Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Tomb

(1986, 84 min.)

Starring Michelle Bauer, David O’Hara, Richard Alan Hench, Susan Stokey, George Hoth, Stu Welton, Frank MacDonald, Victor von Wright, Jack Frankel, Emmanuael Shipov, Craig Hamann, with Cameron Mitchell, Sybil Danning, and John Carradine.

Written by Kenneth J. Hall, with additional material and dialogue by T. L. Lankford.

Directed by Fred Olen Ray.

In the opening scene, we are introduced to John Banning (O’Hara), international smuggler. He’s in an airfield in the process of passing an artifact to a client (Danning, in a gratuitous cameo). She decides, for whatever reason, that she’s going to screw him over, so her henchmen start a firefight with him and his partner Tyler (Hamann). This offers us the first unintentionally hilarious moment when Banning shoots Sybil’s biplane and with that one shot it instantly explodes into ten thousand tiny little pieces like balsawood.

They escape and make their way to a bar in Cairo, where an Egyptian-themed band (complete with twisting mummies and no actual Egyptians) jam on ‘Tutti Frutti’ while the opening credits bounce around the screen. A local named Youssef (Shipov) tells them that he has found an unmarked tomb that was opened by a recent earthquake and that he can lead them to it for a price. They go there but find little of interest, until a valuable sarcophagus appears out of nowhere. Banning goes out to find something to help them haul it out, but when he returns, Youssef and Tyler are both dead, killed by Nefratis, the former occupant of the sarcophagus, who doesn’t look so good when she first comes out, but looks like Michelle Bauer when Banning sees her, having drunk her victims’ blood, her beauty treatment of choice. He beats his feet out of there, but she promises him they will meet again.

Back in Los Angeles, Banning hangs out at what appears to be your standard neighborhood bar, although it does have a stripper dressed as a cop (legendary busen-madchen Kitten Natividad, in her 6,245th nude scene). He runs away after getting into a fight with some non-descript government agents who are trying to take him in for illegal transport of Egyptian artifacts. Eluding them, he meets with a client, Dr. Phillips (Mitchell), and gives him one of the artifacts retrieved from the tomb. They argue over the agreed-upon price, which doesn’t make any sense given that we were previously led to believe that Banning’s trip to the tomb was spontaneous. There are, I suppose, ways to explain this away, but for once I’m not going to put more thought into the narrative than the filmmakers did.

Banning goes home to his hovel, but is soon visited by Nefratis. She implants a scarab beetle in his chest that nestles up to his heart and gives her the ability to inflict great pain on him if he doesn’t do exactly as she wishes. The first thing she wants is to know where the artifacts ended up. She apparently needs them for a soul-transference ritual that will prolong her youth, a companion method to the blood-imbibing, presumably the way a liver-cleansing and a colon-cleansing go hand in hand.

One of the other artifacts, the Golden Scarab, has made its way into the hands of another archeologist, Dr. Manners (Frankel). Dr. Phillips calls him up and begs him to sell the bug to him, as it’s essential to his work. They arrange to meet the following day, but no sooner has Dr. Manners updated his datebook (to all the young’uns out there, it’s like a Palm Pilot, but you can’t play Texas Hold’Em on it, unless you have, you know, an actual deck of cards) than Nefratis shows up and tears out his heart. Manners’ son, David (Hench), and family friend, Dr. Stewart (Hoth), along with eventual love interest, Helen (Stokey), Phillips’ niece, then attempt to find out what the hell is going on (helped in part by a quick drop-in by the vaunted Mr. Carradine) and who that odd chick that’s always hovering in the background is.

From time to time, a movie comes along that just makes you ask why. Not big ‘W’ why, as in, “Why, God, Why?!” *rends garments*, but more along the lines of “Eh? Why?” You watch enough exploitation flicks, you begin to get a sense for spotting the impetus behind them, be it something as simple as an excuse to parade a lot of naked women in front of the camera or latching onto a current fad or what have you, but nothing in this movie really jumps out. Probably the most memorable thing is the characterization of Banning. He’s clearly meant to be in the mold of the mercenary who comes off as kind of a scumbag but who’s really a good guy at heart (a la Han Solo), only Banning pretty much really is a scumbag. There’s always a wisecrack (some of which are kind of amusing) on his lips, when they’re not wrapped around one of the many bottles of beer he seems to be able to pull out of any available crevice, but he’s also a racist, and doesn’t object at all when Tyler suggests that they murder Youssef so they don’t have to pay him. When this is the most memorable character your story is built around, it’s hard to know who to root for.

But of course, low budgets and lack of a coherent narrative are par for the course in this kind of movie, which is why they generally make up for it with gratuitous nudity and gore. But The Tomb has only a little bit of the former (the closest Bauer, who’s gotten naked plenty of times, gets to unclothed is wearing a lightly see-through tunic) and practically none of the latter. So, what’s the point? I’ll leave that to others to answer for themselves. The point for me was one more entry in my Michelle Bauer collection. I just dig her, nude scene or no.

But, of course, there’s always room for a pleasant surprise. Coincidentally, just at one of the moments I was thinking about how bad the script was, one of the characters came out with a direct quote from Plan Nine from Outer Space. It didn’t make the writing any better, but it is always nice to get a little reminder that the filmmakers know by whom their bread is buttered.
Go back to Plate O' Shrimp

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