(The following is an article I did for a now-defunct magazine. It now appears a bit dated because it was written in 1998, but still viable, I think.)

Is there any horror movie fan alive today who doesn’t know the basic theme of the mummy movie? For that rare individual, I’ll sum it up here: in ancient Egypt, boy loves girl, boy loses girl, boy tries to revive girl and is buried alive for his trouble. Several millennia later, boy (now mummy) is resurrected and tries to reclaim reincarnated girl who is saved by present day lover/fiance/husband, and mummy is reduced to a dust-bunny. This is the usual pattern. There may be a few movies which have a different story frame, but the basic theme is always the same: a being striving for reincarnation and immortality with a loved one.

How can anyone be afraid of a mummy?” I was asked. “All he can do is lumber around, dragging one leg! If he tripped, he’d topple over and be as helpless as a turtle on its back!” True, perhaps, but anyone unlucky enough to get within reach of those grasping fingers was definitely a goner, and is there anything more chilling (or frightening) than a thing that comes slowly, steadily, inexorably onward, never stopping or even slowing down its progress in spite of bullets, bombs, and grenades?--a creature seemingly indestructible who, no matter how many times it appears to be destroyed, still recovers and continues once more toward its assigned goal? There’s also something incredibly sad--and mysterious--about those bandage-wrapped bodies, preserved for all eternity, silently waiting in their cold, stone tombs, or in a sealed glass museum case, for their souls--their Kas--to return to reunite with them....

That was the feeling I had when I went to the King Tut Exhibit in L.A a couple of years ago. Being a Tut-ophile from the word "GO"--or before that, even--and owning several books on the most famous Pharoah ever, I felt this tremendous sadness that he had died so young, before ever realizing whatever potential he might have had, leaving an even younger wife, and an empire which was destined to be returned to its previous polytheism by the man who is now believed to be his grandfather. Speculate on what Tutankhamun might have done had he lived past the age of seventeen. Think about the fact that the only thing this deceased young man is famous for is having died!

But I digress, as they say (and they say that a lot!) Today, I'm writing about mummy movies, not actual mummies, so kindly go back and quickly re-read the first two paragraphs. I'll wait.

Finished? That was quick! Now, that should get us into the proper spirit! All Set? Good! Let’s start with the Granddaddy of ‘em all: Universal’s 1932 thriller, THE MUMMY. With a few strains of Tschaikovsky’s Swan Lake and an explanation about the Egyptian Scroll of Life, we’re off! EGYPT, 1927: Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) and Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan, he of Dr. Van Helsing, DRACULA fame), members of the British Museum’s Field Expedition, uncover a mysterious box containing an even more mysterious scroll, and an unmarked casket, its occupant showing signs of having been buried alive. Disobeying Dr. Muller and translating the scroll, an assistant goes stark raving mad, while mummy and scroll vanish. Cut to SECOND EXPEDITION, 1932: Sir Joseph, his son, Frank (David Manners), and Dr. Muller are at it again; this time, they find the tomb of Ankhesenamun, daughter of Amenophis IV, with the help of Egyptian Ardath Bey (Boris Karloff) who mysteriously appears with a relic from the tomb and shows them exactly where to dig! Egad, sir! Frank meets Helen Grovesnor (Zita Johann), who has been displaying odd behavior, such as trying to break into the Museum of Antiquities at night. Ardath Bey awakens dormant memories in Helen. In his home, she gazes into a mysterious pool and see the tragedy that unfolded thousands of years before: Imhotep (also Karloff) loved Ankhesenamun but they were forbidden to marry because she was a priestess of Isis. When Ankhesenamun died, Imhotep stole the Scroll of Life in order to revive her but was discovered, and condemned to be buried alive, along with the scroll. When the assistant at Sir Joseph’s earlier dig translated the scroll, he aaccidentally resurrected Imhotep, who now poses as Ardath Bey. Helen is the incarnation of his beloved. In the nights that follow, Ankhesenamun’s mummy is stolen from the museum, Helen’s guarddog is killed, and Sir Joseph dies under odd circumstances. Threatening to kill Frank, Ardath Bey forces Helen to accompany him to a chamber where he plans to perform a ceremony which will restore Ankhesenamun to him. Briefly possessed by the Princess’s spirit, Helen submits until Frank and Dr. Muller break in. She prays to a statue of Isis for help, and the goddess points her ankh at Ardath Bey, reducing him to the crumbling dust he really is, freeing Helen from the curse and sending her into Frank’s arms. Though the dialogue is stilted and formal by today’s standards, everyone had an upper class British accent, and the soundtrack has that oddly muffled quality that a good many movies of the 30's seem to possess, THE MUMMY holds up well, the desert sequences having an authenticity that makes one wonder if they were actually documentary footage, and the costumes and frescoes in the ancient sequences are realistically detailed. (An interesting sidelight is that Amenophis IV, Ankhesenamun, and Imhotep were actual people: Imhotep is credited with being the achitect who drew the plans for the Great Pyramid, Amenophis IV became the monotheistic heretic Ikhnaten, who is alternately believed to be either the half-brother or father of Tutankhamun, and Ankhesenamun, Amenophis' daughter, was the wife of Tutankhamun.)

