It has just occurred to me that I have never written a biographical piece on English-India born character actor William Henry Pratt, aka Boris Karloff. Never. Not once. Sure, I’ve had other writers on here talking about some of the movies he has been in, namely Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein and even The Mummy, but never, not once have I stepped up to plate. That ends here. For those who are betrothed to the dark and unusual of filmage, that this, horror movies, the name Boris Karloff is not unfamiliar, it is, in fact, legendary. And for good reason. Even tempered natured folks who do not ordinarily dabble in nightmare landscapes know, rudimentary, who Boris is, that is, the Monster, that Frankenstein monster that is. And they wouldn’t be wrong. That’s his role, after all, no skirting the issue or sipping from your craft beer or wine, dressed in some flannel button up with a shaggy beard, pretending as if he never endured the makeup. Just because you saw him in The Black Cat (1934) or Targets (1968) doesn’t negate his crowning achievement. He was the Monster. Don’t walk through the past with blinders on. He will always be the Monster. And here and now, I’d like to correct my above-mentioned misstep and celebrate his career (his work), as it is, highlighting briefly my top 5 favorite Boris Karloff movies.
5. House of Frankenstein (1944). I’m not entirely sold on House of Frank, particularly concerning the Dracula character and how easily he was dispatched; however, I cannot negate Boris’s role as Dr. Niemann, a mad scientist who has supposedly discovered Frankenstein’s secret to immortality and the creation of a new human race of perfectly made people. His role here, obviously, is not the Creature. And as a tip of the hat, I would say he was very dark in this movie, uncaring of dispatching anyone who got in his way.
4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). Say what you will, but I would feel horrible if I did not mention this classic film. Especially now that we’re shuffling towards the holiday season and Turkey Day tomorrow, I would be amiss to ignore one of my favorite Christmas movies. Even at the tender age of 79, Boris’s voice, his deep growls, and slight lisp is uncanny. His performance as the narrator is actually what draws me to the cartoon. If it had been anyone else, I’m not sure I’d enjoy it as much.
3. Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Seems like a total cop-out, but no, back to my above argument, we cannot ignore his masterpiece of horror cinematography. The Frankenstein monster was a role that was limited in dialogue, and so he had to manipulate audience reactions and emotions through gesture and skewed hardened facial expressions. Bride of Frankenstein showcases the evolution of the creature, from mute stumbler to an array of humanistic-like qualia. He was driven, not by fear, but by necessity, the most basic human desire, companionship, a mate.
2. The Black Cat (1934). One of my favorite Edgar Allan Poe adaptations in a string of Poe-inspired films, among such as The Raven (both 1935 and 1963), House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, etc etc, The Black Cat wins the prize, for me at least. The story is adapted for the 1930s era and is based just after The Great War, which ended in 1918. Dr. Vitus Werdegast is on a quest for revenge against the man who took his beloved wife and daughter, an old friend and comrade in arms, Hjalmar Poelzig. Poelzig is harboring a few dark secrets, most of which he shares openly, all but for his insidious religion. Caught in the middle is a young American couple on their honeymoon. The Black Cat is not action oriented, but rather, filled with an overwhelming sense of dread and some of the best dialogue I’ve heard in a long time. If you’ve been holding out, you need to see this movie. This 82-year-old movie may shock you.
1. The Mummy (1932). Without a shadow of a doubt, unashamedly, The Mummy is my all time favorite movie starring Boris Karloff. Why? Sure, we know and love and celebrate him for his role as Frankenstein’s monster, however, for me, his total sum of charisma and stage performance is defined in his role as Ardath Bey, aka Imhotep, priest of Pharaoh Amenophis, mummified for attempting to resurrect his forbidden lover, the princess Ankh-es-en-amon. regarding the other Mummy movies, though Lon Chaney Jr. did his best with what he had to work with, they did not, however, capture the tragedy that is Imhotep. Is he the villain? Perhaps. He certainly has his own agenda in mind. But there’s more. He’s a romantic. Deeply so. All he wants is his beloved princess. Not power or gold or influence, nothing political. He manipulates those he must. And strikes down those who get in his way. Love is not all puppy dogs and rainbows, it’s brutal at its core. Violent even. A man desperate enough to do whatever he must so he can attain that which he desires the most. True love. And Karloff, he plays the role wonderfully.
And there you have it folks, my top 5 Boris Karloff movies. I’m sure you’ve got a few in mind. What are some of your favorite Boris Karloff movies? Comment below in the comment box to enter for your chance to win a signed copy of my latest book, Conceiving (Subdue Book 3), scheduled to release next week on November 29, 2016. Now available for preorder on Amazon (wink wink), you can get your copy here. And if you are curious about my other books, you can find them on the altar of Amazon by following this link here. As always, you can stay connected with me on Facebook, where I post reviews, new book info, and other horror related topics. Thanks for reading everyone!
For the past nine months, my weekends have had the added benefit of screening a new Universal Monster movie on Saturday or sometimes Sunday nights, from Frankenstein to The Wolf Man and all the lesser known sequels and House specials. The majority of which I had not previously seen. They were new and largely unknown to me. And of those unknowns, yes a few were just god-awful, but for the most part, the majority were intriguing, a few breathtakingly mesmerizing, and fewer still, though odd and unusual, they held a certain charm about them. When watching movies with 86 years of separation between then and now, you’re bound to find conflicts with storytelling and filmmaking that go against how you understand them. Things were done differently then. People held different beliefs and ideology than today. Different cultures and even customs. Some of those things are pleasant reminders of a simpler time, the way dialogue was crafted with care and chivalry, poetic in its own right. And there were also aspects that were uncomfortable to watch, such as sexism and discrimination towards women and those of African or even Asian descent. Remembering the historical context of the films can help relieve some of the conflicts we feel with those nostalgic glitches.
