This is one of the strangest and most eccentric films I’ve ever seen. It boggles the mind with its sheer weirdness and its odd sense of style. I know it doesn’t get a lot of love from critics or the audience reviews, but there is something about this film that is so unique, so creative, and so defiantly its own film that I am willing to overlook all its flaws.
Which, yes, are many.
This is now the second film directed by Alvaro Passeri I have seen, and I know I’m going to have to watch the remaining three. Al Passeri, as he is usually billed, was a special effects technician in the Italian film industry who worked on a lot of genre films, including two of my favorite guilty pleasures, The Raiders of Atlantis (1983) and Warriors of the Year 2072 (1984). In the late Nineties and early Nothings, as the days of Spaghetti science fiction and fantasy films were drawing to a close, he somehow scraped up enough resources to make five movies, starting with Plankton [Creatures from the Abyss] (1994).
Now, as I pointed out in my review of Plankton, it seems less like a movie that some sort of collective hallucination, as if we all dreamed the most absurd and over-stylish film in the world into existence, complete with some of the most outrageous practical monsters you are likely to see in any film.
After making a fantasy film called The Golden Grain, aka Fantastic Games, he then created this absurd Egyptian adventure epic on a tight budget.
You might describe it as a cheap Italian combination of Jurassic Park, Westworld, and Brendan Fraser’s version of The Mummy, but that doesn’t even begin to describe this film. Not even close.
After all, in the age of digital, we get to see an old school master of practical effects using every single practical trick he knows to bring his utterly absurd vision to life.
And, yes, it is truly absurd, built around one goofy notion after another, in a film which is as unreal as a fairy tale fantasy.
A powerful Sheik hires an up-and-coming fashion photographer (whose work gives Passeri the opportunity to throw in a few topless photos) to come to his Kingdom and shoot pictures of…
However, the Sheik refuses to answer any questions about what the job is until the photographer and his girl assistant actually reach his Kingdom.
A huge chasm suddenly opened up just a few weeks earlier in the Sheik’s little kingdom, and revealed the ancient tomb of the Pharaohs of Egypt. So he naturally did what any self-respecting all-powerful potentate would do:
He turned it into a theme park.
And not just any theme park, but a vast, high-tech computerized park, where they have painstakingly rebuilt the old mummies, reconstructed their faces, replaced any of their failed body parts with steel pins and inserted computer chips into their brains which allows him to control the technologically revived mummies and put on shows with them.
And, of course, the computer chips controlling the mummies include a fail-safe that will shut them down if they ever get it into their moldy heads to act on their own.
Which should tell you the plot for the rest of the film.
Well, most of it. There’s also a mysterious woman with magical powers who keeps warning the Sheik about the terrible curse that awaits him for disturbing the Pharoah’s tomb.
Which, naturally, she’s trying to help along as much as she can.
And, of course, don’t forget that long dead Pharoah…
Now this is an Italian horror/fantasy/science fiction film, so there are certain flaws that come with that. Everything is dubbed, and we have an Italian cast hiding behind Americanized names. The acting isn’t too impressive and, when you note that the inside walls of the train are sheetrock, it is obvious that they didn’t have a lot of money.
But we expected that.
This does not, however, prepare you for a film supposedly set in modern Egypt where everyone looks like they belonged to King Tut’s retinue in the 1966 Batman TV show. The costumes are ridiculously bright, a bit absurd and a bit over the top, with costumed guards carrying what are obviously fake spears.
They also have modern weapons, but that still doesn’t make the sight of the endless row of computer technicians running the park in their colorful robes and huge beards seem any more normal.
Or consider the train the photographer and his girl assistant see when they first arrive in the park, nonchalantly crossing the desert with a pyramid in the background. It looks like an old-fashioned steam loco from the old West — or, to be more precise, a cheap plastic toy locomotive.
However, this is more or less explained (with a nod and a wink) when we later learn is a computer-controlled electric train system that is part of the park.
So why shouldn’t it look like a child’s toy?
One gets the impression that they only had some fairly small sets available for this film, but Al wasn’t the kind of guy who let that slow him down. He used all sorts of classic tricks, from split screens to hanging sets, models, rear projection, mirrors and I don’t know what else to set this film in a huge palace and even bigger underground complex.
With lots of nearly identical tunnels. Of course.