THE MUMMY was received enthusiastically by viewers and, with the earlier profitable acceptance of DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN, Universal was encouraged to produce another mummy film: THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940), which introduced ill-fated lovers Kharis and Ananka to the movie-going world. The story was basically the same, only this time, Kharis (‘30's cowboy actor, Tom Tyler) is kept in stasis by a group of priests who brew sacred tana leaves to revive him whenever Ananka’s tomb is threatened. This time, the heroes are two Americans archaeologists stranded in Cairo, Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and Babe Jensen (Wallace Ford). There’s more action, the dialogue’s snappier and more natural, with plenty of quips and (now dated) slang, the characters more brash and happy-go-lucky (this was, after all, just prior to World War II, and as everyone knows, Americans of that time period were confident, devil-may-care, and always got the girl!) Unable to get funding for excavation of an unknown tomb, Steve and Babe, a glib, inverterate conman, meet Marta Solvani (Peggy Moran) and her father (Cecil Kellaway), a traveling magician from Brooklyn (!), and soon are up to their boottops in mummies and nefarious high priests. They pool their resources to open the tomb but high priest Andoheb (George Zucco) unleashes Kharis to stop it. Kharis menaces the girl and is immolated during a fight within the tomb when a fire is started. Mummy goes up in smoke (watch the dust fly from the wrappings when Kharis and Steve fight!), high priest is killed, Steve gets Marta, and Ananka and her treasures are shipped to the U.S., with Babe making a few wisecracks to bring the film to a laughing close, all formulaic but entertaining.

THE MUMMY’S HAND was followed in quick succession by The MUMMY’S TOMB (1942), THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944), and THE MUMMY’S CURSE (1944), and by that time, the Mummy was probably cursing a-plenty!. Though each story added some new element, otherwise they were almost identical, only the names of the actors changing: Kharis (Lon Chaney), his guardian high priest(John Carradine, Turhan Bey, Martin Kosleck, Peter Coe) who usually gets killed by Kharis when he decides he wants the girl for himself, the current incarnation of Ananka (Elyse Knox,Virginia Christine, Ramsay Ames), and the hero (John Hubbard, Robert Lowery, Dennis Moore). With THE MUMMY’S TOMB, the locale switches from Egypt to the U.S--to the town where Ananka and her treasures were sent. This sequel was a little unusual in that it immediately killed off the cast from the original film: Marta is already dead when the story opens, Steve and Babe are dispatched soon after by the marauding Kharis, as is Steve’s sister, leaving his son to fight the mummy alone, which he does--and successfully--in proper hero-fashion, until the next sequel. (I have been told that the 1993 video of this movie omits the scene where actress Mary Gordon is murdered, but have not viewed this actual version myself--I've seen the dastardly deed.)