When Dracula released in February of 1931, the world was in a state of flux. The economic depression (known as The Great Depression) was setting root in not just America, but all over the world. In Germany, the first pangs of the rise of Nazism was felt. Though defeated by a majority win, in just two years time the elected German president, Hindenburg, will elect Adolf Hitler as chancellor . Eugenics was a pop science in which the sterilization of unfit parents and the “euthanasia” of “the defective” and “useless eaters” is making the rounds, not just in Nazi Germany, but also on the shores of the United States. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws are passed (the first major steps in annihilation and extermination of European Jewry, ie, The Final Solution). In 1936, the Spanish Civil War begins. In 1937, the Rape of Nanjing, which is basically the systematic rape, torture, and murder of more than 300,000 Chinese civilians by Japanese soldiers as they invade China. 1939, Germany invades Poland, and by December 7th, 1941, the Day that will Live in Infamy, the once “civilized” world is thrown back into global conflict. These were uncertain times, to say the least. And we have to keep in mind that this was the backdrop during the production of the majority of the Universal Monster movies. Intentional or not, history shapes and continues to do so.
Every decade, every generation has had a take on the original Universal monsters. Thru the 1950s, into the 60s, 70s, 1980s, 90s, 2000s, and even today, those pillar stories are still being told. And that is a part of what we’ll discuss here today. Those movies we call remakes, the hits of those and the blunders, as well as what waits in store for those of, let’s say, my daughter’s generation. What will the monsters look like tomorrow? This is roughly about 60 years of film history, so we will not tackle each and every monster movie, but rather a survey of each decade. Savvy? Let us begin.
When the last of the Universal monsters, The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), aired, a new generation of monsters was born. The 1950s was a strange era, filled with mutated creatures and aliens from other worlds. Big hits during this decade included Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing from Another World, Godzilla, Forbidden Planet, and Them! (just to name a few). The classic Universal monsters faded into obscurity in America, becoming cult-B movies for those brave enough to venture into the movie theaters with duel Herman Cohen produced flicks, I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and the return of Boris Karloff in Frankenstein 1970, a mashup of classic Universal and atomic age science. While the monsters went B in America, they seem to thrive across the pond in the UK as major productions. Universal monsters were reborn in Hammer Production films and a great majority of these are still some of the best monster movies on the market, even by today’s standards. Movies, such as The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, and The Mummy captivated a new generation of monster lovers. The Mummy (1959) starring both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, I found was especially good and horrific compared to the original Universal films which were not beloved by many.
Trends from the 1950s continue on into the 1960s. The majority of monsters are the creations of mad science or invaders from other worlds. Godzilla and Mothra being some of the most popular monsters during this era, and other very unique monster created by a couple of rogue filmmakers in Pittsburg, Night of the Living Dead (1968). But that doesn’t mean the classics Universal monsters had died away, there some… Hammer Productions continued with The Evil of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Created Woman, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, The Brides of Dracula, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, and The Mummy’s Shroud, and NOT FORGETTING the best of the best, The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). In the United States, two classic Universal monsters were melded with the new age craze with the release of Atomic Age Vampire (1960) and Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965) and super low-budget flick Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965). Leaving only one major production, a made for children stop-motion animated musical comedy titled Mad Monster Party? (1967) starring Boris Karloff in his last appearance in any of the classic Universal Monster movies as the voice of Victor Frankenstein.
Hammer Productions continued to flourish with classic monster films such as The Horror of Frankenstein, Frankenstein, and the Monster from Hell, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Scars of Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, and Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. During this decade we’re introduced to a few well known B-Italian (and German and French included) classic monster movies with Dracula Vs. Frankenstein (starring Lon Chaney in his last reprisal in a “Universal” monster film), The Werewolf Versus The Vampire Women, Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks, and the very strange Flesh for Frankenstein (aka Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein). Now, for classic Universal monsters in the United States, the 1970s gave birth to a very interesting phase called Blaxploitation. In 1972, on the eve of Blaxploitation, we’re blessed with the likes of Blacula, the tale of an African prince (William Marshall) is turned into a vampire by Count Dracula (Charles McCauley). Sealed in a coffin for several lifetimes, “Blacula” reawakens in 1970’s Los Angeles. Leaving a trail of bloodless victims in his wake. And Blacula returns in 1973 with Scream Blacula Scream. Some other noteworthy Blaxploitation-classic-Universal-monster films include 1974’s Blackenstein and Ganja & Hess.
BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!!
In 1974, Mel Brooks produced and directed one of the greats spoofs set within the classic Universal monsters lexicon…Young Frankenstein, starring the late great Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Teri Gar, and Marty Feldman (to name a few). Though I am a rabid fan of both Hammer and Blaxploitation films, my love for this era falls directly on Young Frankenstein. The film was absolutely respectful of the roots of Frankenstein and even used what remained of the original set. Not to mention was wonderfully written, directed, and acted. Less not forgetting a few other honorable mentions, Werewolves on Wheels, The Boy who Cried Werewolf, Werewolf Woman, and Legend of the Werewolf are all wonderfully gritty and fun to watch.