There’s a somewhat playful quality to all of this, as we know that the endless series of little science rooms, the long rows of computer technicians at their consoles, and the string of concession stands inside the park with their bearded, brightly costumed Arabs hard at work making pizza, are all the same small sets repeated endlessly with one trick or another.
The downside of all this is that the stars often get lost inside these huge visually extended spaces, as in the scene where the girl walks naked to the giant bathtub miles away from us in her palatial room.
Although this may reflect the fact that she wasn’t willing to appear naked as we then see her enjoying herself in the tub, with plenty of bubbles covering all the strategic places.
She also spends one lengthy scene trying on one exotic and often sexy outfit after another, which leads me to think she might have been a professional model in real life.
Mind you, if you are looking for bare boobs, they do get a few pair into many of the harem scenes and all those catfights (and an “I ♥ The Sheik” tattoo on the inner thigh of one of the many wives).
Which is rather strange in a weird fantasy film which seems more like a children’s film than anything else.
For that matter, so is all the gore. Like all the other effects in the film, it is enthusiastic, practical and a bit goofy. The most memorable gore effects show up in the final battle when heads get sliced in half by swords, revealing what looks like your classic medical chart cross section of the human body. Heck, they probably xeroxed one of these and used that image to create the effect. But the moment when Passeri goes all out with his gore effects comes when the hero and the girl try to stop a rampaging mummy, which gets damaged in increasingly disgusting ways.
The mummy does prove to have one unexpected weakness — one which pays off in an unexpected way at the end of the film.
And I do mean unexpected.
The true star of the film is the incredible — and rather silly — production design, with its overly bright colors, absurd statues and set pieces and extravagant costumes. Passeri really lets go once we get into the park, where we enter through a tunnel beneath a giant golden King Tutt mask. The train later disappears into another tunnel in the mouth of a giant sphinx, and goes past endless rows of concession stands where rows of copies of Tutt’s mask serve as the dispensers for beer and soft drinks.
The mood of the entire film is goofy, deliberately unreal, and mildly comic, reveling in its own absurdities and aware of the fact that its effects are just effects. If you had any doubts about that, they should be dispelled once the film throws in an all-time classic cliched ending. It seems like a children’s film gone wrong, the sort of film which would be classified as Tokusatsu if it had been made in Japan.
Yeah, I know that a lot of people don’t like this one. It certainly isn’t going to make anyone happy who complains about the lousy effects in older movies like, say, Forbidden Planet. The Mummy Theme Park is hindered by its low budget, and all the routine problems you find in the Italian sci fi and fantasy films of the era. It is silly, full of odd things that probably seemed like a good idea at the time, and comes across as an “R” rated children’s film on acid.
And you definitely don’t want to stop and think about most of this (hey, didn’t the ancient Egyptians remove the brain when they mummified people? So what exactly are they plugging that chip into?).
But, darn it, you have to love anything this weird and ambitious. The Mummy Theme Park refuses to let its limitations slow it down — even when that might have been a good idea. It keeps surprising us with one outrageous new idea after another, and does so with some very charming old-school effects (like that skeleton in the labs dancing in front of a conveniently black background).
So, yes, it is a guilty pleasure. And a lot of what makes it so entertaining is how ludicrous it all is.
But you know what? That’s fine by me. I’d rather be massively entertained by something silly and sui generis, than be mildly enthused by something technically perfect, which refuses to go out on a limb and take any sorts of risks.
And yes, I am looking forward to Alvaro Passeri’s other three films.
After all, they are all supposed to be just as crazy as the two I’ve seen…
6 thoughts on “The Mummy Theme Park (2000)”
It seems that Al Passeri is the pseudonym of Massimiliano Cerchi who, under his real name, directed twenty similar movies. I don’t remember where I got the information but I have the two films mentioned in your article (Plankton & The Mummy Theme Park) and for both my list of videos mentions “aka Massimiliano Cerchi” between brackets… Jean-Claude
If Al was in fact Massimiliano Cerchi, then he did some of his best special effects work when he was eight! I’m not sure how this misidentification got started, but IMDB did eventually separate the two creators and both have their own pages. Al Passeri actually has his own YouTube channel, where he has two of his movies posted: Psychovision and Fantastic Games (aka, The Golden Grain), as well as one or two of his more recent special effects efforts. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/@fisarmonicamagica1
I found the source of the mistake : https://www.filmtv.it/persona/148747/massimiliano-cerchi-alvaro-passeri/
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Wow. Wrong on every count. Plankton was his first film, his last Psychovision in 2003.