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.

The Mummy (1932)

It comes to life! …A love that defied time drives a beautiful girl to her doom!

It was 10 years after the discovery and opening of Tutankhamen’s Tomb in the Valley of Kings. The cultural commencement of modern Egyptology, propelled in newspapers by the Curse of the Pharaohs as soon as that expedition’s financier Lord Carnarvon died shortly afterwards. Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle became a great supporter of the idea of an ancient Egyptian curse, and it was more such vocal support and the supernatural public interest than his 1890 story The Ring of Thoth that inspired Universal to craft their adaptation as part of their pre-code production block. Universal saw a horror in the making, and the sand started shifting on a new franchise. Not finding a book to adapt, Nina Wilcox Putnam developed a script based on occultist Alessandro Cagliostro, enhancing the 18th century magician charlatan into an immortal on a 3,000 year old tale of love, horror and curses. It was a treatment that brought the great actor then billed as Karloff the uncanny into the frame and he remained as the script fell to John L. Balderston, not only a veteran of Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein, but crucially a reporter for New York World covering the opening of King Tut’s tomb a decade before.

“This is the scroll of Thoth… Herein are set down the magic words by which Isis raised Osiris from the dead”

Balderston brought in the literal trappings of his previous scriptwriting, alongside his enthusiasm for Egyptology. While the result noticeably follows the beats of 1931’s Dracula, The Mummy set a new template. Later Mummy films would dwell on the zombie element of the monster. Often faceless, a killing shape before slasher horror arrived to craft their own, always an unstoppable force no matter its motivation, the image of the bandage swathed mummy would fuel imaginations for years to come. And that paints this striking interpretation of a man out of time, a sympathetic villain who could wander among modern day humans in an even more distinctive light. Of course, that’s a trick that other great monster Dracula could pull off, albeit with some light restrictions. And the concept of a love carried through millennia would later work its way back to reinforce the romanticism of the Dracula myth.

As one wonderfully inflated tagline ran, “Stranger than ‘Dracula’ … More fantastic than ‘Frankenstein’ … More mysterious than ‘The Invisible Man“”

Karloff’s Im-Ho-Tep was the resurrected foe, named for the architect of the first Great Pyramid. And Karloff the Uncanny as he was billed, the master of shaping the distinctive look of both Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster wasn’t the only talent drafted in. Jack Pierce took up make-up duties as he had on many classic Universal films, supposedly studying mummies to create his effective design, applied and unapplied extremely uncomfortably in eight hours. Supposedly, as his incredible make-up bore little relation to actual mummified Egyptians as many would later find out. Karl Freund, rising from his lauded position as cinematographer on Dracula and Murders in the Rue Morgue the year before, seized the directorial reigns with stunning effect. Opposite the sublime Karloff Freund cast accomplished stage actress Zita Johann, herself a rather devout believer in reincarnation. She sunk into the role, despite a famously difficult relationship with the director that at one pint saw her stumble exhausted into a den of lions. Only for that entire sequence to fall to the cutting room floor.

“His eyes were like shattered mirrors” – Johann on Karloff.

That scene of Roman martyrdom was part of a larger concept that dragged of Johann’s reincarnated character through horrible deaths in Baldestone’s script, including a similar fate at the hands of Vikings and Crusaders. In the final, lean 73 minute cut all bar her original death in Ancient Egypt were excised for speed. It was a move that no doubt disappointed Johann and robs the film of its truly distinctive reach between time zones.

Like Dracula the year before, The Mummy titles (where Boris Karloff takes top billing) open to the recognisable motif of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Act II. It’s an interesting choice, an interesting repeat, but more apt in this the tale of a transformational, fatal love than its famous forbear.

The art of the ancient

“Sentenced to death not only in this world, but also in the next”

Those balletic bars take us straight to Egypt, but not one so ancient. There would have to be a real trick to portraying that. It’s a setting that had already been captured in epic style by the likes of Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments in 1923, and would go on to provide some of Hollywood’s most spectacular moments throughout its Golden Age. With The Mummy Freund takes us through short pans of the ruins that hark back to those times to sign proclaiming a Field Expedition of the British Museum in 1921. With the exception of lone flashback, the film takes place in the near contemporary. While the scope is toned down as a result, but the atmosphere and stylings of a time before are meticulously captured by one of the film’s master signings, prolific illustrator Willy Pogany.

