THE SECRET OF THE MUMMY (1982, 1983) – This Brazilian horror film was released as O Segredo da Mumia in 1982 and with English subtitles as The Secret of the Mummy in 1983. It was directed by the one and only Ivan Cardoso aka Ivan the Terrible to fans.
That nickname was not an insult but was a sincere compliment to the cult horror film director, playing on the real-life Ivan the Terrible and his frightful reputation. Cardoso previously served as an Assistant Director to Brazil’s King of Horror – Coffin Joe himself! (For my look at eight Coffin Joe films click HERE.)
The Secret of the Mummy is a terrific starting point for Ivan’s movies, whether you’re interested in foreign cinema or looking for a change of pace in a mummy flick. It’s also a good introduction to his eccentric style – frequent changes between black & white footage and color footage, riffs on global cinema and periodic insertions of bizarre sex comedy.
Regarding that last element, Cardoso himself has coined the term “Terrir” to describe his unique cinematic approach. Terrir plays on the word terror and the Portuguese word “rir” meaning humor. Ivan’s taste in sexual humor may involve toplessness and full frontal nudity but it somehow retains an almost tame air, like Benny Hill or Laugh-In sketches with no clothing being worn.
At any rate, The Secret of the Mummy showcases Ivan Cardoso’s skill with classic horror tales presented through his odd creative prism. The first eight minutes, for instance, are pure, black & white cinema gold but with a definite Brazilian feel.
That opening depicts an elderly occultist, played by Jose “Mojica” Marins (Coffin Joe himself) in a cameo, on his deathbed in 1954. He has summoned art collectors and archeologists from around the world to his bedside, where he tears a map into multiple pieces, giving each of them one segment.
In the future they must cooperate to make the map full once more and use it to find the tomb of a long dead Egyptian figure named Runamb (Anselmo Vasconcelos). After the occultist dies, our villain Professor Vitus (Wilson Grey) stalks and kills the man’s acolytes one by one, relieving them of each portion of the map as he goes along.
From there the mixing of color and black & white footage begins and the film’s style – not to mention its quality level – becomes very erratic as Professor Vitus – now in possession of every fragment of the map – mounts an expedition to Egypt to find the tomb of Runamb. Rather than a dead pharaoh or other such dignitary, Runamb was a military leader whose unrequited love for a dancing girl named Nadja drove him homicidally insane.
Flashbacks to the distant past show us Runamb hallucinating the elusive Nadja’s face on every woman he’s having R-rated sex with, and he winds up strangling or stabbing them all to death. His ruler punishes him for his crimes by killing, then mummifying him to “curse” him, the script tells us.
Professor Vitus discovers the tomb and the mummy intact. He returns to 1950s Brazil with the priceless find and is hailed by the world for his landmark discovery. Vitus becomes a national hero in Brazil, where he is showered with honors by the government.
As a sign of the movie’s still-sinking quality and the jumbled, non-linear storytelling, we viewers are now shown that the professor has the usual mad scientist motive of having been ridiculed by his peers in the past. We see that Vitus was long ago mocked for claiming he had created an Elixir Vitae, or Elixir of Life.
That mockery filled him with a desire for revenge, and he went through with experimenting on a bald, twitchy, lecherous madman named Igor (Felipe Falcao). The elixir worked, pulling Igor back from death’s door, making the violent maniac immortal and a willing lackey to the professor.
In just one of many story elements that make no sense, Professor Vitus never publicized his success with Igor, even though it would have let him shove the insults back in the faces of his detractors. At one point in the movie he claims it’s because he wants to keep the elixir a secret until he can use it to bring the mummy of Runamb back to life. Yet, when he DOES bring Runamb back to life, he keeps even THAT a secret while he experiments on ways of turning humans bestial. (?)
At any rate, let’s take a look at some of the supporting characters:
Evandro Mesquita plays Everton Soares, a handsome radio reporter who at first pursues Professor Vitus for an interview but grows suspicious of his secretive experiments. He is the film’s romantic lead and is often shirtless or less.
Tania Boscoli fills the dual role of the ancient Egyptian dancing girl Nadja AND Soares’ romantic & professional partner, Meriam.
Yes, The Secret of the Mummy throws in the old mummy film trope of a modern-day woman who resembles the title monster’s long lost love.
Clarice Piovesan vamps and camps it up as Professor Vitus’ mistress Gilda (at right). She is your regulation hot blonde who is on hand for some leg and boob appeal throughout the film.
Julio Medaglia plays Rodolfo, the professor’s long-time colleague, who worries about his old friend’s sanity when he’s not hopping into bed with Gilda on the side.
