Monday, February 13, 2017

"Open Your Blouse! It's the Only Thing That Will Slow Him Down!" - The Mummy Theme Park (2000)

Mummy movies receive little respect in any universe, but there is at least one mummy movie that provides thrills, chills, and spectacle better than any other. This is The Mummy Theme Park, an Italian film from the year 2000 given short shrift by your universe's critics. For example, on Rotten Tomatoes, viewer Jonny Priano writes, “This film was doomed from its opening credits but it would have been a lot more interesting with a mummy attack on a rollercoaster.” (It must be noted that Mr. Priano is correct, but of course all movies would be more interesting with a mummy attack on a rollercoaster.) On IMDB, davelynch16 foolishly writes, “nothing what so ever to recommend…go watch paint dry it's more exciting.” Also on IMDB, Russell62 even more foolishly writes, “Everything about it is a dismal flop…no plot, no character development, and no reason to waste your time renting this atrocity."

Needless to say, these critics are quite mistaken.

The film opens quite spectacularly in an Egyptian temple, where a priestess prays to Osiris and Ra, in the form of a snake/lion/cockroach-headed scepter, to open up the earth and reveal what is beneath. The gods immediately obey her, causing destruction across Egypt, which is conveniently visible through the eyes of the scepter. The earthquakes cause some inconvenience for several sheikhs, harem girls, and nomads leading camels across the desert--in other words, the entire population of Egypt.

A week later, as a caption informs us, everything has basically gotten back to normal. A British archeologist, Professor Mason, and his team have found the tomb for which they have been searching for years. He explains to his benefactor, who is dressed like an Indian maharajah, that "this must be it. The door of the temple. It's going to be the greatest archeological discovery every made."

Mason continues to explain at length Egyptian culture to the Egyptians. "Religion and magic were difficult to separate," he says. "They could transform a dead body into a living creature, through the eyes and mouth."

The professor reads some hieroglyphics. "What I'm looking at is a curse. It goes something like this: Here lies the greatest king of upper and lower Egypt." A terrible death will befall anyone who attempts to break the seals of the tomb.

As he perhaps unwisely reads the curse aloud, some of the Egyptian workers, dressed of course in fine robes and gold jewelry, tremble in fear.


The workers run away. Fortunately, the maharajah's men are armed, so they are able to take out nearly all of the superstitious cowards with their knives and rifles.

The professor and the maharajah force the remaining men to open the tomb. After more exposition about Egyptian beliefs from the professor about the jackal-headed god Anubis, the maharajah ventures inside the open tomb and starts giggling like a maniac.

We see another caption: "Six Months Later." We watch a modeling session in an unidentified city, possibly New York. An executive at the photography agency receives a call from a sheikh in Egypt who wants to hire a photographer. Money is no object.

Almost immediately, Danny Flynn the photographer and his assistant are in Egypt.

The sheikh turns out to be the man dressed as a maharajah from the opening sequence. A cruel man, he slaps his harem girls and tortures his servants by dunking them in bathtubs and letting loose deadly snakes, all while other men watch through closed circuit video.

Danny and his assistant Julie are driven to a palace sitting in the middle of the desert.

As they are shown to their rooms, their guide Nekhebet, who is also the priestess from the opening, says quite correctly, "You people should not judge other countries too superficially." She also says, cryptically, that she knew the pharaohs in person.

Julie is surprised that her room has all the modern conveniences. It even has a computer voice that can control the temperature and facilities, as in the director's previous Creatures from the Abyss. "How about a bath?" Julie asks. The computer says, "Your desire is our pleasure to supply." It starts water running in the bathroom, which is about the size of a luxury hotel's lobby.

At night, Julie hears strange sounds in her room, conjured up by Nekhebet at her priestess altar. Julie runs to Danny's room. She wants to stay with him, but when he says they hardly know each other, she says, "I'm not lusting after your body. Which is not so great anyway. Forget it." She walks through the palace and back to her room.

