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Russell Mulcahy’s Talos The Mummy – film review

January 3, 2014


A new take on a dusty mythos.

talos the mummy 1998

Directed by Russell Mulcahy. Screenplay by John Esposito & Russell Mulcahy. Story by Keith Williams & Russell Mulcahy. Starring: Jason Scott Lee, Louise Lombard, Sean Pertwee, Jack Davenport, Lysette Anthony, Shelley Duvall, Michael Lerner, Honor Blackman and Christopher Lee. Year of release: 1998. Running time: 115 mins.

An American Interpol detective (Jason Scott Lee) joins with a British archaeologist (Louise Lombard) in an attempt to solve a series of bizarre London murders, after the spirit of a 3000 year-old mummy is released from its tomb and embarks on a killing spree in order to regain its physical form.

Talos The Mummy (aka Russell Mulcahy’s Tale Of The Mummy) is the visual stylist’s little-seen love letter to Hammer horror and the films of Ray Harryhausen     and is a fun reinvention of The Mummy mythos first envisiged by Bram Stoker in     his 1903 novel The Jewel Of Seven Stars. Mulcahy, who began his career as a pioneering rock video director during the heyday of MTV in the early 80’s (before segueing into feature films; with such memorable genre fare as Razorback and Highlander) – was encouraged to develop Talos by his long-time friend and music video collaborator Keith Williams, during Mulcahy’s convalescence after suffering       a broken leg from a skiing accident in late 1995.

In a refreshing spin on the mummy mythos; it is the cursed wrappings which take on a life of their own and embark on a murderous killing spree – while it could be argued the works of Clive Barker are clearly an inspiration here: particularly the Books Of Blood short story Confessions Of A (Pornographer’s) Shroud (in which a vengeful spirit possesses a bed sheet in an attempt to strike back at those who killed him) and the movie Hellraiser (in which the damned soul of a dead man gradually reconstitutes himself via the harvesting of his victim’s flesh and blood). The kill scenes involving the wrappings; with their penchant for attacking foreigners and stealing their organs; are tense and well-staged and this is most likely the first time a person has ever     been shown being yanked down a toilet!

Known for referencing visual cues from iconic films in his music videos, Mulcahy also includes an obvious nod to Aliens during the archaeological team’s entrance into the tomb – one of the team members (Gerard Butler) is asked to check a malfunction     in his video-feed head-cam – to which he deliberately bangs it against a wall. And     the pre-title 1948 Valley of the Kings prologue sequence has a look and feel which deliberately harkens back to the Tanis digs sequence in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. This opening sequence, by the way, also includes an all-too-brief cameo by the always wonderful Christopher Lee – who played the titular character in the 1959 Hammer production of The Mummy, the film which so impressed Mulcahy as a child and the one which he cites as the inspiration behind Talos. While threatening to become a clone of the sewer hunt from Species – leading into the final act (with         a derelict building on the Thames standing in for the LA sewer) – the film’s finale shockingly side-steps genre tropes with a resolution I just did not see coming.

talos - jack davenport - jason scott lee

The movie also features a terrific trans-Atlantic cast, including a pre-Coupling Jack Davenport as a British detective assisting Jason Scott Lee on the case, and there is some nice chemistry between Lee and Lombard, while Sean Pertwee gives the stand-out performance of the film; as batshit crazy Bradley Cortese – the only character who fully understands the gravity of Talos’ grisly agenda. Shelley Duvall, Honor Blackman and Michael Lerner also make welcome appearances – Duvall playing         a clairvoyant who attempts to help Pertwee make psychic contact with Talos with     dire results involving a blind man’s seeing eye dog.

On the effects side of things; the late-nineties CGI is unconvincing at times, while KNB’s practical effects fair much better – with Talos’ penultimate incarnation: an imposing satyr-like figure with the hind legs of a jackal – being especially memorable. The stylish cinematography by Mexican lenser Gabriel Beristain (Blade II, The Ring 2) is gorgeous and the production design by long-time Mulcahy collaborator Bryce Walmsley (Duran Duran’s Wild Boys, Razorback) is typically detailed.

russell mulcahy - the shadow

Writer-Director Russell Mulcahy on the set of The Shadow.

Interestingly, Talos is curiously bereft of the usual flourishes the director employed earlier in his career (the hallucinatory imagery and groundbreaking MTV-style editing of Razorback, the celebrated fish tank/Scottish highlands scene transition in Highlander) – and having directed a slew of movies in the interim, Mulcahy here demonstrates a keenly-felt maturity and confidence in his ability to tell a well-paced and tonally consistent story.

If I have a criticism of the movie; it would be that we never really get to know Talos as a character. It would have been nice to see him in a somewhat sympathetic light; as the most compelling movie villians are not necessarily evil for the sake of being evil – but truly believe their world view is just as noble and valid as anyone else – which is true of everyone I guess.

As it turns out, Talos was the first in a planned slate of projects initiated by Mulcahy under his own Seventh Voyage banner (named in honor of the Harryhausen film The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad) – with the follow-up being another horror script entitled The Watcher, based on the novel of the same name by Charles Maclean; a project which never eventuated. While by no means Mulcahy’s stand-out film, Talos The Mummy is still hugely entertaining hokum, enormous fun and well worth seeking out.

3.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1  – poor / 2  – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5  – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

From → film reviews

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