The Mummy Unwrapped: Original Shifting Sand from Universal to Hammer

Karloff the Uncanny The Mummy

The original shared film universe of Hollywood is stirring in its crypt, as a new Universal Mummy is set to emerge in 2017. This Halloween found Jokerside wrapping itself up in… The Mummy. Before we head to action-adventure, we first pitch Boris Karloff against Christopher Lee in two undead classics!

THERE’S A HIERARCHY OF HORROR, YOU DON’T NEED ABBOT AND COSTELLO TO POINT THAT OUT. From the great gothic tradition, there are some clear if conflicted leaders. Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde have been adapted over 140 times. Mary Shelley’s older diabolical exploration of nature and nurture has led Dr Frankenstein to the screen over 150 times, and that’s not to mention, unironically, a legion clones. It’s no surprise that these characters along with the odd Phantom of the Opera and Invisible Man have led the charge of literature adaptations in Hollywood and across the planet.

That was never clearer than when Universal Studios were propelled to another level by their adaptations of Dracula and Frankenstein in 1931. Those smashes came almost ten years after the studio had kicked off what would become a highly successful brand of heightened stylish horror, fantasy and science fiction. On screen, names were made overnight. A number of actors still have their names indelibly attached to parts that were galvanised during the Studio’s peak. Although many swapped across various leading roles of the key franchises that spilled down from these iconic originals, there’s no doubt whose names are still a breath away from that era’s Frankenstein, his monster, Dracula or the Wolf Man. But standing head and shoulders above them all, sometimes literally, there’s one of actor who’s name shouts the loudest. A year after originating Universal’s definitive Frankenstein’s Monster, English actor Boris Karloff originated a threat of a different kind. It wasn’t one that obviously sprung from the literature of the previous century, but it slotted so perfectly into contemporary zeitgeist and the essence of success behind those gothic adaptations that that it quickly set a permanent mark on horror cinema. No wonder it’s gearing up its major relaunch under Universal’s care for 2017. Dracula may not have rediscovered his lost love so much, slashers may not have been the same, zombies might never have caught on… without… The Mummy.

The Universal universe

It was Karloff who portrayed the Egyptian mummy Im-Ho-Tep himself in that first eponymous film, before other actors took on the role for five sequels in various states of bandage. A giant of the horror film, and certainly one of the finest actors the country has ever produced, the English actor’s nuanced performances as much as his distinctive looks are in large part responsible for the continued hold Universal have over the cultural the perception of The Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster. Karloff acted in a number of Universal films before their association ended with 1952’s The Black Castle. Intriguingly, an earlier temporary break came after The House of Frankenstein as the early rise of Universal’s shared film universe proved too much for him. He later retired to Hampshire in England and before he died in 1969 could not have missed the rise of the British rival to Universal’s hold on the horror film genre. Hammer Studios were in the middle of, if arguably past the peak of, their Dracula and Frankenstein series by the time the world of horror lost Karloff. Hammer is similarly defined by a key core group of actors. And there it’s Christopher Lee who stands out as the key comparator to Karloff. He remains most famous for his occasionally feral blood-eyed Dracula, but it was Lee who followed in Karloff’s footsteps in originating Hammer’s Frankenstein’s monster and then Hammer’s The Mummy.

Hammer Time

And those were greatly different beasts. The brands and rivalry of those two great horror studios were never clean cut. Universal distributed Hammer films in the United States, and various exclusive deals and copyrights led the Hammer adaptations to be markedly different to their Universal forbears. That was clear in not only the look of Hammer’s various monsters of Frankenstein, but also in the emphasis that fell to Baron Frankenstein rather than those creations. Things were a little more muddled with Dracula. Hammer’s Horror of Dracula was typically distributed by Universal having forfeited the rights to distribute the film themselves to gain the rights, earning a longer title to distinguish it from the 1931 Universal film. Although Bram Stoker had never found a publisher in the United States and his most famous book remained out of copyright, Universal had signed an unusual deal with Bram Stoker’s wife that forbade any other film adaptations at the time. Hammer went through the grinder to produce their version, a mere four years before the work became public domain in the United Kingdom. Lee was famously and increasingly more dissatisfied with his role as Dracula, apparently rebelling against the sequels that worked further from the source novel by refusing to speak in some. And that’s after Hammer’s original had managed to be more faithful to Stoker’s original novel than Universal’s effort, though not by much. When it came to their Egyptian starring roles, a product of film rather than prose, things were a little different. Read more…

