Plot: archeology students unleash spirit of cursed mummy.
Isis Rising: Curse Of the Lady Mummy (hereafter Isis Rising) is probably the worst mummy movie this side of Dawn Of the Mummy (1981) and Paul Naschy’s veritably insane The Mummy’s Revenge (1975) (which at least had the good grace of having both Helga Liné and María Silva in its cast). Indo-American adult star Priya Anjali Rai headlines this genderswapped riff on Karl Freund’s classic Universal horror feature The Mummy (1932) (with Boris Karloff) along with fellow adult star James Bartholet and an array of regular TomCat Films warm bodies. Written, produced, and directed by platinum blonde one-woman-industry Lisa Palenica and filmed at Mesa Museum in Scottsdale, Arizona Isis Rising is fairly typical TomCat Films fodder that could have been a whole lot worse, but also a whole lot better. As a debut outing Isis Rising is none too shabby an effort and Palenica has enough potential as a filmmaker to carve out a decent career for herself if she ever lands a project with a good script and decent funding. We sincerely hope that Lisa Palenica will be able to exchange TomCat Films and The Asylum productions for greener pastures. Supposedly those that are artistically more fulfilling than this drab.
Everybody has to start somewhere. In case of director Lisa Palenica that was Isis Rising. Not only did she direct; she wrote, produced, and starred in it as well. The only other recognizable name is Priya Anjali Rai who both played the title role and served as an associate producer. In her solitary non-porn production Priya Rai hardly fares half as good as her colleague Veronica Ricci. It makes you wonder when the inevitable TomCat Films production with Xev Bellringer, Bella Brookz, or Kayla Kiss as the female lead is bound to turn up. Isis Rising is one part a contemporary take on The Mummy (1932) and Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast (1963) with a dash of Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) and a resurrection spell straight ouf of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981). It’s the Osiris myth from the Pyramid Texts, a collection of ancient Egyptian religious texts dating to the Old Kingdom, reimagined as a low-budget slasher horror with poster art that probably served better as a Nile or Septicflesh album cover. It’s one of the better TomCat Films production of recent memory, although that bar isn’t exactly high to begin with. Maybe TomCat Films is the new Troma, only time will tell…
In a time before time the glorious kingdom of ancient Egypt was ruled over by primeval god Osiris (Cameron Tevis) and his queen Isis (Priya Anjali Rai, as Priya Rai). His jealous brother Set (Wilman Vergara Jr.) has his sights set upon the throne and murders Osiris in cold blood to crown himself the new ruler of the kingdom. Isis’ attempts to resurrect Osiris with her ritual black magic come to naught when Set catches her in the act and scatters the remains of Osiris across the land. Isis vows to avenge the slaying of Osiris, the true monarch of Egypt, and that promises she and her king will rule over the land once more. In present day Egyptologist Dr. Nasir (Seth Gandrud) has been given the opportunity by curator Nancy Reginald (Judith Eisenberg) to catalog a cache of artifacts recently donated to the museum. To that end he has invited his good friend Professor Robert Shields (Randy Oppenheimer) and the current graduating archeology class – bookworm Amy (Aria Song, as Jing Song), stoner Jay (Michael C. Alvarez, as Michael Alvarez) and his girlfriend Felicia (Lisa Palenica), as well as airheaded jock Dustin (Joshua DuMond) and his girlfriend Serrena (Shellie Ulrich) - to assist him in that task. As Nasir and Amy study The Book of the Undead and set to translate the tablet containing The Lament of Isis, the others fool around in the basement and smoke an ancient herb used in Isis’ resurrection ceremonies. As Isis comes to life in her sarcophagus and vows to slay the descendants of her betrayers, the students one by one fall victim to the curse of the lady mummy…
It goes without saying that Isis Rising, even by the most forgiving slasher standards, is pretty damn tedious and aggravating. The screenplay jumps from one cliché plot contrivance to the next and not one stereotype is avoided. The “spam in a cabin” is the oldest of cheap horror archetypes and Isis Rising conforms to the worst conventions of its American variant. Palenica certainly has done an admirable job under what must have been far from optimal circumstances but that doesn’t remove how boorish Isis Rising is most of the time. There isn’t a whole lot to redeem what little value Isis Rising might have. The digital special effects work is tolerable but isn’t going to win anybody any prices, the cast is what charitably can be called a ragtag bunch of enthusiastic nobodies.
Aria Song and Lisa Palenica are, by far, the best among these assembled warm bodies. Aria Song and her TomCat colleague Ginny You definitely deserve something better than low-hanging cinematic fruit like this. Song and You could hold their own a Netflix, Hallmark, or LifeTime feature. That Veronica Ricci made to the jump to regular cinema is at least understandable as she could reasonably act a bit. Priya Rai on the other hand can’t and doesn’t. Perhaps with a different leading lady Isis Rising could have been something. This clearly isn’t it. Rai is a lot of things but a Valerie Leon, or Helga Liné she most definitely is not. Apparently what little budget there was was spent on bodypainting Rai’s oversized breasts rather than on important things like props, a good writer, or a decent cast.
What mostly kills Isis Rising is how unbelievably turgid and belabored it is. By the 2010s the American slasher had a history spanning three decades (with its European cousin pre-dating it by one or two more) and the mummy had been a staple at least since the old Universal Horrors in the 1930s. In other words, there was plenty of precendent and countless of avenues to take the material in. This has neither the production value of The Mummy’s Revenge (1975) nor the sheer gore of Dawn Of the Mummy (1981) and falls somewhere in that maligned shadowy region of nineties “horror” that was neither sexy nor scary. Obviously the budget was limited as Isis Rising is restricted to about one or two locations with very sparse special effects work. Most effects work is of the reviled digital variety as the budget probably didn’t allow for old fashioned practical – and prosthetic effects. All the usual low-budget criticisms apply: the cinematography from Webb Pickersgill is shoddy at best; nobody except Palenica, and Song can really act; the score is fairly typical of TomCat fodder. Short on both carnage and nudity (some versions optically fog out Raj’s exposed breasts) Isis Rising is horror for people who don’t watch horror. In her defense at least Lisa Palenica knows her horror classics. If only she could prove her directorial prowess with a decently funded production.
Most insulting perhaps is that Isis Rising could have been a halfway tolerable slasher had it been produced by anyone else than TomCat Films. Isis Rising is both torturously overwrought and horrendously undercooked at the same time. As such it is tediously predictable and predictably tedious. By the most forgiving and lowliest of slasher standards Isis Rising has both underwhelming kills and a severe lack of sleaze – and Rai’s massive mammaries alone hardly are enough to keep the viewers’ attention. In hindsight it’s understandable that Priya Rai chose to return to porn after Isis Rising as it’s even more difficult to make it as a mainstream actress (even in the margin and the dregs of Hollywood) than as an adult performer. More damning is that Isis Rising never comes around to fulfilling what little potential it had. A slasher is the easiest, most cost-effective horror subgenre known to man yet somehow Isis Rising manages to make a bodycount movie terminally uninteresting. The brunt of the blame shouldn’t be heaped upon Lisa Palenica. She made the best of what little she was given. The blame falls squarely on TomCat Films for this one. Not even The Asylum would be caught redhanded with dross like this. It makes you wonder what Palenica could do for Arrowstorm Entertainment – or what she could conjure up when paired with Rene Perez or Neil Johnson.