Monday, October 22, 2012

Classic Monster Movie Marathon: The Mummy (1932)

Ah, the mummy. One monster in this little marathon of mine that has not translated that well to the modern day. The first Mummy film made in 1932 spawned just as many installments through Universal (and the British Hammer Films) as their other famous monsters, Dracula and Frankenstein, but this is one monster that has not inspired as many other versions or adaptations as the previous, as far as I know. The remake of The Mummy from 1999 was indeed a fun adventure ride back to ancient Egypt, but there was no horror in the situation there, same as there is no real horror in this original film. And yet, I still find myself really liking this classic monster and his story.

It's Boris Karloff, for pity's sake. He's irresistible.

Anyway, so the plot goes something like this: on an archaeological dig in Egypt, a team discovers the sarcophagus of Imhotep, which is accompanied by a mysterious box. They inevitably open the box even though they are warned not to, reading from a scroll that brings Imhotep back to life. The mummy escapes with the scroll. Ten years later, the son of the one of the original discoverers of the mummy is back in Egypt, and now has to deal with the mummy who has found the person with the reincarnated soul of his long lost love, whom he is determined to bring back to life as well.

Given that, unlike Dracula or Frankenstein, The Mummy did not have a literary antecedent, the story that the filmmakers came up with is a pretty damn good one. The inspiration for the entire film came from the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922, which received an obscene amount of press coverage. I guess they thought it would be cool if old Tut got up and started walking around. Anyway, I like that they gave Imhotep an actual purpose rather than just being a monster who walks around killing people. You can even feel sorry for this character, seeing as how in his first life he was mummified alive because of his love and devotion to Ankh-es-en-amon.

I guess the one thing that really disappointed me about The Mummy was, well... the mummy. This was not the bandage-wrapped, moaning monster I had always envisioned for this, the original Mummy film. We see Karloff in full mummy gear at the beginning when the young assistant wakes him up, but we don't get to see him move like I thought he was going to. Like this:

Isn't that what you always thought of when you thought "mummy"?! I'm guessing now that this cartoon-y interpretation of a mummy stalking people was done in some of the later installments of the franchise, perhaps the Abbott and Costello movie. Anywho, I tried not to let that bother me while watching the film (although it did disappoint me a lot), and instead I tried to focus on the great Boris Karloff and what he did with the role.

Karloff doesn't really have that much to do in The Mummy... then again, Karloff never really has to do much of anything in any of his roles to be powerful or scene-stealing. The over-hanging brow thing makes for quite an intense stare, which is a shot that this movie likes to utilize more than a few times. The makeup on Karloff as the renewed mummy, now named Ardath Bey, consists of just making his face look all dried out and cracked. It's effective, even though it's not what I was looking forward to seeing. Like his most well-known character, Frankenstein's monster, Karloff is able to surprising human qualities to what most would see as a monster. Imhotep is driven by love, and though he plans on murdering another woman to get his true love back, the audience almost wants him to succeed. He manages to be a menacing figure and a victim at the same time, continually being pursued by people who want to stop him.

I really didn't think that I would like The Mummy as much as I did, especially because I got something way less cartoony and silly than I was expecting. The Mummy almost falls completely out of the realm of horror despite its outlandish story simply because of the seriousness of the characters and their motives. This movie has a good story with good characters (except for that guy who supposedly falls deeply in love with Helen after only having just met her) and is kept interesting throughout with all the flashbacks and the surprisingly realistic setting that actually feels like Egypt. The costuming is great, and the sets are believable but not too over-the-top. The climax is a little too anti-climactic for my taste (they much improved on this part with the remake) but overall, The Mummy is an intriguing little movie that can't be missed simply because Boris Karloff is in it. Seriously, that dude is awesome.

Oh, and whaddaya know... I have a picture of myself with The Mummy himself, as well. Gotta love those wax museums (this one being Madame Tussaud's in New York City). I added the sepia tone for a less realistic effect.


  1. Fantastic review - this one is really a goodie - for all the reasons you write about - it's a dramatic love story that just happens to have a 3700 year old reanimated mummy as its lead character.

    I'm sorry you didn't get your mummy itch scratched by this flick, as Ardath Bey takes over pretty quick. For those thrills you have to turn to the later sequels - from Universal: The Mummy's Hand, The Mummy's Tomb, The Mummy's Ghost and The Mummy's Curse; and from Hammer: The Mummy (1959) In those films Tom Tyler, Lon Chaney Jr, and Christopher Lee play the slow walking, hand extended Mummy you're looking for. You can also check out Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, with Universal's go-to stuntman Eddie Parker in the bandages - but it's not one of their best efforts. And none of the Hammer sequels are anywhere near their initial effort - one doesn't even have a wrapped mummy at all! I hope you will take a look at these other mummy movies - they are fun, with some great creepy moments - even if, as someone once said "Here comes the mummy! Let's walk a little faster!"

    1. I might just have to seek out some of those other installments, because they have got to be a real hoot! And with Lon Chaney Jr and Christopher Lee playing the mummies? I'm pretty much sold.

  2. Now you're inspiring me to watch more classic horror films. It's been a while. I've been watching more modern stuff lately.

    1. It's really been a refresher for me to stay away from the modern stuff lately. These movies have a quality to them that can't be replicated!

  3. Good stuff and better than ANYTHING made today!!

  4. This one is my favorite Karloff film...I really wish mummy stories were more popular in film.

    I know I already said this in a comment on another post, but I am so excited that you're reviewing these older Universal movies :)