“It looks as though he died in some sensationally unpleasant manner”

The film doesn’t dwell long in 1921. While there, we’re thrown into a clash of human curiosity, the promise of wealth the science of discovery and the inherent superstition of three characters. The great excavator Whemple, the wise Muller (Edward van Sloan playing another variant of Van Helsing) and the disposability of Whemple’s young assistant Noton. The discovery’s already been made and a strange mummy that thwarts their knowledge stands in the background while the three flesh out the core struggles for us. It’s quick, light exposition that weaves a quick mystery: that there’s an unusual lack of embalming scars, that he was buried alive, that his crime must have been grave, the translation of his name. the mystery was about to start walking.

“Put it back, bury it where you found it”

This is the only time we see Karloff in full make up, only we really don’t. The anecdotes about the impossible costume Karloff had to wear, also designed by make-up maestro Pierce, are many. But Freund only ever shows him from the waist up. It’s bold and brave. We see young Norton left alone to open the scroll he was warned against. We see the mummy’s eyes open slowly, Karloff’s deeply unsettling stare, a hand extend to steal the scroll. But mainly, we see the consequences on Norton, clamouring in uncontrollable laughter, “He went for a little walk” screams the instantly mad Norton. How could a scientist have resisted? With the mummy gone, how could the newly insane youth be believed when he claims that a 3,700 year old corpse wasn’t stolen, but walked out…

“Once, ten years ago, he found too much”

The film then jumps to the true contemporary, a similar expedition in 1932 with Whemple’s son leading the way, his father never having returned to Egypt since the events of 10 years before. It’s there and then, with Karloff’s return, that the film reveals its first unexpected brilliance. It is in the guise of strangely knowledgeable local Ardath Bey that Karloff’s Mummy appears for the majority of the film. It’s impossible for the audience not to realise the villain in their midst, through Karloff’s measured menace. Less directly, his name not only references the moniker Ardath that appears of uncertain origins in Christian apocrypha but rather chillingly is an anagram for Death by Ra. Presenting a compelling piece of the princess Ankh-es-en-amon funery equipment. Within minutes it’s clear that this monster has an ulterior motive. Although they’ve come to him without invitation, this is akin to Dracula drawing up his legal papers for a place in London with Jonathan Harker. Like the count, he has his own quirks. His dislike of being touched what he puts down to “an Eastern prejudice”.

His nefarious scheme sees the monster of the piece using the British expeditionary resources to fulfil his plan. And with a plan 3,700 years in the brewing, the mummy uses the international flavour of the piece well. The subject matter, no doubt enhanced by Baldestone’s journalistic knowledge, makes good use of the zeitgeist – providing a solid sense of reality for audiences who likely may not have been to London let alone Egypt. The Mummy should showcase the effect of an ancient power spilling into the new world. We’re told that the British mine the Egyptian grounds where the Egyptians are forbidden to. While the colonial expatriates wine, dine and dance near Giza, over in the Cairo museum we see Im-Ho-Tep survey the discovery. It’s there that Whemple senior, spurred into a return by the incredible discovery unwittingly comes face to face with his greatest discovery. Walking straight back into the horror that forced him away from Egypt for a decade, but unaware. That’s the kind of fabric The Mummy brings to horror, distinct from Universal’s other great properties.

“The British Museum works for the cause of science, not for loot”

Having roused unearthed his prize, for reasons as yet unknown, it may seem that the mummy’s realised his plot. But that’s when the piece plays its main card, a satisfyingly muddled one at that. Almost everything about Im-Ho-Tep is kept secret until the last moment. We see him attempt a ritual with little explanation, leading to his first murder, off-screen, around the 25 minutes mark. The cause, later termed as shock, is unclear. Foreshadowing later attempts to fuel horror franchises with the threat of inevitable death, the mode of the Mummy’s danger started off in the recent coverage of the Curse of the Pharaohs.


“Do you have to open graves to find girls to fall in love with?”

It’s not just Im-Ho-Tep’s ritual and method of killing that builds mystery. That ritual is crucial in summoning Johann’s heiress Helen Grosvenor from across town to the gates of the museum. It’s a curious mystery, but in spite of the connection confusing both Miss Grosvenor and Im-Ho-Tep confuses, the audience isn’t left in the dark for long. Even young Whemple who’s given little to do but fall victim to the threat of the mummy and the charms of Miss Grosvenor connects the unseen princess’ face with that of the heiress. The fact that the body in the museum was found with the scroll lost 10 years before alongside it brings the weight of the curse flying back to Whemple Senior. By this point, Muller has duly arrived back in Egypt, the actor Edward van Sloan to all intents and purposes taking the same role as he had as Abraham Van Helsing in Dracula. Muller is a catalyst for many of the characters to get up to speed with the impossible. Soon they are able to confront the villain himself in full certainty of who he is, that he can mesmerise and enslave Whemple’s “Nubian slave” through blood. Very quickly the game has changed to that of an all powerful, quiet monster who’s simply untouchable. No matter how often Muller threatens, “If I could get my hands on you I’d break your dry flesh to pieces”.

