Between Dracula’s publication in 1897 and his death in 1912, Bram Stoker had several other supernatural successes, including The Jewel of Seven Stars. Moving from vampires to Egyptian mythology, his tale of an archeologist obsessed with an evil mummified queen was met with a lot of criticism when it was published in 1903 due to its horrific downer of an ending. The backlash was so severe that he had to alter the ending and make it more upbeat – “Hollywoodizing” before it was even a thing – before it could be published again. Sadly, this was not the last time Stoker’s vision would be tinkered with: his novel, The Lair of the White Worm, was posthumously republished with twenty-eight chapters instead of forty.
The Jewel of Seven Stars was adapted a few times, starting with an episode of Mystery and Imagination and Hammer’s Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb in the early 1970’s. Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) got his shot in 1980 with The Awakening, which was shot in Egypt and starred Charlton Heston. But even with an accomplished actor, great source material, and beautiful locations in its favor, it’s one of the most uneventful Stoker adaptations ever.
Heston hams it up as archeologist Matthew Corbeck, a British Egyptologist who never quite gets his English accent down right. He’s more interested in uncovering Queen Kara’s long-lost tomb – and maybe his assistant (Susannah York) – than his pregnant wife Anne (Jill Townsend). Corbeck’s discovery of the tomb is cleverly cross-cut with Anne’s labor pains and as their daughter is born, the murderous woman’s soul possesses the lifeless baby’s body. With his interests clearly lying elsewhere, Anne flees the country with their daughter. Eighteen years later, a grown Margaret (Stephanie Zimbalist) meets her father for the first time and, as mysterious, violent occurrences start to mount, Corbeck realizes his daughter is possessed and must perform an ancient ritual to stop Kara from completely taking hold of his daughter and destroying the world – or something like that.
I say “something like that” because, despite playing the DVD on three different TVs with three different players, nobody could understand a damn word anyone was saying half of the time and the absence of subtitles hit harder than ever. I’ve only had really great experiences with Warner Archive releases in the past, but the dialogue track on The Awakening is atrocious. Claude Bolling’s score adds to the atmosphere created by Jack Cardiff’s cinematography, but it completely steamrolls everyone’s lines.
Sound gripes aside, The Awakening is often dull. The script is heavily influenced by The Omen, with everyone standing in the way of Kara’s return biting the dust in gruesome “accidents,” but the twist is given away in the first act. Aside from becoming uneasy because everyone around them is dying, none of the characters are given anything to do except discuss Kara’s past life and wonder how evil she really was. There are a few neat scenes, like Margaret seeing herself as a crumbling, decomposing old woman in the mirror, but they’re few and far between. The film tries to goes for a deeper meaning of “the awakening” with some incestuous flirtation and kissing, but they must’ve decided it was a little too creepy because it disappears almost as quickly as it’s brought up.
The Awakening finally gets to the good stuff (well, something that could be considered exciting in the context of the film, anyway) and then abruptly ends. No mass chaos, no fire and brimstone destruction; just credits. It’s a real shame the locations weren’t used in a better movie, because The Awakening, while good looking at times, puts all of its effort into drawing itself out to an expected conclusion and trying to be the next Omen instead of being effective.