land a star like Charlton Heston and then do nothing to support what was a decent performance. Well, decent given the circumstances.
When the movie finished, I spent a good five minutes wondering why Heston would even sign on for this project. Maybe it was the lure of being an archaeologist/professor character. Maybe he wanted to see Egypt to aid in his lifelong interest in biblical lands. Or maybe he thought he himself would make the movie worth watching. In all its shortcomings, The Awakening barely misses the mark. I look at those special effects and non-scares as why the score is so low. That and The Awakening builds and builds for what seems like forever and when the apex finally comes, it is lackluster and maddening. You will more than likely scream, “That’s it?!” at the television.
Oh, right, now for the plot. Heston is an archaeologist who discovers one of the only intact tombs of an Egyptian queen. This is based on the book Jewel of the Seven Stars by Bram Stoker, which was written before the discovery of King Tut. The movie is updated to include this reference. As the tomb is being entered, Heston’s pregnant wife begins to experience pain and screams out as if she is being tormented. What is implied is the spirit of this queen, who was evil back in her time, entered the baby girl his wife was carrying. When she is born, the queen resides inside of her, slowly gaining more and more power. See? It’s not a bad premise. Well, if you haven’t seen The Omen. Swap out Satan and the anti-Christ, and Europe, replace with an evil queen and the Egyptian desert, and you have the same movie.
The story then jumps 18 years into the future where Heston is older and his daughter is ready to begin her reign of terror. He falls under a spell himself, carrying on with some kind of ritual in order to awaken the spirit of the queen. What he does not know (and how does he not know this, because what happens here was listed as the plot of the movie?) is that when he resurrects the dead queen, the mummy will not come to life as he foolishly expected—instead the spirit fully inhabits his daughter. While Heston held it together as long as he could, his exertions in the final moments when this happens are laughable. The script which was fine falls apart before our eyes. I was waiting for an exasperated Heston to break character, look the director in the eye, and say, “Fuck you. Soylent Green is people!”
I rooted hard for The Awakening during the first half hour or so. I was captivated by the archaeology and story. But unfortunately, there is just not enough happening. What a waste of Heston’s only horror movie. I am going to be lenient and give it a 4.5 out of 10 stars. So much promise. So much disappointment.
Also starring Susannah York, Jill Townsend, and Stephanie Zimbalist. Appearance by Ian McDiarmid. Directed by Mike Newell.