Halloween IV: Watering Down the Franchise (H20 and Resurrection under the knife)

Halloween H2O Michael Myers

He always comes back. One year on from Jokerside’s retrospective of the first six instalments of the Halloween franchise, we turn to the short-lived 20th anniversary revival. Very short-lived, although the start wasn’t as wet as it sounds…


Or more specifically Jamie Lee Curtis. In the wake of arguably her greatest box-office triumph True Lies (1994), the actress’ thoughts had returned to her big movie break. And in the event, she even brought her mother along for the ride. Janet Leigh’s sneaky cameo as Norma, put the influence of Psycho front and centre once again in a film that succeeds in capturing the roots of the franchise while taking on the changing face of the slasher pic over the past 20 years, picking up the 1960s influences just as the 1978 original had nodded to the gothic horror it had been sent to stake.

Janet Leigh’s Norma can’t be missed as she walks back to 1957 Ford Fairlane 500, the same model her character Marion had in Hitchcock’s 1960 classic. And the score serves up a musical refrain to that film, as she wishes Laurie Strode a happy Halloween. When Laurie first bumps into her it’s perhaps the film’s most effective jump.

However, this mild-reboot, that wiped out three sequels and made an excellent stab at regaining some of its purity as a result, was short-lived. A delayed sequel not only failed to live up to the previous film’s promise, but fell straight back into the trap of prolonged sequels and a severe case of postmodernism, that other horror franchises were languishing in. It’s as though the savage cull of H20, itself a deliberate response to post-modern slashers, had never happened.

How does it go? It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Halloween H20: 20 Year’s later

The anniversary feature was shot in a 2.35:1 ratio just like the original, and that wasn’t the only attempt to recapture the masked magic of 1978. Curtis had wanted to reunite as much of the first film’s crew as possible for the 20th anniversary. An intention that almost brought John Carpenter back to the director’s chair, supposedly only falling through due to the financial disputes with the series regular producers that had rolled on since the original. Instead, the directing job fell to Steve Miner, drafted across from helming the second and third parts of the Friday the 13th franchise.

Twenty years on from the definitive Halloween, the slasher horror genre had come on streets and bounds, but by far the greater influence came from something far more recent than the stomping grounds of Norman Bates or Jason Vorhees. Read more…

Penny Dreadful: The Last Rites

Penny Dreadful Trilogy

That gnawingly immaculate show, clinical, gothic… surely it was intended as a joke for Lit grads? It shouldn’t have gone anywhere but it did until in its third year it was prematurely staked. Jokerside’s final look at Penny Dreadful this Halloween dwells on where the those otherwise immortal characters ended up.

*Spoilers for the complete run guaranteed.*

World Without a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

And so it ended with Wordsworth, the romantic poet so extricably linked to the Frankenstein myth that was just one of Penny Dreadful’s beating hearts. In 2014,the show provided one of the best Frankenstein adaptations during a first season that Jokerside couldn’t help but include in a review of the state of Mary Shelley’s legacy that year. The fall of the witches, a surprising turn that powered the show’s second season, its strongest, was also irresistible. Jokerside mashed it together with Hannibal’s final season in our 2015 update (the best things come in threes), as that show veered from the indulgence of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal to his early perfect thriller Red Dragon.

So, how could Jokerside resist a glimpse at the bitter-sweet end of Penny Dreadful, now the soil has landed on the coffin lid? Happy Halloween.


