If you were an enthusiastic horror film buff back in the ancient year of 1980, The Awakening might have seemed like a pretty cool option:
- A cast that includes Charlton Heston, Susannah York, and a young, pretty Stephanie Zimbalist.
- A young director by the name of Mike Newell -- who would go on to deliver features like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
- A screenplay by three veteran British scribes, based on a novel by Bram Stoker.
- A nifty Egyptian setting and, best of all, a visual and thematic approach that feels like a combination of The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976).
- Bonus movie geek points if you were excited to see some Jack Cardiff cinematography and a delightfully ominous musical score by Claude Bolling.
Unfortunately, The Awakening (1980) is a pretty dry, dreary, and drab affair. For the first 30 minutes or so it's a serviceable set-up for a basic "Egyptian curse" horror story, but once the screenplay hits Act II, we're left with a virtually endless series of patently uninteresting conversations about things that should be eerie and dark. But here's the set-up...
Charlton Heston is a sweaty archaeologist with a very pregnant wife. At the same time that Dr. Corbeck breaks into a long-lost tomb, his poor wife (Jill Townsend) goes into early labor and delivers a baby girl. Stressed out by all the Egyptian heat and nightmares and scary visions, Mrs. Corbeck leaves Egypt with the newborn, leaving her husband with nothing but a helpful pal (Susannah York) and a bunch of relics and curses and ... oh yeah: turns out that when little Anne was born, she was possessed by an angry Egyptian priestess of some sort.
18 years later, Anne reunites with her pleased papa, and that's when The Awakening turns from a well-shot but very basic body count flick like The Omen, into a sincerely uncomfortable rendition of The Exorcist. Only those films avoided using overt "dad on teenage daughter incest" as a means to evoke chills. The Awakening doesn't go too far with the incest hook, but it's still not the sort of creepy we're after in a starchy tale of female "awakening." The aforementioned score and cinematography (particularly in the Egyptian scenes) lend an obvious air of quality to the film in a cosmetic sense, but there's only so much of Charlton Heston growling -- and then glowering -- at his 18-year-old daughter that one film needs. It's painfully clear what the "awakening" subtext is, but it's not particularly clever or intriguing. Just icky.
When it sticks to the museums and to chit-chat about ancient curses or scenes of shocking violence (there are a few), The Awakening exhibits a pulpy pulse, but everything beneath the surface of this flick is either stolen, borrowed, mishandled, or plain old boring. For the serious horror fans, like the ones I mentioned in the first paragraph, it's still good fun to dig out a forgotten piece of genre cinema, and thanks again to Warner Archive for delving into the spooky stuff once in a while.