Thursday, 26 March 2015

Day of the Mummy

Director: Johnny Tabor
Writer: Garry Charles
Producers: Jesse Baget, Lisandro Novello
Cast: Danny Glover, William McNamara, Andrea Monier
Country: USA
Year of release: 2014
Reviewed from: UK DVD

Day of the Mummy is a film that works extra hard at being rubbish. It’s not enough that the direction is amateurish, the script is lousy and the acting would need to improve considerably to reach the level of being merely shoddy. It’s not enough that the film is a dull non-story about one-dimensional characters on an arbitrary quest that goes nowhere, with the promised mummy not even hinted at until nearly an hour into the 77-minute run-time. No, someone said hey, let’s go the extra mile and make this movie actually annoying. Let’s have an irritating, pointless gimmick throughout the film that makes it a genuine chore to sit through, no matter how forgiving/stoned you may be. Yes, that will work.

This, because absolutely no-one demanded it, is a found footage mummy movie. As a mummy movie, it’s crap. But as a found footage film… it’s still crap.

After a camcorder-shot prologue, a second prologue (a, what, ‘logue’ I guess) introduces us to Jack Wells (William McNamara: Montgomery Clift in a Liz Taylor biopic, plus David DeCoteau’s punctuation-heavy My Stepbrother is a Vampire!?! and Argento’s Opera), a Happy Shopper Indiana Jones who is supposedly some sort of ladies’ man despite his very obvious beer gut.

A millionaire named Carl (Danny freaking Glover) appears on Jack’s laptop via some sort of Skype-like system to explain the parcel that Jack has just received. Carl wants Jack to join an expedition to find a particular mummy which is reputed to have been buried with a massive jewel. For no sensible reason, he has sent Jack a pair of spectacles that include a tiny camera which will allow Carl – and the unlucky DVD purchaser – to watch everything that happens. There is also a little earpiece doodad which will allow Carl to talk to Jack. And presumably some sort of microphone so that Carl can hear what’s going on.

And so the entire film, barring an epilogue, is seen from Jack’s point of view.

Except of course, as a conceit this just doesn’t work at all. The idea seems to have been dreamt up by someone who doesn’t wear glasses and doesn’t realise that a spectacles-wearer has a certain amount of peripheral vision (even more so when the specs have plain glass and the person has good eyesight). So for example, while much play is made by Carl of the fact that Jack is looking at the token female member of the expedition, that can only work if Jack is staring unsubtly straight ahead at her breasts rather than sneaking a sidelong glance.

However, it’s not enough to have the whole thing shot POV, because apparently these magic glasses also allow Carl himself to appear in a little box at the bottom left of the image. This serves no purpose: Carl never moves, and Jack can hear him anyway, but I guess they had Danny Glover booked for the whole morning so they figured they’d film him some more. The effect is to make something irritating even more annoying. On the plus side, this stupid, pointless gimmick does at least distract one from the paucity of the story and the production values.

It also means that, despite being second-billed, McNamara disappears from the film after that prologue, except for a couple of shots when Jack removes his glasses. McNamara’s voice is there, but mixed into the audio so badly that Jack sounds no more present in the scene than Carl does.

The whole thing is utterly pointless. Well, pointless from a narrative point of view. The fact that Jack is wearing his glasses has no bearing on the simplistic, linear plot in any way. The fact that Carl can see what is going on and converse with Jack matters not a whit since none of their conversations ever rise beyond the level of bland chat (although without them the running time might drop below the magic 70 minutes). Bizarrely, we are not told whether his travelling companions know he has this little camera, nor do they puzzle over why Jack keeps talking to himself, apart from one arbitrary scene halfway through.

Having established that said token female team member (Andrea Monier, who was in the sequel to Are You Scared) is an independent young woman who wants nothing to do with overweight lothario Jack Wells, she suddenly decides to creep into his tent and jump his bones. On this one occasion, she asks who he’s talking to and he jokingly tells her it’s a voice in his head. The matter is never touched on again.

Anyway, Jack and Token Girl and three male team members, plus an Egyptian guide, travel into the desert to find this tomb where the pharaoh is buried, or something. None of the characters has any actual character; they’re barely one-dimensional. And although we are told their names, I’ve forgotten them already.

After assorted inconsequential, uninteresting run-ins with gun-toting Islamic radicals, they find a cave and head inside. This is where the ridiculous idea of the hi-tech spectacles passes into the realm of utter stupidity since Carl keeps up his contact, meaning that whatever transmitter/receiver is embedded in these glasses works through hundreds of feet of rock.

Well, there’s some sort of cave-in and one of the male team members gets his arm stuck under tons of rock. And the others rescue him by grabbing him and pulling really hard … which would, oh God this is dumb, either shred all the flesh from his arm or dislocate his shoulder. They find the body of the guy from the prologue who conveniently has some sticks of dynamite in his shirt pocket. Gee, I wonder if those might come in handy later. And they find some sort of inner sanctum chamber full of small, lit candles.