In the morning, Danny and Julie meet with the sheikh. "You're here to present my creation to the world: the Mummy Theme Park. The most original tourist attraction ever thought up by man."

(The revelation of the sheikh's innovative concept might have been more surprising if all the cars and walls were not already labeled with "The Mummy Theme Park.")

As the sheikh hosts Danny and Julie on a tour through his theme park's control center, he explains that after the earthquake they found an ancient necropolis underground.

The sheikh introduces them to Professor Mason, who is now in charge of reviving the mummies with the aid of Pop Tart-sized microchips inserted into their brains. Mason shows a video of how the mummies' facial features have been reconstructed.

"Well," Julie asks, "what happens if the mummy stops taking orders from you and starts acting on its own interests?" Of course, there are safeguards in place to keep the mummies under control, in addition to iron gratings that can seal off the mummies from the guests. Everything is controlled by a master computer in the control room. It sounds quite brilliant, and certainly foolproof.

The park will be ready to open in one month. The sheikh has hired Danny to photograph the park for publicity purposes. He takes Danny and Julie on a train into the theme park itself.

The train passes by all manner of wonders, including dinosaur skulls the size of football stadiums, as well as shirtless men spinning pottery and, for some reason, other men making pizza.

The sheikh further explains that all the mummies will come to life on December 21, the winter solstice, when a ray of light will reflect through a series of mirrors to activate a microchip in the mummy of the pharaoh, which will in turn create a "cobweb" of light to activate all the other mummies in the theme park. "And this was planned by a civilization over 4,000 years ago?" Danny marvels.

But such elaborate machinations do not seem necessary. Nekhebet speaks an incantation that causes some gory but confusing occurrences. Men start losing their tongues and possibly turning into snakes. All of this appears to be occurring on the spiral staircase of the good ship Oceanographic Research Institute from Creatures from the Abyss.

The train reaches the inner chamber of the necropolis just in time for light from above to reach the pharaoh's sarcophagus. The door opens and the pharaoh emerges, orating his own biography, including the fact that he fathered 170 children.

At the concession stand, they order food, though they forego the brain frappe and cream of Isis.

Everything is not perfect, however. A paperweight wrapped in papyrus is thrown through the window of Danny's room. The papyrus has a threat written in hieroglyphics promising death and destruction if the theme park opens.

At night, Nekhebet's plan is set in motion. She walks right through a wall in the control center, sneaks by a group of employees ogling Julie in the bath on their video monitors, and activates a traditional bandage-wrapped mummy, who is also able to walk through walls. 

The mummy kills a dozen guards, though nobody appears to notice.

The next day, Danny and Julie start photographing the theme park. The camera's flash scrambles something in the pharaoh mummy's brain. It breaks loose of its chains but Danny and Julie escape his chamber, unaware that all mummies are able to pass easily through solid walls.

Fortunately, the workers in the control center are aware of the problem. "Shit!" one exclaims. "The mummy's out of the tomb. How the hell did it do that?" He rewinds the video to see that the mummy in fact passed through the stone wall. The worker sets off the alarm and calls the sheikh, who orders him to shut the iron security grates. This traps Danny and Julie inside the park, but it is not clear how it will affect the mummy's ability to phase through walls.

While Danny and Julie run through the huge theme park, earthquakes destroy the structures, killing more workers. Then, in a brilliant use of special effects, the theme park train crashes through a stone wall and kills still more workers. It also ignites a fire in the underground park.

As might be expected, the mummy appears on top of the train and begins moaning.

The monster finally finds Danny and Julie, but it is transfixed by Julie's cleavage. "I think he likes you," Danny says. "Just open your blouse. It's the only thing that will slow him down."

Danny dumps a barrel of acid on the mummy, gorily immobilizing it. However, it soon emerges as a bloody, wide-mouthed zombie.