The main difference in THE MUMMY’S GHOST is that this is the one time that Kharis actually gets the girl! After the required mayhem and terrorization by Kharis, she carried into a swamp. As they get farther and father away from civilization, she begins to transform into Ananka, only to perish when Kharis sinks into the quicksand . In THE MUMMY’S CURSE, set twenty-five years later, Kharis finds himself in the Louisiana bayou (utilizing the set left over from SON OF DRACULA, perhaps?) where he does his usual amount of mayhem before once more being dispatched.

After this, Kharis was silent for a while, content to lie in his sarcophagus and rest until disturbed (as Klaris) by ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY, in 1955, a film critics have panned mercilessly. It is so bad, the legend goes, that the actor playing the Mummy asked to be left out of the credits! Nevertheless, I liked it, but what do I know?--I was only thirteen at the time! Besides, I thought that anything Abbott and Costello did was hilarious!

Once again, the Mummy was allowed to rest, and then, a new film company burst upon the scene, the British filmmaking scene, that is. Hammer Films set about re-making the classics and re-furbishing their monsters, and good ol’ Kharis was included--in 1959, THE MUMMY, with Christopher Lee as Kharis, Peter Cushing as John, and Yvonne Furneaux as Ananka. This time around, it is the hero who has the limp, a result of refusing to have a broken leg properly tended because he didn’t want to miss the opening of the Princess’ tomb! Most of the action takes place on a murky, misty English estate--with the majority of Hammer’s “repertory company” included as cast--and Kharis once again meets a watery “death” in a local bog. This was the first film in color; it was well-acted, atmospheric and as “goosebumpy” and violent as all the other Hammer Films. This was followed a few years later by CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1964), which involved not Kharis, but twin Princes of Egypt, one of whom murders the other and is then sentenced to immortality until he is slain by his victim. Terence Morgan, Ronald Howard (not Opie, but the son of the late actor Leslie Howard), Jeanne Roland, and Fred Clark (as a PT Barnum-like entrepeneur who wants to take the mummy to the States) star.

BRAM STOKER’S THE MUMMY (1997) is a straight-to-video film (A-Pix Entertainment) adapted from Stoker’s novel “The Jewel of the Seven Stars”, which had been remade twice previously as BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1971) and THE AWAKENING (1980) (neither seen by this writer), and features more familiar faces. This one opens in August, 1947, then jumps to the present in Marin County, California. Abel Trelawny (Lloyd Bochner) is stricken in his home by unknown forces after he receives half of a mysterious clay tablet in the mail. His daughter, Margaret (Amy Locane), asks ex-lover and art historian, Robert Wyatt (Eric Lutes) for help. When Wyatt arrives at the Trelawny estate, he finds the usual strange goings-on: Abel has left unusual but specific orders about what is to be done if he is injured, people are attacked inside locked rooms, blood seeps out of air ducts, the servants desert en masse, and the head of security, Daws (Mark Lindsay-Chapman). hints that Margaret is behind it all. Something is buried under a ton of sand in the basement; it disinters itself and lurks behinds a set of bedsprings, dispatching two servants who poke around with a little blackmail in mind. Wyatt enlists the help of his friend Bryce Renard (Richard Karns, trying to rid himself of his “flannel man” HOME IMPROVEMENT image by playing a museum curator and ardent but good-natured womanizer) but Bryce is electrocuted when lightning strikes the phone booth he is in as he desperately tries to warn Wyatt of danger. Finding John Corbeck(Louis Gossett, Jr.), Abel’s partner in his archaeological digs, he brings him to the mansion and there, the pieces finally fall into place. Corbeck explains that he and Abel found the tomb of Queen Tera, of whom legend stated that she was murdered by her priests because she was too popular with the people. In reality, Tera arranged to cheat death and the priests by having her personal physicians mummify her, burying the “Jewel of the Seven Stars” with her. When the seven stars are in alignment and certain rituals are performed, Tera will come back to life with the aid of the jewel. Over the years, Corbeck and Abel dismantled Tera’s tomb and its contents, shipping them piece-by-piece to his home, where they were reassembled. Insisting Margaret be present, Corbeck opens the tomb, the stars align, and they unwrap the mummy revealing a living woman inside the bandages. Corbeck goes insane and is killed by Tera, who then melds with Margaret. In the last scene, Wyatt and Margaret are leaving on their honeymoon when Margaret gives the Jewel of the Seven Stars to her father as a going-away present. The story ends with Wyatt, alone in a hotel room with his new wife, suddenly realizing that Margaret and Tera have become one.