It’s really hard to hate the 1980s, especially regarding the volumes of horror movies produced during this VHS era. So many monster films and the birth of a new sub-genre, The Slasher, and the reclassification of Universal tropes, whereas the Gillman from the Creature from the Black Lagoon, became Swamp Thing and Toxic Avenger. One of the more obvious “Universal” carry-overs would be Jerry Warren’s Frankenstein Island, starring John Carradine, one of the last surviving members from the original Universal Monster films. But what made this era really great were three films that took the concepts developed by the traditional Universal tropes and created something new from the old.The Howling, An American Werewolf in London and Silver Bullet took what The Wolf Man did in 1941 and set it in a more reality-toned story if you can believe that. The rules of werewolfism became more complex and reminded audiences how fun these kinds of movies can be if done properly. Now…I’d be a horrible film historian/fan if I failed to mention the one single most recognizable “Universal” heavy monster movie from the 1980s. That’s right folks, I’m talking The Monster Squad (1987). This movie took every 80s cliche and every classic Universal Monster cliche, boiled it in a stew and served it with nard pudding. You either love it or you hate, and if you hate you’re probably too terrified to say so, considering how many damn people love this movie!
Looking back on the 90s is like looking through a kaleidoscope. There were so much realism and so much snark the 90s is often really hard to separate diamonds from the squares regarding monster flicks. The 90s gave us more creature features, not necessarily mutated or atomic…just…creatures. And as far as the use of classic “Universal” monster tropes, we have two different extremes. On one end, we get Frankenhooker (1990), a raunchy B-movie where a New Jersey mad doctor (James Lorinz) rebuilds his girlfriend (Patty Mullen) with body parts from exploded hookers. And not forgetting (though I wish I could) Mel Brooks directed Dracula: Dead and Loving It. But on the other extreme, we get these melodrama films such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), both of which did their best to follow the source material that inspired the original Universal Monsters. In the middle of all this dueling complexity, we have at least one movie that keeps to both melodramatic and B-ish action, one of my person favorites from this decade, NO, not Monster Mash, I’m talking 1998’s comic to film flick, Blade starring Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristoffer, and Stephen Dorff.
And I guess I’d be amiss if I did not mention one of the first more modern remakes directly linked to the Universal Monster classics. In 1999, The Mummy released starring (then loved now somewhat shunned) Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo, Oded Fehr, and America’s favorite weirdo Kevin J. O’Connor. The remake followed most of the basic tenets of the original Mummy while kicking up the action. I remember actually being really impressed with the film and truth be told…I had seen this one before screening the original. Unfortunately, it suffers from what most 1990s movies suffer from, the crappy use of CGI. But overall, The Mummy is still a fun romp on a late night.
(Shhhh…if we’re quiet and don’t make any sudden movements, no one will mention 1997’s An American Werewolf in Paris…)
The 2000s were not entirely unkind to Universal Monster tropes. Strange…but not unkind. Universal Studios themselves had put out a what should have been a return or at least a nod to the classic hey-day with Van Helsing (2004)…and while they did capture the feeling of watching a Universal Monster flick, the story itself and odd choices with effects and the horribly outdated CGI dropped the bottom out on this movie. It’s amazing how much of a turd Van Helsing is, and it could have been so much more, a virtual House of Dracula, giving audiences werewolves and vampires and hunchbacks and even Frankenstein’s creature but instead filmmakers ignored the lore and added strange new rules that didn’t make sense, making a complete mess of a movie.
The decade was not without some gems. I thought Dog Soldiers (2002) was both brilliant and horrifying. There was also Ginger Snaps (2000) and Ginger Snaps II which were both smart. And, though not a lot of folks liked this one, I thought it was fun and an awesome throwback to the classic vibe of Universal Monsters, 2004’s Wes Craven directed Cursed starring Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, and Joshua Jackson. Another fan favorite during this decade was action-thriller Underworld (2003), starring the very leather-clad Kate Beckinsale and the always magnetic Bill Nighy. Underworld has developed into a series franchise, putting audiences into a world of vampires versus werewolves. The sequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans released back in 2009. All of which all fun and entertaining, though very obviously films in a post-Matrix world with all that leather and gun-play. Another vampire hit, for me at least, was 30 Days of Night (2007) which shed the “it’s fun to be a vampire” motif and actually allowed them to be monsters. And while sequels are not always a favorite subject matter, we cannot discount Blade II (2002), this round being directed by then up and coming monster director Guillermo del Toro… And be honest here, who doesn’t love a movie with Ron Pearlman in it? But let’s stop there. No need mentioning Blade: Trinity…ugh!
And as for the best of the 2000s decade, my hat goes off to Let the Right One In (2008), a Swedish “romantic” horror film directed by Tomas Alfredson, based on the 2004 novel of the same title by John Ajvide Lindqvist about a bullied 12-year-old boy named “Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) living with his mother in suburban Sweden, meets his new neighbor, the mysterious and moody Eli (Lina Leandersson), they strike up a friendship. Initially reserved they slowly form a close bond, but it soon becomes apparent that she is no ordinary young girl. Eventually, Eli shares her dark, macabre secret with Oskar, revealing her connection to a string of bloody local murders.” Let the Right One In was one of those “unknowns,” coming right out of left field. It was a slow burn, but so atmospheric and moody and dark…it gives me the chills just thinking about the movie.
