Warner Bros. // 1980 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // June 1st, 2012
My experience with the quality of material that gets released on the Warner Archive on-demand label is pretty poor, but there's often a little bit of novelty to help it along. Take The Awakening, a thoroughly unremarkable bit of horror until you witness the outrageously bad writing and the phoned-in talents of Charlton Heston (Touch of Evil), and then it's kind of fun.
Matthew Corbeck (Heston), a renowned British archeologist, has travelled to Egypt with both his sexy assistant (Susannah York, Tom Jones) and his pregnant wife (Jill Townsend, Alfie Darling) to track down the tomb of an ancient queen. When he finally finds it, he begins looting her treasures, but as soon as he does, his wife goes into labor. While the baby girl is stillborn, she mysteriously springs to life moments later. Twenty years later, Margaret (Stephanie Zimbalist, Remington Steele) has grown up and decided that she wants to visit her dad, who stayed in England after divorcing her mom. Upon her arrival, strange occurrences and violent deaths begin to occur, and though Corbeck is happy to see his daughter, he suspects that she has triggered an ancient prophecy that will bring the queen back to life in Margaret's body.
The third, and worst, film adaptation of Bram Stoker's The Jewel of the Seven Stars, The Awakening is a dreary and dull potboiler that doesn't really show its horror roots until late in the game. In other circumstances, I might appreciate that, but I was so bored by the time it came around, it was too late for me to care. The performances, especially during the horror ending, are so ridiculous that it's really hard to take anything that goes on very seriously.
There are certainly things to enjoy, though, namely Heston and his beard. The facial hair appears in the second act to indicate the passing of two decades, although they do nothing at all to age Susannah York or Jill Townsend, making mom and stepmom each just a few years older than adult daughter. Heston is as blustery as he could be and his obvious discomfort in the mummy scenes makes it clear that he wondered what the heck he was doing there. Maybe it was the free trip to Cairo or the excuse to show off his beard-growing talent, but I'm certain it wasn't the script. The first two acts are a blathering and boring essay on Egyptology. None of it makes any sense, but that's actually pretty well in line with the book, though that doesn't make it okay.
When it finally gets down to the chills, they are quite mild. Had any atmosphere been built previously, it could have worked out to a nice payoff, but if you were nodding off during the first two acts, the third isn't going to do much to wake you. While the time frame is updated, director Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), in his first feature film (though he had already developed an extensive body of television work), maintains the gothic feel of the novel fairly well, but it's stylistically bland and ploddingly paced. With the performances the way they are, the only real reason to watch this is for some cheesy amusement, and barely at that.
Warner Bros. never does very much to restore their Archive Collection and The Awakening is no exception. Fortunately, the original materials appear fairly well preserved, so the image is better than much of the catalog. It's certainly not perfect; there's plenty of dirt on the print, but the colors are bright and the whites are bright, though some muddiness mars the black levels, especially in the torch-lit tomb scenes. No extras on the disc, but they never do, so I didn't expect any in the first place.
The Awakening is a dumb, all-around silly movie with no scares, no tension, and an obvious plot. Still, Heston cracks me up and there are some plot points that will delight fans of cheese, so it's not all bad. It's really only for that group, though; actual fans of Charlton Heston can skip it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Rated R