Despite an emphatic if premature conclusion, it’s difficult to say anything about Penny Dreadful with absolute with certainty. After three seasons of curiously differing lengths the story was noticeably dramatically shortened. Some characters retreated from their potential in the rush while some premises faded away. Hastiness didn’t work well in the Penny Dreadful universe, and that was more apparent than ever when the motley crew entered the villain’s lair in the finale, the climax of three years of meticulous plotting and prophecy. It was the primary storyline revolving around the enigmatic Miss Vanessa Ives that showed the strain, despite the rich fabric that stretched across compelling supporting characters. Those sub-plots, many feeding into the primary story, had mixed success in concluding individual stories. Penny Dreadful was always particularly good at expanding minor and complementary themes, lifted from the great works of gothic horror, and using them to breathe new life into familiar characters. Many had already reached a satisfying end point at the end of the first or even second year only to be have new life breathed into them for the third. Take Caliban, the original creature of Frankenstein who ended the second season on an oh-so-fitting icebreaker his story thwarted in misery, only to return to London to have yet more heartache heaped upon him in the third year.

The finale began as it ended: with death. That was to be expected, but as much as it delivered more sumptuous horror from the pen of John Logan, who’s to say prolonging the pain of these characters was really the enjoyably right thing to do? Even the glimmers of hope were steeped in melancholy.

It’s a key question, as Penny Dreadful, a sometimes purposefully difficult mix of clinical stylisation and gothic romance was always a contrary beast.

Back to one

“The dead place”

Few shows matched Penny Dreadful’s first year success, when it simultaneously provided a compelling conclusion while enhancing and priming its central roster of characters ready for a heightened second year. Not every character made that first year of course, but Brona Croft’s demise not only allowed Ethan Chandler’s story to fulfil its supernatural promise, but through the creation of Lily, propel the good Doctor’s story onto the Bride of Frankenstein. Every character, except Sir Malcolm Murray’s manservant Sembene, was left in a stronger position come the close of that first season. And most tellingly of all, although a strong and unmistakable shadow had been cast, the show’s main nemesis not only failed to appear but wasn’t even named. Come the second season, the show’s longest at 10 episodes, there was an astonishing turn of events as the villain we all anticipated fell back, replaced by the revelation of two separate nemeses of unimaginable power and evil. Two brothers. Two fallen angels. Both of many names. Dracula assumed the physical side. And on the unphysical, the one most easily called Lucifer.

The second year, Lucifer’s time in the limelight, closed with a glorious pitched invasion of the witches lair, a beautifully realised coven enslaved to Lucifer. Her back story having once again taken mid-season prime position, there was no doubt as to the importance of Miss Ives as those dramatic events unfolded. By the end every character had lost something, but for Miss Ives it was the one constant she’d held on to for two years: her faith. That was a strange response to an infernal meeting and escaping the jaws of the devil, but it left her alone in London while the majority of other characters were scattered across the globe.

The third season seized those reins, embracing the global diaspora after the claustrophobic events of the show’s second year. It was a tough act to follow and the multiple, parallel strands in the Arctic, London, America and Africa, unsurprisingly lost the momentum that had made the previous year the show’s strongest. Despite the show’s clear intent to forge powerful stories of its own around familiar characters and original creation Vanessa Ives, the third season couldn’t match the rhythm of its predecessor. That second year benefitted from storming set-pieces, a chilling and opaque foe in those powerful witches and their puppet overlord, a disembodied foe of mystery. That year undermined expectations, pulling characters further from their source works, and the third year consolidated it.

“A grisly, undead thing”

Having established the challenging threat of the two brothers, the third series expanded its interest in pairs. Gothic master of duality Henry Jekyll was a high profile addition, working with his old school friend Victor Frankenstein to control the latter’s second surviving creation. Unfortunately, although the news of the show’s cancellation came late into the run, the third year was forced to confront the imminent apocalypse with indecent haste. And it was a singular mission for the most part. As Vanessa Ives walked into the arms of her immortal lover, other characters were forced to battle their personal demons and almost entirely the consequences of their earlier actions before they could join her. Yes, Vanessa’s true love was the knockout twist of the third year, matching the powerful reveal of Dorian Gray’s painting the year before. This was the year we met Dracula. But anyone expecting the two diabolical brothers to be pitted against each other were to be disappointed. There was little point pitting evil against evil when their rivalry could simply fuel the terror and impossible odds stacked against our anti-heroes. For each one had shown their fair share of weakness and flaws since in the three years prior. One foe eventually had to rise above the other. As established in the year’s mandatory exploration of Vanessa’s background, this time in the claustrophobic confines of an asylum cell, Lucifer was on the descent, Dracula very much on the ascent. Read more…

%d bloggers like this: