for Sandy Petersen

The Tomb

I have a minor confession to make: I hated Stephen Sommers's 1999 update of The Mummy. Hated it.

I'm really not sure why I have such a strong dislike for the movie. Obviously, one reason is that the original Boris Karloff version of The Mummy was a creepy little masterpiece that scared us through whispers and suggestion, and Sommers's version is exactly the opposite. But so what? The Universal sequels of the 1940's were worlds removed from the original, too, yet they still have their own charm0
0. And what was Sommers' film, really, but an update of The Mummy's Hand with bits of The Mummy's Ghost thrown in?

Well, then, aside from that: Sommers's movie set the template for what would become the Brandon Fraser Movie, transforming the star of Encino Man and Dudley Do-Right into "Harrison Ford for DummiesTM". That alone should be enough to inspire a lasting loathing, but that's still just... not... it: I find the whole movie far more unbearable than its individual parts. And while most of the time I'd be interested in digging deeper to find out why I feel that way, in the case of The Mummy I just don't care.

Nor did anybody else care what I thought. The Mummy did phenomenally well at the box office, and inspired a shit-ton of sequels and spin-offs. As for Sommers, for a while thereafter he was Univeral's fair-haired boy: his 2004 Event Movie Van Helsing was supposed to be the catalyst for a revival of the old Universal horror franchises. Obviously, things didn't quite work out as planned, and Sommers's remake of a Jess Franco film fizzled. When I heard that Sommers had returned in 2009 to helm the GI Joe movie, I was surprised: I thought he was probably off selling used cars in Duluth by then.

So when I find a movie like Bruno Mattei's direct-to-video flick The Tomb (2004), I get a little bewildered. The Tomb is heavily inspired by Sommers's The Mummy, in the way that John Dillinger was heavily inspired by the First National Bank. It's a dumb, low-budget ripoff of a movie I can't stand, so you'd figure I'd find it just about unbearable. That's certainly what I expected. Boy, was I wrong. In fact, this is probably my favorite Bruno Mattei movie ever.

Like all of Bruno Mattei's late movies, The Tomb was produced by Giovanni "Gianni" Paolucci. Paolucci considered Mattei his creative soulmate — just let that sink in for a minute — and stepped into a partnership with Mattei just after Claudio Fragasso stormed off in disgust 1
1. Fragasso dissolved the partnership after the making of Shocking Dark, and really, who could blame him?
. The early Paolucci collaborations included Mattei's late-to-the-party gialli (which, though stupid, are surprisingly serious in tone) and the jaw-droppingly inane Cruel Jaws (1996).

It's difficult to believe the people who made Cruel Jaws didn't have their tongues in their cheeks. After all, even Bruno was aware of his reputation by this stage of his career. So when he not only ripped off one of the most frequently-plagiarized movies of the previous twenty years, but also stole footage from several other Italian Jaws rip-offs that had been sued off the marquee by Universal, well... how could anybody do this with a straight face?

Yet here's the remarkable thing about Mattei's later films: no matter how closely they approach self-parody, they never quite cross the line. You expect the moment to arrive, and it doesn't. For the most part, the post-modern, self-aware Bruno Mattei movie is exactly the same as the old Bruno Mattei movie. As far as I can remember, only once does a late Mattei movie stop in the middle and wink at the audience...

...and that one instance is in The Tomb.

And that, to me, is where the magic comes in. That's one of the reasons I find Mattei's Mummy so much more fun than Sommers's. If that sounds like an inadequate explanation, you're right: it's absurd. Nor can I, or anone else, explain exactly where the line is in a Bruno Mattei movie. But it's like I said: it's magic.

Fade in on a Mayan temple. (See? says the movie. This is nothing like The Mummy. The Mummy took place in Egypt. This isn't your mummy, Stephen Sommers; it's Mayan. Thptht!)

