Lazy Afternoon Vibes: Prisoners of the Sun (2013)

Matty pops the kettle on and kicks back with an easygoing mummy flick with a troubled making.  

Ah, the murky realm of international co-productions: a place where writers and directors are promised the moon on a stick by enterprising foreign investors and producers, only to have their dreams dashed and work sunk, typically amidst behind the scenes squabbling and a tangle of red tape. Sure, there’s the odd exception to the rule but, by and large, these productions usually end up shelved regardless of their quality and the pedigree of those involved, eventually surfacing for a contractually obligated theatrical run in an Asian market like Thailand or India before being dumped straight to disc, VOD, or TV in the rest of the world. Just look at PRISONERS OF THE SUN.

A three way split between Germany, the UK, and the USA, the handsomely mounted Prisoners was built from an old script by Hellraiser (1987) sequel scribe Pete Atkins and horror and action specialist Anthony Hickox (who, of course, had helmed the mighty Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)). Hickox was originally set to direct the film in 1995 for Paramount but, for one reason or another, that iteration fell apart. After laying dormant for over a decade, Prisoners of the Sun was scooped up by enterprising indie producer Alexander Dannenberg and lensed in Morocco in 2007 under the direction of Roger Christian — a solid journeyman probably best known for Battlefield Earth (2000). However, it would be six more years until this enjoyable mummy flick would see the light of day. As Christian told Smug Film in January 2014:

“The German financing fell apart after I’d finished shooting. So there was nothing we could do, we just had to let it go. And then four years later, Uwe Boll’s company asked permission to finish it, which they’ve done… It’s a shame, because it actually was a cool idea and it’s a really good film, but, you know, sometimes that happens when you’re independent. And the German financing, it just closed, it just stopped dead. And there were fights with the financiers, and we had to walk away, there was nothing we could do.”

While the more cynically minded might think Uwe Boll swooping in a killing blow for any project (the crackpot auteur is, after all, the quintessential terrible filmmaker as far as mainstream tastes dictate), in the case of Prisoners, it actually worked in its favour. Upon completion, Boll opted to sell the film to television and Prisoners of the Sun played throughout Europe on the small screen; an arena more forgiving of things like flawed inner logic and CGI that, though extremely good, ain’t ILM calibre. Indeed, a large part of Prisoners’ charm rests on its cosy TV vibe. It’s the sort of easygoing, pleasingly old fashioned picture you can imagine stumbling upon channel hopping on a Sunday afternoon; undemanding entertainment, and attention-holding enough for you to happily sit through it again each and every time you idly come across it.

Exuding a Hammer lilt with a sprinkle of Indiana Jones and Alien vs Predator (2004) mixed in, Atkins and Hickox’s premise (their actual screenplay was apparently rewritten extensively by Christian) is a ripping bit of mumbo-jumbo about an extraterrestrial race, a Lament Configuration-style Egyptian pyramid, and impending armageddon. The details are inconsequential. Instead, just bask in Christian’s luxurious visuals and savour the hamminess of John Rhys-Davies once his boorish professor drags a rag-tag team of underlings and hangers-on tomb raiding. An assortment of booby traps and a shuffling, bandaged-wrapped menace (designed with real throwback classiness by Bob Keen — another Hellraiser alum) supply both excitement and a gentle smattering of spooky silliness, all of which Christian shoots with just the right amount of panache to mask an unfortunate lack of bloodshed. Though the sequence set among hundreds of mummified Egyptian soldiers decked out like the Terracotta Army is Prisoners’ most striking moment, the scene in which Rhys-Davies’ murderous rival, Michael Higgs, kills Shane Richie’s hippie artefact dealer offers a noteworthy double-take for soap fans. Higgs and Richie had previously crossed swords as a pair of love rivals in EastEnders, the former as nasty gangster Andy Hunter, the latter as iconic Vic landlord Alfie Moon. God knows what poor ol’ Kat Slater would make of them here…

Also known as ‘Dawn of the Mummy’.

Germany/UK/USA ● 2013 ● Adventure, Horror ● 84mins

John Rhys-Davies, David Charvet, Joss Ackland, Michael Higgs Dir. Roger Christian Wri. Pete Atkins & Anthony Hickox

Follow Matty on Twitter @mattybudrewicz

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