A nineties indie interesting
for its experimental aspects and the way it slyly recalls the old dark castle
horrors of old. It was also the first horror movie of the decade to revive the
dormant theme of mummies.
Michael Almereyda is known for experimental fare like ANOTHER GIRL, ANOTHER
PLANET (a mini-feature shot entirely in the archaic Fischer price format
Pixelvision) and 1994’s artsy black and white vampire fest NADJA. That film,
presented by David Lynch, received a fair amount of positive attention upon its
1995 release, so it’s no surprise that Almereyda chose to follow it up with
another eccentric horror feature.
That feature was 1998’s TRANCE, which was retitled THE
ETERNAL. It starred the indie film flavor-of-the-months Alison Elliot (from THE
SPITFIRE GRILL) and Jared Harris (SUNDAY), along with the ubiquitous Christopher
Walken in a small role. It was released straight to video by the late Trimark
Pictures (who lent it the cheesy subtitle KISS OF THE MUMMY) to near-complete
disinterest. THE ETERNAL is not without flaws, but I actually prefer it to
NADJA; it’s far less pretentious, and contains quite a few effective
elements--and is furthermore overdue for a reappraisal.
Nora is a way-cute young mother with a serious drinking problem shared by
her frivolous hubbie Jim. One night Nora injures herself during a bender and
her doctor orders her to abstain from boozing. She and Jim, together with their
son Jimmy, decide to take a trip to the Ireland castle where Nora’s eccentric
uncle Bill resides with his adopted daughter Alice. Nora and Jim resolve to use
the trip as an excuse to get sober, but fall off the wagon at a roadside pub.
By the time they reach the castle both are smashed, and Nora crashes their car.
Once inside the castle Nora introduces Jim and Jimmy to her uncle and
niece. A bit later Uncle Bill introduces Nora to another inhabitant of the
abode: a centuries-old mummy who was once a Druid witch. Nora becomes haunted
by the sight of the mummy, and understandably so--she’s a direct descendant of
the witch, who is in the process of reanimating herself by siphoning Nora’s life
force. In no time at all the thing springs to life, forms itself into a replica
of Nora and embarks on a sex-and-killing spree. The mummy is briefly killed by
the intervention of two tough gardeners, but, being immortal, continues its
spree. Eventually it becomes clear that the only way to stop it is by a
sacrifice on the part of Nora, which she isn’t entirely willing to make!
First, the bad stuff. Michael Almereyda’s script is clumsy (note the
sudden introduction of two tough gardener characters late in the film), his
special effects tacky (a bit involving flying record shards doesn’t come off at
all), and his filmmaking frequently pretentious (with many irritatingly
self-conscious shots that tend to cut off character’s heads and legs). There’s
also the fact that his central characters are never developed much beyond their
drunken socialite exteriors. Alison Elliot and Jared Harris are adequate in the
lead roles, but are seriously hampered by Almereyda’s underdeveloped script.
There’s also Christopher Walken, who (as always) plays...Christopher Walken.
But as playful and imaginative horror the film works. It is in many
respects a modern updating of those sixties horror pics set in and around old
dark castles, but with a hip, self-aware edge. Almereyda also demonstrates real
skill in his depiction of the supernatural. Note the way the bright, garish
lighting takes on an increasingly surreal hue, enhanced by the powerfully
ominous music score by Simon Fisher Turner. The film may not be perfect, but is
a genuinely disquieting, darkly atmospheric piece of work that makes one wish
Almereyda would dispense with the pretension altogether and just make a
straightforward, no-frills horror-fest. He’s certainly got the talent for it.
THE ETERNAL (a.k.a. TRANCE)
Director: Michael Almereyda
Producer: Mark Amin, David L. Bushell
Screenplay: Michael Almereyda
Cinematography: Jim Denault
Editing: Steve Hamilton, Tracy Granger
Cast: Alison Elliot, Jared Harris, Christopher Walken, Karl Geary, Lois Smith,
Rachel O’Rourke, Jeffrey Goldschrafe, Niamh Dolan, Jason Miller