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 David Lynch presented film 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 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.
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 plastered, 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