Of the three Mummy films produced within the past two years, RUSSELL MULCAHY’S TALE OF THE MUMMY (also known as TALOS THE MUMMY) (Dimension Home Video, 1998), is more like a police thriller than a horror story. Fast-moving, it starts quickly, and has an ending with a twist (and several more in between).

SCENE: Egypt (of course), 1948. Sir Richard Turkel (Christopher Lee, on the other side of the bandages for a change) and his expedition open the tomb of Talos, a heretical Greek exile, ignoring the Usual and Customary warnings and curses. (One wonders what would happen if they did heed them! Well, for one thing, we wouldn't have much of a movie!) A brisk wind is released, and Something Else, which quickly dispatches the three archaeologists in an unusual but gruesome manner but not before Sir Richard manages to detonate a load of TNT and re-seal the tomb. NEXT SCENE: 1999, same place, same tomb, different Turkel. Sir Richard’s granddaughter, Sam (Louise Lombard), reopens the tomb. Their environmentally-safe equipment notwithstanding, her fiance dies while recovering a medallion hanging from a ledge and others, particularly Bradley Contese (Sean Pertwee), are affected by varying forms of hysteria. SWITCH TO: London, seven months later. All that remains of Talos--his funeral wrappings--is displayed in situ in his open stone sarcophagus. Now, the action really starts! Blackout, broken windows, guard killed, mummy wrappings disappear. Dead man’s eyes are missing. Other deaths occur, including a visiting U.S. Senator and a Seeing-Eye dog. Sam and the expedition’s doctor, Claire Mulrooney (Lysette Anthony as a Hillary Clinton lookalike--Attention, Studio Heads: if you ever do a movie about the Clintons, look up this lady!) offer to help. By this time, Brad is Off the Deep End, shaving his head and tattooing it with sacred symbols. With the aid of psychic Edith Butrose (Shelley DuVall) he tries to prevent one death and gets himself arrested. At the station house, he and the interrogating officer are killed. The investigating officer (Jason Scott Lee), an Asian-American named Riley (!) assigned to the U.S. Embassy, learns Talos’ history: tired of the Dirty Doings and Debauchery in the palace, Pharaoh sent his men to dispatch his son-in-law, but Talos’ followers beat him to it. They kill their Master and devour his major organs (eyes, lungs, etc.) to keep them safe until he can rise again and reclaim them! When the tomb was opened, Talos’ spirit escaped. With the major alignment of three planets (just about to happen--what a coincidence!) if Talos can find his organs, he will live again. Those who were killed (even the dog?) are the reincarnations of his original murderers. Sam, they believe, is the reincarnation of Talos’ wife, Nefriana, who ate his heart (ugh!). When she is kidnapped, a search through an abandoned building reveals who’s who and what’s what. Influenced by Talos, Professor Marcus (Michael Lerner) kills Edith. Dr. Mulrooney then kills the Professor when he manages to throw off Talos’ spell. When Riley arrives, though he and Sam have fallen in love (this movie is only 100 minutes long, so that kind of relationship happens fast!), he shoots her in the heart to damage it so it will be of no use to Talos. Then he learns the Awful Truth: It isn’t Sam who is Nefriana’s reincarnation, but Riley himself! Talos kills Riley, the doctor does a little cardiac surgery and his heart is inserted into the mummy’s body, just as the planets slip into alignment. Watching Talos become fully human, Dr. Mulrooney uses her cell phone to call the police and confess to the murders. As she is led away, a laughing lunatic, Riley/Talos makes his way into the modern world.

The use of just the mummy wrappings instead of a total body is a novel but eerie effect. This is one monster who doesn’t stumble about! At first, looking like nothing more than a handful of ragged strips, they scuttle around like a cloth spider (and everybody knows how scary spiders are!)--across ceilings, under doors, inside walls, and through floors, wrapping themselves around victims, enveloping automobiles, forming into a fist to smash a windshield. As each organ is reclaimed, they gain shape, becoming more manlike with each death. There is more suggestion of gore and violence than is actually shown but this only adds to the suspense.

