Hammer Films produced four Mummy movies between 1959 and 1971 and one of my favorites is Seth Holt’s BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1971). This unabashedly sexy horror extravaganza was the last Mummy movie made by the Studio that Dripped Blood and thanks to a great cast and some creative directing choices it turned out to be one of their best. But before it reached the screen the production was plagued by some serious setbacks that seemed to resemble the consequences of a ‘mummy’s curse’ typically associated with doomed adventure seekers and tomb raiders. Was it just circumstance and bad luck or did something supernatural interfere with the making of this Hammer film? Read on to learn more!
Loosely based on Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB is a surprisingly gory (by Hammer standards) variation of the typical mummy story involving a group of explorers that discover a cursed mummy’s tomb and unwittingly unleash a monster on the world. But this time the monster isn’t a lumbering cloth-wrapped creature, it’s a beautiful curvaceous brunette named Queen Tera (Valerie Leon) wearing a bejeweled gold-laden costume. The evil mummy Queen plans to vanquish her enemies, gather her plundered treasure, and walk the earth in a new human form but that won’t be easy. First, she must take control of a lookalike young woman named Margret (also played by Leon) who was born on the same day that Margret’s father (Andrew Keir) and his cronies unearthed Queen Tera’s tomb in Egypt.
The cast is uniformly terrific and includes many horror and science fiction film veterans that genre fans should recognize. Bond girl Valerie Leon leads the pack and the statuesque beauty is perfect in her duel role as a naïve young woman and a cutthroat queen who is able to easily bend men to her will. Although she only appeared in one Hammer production Leon is the epitome of ‘Hammer Glamor.’
Leon’s father is played by Andrew Keir who was a familiar face at Hammer studio thanks to his memorable appearances in THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (1962), THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES (1964), DRACULA; PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), THE VIKING QUEEN (1967) and QUATERMASS AND THE PITT (1967). Other familiar faces include James Villiers (THE DAMNED; 1963, THE NANNY; 1965, REPULSION; 1965, ASYLUM; 1972), Rosalie Crutchley (THE GAMMA PEOPLE; 1956, THE HAUNTING; 1963, WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO?; 1971, AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS; 1973), Aubrey Morris (BLOOD BEAST FROM OUTER SPACE; 1965, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE; 1971, THE WICKER MAN; 1973, LIFEFORCE; 1985) and James Cossins (THE LAST CONTINENT; 1968, HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN; 1971, DEATH LINE; 1972, FEAR IN THE NIGHT; 1972).
Most surprisingly, 68-year-old George Coulouris shows up as an asylum inmate driven mad by the discovery of the lovely mummy. Coulouris is probably best remembered by classic film fans for his award-winning role in CITIZEN KANE (1941) but late in his career he appeared in a number of horror films including THE SKULL (1965) and THE ANTICHRIST (1974).
Andrew Keir’s role was originally supposed to be played by Peter Cushing but as I mentioned earlier, the film survived some major setbacks before it was released. Was BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB truly cursed? I’m sure that’s what a few cast members must have assumed when its star was suddenly forced to leave the film after his wife’s health took a turn for the worse. When Peter Cushing’s wife died a few days later the sad event shocked the cast and crew. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the only death that occurred during film production.
Director Seth Holt was particularly taken aback by the news. Holt had helmed two of Hammer’s most distinguished black and white films, SCREAM OF FEAR (1961) and THE NANNY (1965) but BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB would be his first and final full-color film for the studio. The director was highly respected by Hammer producers who gave Holt full control over his films. This meant that he had final say over the script and the editing but the heavy workload, as well as the tremendous responsibility, must have been taxing.
Five weeks into the six week shooting schedule, Holt suffered a fatal heart attack. The director was only 48-years-old and his sudden and unexpected death was blamed on excessive alcohol use combined with exhaustion. In the wake of this unfortunate incident, Hammer producer and director Michael Carreras (MANIAC; 1963, THE LOST CONTINENT; 1968, PREHISTORIC WOMEN; 1967, SHATTER; 1974, ETC.) was forced to step in and finish the film but fortunately, Holt left behind detailed notes and instructions on how he had planned to complete the movie. As a result BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB still retains much of Holt’s unique sensibility and visual flair. With only a handful of movies under his belt the director managed to establish himself as a distinct talent who remains an important part of Hammer horror history.
When the film was finally released it received fairly positive reviews with critics being especially taken by the lovely Leon who was called a “500 percent knockout” by New York Times critic Roger Greenspun. But in another unfortunate twist, this would end up being the only starring role the budding British actress had. Besides her stunning good looks, Valerie Leon was a skilled performer and charismatic screen presence who showed exceptional ability and range in the duel role of Margret/Queen Tera. It’s easy to assume after watching the film that she would go on to much bigger roles that made use of her talents but that didn’t happen. Maybe she was just another victim of the BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB curse?
by Kimberly Lindbergs, originally written for TCM.com and published on October 23, 2014