The events come together to reveal the truth because of the intriguing power of the situation. All events conspire to quickly point to Miss Grosvenor being a reincarnation of the long dead princess, and a rather arbitrary surprise for Im-Ho-Tep.

Im-Ho-Tep’s untouchable nature is reinforced by the revelation of his powers. Fuelling the idea of a curse, and a mirror of the fate that befell Lord Carnarvon, he bestows the remote gift of death through natural means. In one of the shots of the piece, we see him induce a heart attack in Whemple Senior through a through a mystical pool.


“Have we not met before Miss Grosvenor?”

The idea of reincarnation, or rather the fact of it, presents an intriguingly complicated conundrum.

Miss Grosvenor’s change of personality, curious actions and assertion that she’s “never felt so alive” puts her fully in the mould of one of Dracula’s victims. In the event, it’s an incredible switch between two personalities.

At 45 minutes we finally receive a flashback that takes us from the “bed of death” to Im-Ho-Tep’s betrayal of the Gods and his Pharaoh and subsequent, horrifically statically rendered buried alive. Convulsing quietly in his bondage, he’s the anti Frankenstein’s Monster. The trip back to Ancient Egypt was anticipated, and when it arrives from the processions in the sandy canyons to the funeral procession it’s quietly impressive sets. More importantly, it grant’s Karloff some humanity to work with. The priest caught by a forbidden love, Im-Ho-Tep is a desperate fear and darting looks. The burying is the classical horror of the piece. From Karloff’s bound convulsions to the scratched sarcophagus scratched and layers of death that go to cover up Im-Ho-Tep’s actions by order of the pharaoh.

“Medical science is useless in a case like this”

There is a missed trick in the explanation of reincarnation, however. It’s something that the other recorded, abandoned and now lost flashbacks to Miss Grosvenor dying throughout time may well have helped.

As Im-Ho-Tep explains to Miss Grosvenor, the exhumed mummy of his millennia-lost princess may be the original, but would remain a shell, her essence now reincarnated. Later he would burn the princess’ body in a quite horrific attempt to achieve his goal. Presumably reincarnation is a fate not afforded Im-Ho-Tep thanks to the punishment bestowed on him. The roots of this monster however, come from a great injustice. In comparison, the pitch of the rapid love between Helen and Whemple Junior seems all the more artificial in opposition to that and the millennia long love affair that ensued.

It’s a damaging pull between two time zones, and the risk of the last act, a very condensed one, is that Miss Grosvenor will lose her mind and become someone she hates. Fortunately, the ever-pragmatic and un-sentimental Muller plans to bait a trap using her. When she’s taken from the care of young Whemple, his heart targeted from afar once again, she wakes as the Egyptian princess.

“No man has ever suffered for woman as you have suffered for me”

Im-Ho-Tep’s ritualistic attempts to transform Miss Grosvenor into the princess are quite preposterous, full of wonderfully arch-dialogue (“What mummy has usurped my eternal resting place”) and promises its own horror. A moment of agony, death and then reunification. A drastic and surely risky solution, that’s of course interrupted by mortal rescuers.

What’s intriguing in the incredibly abrupt conclusion is not that the ancient gods seemingly get their revenge on Im-Ho-Tep for the original betrayal, hooked by this woman of two time-zones, or his skeleton burning alongside the scroll, but just how close he came to succeeding. In this eternal tug-of-war hopes of Miss Grosvenor’s recovery rest with Whemple Junior. “He has dragged her back to ancient Egypt, your love for her might breach the centuries,” says Muller. Although, we never see if he succeeds…

“I loved you once, but now you belong to the dead”

While defeating of the vampirism of Dracula hung greatly on the traditions of Christianity, the mummy creates it’s on belief structure and resolution, based on the beliefs of Ancient Egypt.

Out of the bandages

Karloff’s performance is truly a master-class, from his stumbling gait to the make-up and gleaming eyes, heavily shadowed eyes that iconically accompany his remote murders. The Mummy remains an incredible way to realise such a distinctive enemy, bringing him to the modern day so effectively in such a short time span.

Although, similar to the story, many elements of character up a cue from the undead mould of Dracula (“Your dog is frightened. My servant will see to him”), this villain lacks the compulsion to kill for survival and is governed by his attempts to “awaken memories of love and crime and death.” Karloff, especially shrouded in Pierce’s fragile make-up, is an unlikely romantic hero. Although Balderstone’s script repeats scenarios and remoulds material from his Dracula treatment, from relationships and scenes to the powerful imposition of the foe, Karloff and the production craft something singularly distinctive.

So much of the Universal’s key films played on European folklore and literature. With The Mummy, a clear line of obsession with Egyptology that fed into the Victorian and Georgian exploration of Empire, the tone was set for a mythical tale that stretched far in time and place. New science may power the reanimated creature or amoral alter-ego, atavistic power may fuel the Wolfman or the vampire, but it was the mystical sands of myth that created this unique undead. The promise of a door way to a new life… It could only ever be corrupted.

The Mummy would return, but never in Karloff’s form. It would be the priest Kharis who took on the role of bandaged antagonist in the string of Universal sequels, eventually transferring to the fields and villages of New England then Cajun country. The common link would remain the compelling concept of the ancient Egyptian princess’ reincarnation in the modern day. Although The Mummy would become an increasingly shrouded, lumbering oaf all the way to his encounter with Abbot and Costello in 1955. But it’s in the sequel to Karloff and Freund’s classic, The Mummy’s Hand, that inspiration would come to awaken the magic of The Mummy across the Atlantic.

The Mummy (1959)

“Torn from the tomb to terrify the world!”

You’ll struggle to find Jokerside knocking Hammer films, but despite the career defining roles that the studio allowed him, the late Sir Christopher Lee’s horror roles tend to recoil in comparison to his peers over at the Universal lot. His Dracula remains iconic, taking flight a great deal more than Bela Lugosi’s portrayal some 25 years before. But his run, stretched by contractual obligation it must be said, crossed a gamut of quality. And despite some considerable high points, they never managed to outshine the Hungarian actor’s grip on public consciousness. When Lee took on the role of Frankenstein’s creature for the British studio a year earlier, his performance wasn’t granted the screen-time of Karloff’s own creation, his face distractingly hidden under revolting make-up forcibly different from Universal’s patented style. In story far more taken with Peter Cushing’s baron Frankenstein, there wasn’t the scope for Lee to touch Karloff’s subtle and touching performance from 1931. And that clash with Karloff repeated in the final year of the 1950s when he stepped into the Universal’s wake once again.

Greatest hits

Except, almost as a reprieve, Hammer didn’t look to remake Universal’s original film. Instead, they put together a greatest hits of the sequels. Plot elements were taken from three Universal sequels in all, The Mummy’s Hand, Tomb and Ghost respectively. And in the centre was Lee’s Mummy. As such, the film presented the lessened foe that’s seeped into popular culture far more than Universal’s unbandaged original. It’s how the mummy of horror would so often be remembered. And in picking their plots to craft a gripping yarn, hammer lost some of the care that matched Karloff’s performance. Egyptian text became gobbledygook, while the names of Egyptian gods were seized from suitably awe-inspiring sounding places. And while Universal had been happy to spin on the contemporary zeitgeist of Egyptian excavation in the 1930s, Hammer were true to form in dragging their production back to period. The mummy would awaken in 1895, driving apart a more familial set-up 19th century Egypt and then, as opposed to America, Victorian England. Nominally opening much the same as Universal’s original, the set-up reverses the dynamic. While a Joseph Whemple is present (he along with the sacred scroll are effectively all that are retained from Freund’s film), it is his brother and nephew, the Bannings, who lie at the heart of the story. Peter Cushing as the younger Banning may play the enthusiastic youth, so desperate to continue his expedition he neglects a serious leg injury, but he survives the trip to England. This time it is the older Egyptologist, his father who is driven mad when left alone in the newly opened tomb. That moment, and the mummy’s awakening is left to a mid-film set-piece reveal.

Like Universal, hammer packed the production out with the cream of its production line. Cushing and Lee at each other’s throats (if rather one-sided) on screen, Jimmy Sangster on writing duties and Terrance Fisher helming behind the scenes.

Diffused threat

“The mummy, brought to live when I read the scroll”

The crucial shift that came with the Universal sequels was that this Mummy is not the sentient, scheming relic of another time who can imperceptibly manipulate our own. Instead, decayed and horrific, encased in its bandages, incapable of passing as a living thing, it’s at the whim of those who control it. More conventional yes, but spreading and dividing the threat. We first encounter the main villain Mehemet Bey at the front of the film, at the steps of the tomb, an Egyptian warning of consequences. And the film charts his great success in enforcing them. Again, it’s a neat explanation for the Curse of the Pharaoh, if remarkably self-perpetuating. While Bey’s name recall’s Im-Ho-Tep’s pseudonym, it actually makes him a namesake of 13th century Turkish Lord.

“You would do well to remember the ancient saying… He who robs the graves of Egypt dies”

With the colonial explorers’ tampering triggering the plot, it’s crucial that Egypt passes muster. Indeed, the tomb itself, bathed in green light is sumptuous. Quite possibly not matching the meticulous illustrated workings of the 1932 film, it’s resplendent in the full colour palettes Hammer did so well.

But then, Hammer takes more time to dwell in the past than in 1932 – only fair considering how covered Lee’s face was in his bandaged and mummified form. When Cushing’s John Banning is intent on digging out a motive for murder from his father’s scrupulous notes we uncover the truth of the Mummy. Hammer stage a far greater reconstruction of the legendary princess’ funeral than Universal attempted. With more back story there is not only more for Lee to do, but also suffer. Tongue removed, embalmed and led off for entombment. It’s a long sequence of body horror that sits square to the rise of slasher horror that much of the rest of the film predicts. While the scenes are gloriously effective, its inescapable that Lee’s priest just isn’t as sympathetic as Karloff’s.

Under the bandages

“The best part of my life’s been among the dead, but I’ve never been somewhere with such an aura of menace”

Lee’s Kharis, the priest seized from the Universal sequels, has traversed 4,000 years to make his first kill in the 19th century, but it’s only three years before he gets to try out his swamp boots and a slew of directed assassinations in the England of 1898. Physically inferior to Karloff’s Im-Ho-Tep, he’s also incapable of channelling any scheme, despite the reaction that comes at the film’s climax. Instead, for the most part he’s at the whim of a living cult who’s carried its singular intent for longer than the Mummy’s deathless incarceration.

There are impossible nods to other Hammer adaptations in the horse and cart chases and manors strewn across the moors, a setting that Fisher wrings with effectively slanted camera angles.

“Relics officer, Egyptian relics, nothing more”

Briefly dormant in his swampy comfort, Lee’s mummy is awakened by Bey, emerging tall and imposing as ever, his arms bound. Gangly and intent, in an echo of his reanimated monster the year before, there’s simply not the scope for Lee to match Karloff. But on his rampages through the English countryside, an inevitable terror, he’s incredibly effective. None better than his successful assault on the secure asylum room of Banning Senior, or his later entrance into Banning Junior’s drawing room. Even away from the looming architecture of the British Museum, as with universal’s later sequels, there’s a joy to be found in the incongruous sight of a mummy stumbling through the bayous of Cajun Country or lamp lit country lanes of England. When it comes to the break of suspense though, there’s little room for mystic powers when this Mummy can command its considerable physical strength. The identity of his master is revealed with indecent haste, and the element of reincarnation pushed back to key lot beats. The film is happy to push the physical terror, violence and nudity (in some countries) while the mystery is reduced to the ancient origins of the Mummy himself.

From the slasher

“It’s just, I think the maniac may come here again”

Come the end, Cushing’s John Banning has been quite unfairly left as the last man standing. It’s a simple one-on-one battle, and one that he couldn’t possibly win against his ancient opposition were it not for his wife. The reincarnation reduced, it seems that the Mummy is taken by the incredible similarity Banning bears to his long dead love. Love conquers all, indeed. Or as Banning reasons, “the mummy’s been dead 4,000 years”. He hadn’t laid eyes on a female for a very long time…

A special note should be made of the Holmesian preposterousness of one scene. It’s a fine analogy given the crossovers with Hammer’s The Hound of the Baskervilles that emerged the same year. Left hanging by the constabulary, banning takes to the nearby house he hears has been conveniently and recently rented by… An Egyptian gentleman. It’s a classic villain meeting of provocation through the exchange of passive aggressive dialogue. Although the visit alerts the foe to Banning’s survival of his assassination attempt, banning is well aware of his ace. He’s married to her.

Beauty and the beast

“The history of your country is steeped in violence”

In a variation of the age old tale, the unstoppable undead is undone by the stirrings of his long lost love. Not the millennia of unpaid punishment as befell Im-Ho-Tep, but the consequences of a doomed love affair that remains exactly that. Despite the foe’s irredeemable character, after killing Bey to resist his orders it’s the fundamental infatuation of the now masterless creature that tugs the heart strings strongest. Simply unable to resist, once again you can almost hear someone whisper, “’twas beauty that killed the beast…”

Throughout the millennia, across the Atlantic, in different states of repair, some things remain consistent…

Coming next: leaping forward to Universal’s late-90s Mummy revival. Things were about to get adventurous…

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