Here we are…roughly 70 years of film history. And with just six (nearly 7) years into the new decade, it seems as if those classic Universal monster tropes are making an epic comeback. Or at least, that’s the vibe I’m getting. Let’s start things off here with my favorite, the 2010 direct remake of the original 1941 The Wolf Man, with a star-studded cast including Benicio del Toro, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, and David Schofield to name a few. Now, I’m not saying the movie didn’t have some flaws. The fight scene between Hopkins and Toro is…well…a little odd, but for the majority of the film, the effects and even added CGI wasn’t too shabby. Considering the original is my preferred archetype regarding werewolf stories, I pretty much fell head over heels for this one. And wait, there’s more! Not only did we get a directly linked werewolf movie, but it looks as if the indie film community was filling in where Hollywood failed to capitalize. Consider this fan-favourite and truly underrated horror flick, Late Phases (2014), about a secluded retirement community plagued by mysterious and deadly attacks until a grizzled blind war veteran moves in, rallies the residents, and discovers a beast is behind the killings. Another unrated flick and extremely well done, Stake Land (2010) gives the classic vampire trope a plague-like treatment.
2013’s Wer was another surprise, giving lycanism a hereditary twist and 2012’s Werewolf: The Beast Among Us wasn’t too shabby for a largely unknown action thriller. And 2013’s Frankenstein’s Army was just bizarre enough to be entertaining. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) was a smart and surprise hit among monster fans, where residents of a worn-down Iranian city encounter a skateboarding vampire (Sheila Vand) who preys on men who disrespect women. And I thought Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) was good for a late night screening.
Now…because I’m a dad (totally using this as an excuse), I have to mention one of my top favorites thus far for this decade before moving on to anything else. Hotel Transylvania (2012) was absolutely brilliant. Fun. Funny. And full of classic monster tropes. The story goes, “When monsters want to get away from it all, they go to Count Dracula’s (Adam Sandler) Hotel Transylvania, a lavish resort where they can be themselves without humans around to bother them. On one special weekend, Dracula invites creatures like the Invisible Man, the Mummy, and others to celebrate the 118th birthday of his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez). However, an unforeseen complication unfolds when an ordinary human unwittingly crashes the party and falls in love with Mavis.” Say what you will, but I love this movie!
As for the duds…though I still haven’t screened this one, I’ve heard that the steady-cam take on the Mummy monster trope The Pyramid (2014) was not very good. The concept sounded interesting…maybe I’ll give this one a go before passing final judgment. The same for Dracula: Untold (2014), I just haven’t gotten around to watching it, but I’ve heard that it was decently entertaining. And I still haven’t caught up with We Are The Night (2010) or Byzantium (2012), both of which follow a more feminine-centric story trope. One dud that I did actually watch was comic-book based I, Frankenstein (2014). “Two centuries after Dr. Frankenstein assembles and reanimates his creature, Adam (Aaron Eckhart) is still living. He becomes embroiled in a war between two immortal races: gargoyles, the traditional protectors of mankind, and evil demons. Since Adam is neither human nor demon, gargoyle Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto) and demon Prince Naberius (Bill Nighy) each want him for their own purposes. It is up to Adam to discover his inner humanity and the reason for his continued existence.” The movie could have been so much more but casting pretty-boy Eckhart as the monster…well…it seemed to reek of trying too much to be like Underworld to have any real chance of being its own movie. The concept was fun and the addition to the Frankenstein lore…so, at least it had that going for it.
Also on my to watch list: What We Do in the Shadows (2015), and Freaks of Nature (2015). It just seems, part of my problem is that there are so many classic films to choice from my tastes typically shy away back to the 1970s or 80s. That’s not to say the 2010s have nothing to offer, just look at the list above and you’ll find more than one blockbuster worthy of your time. And the year is not even over yet. A think, largely, everyone has their own tastes for horror, and this is especially true for those of the classic Universal Monster breed. My biggest disappointment is the lackluster treatment of my favorite Universal Monster, The Mummy. While the 1999 remake did a rather bang-up job, that’s been…what, 17 years now? I have to wonder what the aversion is. I’m assuming it’s because the Mummy is not a “fan favorite.” Vampires and werewolves sell movie tickets, is that it? You put a screenwriter who loves the trope, some solid practical effects, and a director who knows what they’re doing, and I guarantee you a great film will be made.
And now…a peek into the FUTURE….
As you’ve no doubt heard, Universal Studios will be reviving from their vaults, the return of the classic Universal Monsters in a new series that will eventually tie together all our beloved baddies. This news has been generating for about two years now and it looks as if they’re finally getting the ball rolling. The first monster up for theatric return will be The Mummy, with a June 2017 release date, and starring none other than Tom “Top Gun” Cruise. It feels fortuitous that my favorite Universal monster will be up first in this new rival. The Wolf Man is said to be next, with a 2018 release date and rumors of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson taking on the lead role. Scarlett Johansson is rumored to be on Universal’s radar for the led in The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Angelina Jolie for Bride of Frankenstein. Johnny Depp for The Invisible Man. And supposedly, Dracula: Untold‘s end sequence opens the door for what all these remakes will be leading towards. At first, I had my reservations. Some of the descriptions for what the producers wanted sounded un-horror and un-betrothed to what the originals were. But it seems those rumors were just that, rumors. As more information has released, the more excited and cautiously optimistic I’ve become. If you’ve tuned into any of the reviews in this series, you’ve no doubt noted how much of a fan I am of the classic Universal Monster. And by-Geroge, I’m glad they’ve finally decided to bring them back to their full glory.
