The Eternal (1998): Chris Me, I’m Irish

If you’re in the mood for a strange one, Matty reckons that Michael Almereyda’s Walken-starring mummy flick is just the ticket.

After catching their attention with his arty black and white vampire flick Nadja (1994), Trimark Pictures recruited indie darling Michael Almereyda to make a similarly idiosyncratic mummy movie. Like the David Lynch-produced Nadja, which begins with the death of Dracula, THE ETERNAL was originally intended to be another leftfield adaptation of another Bram Stoker text, The Jewel of Seven Stars. However, with the 1903 novel already serving as the basis for Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb (1971), The Awakening (1980), and a rival ‘97/’98 production, Legend of the Mummy, Almereyda scrapped the idea and elected to use Stoker’s Irish heritage as the off point for a picture less concerned with supernatural shenanigans as it is with familial secrets, parental bonds, addiction, and the price of responsibility. 

Happily, fears that The Eternal is going to vanish up its own backside a la the nauseatingly ‘hip’ and painfully slow Nadja are swiftly allayed following a vexing and pretentiously pitched opening. Heralded by a pleasing Jason Miller cameo, The Eternal’s initially jarring tempo evens out when New York couple Nora and Jim — a pair of genial functioning alcoholics essayed by Alison Elliott and Nadja holdover Jared Harris, presumably channeling his ol’ hellraisin’ da — arrive in Ireland to visit an ailing relative and, pints of Guinness notwithstanding, detox. Accompanied by their young son, while there Nora learns that her kooky uncle (Almereyda’s Search and Destroy (1995) collaborator Christopher Walken, whose distinctive speech pattern is really something when paired with an ‘Oirish’ accent) has discovered a mummified Druid witch in a peat bog. And naturally, said enchantress bears an uncanny physical and psychological resemblance to Nora… 

Alternating between gloomy location photography shot in and around County Galway, and the oppressive creepiness of its primary mansion setting (an eerily sparse property that, in actuality, is in Yonkers, NY), The Eternal’s languid visual style seduces and scares. Punctuated by explosive, soul-piercing close-ups and gritty, 16mm flashbacks/flashforwards, the film is laden with a wealth of unnerving images and strange details. It’s an acquired taste for sure, and one that rewards patience as tones and narrative threads drift in and out. But if you’re willing to simply go along with it — or, at least, if you’re willing to meet Almereyda halfway — this moody, affecting, and generally well-performed yarn is heady and arresting stuff.        

Trimark, alas, weren’t impressed. Titled ‘Nora’, ‘Dazzle’, and, even, the auteur emblazoned ‘Michael Almereyda’s The Mummy’ at various points throughout its making, The Eternal — which, at one time, was going to star David Bowie and Sinead O’Connor — caused a rift between the director and the studio when it became obvious that the oddball chiller the former handed in wasn’t the kind of oddball chiller the latter wanted. As such, despite amassing plaudits on the festival circuit (it was nominated for Best Film and Harris won Best Actor at Sitges), Trimark sent The Eternal direct-to-video in July ‘99.

Also known as ‘Trance’ and ‘The Eternal: Kiss of the Mummy’.

USA ● 1998 ● Horror ● 91mins

Alison Elliott, Jared Harris, Christopher Walken ● Wri./Dir. Michael Almereyda

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