Danny is tired of being chased. "It's time to put the skeleton back in the closet!" He finds a stick and chases the mummy by following its footprints in the sand. He beats it with the stick; it is powerless to resist. Danny's pummeling results in its flesh falling off the skeleton, which rises up to chase them again, giggling all the time.

Danny finally pushes a large stone onto the skeleton, which shatters it to pieces. Finally, the threat of the pharaoh's mummy has been defeated.

The sheikh's men capture Danny and Julie and bring them back to the sheikh and Professor Mason, who explains that the camera's flash must have shorted the microchip, causing the mummy's rampage of destruction. But Nekhebet disagrees, believing that it was the mummy's curse that caused the rampage.

"What are you nattering about? Have you gone crazy too?" asks the sheikh.

Nekhebet explains that the pharaoh cannot die. He can move in and out of the tomb at will.

"Bury the pharaoh," orders the sheikh. "We'll get a substitute. You know, find a dummy mummy." He then says that everyone will go back to the tomb for a group shot. "But no flash cameras, please."

At night, Danny calls his boss in the states on his cell phone. "You've got to call the American embassy in Cairo," Danny pleads. "Send help. We've been kidnapped."

"Now, Danny," says his boss, "do you think that's really necessary?" Then they lose the connection.

The next day, the train carries everyone, including the sheikh's harem, into the necropolis/theme park. Once in the pharaoh's tomb, sudden computer expert Julie uses her laptop to take control of the theme park's computer systems. Meanwhile, Danny takes photos of the sheikh and Professor Mason with the pharaoh's mummy, whose return to corporeal existence is not questioned.

A masked Nekhebet suddenly appears from another sarcophagus, calling herself the Queen of Eternity. "I have tried to stop you in every way from opening this cursed park," she tells the sheikh, though none of her attempts have been revealed to the audience.

"You're a lunatic!" the sheikh says. "Loony! Loony!" His men shoot her with a rifle but it has little effect.

Nekhebet appeals to the gods again and they do her bidding. An earthquake begins to destroy the theme park and traps the sheikh, his men, and Professor Mason inside. Danny and Julie manage to get to the train, which Julie now controls with her laptop.

Now all the mummies in the theme park emerge from their sarcophagi to attack the sheikh and his allies. Rocks fall from the ceiling. Mummies knife and strangle the living. Then they begin slicing people in half with their swords.

The sheikh hides in a sarcophagus, but Nekhebet uses her magical powers to seal it shut and wrap him in bandages.

Danny and Julie ride the train to safety, aided by Nekhebet, who sends them a video message guaranteeing their safety, for no apparent reason.

The hole in the ground closes up, destroying the theme park and killing any survivors inside. 

Danny and Julie kiss, and we see that somewhere below the earth, the sheikh and Nekhebet share a loving embrace, cleverly contradicting nearly everything that occurred previously.

Like Demon Wind before it, The Mummy Theme Park is a love letter to cinematic magic. Nearly every shot includes miniatures, forced perspective, green screen effects, or some other combination of techniques used from the silent era to today. It would not be too bold to declare this film the Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula of Italian mummy movies.

I would be remiss if I did not praise the director of the film, truly an auteur, but I am confused about the provenance of this motion picture. The version I viewed was credited to Al Passeri, also known as Alvaro Passeri, who is also credited with directing the similar, and also ingenious, Creatures from the Abyss/Plankton (1994). However, I have also read that The Mummy Theme Park has been credited to Massimiliano "Max" Cerchi, an Italian director who is still actively directing films. I have read that Al Passeri is a pseudonym for Massimilano Cerchi, but I have not unraveled the entire story. In any case, the director of The Mummy Theme Park is almost certainly the director of Creatures from the Abyss, and whichever man is rightly accorded credit for these two films, I tip my cap in praise. Great job, I say, Alvaro or Al or Massimiliano or Max. Your given name does not matter to me, for I am pleased to call you, simply, genius.