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel,Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Lanmò His new paranormal series, The Subdue Books, including both Dwelling and Emerging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs here at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics.
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And thus we have arrived. Sadly, I must say, The Mummy’s Curse will be the last of the Mummy movies to be reviewed here on this series. It is very sad. The mummy character has been one of my favorites during Universal Monsters in Review, starting of course with Boris Karloff as the original Mum in The Mummy (1932). The Mummy’s Curse (1944) is certainly not the last we’ll see of the cursed Egyptian priest. Lest we not forget, there was a resurgence of classic monsters back in the 1960s and 70s with those darling UK Hammer productions staring, typically, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Marvelous films those were. On today’s agenda, of course, we look back to the last time Lon Chaney will be forced through hours of prosthetic makeup and wardrobe. As with The Mummy’s Ghost, also released in 1944, the performances were kicked up a notch, as was the storytelling. The Mummy’s Curse was set upon a simple and easy to follow trajectory. No lazy appearances this time around, the mummy is actually unearthed from the swamp in which he fled at the end of The Mummy’s Ghost. Along of course with damsel the stereotypical damsel in distress Amina Mansouri, played by the beautiful Ramsay Ames in the last film, now replaced by Virginia Christine, in which he took with him into a watery grave. If you remember, at the end of The Mummy’s Ghost, Amina was kidnapped by the mummy and used to resurrect the soul of Princess Ananka, or she was a reincarnation of her, its hard to say exactly. Here we find the same tragedy, Amina is not quite herself, nor is she quite Ananka either. And for this, I applaud The Mummy’s Curse, for the curse is not really so much about the mummy Kharis, but rather, about Amina Mansouri and Princess Ananka, an innocent bystander who is thrust into this nightmarish world, and with Ananka, a princess who died naturally. There are some other elements with The Mummy’s Curse that I have not seen, or have seen rarely, in other Universal films during this era. What I’m referring to is Napoleon Simpson playing the role of Goobie (ugh), a very stereotypical “massa” and “sho’ ’nuff” style African American. His character was not comedic, nor was he useful in carrying the plot. Only in so much as screaming and running around crying for help. But again, we have to remember the era in which this film was made. Segregation was still the law, aka Jim Crow. And women could not vote. Homosexuality was also considered a crime. It doesnt make it right, but we also cannot expect to take a 1940s American film and judge it by modern standards. When looking at a historic film, one must remain (as much as possible) objective. Okay…I’ve seemed to ramble on quite a bit here. Let us venture forth and see what our esteemed guest has to say regarding The Mummy’s Curse.
The Mummy’s Curse (1944)
By Pembroke Sinclair
I’ve been struggling with where to start this review. It’s not that the movie was terrible, but it wasn’t exactly stellar, either. This film was pretty short, coming in at 1 hour long. Not a whole heck of a lot happened in that time, except that the mummy rose from the dead, killed a few people, then was defeated. There wasn’t much time for characters to be fleshed out, so I didn’t really feel for any of them.
Racial stereotypes ran rampant throughout the film, although my first impression was that I was impressed that several different cultures were portrayed. The film takes place in the swamps of Louisiana. Of course, the white man has come in and is planning to drain it for irrigation purposes, and when the workers refuse to work because of rumors about the mummy, he takes on an I-know-best attitude to get them to finish. As you can imagine, this leads to death and murder.
From a surficial viewing of this film, it wasn’t anything special. There weren’t any jump scares, and the storyline actually confused me just a bit. Kharis (the mummy) was punished in his previous life (thousands of years ago in Egypt) because he was trying to raise his love (Princess Anaka) from the dead. I couldn’t really follow the story of his punishment, but some slaves were killed and he was buried alive and forced to be the guardian of the princess’s tomb.
There was something about special leaves that could bring the dead back to life, and that was what Kharis stole from the gods to bring Anaka back. After he was caught, they buried him with those leaves—and I’m not really sure why. I mean, if they have that power, why make it readily available to someone who might have inclinations to raise the dead? But when does horror always make sense?
Anyway, this story takes place 25 years after Kharis sunk in some quicksand (I’m assuming this happens in a previous movie, but I didn’t see it, so I don’t know). Kharis is raised from the dead from some priests so that he can find his princess, who also happens to be buried somewhere in the swamp. (She’s unearthed later by a bulldozer.)
So, in addition to the workers who are trying to drain the swamps, there are also archaeologists who are looking for the sarcophagi so that they can go to a museum. But one of these scientists (Ragheb) is looking for them so he can send them back to Egypt so that the dead can rest in peace. He’s the one who raises Kharis so that he can find Anaka. It sounds noble, for sure, but t becomes violent because Ragheb tells Kharis that he can kill whoever gets in his way while looking for Anaka. And, as you can imagine, people do, so they get strangled.
I became confused about a couple things. 1) Why did Princess Anaka retain her beauty after bathing in the river? Why didn’t she looked like hammered hell like Kharis? 2) If she was Kharis’s true love, why was she so afraid of him? There were indications that she was looking for him also—she would fall into a trance and repeat his name over and over—but when he showed up, she would freak out and run. 3) The love story between Dr. Ilzor Zandaab and Betty felt tacked on. I get that it needed to be there as a juxtaposition between Kharis and Anaka, but it needed to be developed.