"Tehuantepec," says our wildly-misinformed narrator, "cradle of the Mayan civilization." This is the home of the powerful Tatamatli, who is (for some reason) the High Priest of the Aztec god Coatlicue. To the accompaniment of music that sounds very much like Carl Orff (but isn't), Tatamatli begins the ceremony that will call Coatlicue to Earth from the world beyond, to devour humanity and confer immortality on her evil servants. Assisted by the sorceress Xibalba, who hides her demon's face behind a spray-painted dime store Hallowe'en mask (ahem) behind a mask of gold, he slits the throats of half a dozen blue-painted maidens. He then casts their bodies into a fiery pit, in front of a blood-burbling idol of, erm... Koquillion from the second season of Doctor Who.

Coatlicue... Koquillion

Ths statue is impressive until you see it from the side:
it's about three inches thick.

While his curiously Asian-looking acolytes chant in the background, Tatamatli prepares for the Final Sacrifice: the offering that will open the gate between dimensions and bring his Elder God to Earth. He places two jewels — the Jewels of Three-and-a-Half Stars Each? 2
2. Yeah, right; Mattei dreamed of three and a half stars
— in the eyes of the status of Coatli-koquillion. The eyes gleam with an unearthly flame, and a stone portal opens to reveal a swirling vortex into The Beyond. Naturally, a sacrifice to bring the God through this portal has got to be very special, and Tatamatli has outdone himself with the selection. Somehow, somewhere, in this pre-Columbian Mesoamerican city, he's managed to find a willowy, light-skinned blonde.

Sensing a rare opportunity, Xibalba insists that she must be the one to cut the throat of the fair-haired one. She raises the anachronistic metal blade to the girl's jugular, and...

... and...

... and there's an awkward pause as everybody waits for the cue.

Ah, there it is. Suddenly, the King and his men burst into the temple! The King is outraged by the blasphemous nature of Tatamatli's ceremony: how dare he slit the throats of virgins!? He was supposed to tear their hearts out instead!

The King's soldiers rush to restrain the priests — metal swords clash against metal shields and armor; and we plunge into one of those glorious old-school fight scenes, where people get "run through" between their bodies and arms, and where dying men suddenly spin toward the camera with grievous wounds that just got there, honestly. In the mâlée, Tatamatli and Xibalba grab the statue's eye-stones and try to sneak off into a secret passage. But before they can escape, one of the King's men stabs Tatamatli in the back. Xibalba's only hope is to hurry the dying priest off into the unholy of unholies, the crypt of the undead, where she will prepare him for resurrection in a couple thousand years.

But if Tatamatli is to be brought back, Xibalba must put him through "the Tzaictal [phon.], the most horrifying and gruesome of the ancient embalming practices" — while he's still alive. This involves poking out both his eyes with a tiny crowbar, and replacing them with the jeweled eyes of the statue. Here Bruno shows a surprising reluctance to show eye violence, at least for an Italian zombie movie director who once made a flick called Hell of the Living Dead. We're shown the pointy object descending slowly toward Tatamatli's horrified eyeball, but just at the last moment the image fades to black. We hear something squishy over Tatamatli's anguished screams... but it still feels like a cop-out. Sommers had also shied away from a graphic illustration of "the Hom-Dai, the worst of all ancient curses — one so horrible it had never before been bestowed", so this could explain why Mattei censored himself. But even in the spectacularly gory Island of the Living Dead, Mattei set up & then backed away from an eyeball scene, so who knows?


Wordlessly, Xibalba gestures to her henchmen to flip the switch on the side of Tatamatli's coffin that will fill the sarcophagus with blood (I know some ancient pre-Columbian civilizations had plumbing, but still: I have to commend their Municipal Utilities Authority for managing to keep so much blood flowing freely without coagulating). Then the priests place a cover over Tatamatli's body — why they did this after they flooded the sarcophagus, I don't know — and seal his tomb with a stone lid. Xibalba turns and nods meaningfully at the camera, as we fade to the title screen.

Cut to the Present Day, in the little Mexican town of San Isidro. Tom Langley, professor of archaeology, has brought his students here on the long drive from the capital — Manila — in what looks like a converted Ford school bus. As they disembark, they are greeted by their local contact, a shabby, weedy little man named Prof. Santos.

Santos, played by Mattei regular David Brass

Santos — how shall I put this? — Santos does not inspire confidence in the students, especially not when he starts making lecherous comments to the girls. Frankly, he's the sort of person who should never be seen anywhere near a school bus, even if the bus hasn't held any kids in a decade (OK, OK: to be absolutely honest, he looks regrettably like me twenty years ago, and he inspires a similar reaction among the women). However, Santos all they have for a guide, so they have little choice but to follow him to their arranged accomodations.