Released to movie theatres in 1999, Universal’s latest version of THE MUMMY was a special effects extravaganza and a thoroughly enjoyable fun. Think “INDIANA JONES MEETS THE MUMMY”! Rick O’Connell, an American adventurer (Brendan Fraser) rescued from an Egyptian jail, and Evelyn (Rachel Weicz) an English librarian living in Cairo, along with her inept Egyptologist brother Jonathan (John Hannah), set out to find a lost city. They succeed, but bring back more than they bargained for. The formula is still there, but the way it is presented is engrossing and exciting. This mummy (Arnold Vosloo) is no staggering hulk but is mobile, intelligent, cunning, and--yes, admit it!--sexy! If it weren’t for his nasty habit of reverting to his actual crumbly self on occasion, and killing people in such unpleasant ways, one would be tempted to choose him over the hero. The flashback scenes showing Imhotep’s crimes (he and Anck-Su-Namun kill the Pharoah, then she commits suicide, confident that he will revive her but before he can, he is arrested and buried alive), as well as the episodes in the tomb when Anck-Su-Namun is finally resuscitated, are filled with so many special effects that one barely knows which to watch! It’s a fast-paced adventure, that doesn’t slow down a moment, from the first attack by the desert tribesmen who protect the lost city to the final confrontation in the tomb itself.

Two sequels to this film, THE MUMMY RETURNS and THE SCORPION KING, followed. If seen in the correct order, THE SCORPION KING should be seen first. Staring The Rock, it's the tale of the first Pharoah (who, according to the History Channel, actually existed) and his life a la Conan the Barbarian before he became king. In THE MUMMY RETURNS, which occurs some years after the first movie, Rick and Evelyn have married and have a precocious son who's as devious as his uncle Jonathan, and as adventurous as his father. Evelyn is discovered to have been the Pharoah's daughter and Anck-Su-Namun's enemy and gets to fight her both in ancient Egypt and when she's reincarnated. More revivied Egyptian soldiers, chases through pyramids and across deserts, the guardian tribesmen reappear, and Imhotep's arch-enemy and nemesis, the Scorpion King, also brought back through magic, rises to save the day!

Well, that’s it: end of guided tour through Mummyland! (I’ve heard rumors of a straight-to-video THE NEW ADVENTURES OF LAUREL & HARDY which spoofs the mummy movies, but have no other details yet.)

Hope this little excursion was interesting and not a dry and dusty (excuse the pun!) trip!


(NOTE: The films in this survey are those with which the author has a personal acquaintance. Undoubtedly others exist, both in the U.S., and elsewhere, but those will be excluded because they have not been reviewed by this writer and she therefore has no knowledge of them.)

5 comments

  1. Helen Scott Taylor // January 31, 2008 at 6:13 PM  

    Toni,

    An interesting run down of 'Mummy' films. I do remember seeing some of the older ones, but not very well. I loved the latest-- The Mummy, The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King. I enjoy adventure films with a touch of the paranormal.

  2. Sandra Cox // January 31, 2008 at 7:53 PM  

    Ya got to love a good mummy movie or book.

  3. Nightingale // January 31, 2008 at 8:48 PM  

    Wow, Toni, you stirred my memory bank. You're an expert on old films, Girl. Well written, interesting article. I'm sure you remember Pinewood Studios and Hammer Films!!!!

  4. Georgie Lee // February 1, 2008 at 12:30 AM  

    Going through your list of movies I was surprised by how many I'd seen. There is something very fun about old horror movies.

  5. Cinthia Hamer // February 1, 2008 at 8:42 AM  

    I remember the old versions of The Mummy and Dracula...watched on a black and white TV. They scared the bejeebers out of me, too! LOL!

    Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, eh...scary yes, but sexy, a big fat zero.

    I much prefer Arnold Vosloo's sexier, more...evolved Mummy. And The Rock as the Scorpion King...Mmmmmm. LOL!

    Thanks for dredging up the memories!