This also might play into the point about the film, however. The title is The Mummy’s Curse, and he was punished because he was trying to reunite with his true love. In this film, he can’t resurrect himself, and humans have to intervene by giving him his potion of leaves. In a sense, he becomes a pawn to be used by whoever resurrects him. And perhaps Anaka not recognizing him and running away in fear is also part of his curse. He’s forever trying to possess something he can’t have.
Sure, he kills and is a walking corpse, but is he really that bad? Would he kill if he wasn’t instructed to? Is he truly the monster in the film or is it the others around him?
There were a few things that surprised me: the women in the film had some stereotypical roles (fainting and needing to be rescued), but they also had some powerful roles. For example, Betty on multiple occasions talks back to her uncle and lets him know how she feels about things. Anaka is shown using a microscope and expresses her knowledge about ancient Egyptian culture—mainly because she had lived through it, but she doesn’t remember that at the time.
While this film isn’t something I’d watch again for pure entertainment, I believe that there are some deeper meanings hidden within the text. Like all horror films, there is social commentary buried beneath the surface, and I’d watch it again to find these commentaries and figure out what they are saying.
Pembroke Sinclair is a literary jack of all trades, playing her hand at multiple genres. She has written an eclectic mix of fiction ranging from horror to sci-fi and even some westerns. Born in Rock Springs, Wyoming–the home of 56 nationalities–it is no wonder Pembroke ended up so creatively diverse. Her fascination with the notions of good and evil, demons and angels, and how the lines blur have inspired her writing. Pembroke lives in Laramie, Wyoming, with her husband, two spirited boys, a black lab named Ryder, and a rescue kitty named Alia, who happens to be the sweetest, most adorable kitty in the world! She cannot say no to dessert, orange soda, or cinnamon. She loves rats and tatts and rock and roll and wants to be an alien queen when she grows up. You can learn more about Pembroke Sinclair by visiting her at pembrokesinclair.blogspot.com. You can follow the very talented Pembroke on Facebook Amazon Twitter Or at her blog.
Just looking at Lon Chaney, one can easily imagine how much of a pain in the ass those prosthetics were. Countless hours in Jack Pierce’s chair. Being sculpted and wrapped in gauze. Unable to speak, really. Mostly immobile, except for those infamous lurching motionless typical for a mummy caricature. Starting before the break of dawn and by the end of the day, you’re ripping off the mask just to allow your skin to taste fresh air once more. The same for most icons who donned the monster grab, Boris Karloff being one of the first and most notable of Jack’s creations in Frankenstein and the original The Mummy. Glenn Strange also suffered as Frank. And not forgetting Bela Lugosi, who underwent hours on the slab as Frankenstein and Igor (I don’t think Dracula required any amount of pain, at least not cosmetically). What does all this have to do with The Mummy’s Ghost? Well, its no secret that Lon Chaney did not care for the role as Kharis, in either of the three time he played the role. However, there is a slight difference in his acting, I think, with this movie then with the predecessor, The Mummy’s Curse, also filmed in 1944. In Curse, Chaney seemed too constrictive. And the plot…well…phoned in, mostly. The mummy’s motivations did not make much sense to me in Curse; however, in Ghost, the motivations are made a little more clear and we can understand now why the mummy is so murderous. I’m not saying there are not any plot-holes. By George, there are plenty of those. But at least with Ghost, we can relate to the monster a little more, and you can also tell that Chaney was having more fun with the role, being able to act more than any other time he wore the rags, which says a lot for a character that cannot speak and is partially immobile. And the ending… Well, I think you’ve heard enough of me rambling. Lets see what our special guest has to say regarding The Mummy’s Ghost.
The Mummy’s Ghost
By. Tim Busbey
The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)
An ancient curse that has survived for 3,000 years is coming to America! In ancient Egypt, the princess Ananka and lowly commoner Kharis fell in love and pledged themselves eternally to each other. Although buried together, Kharis is given a sacred potion that grants him eternal life – and an eternity to search for his lost love. Lon Chaney, Jr. as Kharis and John Carradine as an Egyptian priest star in this engaging story of a couple’s true love that survives the centuries and the unending curse that haunts them. The Mummy’s Ghost unearths hope for romantics everywhere with its surprising finale!
As a kid, I loved the classic monster movies: Dracula. The Mummy. Creature From The Black Lagoon. Frankenstein. The Wolf Man. I eagerly devoured them all, along with reading the classic literature some of them were based on. I especially remember watching “Creature From the Black Lagoon” in 3-D sometime around 1983 when I lived in a suburb of Detroit. The technology wasn’t quite what we enjoy now, but as a 10-year-old boy, it was pretty cool.
However, I never delved deeper into the Universal Movies monster movies and watched the many sequels they created to capitalize on the originals’ successes (sound familiar?). Until Thomas so kindly invited me to take part in this series and sent me a list of movies to choose from, I had never even heard of many of them. So I sort of randomly chose one from the list of movies that were remaining on his list at that time. I’d always liked The Mummy so I chose one of its sequels, “The Mummy’s Ghost.”
