Release Date(s)1980 (June 15, 2021)
Studio(s)EMI Films/Orion Pictures/Warner Bros (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C-
1980’s The Awakening is a far more interesting film than it is a good one. It’s a nice sleepy, Saturday afternoon movie that you can put on and actually manage to stay awake and finish. Critics weren’t kind to it upon its initial theatrical release, and audiences didn’t turn out in droves for it. Today it’s all but forgotten outside of certain circles. As an adaptation of a Bram Stoker novel (The Jewel of Seven Stars) and borrowing influences from The Omen, it's a fascinating mesh of big budget studio filmmaking by shooting on location in Egypt and London and trying to make a compelling horror film by throwing in some fairly graphic death scenes (again, The Omen). It doesn’t really succeed because the film isn’t the least bit suspenseful. However, the elements are intriguing. While Charlton Heston is underplaying his character, Stephanie Zimbalist gives a far more nuanced performance than most give her credit for, especially in 1980 when the film was first released. Today it’s a footnote in many careers, including that of Mike Newell (Enchanted April, Donnie Brasco), who was a first-time feature film director with this one.
Matthew Corbeck (Heston) is an archaeologist on a dig in Egypt, searching for the rumored remains of the lost queen, Kara. With him is his unhappy pregnant wife Anne (Jill Townsend) and his loyal assistant Jane (Susannah York). After much toil, they finally discover and confirm Queen Kara’s existence. Corbeck becomes obsessed with his new find, so much so that his wife can no longer take it. Upon the birth of their daughter, Margaret, she flees back to the United States, leaving him to deal with his newfound fame and fortune. Eighteen years later, Corbeck is a university professor, overseeing the remains of Queen Kara after they’re brought to London for further analysis. Meanwhile, his now grown daughter Margaret (Stephanie Zimbalist) flies to London to meet him. But she finds herself under the deadly influence of Kara, and whoever stands in the way of Kara’s reincarnation via Margaret winds up dead by supernatural forces.
The Awakening comes to Blu-ray for the first time in the US from Scream Factory, having been a Warner Archive DVD exclusive prior. The film has also been released by Imprint Films/Via Vision Entertainment with a slightly older master, and both presentations offer up a variety of differences. The Scream Factory disc features the US version of the film, running around 101 minutes, with a new 2K scan of the interpositive. The Imprint disc carries the UK version, running around 105 minutes, with a presentation taken from a “2K scan of the original negative by StudioCanal.” There are minor alterations made to the US version throughout, but the extended ending of the UK version is the major difference between the two. Oddly enough, no major online publications (that I could find anyway) discuss these two versions.
The Scream Factory disc has a much heavier grain field, particularly against solid backgrounds and skylines, but also a more consistent color temperature. The Imprint disc offers much higher detail at times with less coarse grain, but an uneven color palette. Both discs were likely not approved by cinematographer Jack Cardiff, so neither are likely authentic representations of his intended look for the film. The Imprint disc also has higher contrast, so much so that blacks are sometimes crushed. It’s also slightly brighter in places, particularly during the finale when you can see more of Stephanie Zimbalist’s face when she’s peering from the shadows. The Scream Factory disc is consistently darker, but not in a way that appears unnatural. Both presentations are stable and mostly clean outside of speckling and occasional scratches, the latter of which is infrequent. Neither stands above its counterpart as they both have their strong and weak points. I personally prefer the look of the Imprint disc a little more, crushed blacks and all, though I miss the consistent color palette on the Scream Factory disc. Your mileage may vary.
The audio is provided in English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH, while the Imprint disc offers in the film in English 2.0 LPCM. Funnily enough, they’re not sourced from the same mix. Dialogue in particular is mixed much higher on the Imprint disc. The most telling moment being an offscreen conversation early in the film filling the left speaker on the Imprint disc, but buried in the center more quietly in the Scream Factory mix. In general, the Scream Factory audio is quieter overall when it comes to dialogue. However, both discs exhibit good amplitude for score and sound effects. There isn’t much in the way of stereo movement, but fidelity is mostly satisfying. Once again, there’s no clear winner here, though the boosted dialogue of the Imprint mix does give it a bit of an edge.
The following extras are included:
- US Trailer (HD – 2:14)
- TV Spots (Upscaled SD – 2 in all – 1:05)
This is where the Imprint disc draws a line in the proverbial sand. It features the following extras:
- Audio Commentary by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones
- Reincarnate: Adapting The Jewel of the Seven Stars (HD – 10:21)
- The Nameless One: Scoring The Awakening (HD – 11:49)
- UK Trailer (Upscaled SD – 2:52)
The excellent new audio commentary features authors and film historians Stephen Jones and Kim Newman. The two discuss the budgets of mummy films, Bram Stoker’s novel, other adaptations of the film, the writing of the film, the novelization, comparisons to The Omen, the differences between the US ending and the UK ending, Hammer Films allusions, Jack Cardiff’s cinematography, shooting in Egypt, Mike Newell, big stars working in horror films around this time, various actors in the film, Charlton Heston’s British accent, location work around London, the score, ethnic representation pros and cons within mummy films, Stephanie Zimbalist’s performance, incest, the death scenes, the actual jewel of seven stars, attempts at grounding things scientifically, Newman’s own association with the Stoker story, and the finale. Newman also mentions that he saw the film twice at two different times when it was released in the UK, double-billed with It’s Alive and Eyes of a Stranger, both interesting pairings. Ballyhoo Motion Pictures also provides a pair of new interviews. In Reincarnate, author and film historian Richard Heft discusses the history of Egyptian archaeology, Bram Stoker’s novel, the various film adaptations, the issues involved with adapting it, and comparisons to The Omen. The Nameless One features an interview with music orchestrator Nancy Beach who discusses her involvement with the film, scenes that were ultimately cut, how the score melded with the film’s themes, the influence on the score by Robert Solo and Terry Rawlings, the types of musical instruments implemented, working with Mike Newell, and the final film.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray disc sits within a blue amaray case with double-sided artwork, featuring the US theatrical art on the front and a still from the film on the reverse.
Most folks, especially modern horror fans, are likely to find The Awakening to be a snoozefest as it doesn’t quite spill enough blood to satisfy most appetites. But for those looking for something a little more intriguing, The Awakening certainly has its moments, and dare I say it’s a better film than most make it out to be. As to which Blu-ray release of the film is superior, the Imprint or the Scream Factory release, both have their pros and cons. In the extras department is where the Imprint release comes out on top, but neither are really definitive. And since they carry both versions of the film, I’d say that they’re both worth owning.
- Tim Salmons