Santos charms the ladies.

I guess I should go through the list of students: there's the girl with the big breasts; the other girl with the big breasts; the girl with the big breasts and the belly-shirt; the other other girl with the big breasts... (did I mention her already?) And the blonde. Would you be surprised to learn that the blonde, Viola, is played by the same actress we saw in the scene of the interrupted sacrifice? I didn't think so. Oh — there are also three boys, but we needn't be terribly concerned with them. They seem to be majoring in beer... except for one of them, Patrick, who always has his nose in a book and is consequently — Plot Point — extremely nearsighted.

I'll spare you any description of the "character building" that goes on among the students, since most of it really doesn't matter. These attractive young people are a cross between the usual horror movie victims and the typical band of idiots you find in a Bruno Mattei flick, combining the worst of both hackneyed groups.

I do want to mention, though, that one of the girls dangles her hand over the side of her bed in the fleabag hotel, and is promptly attacked & scratched by a cat (this is also a Plot Point... but please accept my assurances that this is as accurate a portrayal of cat behavior as the rest of the movie is accurate about history and archaeology. I don't know where Mattei got the footage of the angry cat, but somebody had to annoy it nearly to the point of cruelty to get it as upset as it appears. The movie also annoys some snakes as the story progresses).

Angry Cat is Angry.

This is a seriously unhappy Kitteh3
3. O HAI, REV!

"A cat scratched me!" cries the girl, grimacing in pain for a split-second before practically forgetting about it. Her roommate protests that "in this country, a person can really get tetanus just by breathing the air..."; but she insists there's nothing wrong. "Look!" she says, "It's almost stopped bleeding now!" Words to inspire confidence...

That night, Santos goes drinking with his local buddies at a strip club. Apparently this club is open From Dimpse To Sparrow-fart, since the featured dancer undergoes some very strange transformations before Santos's eyes. Terrified by what he alone seems able to see, Santos runs from the club and into the village churchyard.

From when 'til when again?

This turns out to have been an enormous mistake, because all kinds of unexpected things are waiting for him there.

The very first thing he runs into, literally, is an enormous statue of Jesus. Not very menacing, that, in spite of the musical stinger. But shortly thereafter, voices in the incidental music start chanting salve, Satanas! (which is a little odd in a movie about vengeful Mayan deities, but perhaps Ol' Scratch has been building up his interfaith outreach). Santos is suddenly confronted by zombies! Demons! A moderately well-done living statue! And worst of all, most terrifying of all... stolen footage from Army of Darkness! Now quaking with the thought of Universal's copyright lawyers, Santos runs... but a skeletal arm reaches up from Army of Darkness and trips him into a conveniently open grave. Zombie hands grab at him from the grave walls; zombie heads poke through to gibber at him... and then, finally, the woman from the strip club appears at the lip of the grave, and begins shoveling dirt over him.

Next morning, Langley and the students are a little peeved that Santos has stood them up. He may not have been much, but he was their only real contact. The surly hotel-keeper grudgingly tells them there is someone else in San Isidro who might be able to take them to the local sites of interest, or at least point them to someone who can. It's a woman they call... La Bruja (The Witch).

To which Tom Langley says: okey-dokey! And off he goes with the students, without another word.

Now, when I say "without another word", I mean words like La Bruja's actual address. Nevertheless, they group manages to find the house of the Witch, just in time to step into the middle of an exorcism. The poor Philippine extra who's having the procedure looks like she's in tremendous distress: her eyes have gone all cat-like, and a dribble of extra-chunky pea soup emerges from her mouth as she writhes. And it's no wonder she's uncomfortable: when la Bruja manages to dislodge the source of her trouble from her belly, it turns out to have been... stolen special effects footage from Raiders of the Lost Ark!


What's the Philippine equivalent of the Mexican
equivalent of 'pea soup'?