From the opening scene set in an ancient Egyptian tomb, I was transported back to my childhood, remembering those black & white films from long ago, telling the tales of vampires, mad scientists, hirsute men and ancient Egyptians. Yet somehow, what was fun and enthralling as a kid has a different impact as an adult.
It was still a fun way to spend an hour, watching this 70-something year old film, but it didn’t capture my imagination quite the same way. Maybe I’ve just seen too many movies now. Or my expectations are higher. Or they just make better films now. Hmmm. Whatever the reason, I wished I could go back and feel that same sense of joy I felt when watching the original Universal films 30 years ago.
The story of “The Mummy’s Ghost” is nothing groundbreaking, as a princess falls in love with a commoner, and the pair end up cursed to eternally search for each other. Of course in this case, the princess is an ancient Egyptian princess reincarnated in a 1940s co-ed, and the commoner is a 3,000-year-old mummy brought back to life through a ritual performed by a mysterious priest.
Eventually the mummy is reunited with his long-lost love, but there is no happy ending for these two.
I did not watch the previous film in the Mummy series, but from things I read, it seems as though there were some continuity changes/issues with this film. Luckily, those weren’t an issue for me. That being said, here is what I did and didn’t like about “The Mummy’s Ghost.”
What I Liked
Lon Chaney, Jr., turns in a strong performance as the title character. In some scenes, he manages to bring a lot of emotion and character to a dead creature, or undead if you like. His mummy was not some mindless death machine, hell-bent on destruction. He was a star-crossed lover, searching for his beloved. Yes, he killed because, well this is a horror movie. But beyond that, he had a real motivation, a reason for his actions.
John Carradine, another legend of the Universal Monsters series, adds just the right supporting touch as Yusef Bay, who originally is helping unite the lovers, until he realizes his true feelings for Ananka, leading to his betrayal of Kharis.
And the ending. Oh the ending. How can you not help but feel for the mummy. He finds his beloved, reborn in the body of a beautiful young woman, only to have her turn into a 3,000-year-old corpse at the end of the movie. It’s the ultimate story of lovers who are destined to be together, yet fate also seems to be against them. The story has been used in many a modern film, just usually without mummies and priests.
What I Didn’t Like
There was a little too much aimless shuffling/wandering by the mummy. And at times, the way they had him shuffle was just comical. At one point, he was shuffling sideways. Why would a mummy need to shuffle sideways? But that’s a pretty nitpicky point, to be honest.
When he’s not shuffling, he’s killing. But they are some of the most boring, lifeless (pun intended) deaths ever seen on-screen.
Even though I hadn’t seen the previous mummy films, the continuity lover in me wishes they would have kept the previous stories as part of this movie so it would make sense to longtime viewers.
The script does the veteran actors no favors, leaving them at times struggling to bring life to their characters and make you feel anything for them at all.
Luckily, there was only one more movie in the Mummy series after this. It was included on the same DVD with “The Mummy’s Ghost” but I haven’t dared to watch it yet. I probably will sometime when I’m desperate for something to watch, or just feel the need to watch a really bad movie.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I give “The Mummy’s Ghost” a 6.
Tim Busbey is an award-winning editor and journalist who currently is the Assistant Editor at Richland Source (www.RichlandSource.com) and Ashland Source (www.AshlandSource.com). Tim also does freelance book editing and is a partner with Erin Al-Mehairi in Hook of A Book Media and Publicity. When he’s not editing other people’s stories or reporting on all the happenings in Ashland, Ohio, Tim writes sci-fi, thrillers and horror.
As we enter into the sophomore era of the Information Age, which began its infantilism back in the 1970s and slowly grew, finally exploding in the early 2000’s, ushering humanity into a new echelon, what is commonly referred to as the New Media Age, it has become incredibly easy to get lost in the heartbreak and horror the world has to offer. Be it a mass shooting at a nightclub. The murder of children. A flood destroying an entire town. And probably the worst, the constant flow of personal opinion and prejudiced. Its easy to get lost in all the chatter. In all the turmoil. These were my thoughts while I was screening Universal’s last of the slap-stick dynamite comedic duo, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. My own fears of where our country is going politically, why it seems no one is willing to meet on solid ground, and contemplating when the death moderates and compromise happened. To tell you the truth, I’m not a huuuge fan of the A&C act. Sure, I love the historic quality of vaudeville. I used to watch The Three Stooges religiously. And Charlie Chaplin…well, a legend, to be sure. But my mood wasn’t willing. It took some struggle to throw in the DVD instead of watching something else a little more nihilistic. I believed it would be boring. I’m glad to have been wrong. As soon was the film started, with that over-the-top circus performance, and Bud and Lou came on screen wearing those ridiculous safari hats, looking more like Dark Helmet, my disposition softened. My fears abated, at least for the time being. Sure, the movie played out way longer than needed. The plot, if there was one, could have been finished within 45 mins, and that’s being generous. Regardless, it was fun and lighthearted and perhaps that’s something we all need more of in our lives. Not to forget or ignore the tragedy, but to cope, to put things back in perspective. Anyhow, I shall delay no longer. We have a very special guest with us today, co-host of The Last Knock, Jon Weidler.
Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
By: Jon Weidler
[80 minutes. Unrated. Director: Charles Lamont]
Tom Servo: “Joel, what are ‘boobs’?”
Joel Robinson: “You know, like Jethro Bodine.”