Regina Case portrays Regina, the professor’s comic relief maid, who oinks and boinks with Igor at times and adds slapstick burlesque appeal.
SPOILERS AHEAD –
As mentioned above, even after Professor Vitus and Rodolfo bring the mummy back to life, Vitus still doesn’t go public with the results of his experiments. Instead, he exploits Runamb’s depraved nature to have the mummy shamble forth day and night to abduct beautiful women for the professor’s NEWEST experiments.
Those experiments? Well, Cardoso has Vitus throw in the kitchen sink, Universal Monsters-wise, by claiming he is using the memoirs of Dr Frankenstein (hinting at a man-monster angle) to exploit split personalities in humans (hinting at a Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde angle).
Then, in a bizarre twist, his actual experiment deals with turning the women abducted by the mummy into humanoid animals in a reverse-Doctor Moreau plot. (?)
At any rate, the mummy’s spree of kidnapping women after killing their male dates draws police attention. Because all of the slayings/ abductions took place near Professor Vitus’ remote home, radio reporter Everton Soares feels his suspicions have been confirmed.
Soares breaks into the grounds of Vitus’ property only to be captured and chained up with the now-naked women nabbed by the mummy. By this point one of the female guinea pigs is so far along in the professor’s woman-into-beast treatments that she has very pronounced fur on her face.
Heading toward the movie’s climax, Igor discovers Gilda’s infidelity to his master Vitus and kills her sex partner Rodolfo. He buries him on the grounds while plotting to murder Gilda next. Regina and Gilda get smart and together they flee the professor’s estate on foot.
Meriam goes in search of the missing Soares at Vitus’ place, where she encounters the mummy Runamb. Naturally, her resemblance to Nadja captivates him and he shambles after her while she flees in terror.
The female reporter runs smack into Igor, who tries to capture her for the professor but Runamb comes along and, feeling protective of Meriam/ Nadja, decapitates the twitchy loon. Professor Vitus’ mind snaps completely at the death of his creepy manservant and he spends the remaining few minutes of the movie lovingly talking to Igor’s detached, bleeding head.
The police and medical personnel arrive – probably based on information from the escaped Gilda and Regina, but we aren’t told that, in typical Cardoso carelessness. Soares is freed and the bestial women are taken for medical attention.
Meanwhile, the mummy wins some affection from Meriam/ Nadja by giving her flowers in a scene that is every bit as stupid as it sounds. Soares and the cops find the two of them and a VERY lengthy barrage of bullets mortally wounds Runamb. The mummy walks into the nearby lagoon, where he dies while hallucinating that he and Nadja are happy together back in ancient Egypt. The End.
The Secret of the Mummy always makes me wish that Ivan Cardoso had gone much lighter on the horny slapstick humor for this flick. The sex scenes aren’t very titillating by today’s standards and often just interrupt the flow of the story.
Igor’s “Young Uncle Fester” look is memorable, as are the ugly scenes where he lords it over the abducted women as they loll around naked, dividing their time between catfights and mild girl-on-girl action. Bizarrely, at one point Igor even SINGS AN OPERA SONG to entertain the professor, Gilda and Rodolfo.
There’s also an inexplicable, few-second shot of Professor Vitus with a black man whom his Reverse-Moreau treatments have apparently turned into a mindless cannibal. This gory shot is thrown in seemingly at random and is never expanded upon or revisited. The cannibal never shows up again.
The music in The Secret of the Mummy is all over the place. We get booming classical music, Frank Sinatra songs, a recording of Nice Work if You Can Get It and – my personal favorite – a Portuguese language cover of the Beatles song I Should Have Known Better.
This movie is one you will not forget, that’s for sure. Some viewers are put off by the way Cardoso refuses to commit to one particular style as he takes us back and forth from a Universal Horror feel to lurid Hammer Horror hijinks to Fred Olen Ray levels of sexploitation.
I strongly recommend The Secret of the Mummy, not just for my fellow fans of bad movies but for anyone looking for a change of pace in their viewing material. Ivan Cardoso is one of a kind.
P.S. An odd side note to this movie is the way the movie poster for The Secret of the Mummy is also used for the 1980 Cardoso horror film O Lago Maldito (The Lake of Evil). I have not been able to track it down, so I don’t know if it was just an early version of O Segredo da Mumia or if it was an entirely different film that got stuck with a misleading poster for its video release. If anyone knows anything about it, please let me know.
FOR MORE BAD MOVIES: https://glitternight.com/bad-movies/