Friday, February 24, 2012

Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy's Curse

Marilyn Ross wrote two kinds of Dark Shadows novels: traditional gothic romances (for which the author was primarily known) and batshit crazy, genre-bending fever dreams. Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy's Curse features a vampire, werewolf and mummy so it doesn't take much intuition to guess it's got more in common with Roger Corman than Charlotte Bronte.

Quentin Collins was introduced in Barnabas Collins and Quentin's Demon but was not mentioned in the following novel. Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy's Curse ... sorta. But I'll get to that in a minute.

When last we saw Quentin Collins he was leaping through a window, suffering from a gunshot wound and a raging case of lycanthropy. That was around the year 1890 and his fate in that story was never determined. The Mummy's Curse, a contemporary novel set in 1970, sees Quentin returning to Collinwood in the guise of Herbert Price, an Egyptologist among a band of scientists who are setting up shop in Collinwood. The group is lead by Anthony Collins, a driven, abrasive creep and shirttail relative to the Collins Clan.

I still like him better than THIS guy, though.
Following the laws of Gothic Melodrama, Anthony Collins pressures the particularly unqualified Maggie Evans to temporarily join the group as a secretary. He plans to revive the mummy of Egpytian pharaoh Rehotip, who has been slumbering for thousands of years in a drug-induced coma. Collins also fears the other researchers will try to lay claim t his discovery and clears the house, save for Maggie, as he revives the sleeping king. Rehotip awakens fully revitalized and totally insane and tries to kill the pair before stumbling outside into a snowstorm.

Collins swears Maggie (and later, Barnabas) to secrecy. When the bodies begin to pile up he wins her silence through  extortion, promising to lay the blame for the murders on Barnabas if she tells anyone there is an emaciated corpse roaming the grounds of Collinwood.

I'm going to go ahead and apologize for putting this photo here.
Bad Science abounds on The Mummy's Curse. We're expected to believe that a simple narcotic has kept Rehotip healthy for thousands of years and that this condition can be reversed through the application of a second narcotic (I don't know how it's supposed to enter otherwise inactive digestive and circulatory systems, but whatever.) Also, a poisonous lizard is found inside one of the ancient urns taken from a pyramid, and one of the book's many dubious scholars explains that reptiles can also survive for thousands of years inside crypts.

And then there's the matter of Quentin Collins/Herbert Price. He seems to be avoiding members of the Collins family but when we first meet him he's inside he's skulking around the Drawing Room at Collinwood, presumably looking to introduce himself under his new pseudonym. Roger Collins mentions that a former "Quentin Collins" was rumored to be a werewolf and then later talks as though he knew the man, even though that character lived more than 70 years ago. When dead bodies begin to litter Collinwood, Price/Quentin disappears and is briefly presumed to be the killer. We never find out why he came to Collinwood, why he was masquerading as an Egyptologist, why he left or if he was even the same Quentin Collins of the earlier novel. It's obvious that Quentin's appearance is nothing more than an editorial mandate and that Ross doesn't know what to do with the character.

This guy knows what I'm talking about.
Despite this (or maybe even because of it) The Mummy's Curse is the best kind of fast-food pulp fiction. There are deliriously bizarre scenes scattered throughout, my favorite of which might be when Maggie, walking back to Collinwood, sees Rehotip loping through the darkened woods. There's no ambiguity about what she's witnessed. She KNOWS it's the re-animated mummy of a long-dead Egyptian pharaoh, that he's dangerous and will probably die from exposure in the snowstorm, that he's a SCIENTIFIC MIRACLE ... and she's not the least bit awed by it.Instead, she goes home and hopes that she doesn't get strangled in her sleep.

The Mummy's Curse insists on having it's cake and eating it, too. As with the other Dark Shadows novels in this series there is no doubt that the supernatural plays an active role on the plot (one of the main characters is a vampire, after all) but the mystery always leads to the doorstep of a flesh-and-blood mortal. As in Barnabas Collins and Quentin's Demon (a book in which the werewolf is NOT the culprit responsible for several murders) Rehotip is also a guiltless monster. Even though he tries on several occasions to kill Maggie and other members of the Science Posse, he's just not very good at it. Anthony Price is unmasked in the end as the murderer, Rehotip is burned alive in a storage shed near the Collins family cemetery all returns to "normal."

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