Saturday, October 15, 2005

Review: The Tomb (1986)


John Banning is a sleazy, beer-swilling thief who specializes in plundering ancient relics and selling them to doddering college professors. With the help of a patsy named Youssef, Banning and his dim-witted cohort Tyler discover an undisturbed tomb near Cairo. It turns out to be the resting place of an obscure (meaning "made-up") Egyptian demon called Nefratis.

Our bumbling grave-robbers think they've hit the jackpot when they see the golden sarcophagus in the tomb, but within five minutes, Nefratis pops out of it and lays waste to Tyler and Youssef. Banning manages to escape, taking with him a sack full of relics from the tomb. As it happens, Nefratis is essentially a vampire - she gets mystical powers by drinking the blood of the living. She also has to recharge her soul every so often by performing a ritual sacrifice. Unfortunately, Banning made off with some of the relics she needs for the ritual. As Banning runs away, she makes the chilling vow, "you can run - I won't follow you. But I'll be there to meet you when you can't run anymore!" How she learned to speak English with a perfect American accent remains a haunting mystery.

Banning returns to the States and hits the streets of Beverly Hills, looking for some eggheads who will buy his ill-gotten goods. He sells most of the relics to a weirdly intense guy called Dr. Phillips, but for unknown reasons he holds onto one piece - a golden scarab - which he then sells to another aging professorial type, Dr. Manners. Meanwhile, Nefratis makes good on her threat and visits Banning in his skanky rented room. She forces him to help her find her lost knickknacks, inserting a large beetle into his chest to use for behavior correction.

Thanks to Banning, Nefratis finds Dr. Manners and relieves him of the golden scarab, as well as his heart, which she rips right out like a magazine insert. Manners' son David is understandably upset to find his aged father on the floor with an important organ missing. He enlists the help of yet another long-in-the-tooth intellectual type, Dr. Stewart (his deceased father's best friend), and together they try to figure out who could have killed Manners.

The clues lead them to Dr. Phillips, but he isn't much help. He knows about Nefratis but is keeping mum about her because he wants to meet her himself and write it all up in a research paper (hello, MacArthur Genius Grant!) David has better luck with Phillips' niece Helen, who helps David find Banning. Dr. Phillips gets his meeting with Nefratis, but it doesn't go very well and he ends up dead. David and Dr. Stewart track Banning down and cut out the beetle that was controlling him, then they force him to take them to Nefratis, who has kidnapped Helen for use in her ritual sacrifice.

David, Dr. Stewart, and Banning show up in time to stop the sacrifice. Dr. Stewart tries to be all cool and holds up an ankh like it's going to actually do something, but he gets unceremoniously vaporized by Nefratis. Banning distracts Nefratis while David unties Helen. Nefratis had tied a relic around Helen's neck for the sacrifice, but once Helen is free she pulls it off and tosses it casually aside. In a stroke of unbelievable luck, the relic bounces off Nefratis, causing her to burst into flames. Our heroes (and I use the term loosely) wander off into the night, but in the final shot we see the burnt husk of Nefratis grab an unsuspecting rat for some fresh blood.


The Tomb is one of the many lackluster productions of prolific B-movie kingpin Fred Olen Ray (who went on to leave his slimy mark as Executive Producer of Dark Universe). It's a fairly by-the-numbers sort of vampire/horror/action film, albeit the vampire isn't really a vampire, the horror isn't scary, and there's very little action. It feels like a movie that was assembled from all the less interesting bits that were cut from a bunch of other movies.

One difficulty I had with The Tomb was determining who the hero was supposed to be. The obvious choice would be David, but he doesn't show up until the movie is about a third over, and his heroism is generally limited to whining and sitting around with a confused look on his face. In the final scene it's actually Banning who steps in and saves the day by distracting Nefratis, but he's such a scumbag that he really doesn't qualify as hero material either. I think I'm going to award the hero title to the kewpie-doll-like Dr. Stewart. He cuts a mighty dashing figure in his turtleneck sweater and sport coat, and when he takes on Nefratis (right before he's reduced to a cloud of nerdy dust), he demonstrates some actual bravery.

As with many other low-grade films of this sort, The Tomb enlists a number of semi-famous actors in cameo roles. This tactic gives the producers some famous names to put in the credits, allowing them to at least pretend that they're making a marketable movie. Veteran actor John Carradine, nearly old enough to qualify for relic status himself, was dusted off to play the part of an Egyptologist. Sybil Danning, an aging B-movie bombshell with a minor cult following, earns a paycheck in a completely superfluous introductory scene.

Another typical tactic employed by the movie industry to distract the audience from the overall crappiness of a film is the inclusion of gratuitous nudity. There are only two nude scenes here, though, and The Tomb is probably bad enough to have justified a few more. An annoyingly familiar excuse for nudity used in this movie is to have a character go to a bar where a stripper is performing. If I had a dollar for every movie that's used that little trope I could pay for a dozen breast-reduction surgeries. I guess it's worth mentioning that the stripper in this particular case is somewhat noteworthy - she's played by Kitten Natividad, who won back-to-back titles as Miss Nude Universe in 1970 and 1971 before starting a career exposing herself in the movies. Just thought you might like to know!

A somewhat less common feature of B-movies is original music, usually performed by one of the producers' relatives. The Tomb actually includes quite a bit of music, mostly in the form of grating 80's synth-rock songs. Imitations of Devo, Dire Straits, and Gary Numann abound, but sadly the breakout single "Danger Boy" failed to crack the 1986 Billboard Charts.

The Tomb has the unfortunate tendency to go for dialogue featuring "witty" humor. Witty humor is not something that movies of this caliber are especially good at, and few things are less funny than badly written attempts at wit (take this blog, for example). The would-be funny stuff only further detracts from the atmosphere of tedious unscariness that pervades the movie, so I really can't quite see the point of including it.

Final Analysis

With a disheartening lack of interesting characters or plot developments, The Tomb starts out blandly and then proceeds to circle the drain until the ridiculously improbable ending. It never really reaches transcendent badness, though; it only hovers somewhere below mediocre. Recommended only for Sybil Danning completists and/or fans of Kitten Natividad.


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