Once the girl has been delivered from the wrath of Paramount Pictures, la Bruja turns her baleful gaze on Langley and the kids... but particularly on Viola, whose name she somehow knows. "Give me your hand!" she ouspenskayas, and Viola does. Her cat-scratch ("Nah, it's nothing!" she'd said yesterday) is now a bloody suppurating mess straight out of Zombie 3. La Bruja takes Viola's maimed hand in hers, turns it over, and... voilà, Viola! It's healed! Even the blood has disappeared completely!

Bewildered, Langley tries to stammer out their purpose in coming to her. But la Bruja (who you'll have guessed is the same woman who killed Santos last night) is way ahead of them. "Santos is dead," she tells them. "Let's go." And with that, she sweeps out. To which Tom Langley says: okey-dokey! and off they all go.

La Bruja leads them down a series of mysterious paved roads into the jungle. The "mysterious" part is that these roads, well-maintained as they are, seem to bear no relation to the roads marked on the map. Really, it's no wonder: the kids still think they're in Mexico, but they're driving in a truck with University of the Philippines tags on it. They're not just lost — they're LOST.

Eventually, the student driving nearly crashes into a roadblock the audience has seen coming for a quarter of a mile. It's the mysterious end of the mysterious road. From here they must go on foot. Bookworm Patrick insists on knowing where they're being taken, but la Bruja casts him a withering glance. "The place! Where we are! Headed! Is not on any map!" she says — punctuating her words with thrusts of her head as though she were still wearing her full-face mask from the opening4
4. Oh, wait: did I just give something away?
. Having made her point, she takes a few desultory swipes at the undergrowth with her machete and actually says: "¡Andale, muchachos! ¡Rápido!" (I imagine the following "¡Arriba! ¡Arriba!" was restored in the Director's Cut).

Somewhere along the perfectly laid-out trail to the temple that has "never been found", the girl with the greatest buoyancy manages to fall into quicksand. The quicksand is in a perfectly square patch, right in the middle of the path, and could only be missed by someone whose view of the ground is seriously impaired by something (or some things... I can't imagine what). On the other hand, it's good she has her built-in flotation devices, because the others turn out to be inept at getting her out. At the last moment, la Bruja bugs out her eyes, and as if by magic, the girl begins to rise up out of the swamp. Then it's back to "¡Andale! ¡Rápido!" and the trek through the jungle.

The party passes through what appear to be the Tabon Caves in Quezon — which are admittedly pretty spectacular; like 2007's Island of the Living Dead, thie movie really benefits from some wonderful Philippine locations — and emerge in a naturally-protected valley. One student calls it heaven on earth. Dr. Langley calls it Shangri-la. Another student insists it's El Dorado (nobody mentions Gwangi, or the Hollow Mountain, which is unfortunate). La Bruja casts another dire look over her shoulder, as though to take them to task for their idiocy: it's the lost temple of Coatlique, she tells them, hidden from sight for 2,000 years. Nobody thinks to ask how, if it's been lost for millennia, she knows exactly where it is... which tends to confirm her impression of them.5
5. And isn't this temple supposed to be in Tehuantepec? That's hardly unknown territory. Plus, according to the town's profile on Wikipedia, Tehuantepec was founded (by the Zapotec, not the Mayans) only a short while before the Spanish arrived, so clearly somebody's been fibbing.

Langley's and the students' lines on reaching the temple are nearly verbatim the lines spoken by the cast of The Mummy entering the tomb at Hamunaptra for the first time; and indeed, now that we're actually in the lair of the living dead priest, much of the rest of the movie will be made up of bits stolen from Sommers. Everything from a gag involving a corpse used as a dummy in a practical joke, to a hapless victim being eaten by insects from the inside out, to undead creatures emerging from the walls, to the undead mummy-guy himself opening his mouth re-e-e-al wide at every opportunity... the "borrowings" are frequent and outrageous.