And eventually – e-ven-tu-al-ly – a skinny mummy turns up, roaring and running around (“That thing’s too fast to be human,” is among many asinine lines in the script) and attacking people and generally doing all the things that mummies traditionally don’t do. You know, the mummy is the dignified, restrained one in the classic monster pantheon. He has waited millennia to return, he shuffles, he goes for a little walk, hahaha. He doesn’t jump around with a scary face looking to eat people like a post-28DL zombie. So basically, when the mummy does finally show up after nearly an hour of badly made tedium, he doesn’t exhibit any of the qualities that people who like mummy movies are looking for. Damian Leone provided the special make-up effects, which don't look too bad per se - and at least it's not a CGI mummy - but it's just not the mummy that the punters want.

It all wraps up in some way and there’s a pointless epilogue about Carl in which it is obvious that Danny Glover and the actor playing the US Government official interviewing him were never in the same room at the same time.

Day of the Mummy is really poor in almost every respect. I said above that the 'found footage' angle doesn't serve any narrative purpose - but it does serve a budgetary purpose. Things don't have to be lit properly (although the caves are still suspiciously well illuminated) or framed properly. It's cut-price film-making and it shows. Ryan Valdez is credited as cinematographer so presumably that was him, rather than McNamara, holding the camera.

But it does star Danny Glover. And I’m sure you’re thinking: how the hell did they get him to appear in this shit? This is Danny Glover, man. From Lethal Weapon and The Color Purple and Predator 2 and A Rage in Harlem. Although to be fair he was also in 2012 and Battle for Terra and something called Bad Ass 2: Bad Asses and something called 2047: Sights of Death and something called Day of the Mummy, no wait that’s this, and something called The Ninja Immovable Heart and Bad Ass 3: Bad Asses on the Bayou and Jesus Christ the man has been in a lot of shite.

Danny Glover may be a well-known Hollywood name, but he’s also a jobbing actor and that’s why he has amassed more than 160 IMDB credits over the past 35 years. He will work if you pay him. And that’s how this film got him. They offered him SAG rates for, I would guess, half a day – and frankly you or I could afford that. It’s easy money for Glover. He doesn’t have to rehearse or interact with any other actors. He doesn’t have to learn lines. Hell, he doesn’t even have to stand up. All he has to do is slip into a smoking jacket and cravat, sit in front of a green screen (later to show an obviously fake wall of bookshelves), memorise each line of dialogue in turn and say it a few times into the camera. He can stop for a drink or a piss. He can keep his own trousers and shoes on. He could be wearing boxer shorts and novelty slippers below that desk for all we know.

That’s how a lot of Hollywood works, even the people you’ve heard of, that you assume are famous millionaires because they are (or have been) in magazines. If you pay them the going rate, in advance, and treat them professionally, they’ll record your answerphone message for you if you want.

The rest of the cast is people you’ve never heard of, who had to actually travel to Venezuela (where this was shot, because presumably nowhere in the USA has sand and rocks) and interact with other people. None of them have been in anything interesting except for Brandon deSpain, the guy in the mummy costume, who was also wrapped up as the second title character in Frankenstein vs the Mummy.

This is the sophomore feature from director Johnny Tabor, whose debut Eaters was shot in 2012 (as Folklore) but seems to still be awaiting release. However as he was apparently asked to helm this movie, he may not be responsible for the bigger problems inherent in the premise. That suggests the motive force behind production was, I guess, the producers. One of these is Jesse Baget who directed the vastly more enjoyable Wrestlemaniac a few years ago. Baget also produced The Black Water Vampire (which shares several cast with this flick), Werewolf Rising, Frankenstein vs the Mummy, Mischief Night, Paranormal Movie and All Hallow’s Eve. Not a bad selection of cheapo-but-probably fun horror movies. On the other hand he also directed a family comedy called The Three Dogateers which, judging by the poster, could be the absolute worst film ever made. For anyone who thinks the Air Bud movies are too sophisticated and was depressed to learn they didn’t make a third Baby Geniuses picture – here’s what you’ve been looking for.

The other producer on Day of the Mummy (and The Three Dogateers) is Lisandro Novello, who co-produced a couple of Tabor’s previous pictures but mostly earns his crust as a ‘set production assistant’ (a runner) on big budget stuff like The Dark Knight Rises, Earth to Echo and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.

The one name I did recognise (apart from Glover’s obviously) was the writer – because he’s British. Garry Charles is rather unfairly associated by the IMDB with Summer of the Massacre, arguably the worst modern British horror film not directed by Richard Driscoll. Charles didn’t actually write Bryn Hammond’s classic, he adapted it into a ‘novel’ (which presumably consists of the sentence ‘The crap serial killer ran away through the ferns squealing.’ repeated over and over again for 80 pages). He did write an unreleased, probably unfinished, remake of Summer of the Massacre starring Zara Phythian. Since then he has written some shorts and some self-published novels as well as getting ‘original story’ credit on Dead Cert and a shared screenplay credit (according to the IMDB) on the forthcoming Cute Little Buggers. Fair play to the guy: he’s got more produced credits than me, and quite possibly he was given restrictions on Day of the Mummy that prevented him from giving it a proper story or characters. Or maybe that was his choice.

I don’t know who is responsible for Day of the Mummy being rubbish, nor do I care. It just is.
A final note of props to whoever designed the back of the UK sleeve, which shows a massive army of mummies advancing across the desert, the leading ones being shredded by a machine gun. Instead of, you know, one mummy running around some Venezuelan caves screaming. Awesomely deceitful marketing. Bravo.

MJS rating: C-

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