One of the funniest plagiarisms comes when Langley is translating an inscription on the altar of Coatlicue. As usual for horror-movie archaeologists, Langley can translate all the glyphs he runs into accurately in his head, and as usual the glyphs turn out to have word-for-word equivalents — including particles like "the", and always in Subject-Verb-Object order — in modern English. 6
6. You'll find the same situation in, e.g., The Mummy's Hand; while in Sommers's film, I've always been amused that not only can the archaeologists ca. 1930 read complex heiroglyphic texts on sight, they can also do so in a way the listening Egyptian gods can understand. We still don't know, and will never know, exactly how ancient Egyptian sounded. Imagine that three thousand years from now, all knowledge of English orthography and pronunciation has been lost. Then imagine someone trying to sight-read the following incantation: "Though thou throwest tough thoughts through the trough of night..." Do you think the English-speaking deities would be able to make heads or tails of the result? Really?
That's silly, but beside the point: what he ends up reading on the stones is, at first, almost exactly what the archaeologists read off the box containing Imhotep's canopic jars in The Mummy... That inscription is followed by the ominous phrase, "Death is just the beginning." That's right: not only a quote from The Mummy, but Sommers's film's tag line!

But not everything that follows is a direct crib from Sommers. For example, the mysterious local in The Tomb, unlike the mysterious local in The Mummy, actually wants the strangers to find and re-animate the dead priest. Thus la Bruja works on the treasure-hunting greed of one of the male students to get him to open the sarcophagus. She can't just do it herself, since only a sacrificial victim can begin the resurrection. Promising him jewels, she leads him deep into the heart of the temple. She leads him past archaeological treasure after archaeological treasure, and all he can complain about is that the stuff isn't commercially valuable; go figure. You're almost happy when Tatamatli sucks out his soul.

At the same moment the boy is having his life-force drained, Viola's portable CD player goes from vapid Euro-pop to the sounds of the pseudo-Carmina Burana we heard during the opening. She keeps hearing the ominous music even when she's dashed the player to pieces on the stone floor. Langley and the others blame her hysteria on exhaustion and send her back to the base camp. After she leaves, Patrick and two of the girls go off to explore the catacombs and die.

Now... remember when I said that Patrick was nearsighted? And remember that Tatamatli had his eyes put out before he was buried? You'll have guessed that Mattei has restaged the famous "broken glasses" sequence from The Mummy. What you might not expect is how closely Mattei has hewn to his model:

Mattei Sommers

Mattei Sommers

Mattei Sommers

Mattei Sommers

Mattei Sommers

Mattei Sommers

Mattei Sommers

Note Mattei's version alongside Sommers's: in most respects, they're similar enough to raise a few eyebrows. But did you notice screenshot number 4? There's a word for the resemblance between versions, and that word is: identity. This is one of the few occasions in which Mattei not only stole story and dialogue from another film... and stole footage from another film... but stole footage from the same film he got the story from. There was no real reason for Mattei to steal that particular shot, except perhaps a.) force of habit; b.) the fact he couldn't afford any actual corridors on his set, and c.) shooting out-of-focus on purpose is hard.

But the full-on plundering doesn't stop there. Here's a glimpse of the mummified Tatamatli:

The finest in papier mache.

Now take a look at these — one is a screenshot from the mummy re-animation scene in Mattei's film, and the other is the re-animation from Sommers's:

Mattei Sommers

Nobody's ever going to mistake Mattei's papier-mâché mummy for Sommers's... but Bruno stole this footage anyway!

The cinematic term for this technique is "No Longer Giving A Shit", and it is made possible in large part by the existence of digital video. Since The Tomb was shot and edited on video rather than on film, it was a relatively simple thing to grab a DVD copy of Sommers's film, cut out and paste in a few minutes of footage in high quality, and end up with the ultimate Mattei rip-off7
7. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me at all if he'd downloaded his copy over the Internet...

Really, this is Bruno operating at a whole new level of thievery: stealing footage from the very same scenes of the very same film he's ripping off... yet for no apparent reason, and to absolutely no good effect. At least when he stole shark footage for Cruel Jaws, he had a reason for taking it: before CGI, shark-attack movies were painfully difficult to shoot. At least when he stole footage from Raiders... and Army of Darkness, there was a purpose behind it: the stolen SFX made his movie look better and more expensive. Here, though, he seems to be stealing out of pure chutzpah.

It's true that in Island of the Living Dead, Mattei's version of Uwe Boll's House of the Dead, Mattei "borrowed" a few seconds of Boll's film, too. But that's not the same sort of thing: those few seconds were used for a flashback (that quoted, of all things, John Carpenter's The Fog), and were unrelated to the main part of the movie. Likewise, later in The Tomb there's a brief snippet of The Mummy Returns thrown in to add atmosphere, but that's not the same thing, either: it's not an excerpt from the exact same scene Mattei is restaging. It's the footage he steals at a structural level that represents Mattei's ultimate plagiarism.

This statue's been watching 'Hell of the Living Dead'.

But I really don't want to dwell too much more on all the things that are wrong with The Tomb. By this late point in Mattei's career we all had some idea what to expect. That's why I'd rather take a few moments to talk about what Mattei does right. True, there isn't much... but what there is deserves mention.

At the top of the list is the casting of Hugo Baret in the Arnold Vosloo role. I have nothing against Vosloo in The Mummy; I think he was well-cast to do exactly what the script called for him to do. There was enough romance built into the part of Imhotep to make him vaguely sympathetic, and Vosloo fit the part. Baret, on the other hand, plays Tatamatli as a snarling, sneering villain stright out of Victorian melodrama. Though Baret's Tatamatli is as bald as Vosloo's Imhotep, you half-expect him to start twirling imaginary moustaches.

Baret (with hair) had played in other Mattei films — for instance, he had a leading role in the 2001 "sexy thriller" (perhaps I should say "sexy" "thriller") Bella da Morire — but for this movie Mattei gave him free reign, and the result is a truly memorable Bad Guy performance. Anna Marcello backs him up as a sultry if slightly stolid Xibalba (I've been referring to her as la Bruja because I can't bear to call her "Bruja" as though that were her given name, the way the other cast members do). Marcello's not as much fun to watch as Baret at his scenery-chewing finest, but she acquits herself with more dignity than you'd expect from a Mattei villain. And she manages to keep her clothes on.


While I'm on the subject of the Bad Guys, let me also point out that Mattei's script makes a tiny bit more sense than Sommers's did:

In The Mummy, the priests decided to punish Imhotep for his trespass not just by tearing out his tongue and burying him alive in a box of flesh-eating insects — which would have been enough, don't you think? — but also by placing a terrible curse on him. That "curse" was to be re-born as a virtually unstoppable supervillain, bent on destroying the world with the "ten Plagues of Egypt" (which, by the way, were visited on the Egyptians by the Hebrew god to get them to free the Israelites... but we'll let that pass). Being granted godlike powers and near-immortality is a much different definition of the word "punishment" than the one I'm used to8
8. Actually, the curse makes more sense when you realize its intent was to prevent the gods themselves from resurrecting Imhotep into the afterlife; but since the movie itself never makes this clear, we're still left with the idea that the whole motivation for The Mummy is extremely silly.

By comparison, Tatamatli's death and rebirth are very straightforward: he's killed on the verge of bringing his Elder God down to Earth to clear the planet of humanity. Then, when he is reanimated by the evil demigod Xibalba (who's the one who put him in cold storage to begin with), he tries to finish the job. See? It's clear and uncomplicated, because it's all part of the same plan. True, it's never explained why it takes a couple of thousand years to find exactly the right girl for the sacrifice (and exactly the right group of cretins to bring her there), but that seems like a minor problem by comparison. The Elder Gods have all the time they need.

Furthermore, kudos to Mattei for de-romanticizing Viola. Sure, she's the inevitable resurrected ancient Princess. Sure, as a light-skinned blonde she's the least-likely reincarnated Mayan Princess you're ever likely to see (and yes, she is the worst performer of the whole bunch: even the actress dubbing her voice seems infected be her complete lack of talent, to the point where her every appearance tends to suck the life out of the scenes she's in). But here's the important difference: she's not the re-born Long Lost Love of the undead High Priest. Tatamatli doesn't want to schtupp her: he wants to kill her... and it's a tremendous relief.

The whole "reincarnated Princess" love-story business had its origins in Bram Stoker's "Jewel of Seven Stars", and was transmogrified to its greatest effect in the 1932 Mummy with Boris Karloff 9
9.In a curious bit of cross-contamination, Dan Curtis infected the Dracula story with it in his TV version starring Jack Palance. Later, Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Fred Saberhagen's Danielle Steele's Dracula repeated the reincarnated Princess shtick and harked back to the wrong Stoker story.
. The subplot resurfaced in the third of the four Mummy sequels of the 1940's; in the first two, Egyptian High Priests kept falling in love with the ingenue, to their eventual regret, but there was no suggestion of the American girls being long-lost loves. In recent decades, though, the whole idea has been repeated so often that it's become unbearable. So thanks, Bruno, for sparing us a romantic interlude between the best and worst actors in the movie.

The Tomb's monster makeup is really pretty good, in an old school low-budget sort of way. Mattei's very last movie, Zombies: The Beginning, tried to get too elaborate with the makeup and prosthetic effects, and the results included the laughable "football-head" zombie and others. But here, most of the creatures are just right. When Xibalba la Bruja is in her demon/vampire form, she wears a simple rubber mask and scary Demoni-style teeth... and the costume works just fine. Tatamatli's reanimated priests are probably the most successful zombies Mattei ever showed: they're obvious imitations of the combination rubber suit/CGI mummies of Sommers's film; but since they're entirely realized by practical effects, they're actually more convincing than the ones in the Universal film.

Mummified priests.

Blue Man Group.

And then there's the ending. Mummy stories are famous for ending nastily. When Bram Stoker started the whole mummy genre with the publication of The Jewel of Seven Stars, his original ending was considered so gruesome that his publisher refused to re-issue the novel unless he rewrote it. The Karloff Mummy has one of the most disturbing conclusions if its era: sure, it's a stock deus ex machina, but when you stop to consider which god is stepping out of the machine, you realize the take-away message of the movie is that we've been worshipping the wrong deities for the last few thousand years. Strong stuff, that, especially for 1932. Amina's fate at the end of The Mummy's Ghost still packs a mean punch, especially if you're not prepared for it. So I suppose it's fitting that Mattei's version of a mummy movie ends with Evil triumphant, and the world-cleansing goddess Coatlicue on her way... just in time, we imagine, for 2012.

Now, at the beginning of this review, I mentioned that The Tomb was the one movie where Bruno let down his guard for a moment and hinted that maybe, just maybe, he was in on the joke. That strange interlude comes when Dr. Langley is trying to escape from Tatamatli's sealed tomb. He starts mumbling about secret passages, and the way they always seem to be operated by a stick or a button. Then he finds the skull-lever that opens the way out... at which point he turns to the camera and says, "What did I tell you? What did I say to you?" Then he gestures to the audience with his chin and cries, "Let's go!" (Of course, echoing a similar moment in The Mummy, as soon as he runs off-screen, there's a beat; then he comes plunging back into the tomb with la Bruja, in her monster form, chasing him).

Three seconds of silly apostrophe don't exactly make up for 30 years of terrible movies. But you know what? I'll take the gesture. It may be only the slightest of nods to the long-suffering audience, but it's better than nothing, and more than you'll get from the remaining three films in Mattei's output.

The first time I watched The Tomb, I found myself shouting at the TV screen and throwing things across the room. No surprise there: that's been my standard reaction every time I've seen a Bruno Mattei movie for the first time. The second time I watched it, I found myself admitting that for all the movie's blatant stupidity, it was actually stupid in a fun kind of way. The third time I watched it, I realized, Hey: I'm watching this for the third time. And I don't even have to! By now I've seen about two-thirds of Mattei's output, and most of his movies are not just bad: they're endurance tests. Especially with some of his early stuff, it usually takes a couple of days for me to wash their stinky residue out of my brain. But this? This is easy. This is Bruno emerging from the dungeon into the clear light of day, that's what this is.

So if you're looking for either a place to start with Bruno Mattei, or a place to finish with him, this should probably be it. The sources of his material for this one are all well-known to modern audiences. His direction and editing are as good here as they've ever been, and the screenplay, while dumb, is relatively inoffensive. Nobody will ever mistake The Tomb for a good movie; but for Bruno, this is as close as it gets.


More Braino at Bruneater... er, Bruno at Braineater:

Island of the Living Dead
Zombies: The Beginning
The Other Hell
Zombie Creeping Flesh/Hell of the Living Dead
Zombie 3
Terminator II: Shocking Dark

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