- Mystery Science Theater 3000 (“Pod People”)
My experience with the comedic oeuvre of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello is very limited; in fact, the closest I had ever gotten to experiencing their routines were the impersonations done by the comedians of the UK incarnation of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” and descendants of the duo riffing on the “who’s on first” routine. I watched “The Three Stooges” as a child, and found humor in their brand of easily-accessible, over-the-top slapstick – Abbott and Costello simply eluded my radar. Even in the VHS era, when Universal was reissuing all of their classic monsters in fancy new packaging, Abbott & Costello seemed to have a lower profile than the more straightforward horror efforts (for what it’s worth, though, Amazon is still selling new VHS tapes of A & C’s various cinematic adventures).
In any case: my crash course in their brand of black-and-white comedy-horror begins with Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy.
The second-to-last collaboration of the duo, the film comes late in the Universal Monsters cycle, and it shows (for a bit of perspective, Hammer would debut their own stylish, serious-minded, and colorized incarnation of The Mummy 4 years later): the production values have a stripped-down quality that conveys studio disinterest, the screenplay alternates between our bumbling buffoons and stilted scenes of dull exposition, and the synthesis of the comedic and horrific elements is lackluster at best.
I have conflicted feelings toward the ensembles of successful film series (comedy or otherwise). For a recent example, consider the first sequel to Todd Phillips’ The Hangover, wherein the guys who laid waste (and wasted) to Vegas brought their culture-wrecking shenanigans to Bangkok. As with so many sequels, the result was an uninspired, watered-down retread of a far more endearing original, its formula poised to rake in easy box office dollars and line the pockets of its stars. Where I sympathize is in the expectations that the reprisal of such roles (and character types) instills in the actors, becoming typecast as smug douchebags (Bradley Cooper), mentally deficient man-children (Zach Galifianakis), or passive punching bags (Ed Helms). The complicity of the actors in these Xeroxed efforts is a point I sympathize far less with, especially when they know they could be doing so much more with their talents.
The same can be said for Abbott and Costello: perhaps the most successful of the comedic duos/trios of the early twentieth century, they bested their peers (The Three Stooges; Laurel and Hardy) with a presence in both television and high-profile films (indeed, they were the only comedians given access to the financially lucrative Universal Monsters vault). Their shtick subsisted on a mix of physical humor and bouts of wordplay that ostensibly appealed to a broader audience, but by the 1950s, had run its course as cinema in general moved toward Cold War-inspired horrors. Traditional monsters with a more romantic, literary sensibility gave way to everything that could be doused in radiation – for the most part, bigger didn’t equal better, but provided an evolution of the “spectacle” that filmgoers were seeking at the time.
And perhaps that is why the musty aroma of antiquity seems to permeate each frame of Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. I went into the film with an open mind – even a slight optimism – as the Mummy is one of my favorite monsters of all time (Christopher Lee’s rendition, especially, supplied considerable nightmare fuel for my childhood).
The film overall feels like one of those direct-to-DVD ventures wherein a top-billed “name” actor shows up for a few minutes before disappearing altogether. Despite a more pronounced presence, Abbott and Costello seem shoehorned into the plot. Our duo is wrongfully implicated in the death of Dr. Gustav Zoomer (Kurt Katch), who had recently excavated the Mummy of Klaris (Edwin Parker), who is subsequently stolen by a sect of followers to be resurrected and walk once more as their ruler…or something (extended scenes of ritual dance are involved). In the meantime, there are hijinks involving a priceless medallion belonging to Klaris, as Madame Rontru (Marie Windsor) looks to pay our bumbling pair for said medallion, and Lou crashing into closets, through walls, and stumbling into secret passageways. Some of the gags elicit polite laughter, but none are genuinely hilarious because the setup is so labored.
For example, there is a routine where Bud and Lou, upon having learned of the “death curse” of Klaris’s medallion, spend a couple minutes sneaking it to each other in a restaurant; while this sequence shines as an example of old-school comic timing, it culminates in a protracted punchline wherein Lou is left to chew on the medallion for a couple minutes, well past the point of it being funny. And while it’s interesting to see the origin of certain bits that have wormed themselves into more recent films – including a scene that precludes Macaulay Culkin’s use of a tough-talking gangster movie to intimidate the burglars in Home Alone – earlier doesn’t necessarily mean better in this case. The voice-over narration that begins the film uses a lame pun to get things rolling (“a boy’s best friend is his mummy”), and the late-occurring “pick and shovel” debate comes off as an uninspired gloss on “who’s on first?” Though, when Bud explains to Lou that “some mummies are men, some are women” to his partner’s exasperation and surprise, one can admire screenwriters Lee Loeb and John Grant for bringing LGBT awareness to light (though I’m guessing that was unintentional).
Much like our less-than-dynamic duo’s routine, the main plot also feels tired. Populated by a stiff supporting cast whose lines are uttered as though at gunpoint, the exposition-heavy dialog scenes are dull at best, and painful at worst. The main problem with the film is that it’s never creative enough to be truly interesting, and its pantsuit-wearing depiction of the Mummy as a growling, twitching – and sometimes running – beast is a far cry from the subtleties that Boris Karloff originally brought to the role.
4 out of 10 stars
Jon Weidler works for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by day, but is a podcast superhero by night. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast under the moniker “Jonny Numb,” and is a regular contributor to the Crash Palace Productions and Loud Green Bird websites. His archived movie reviews can be found at numbviews.livejournal.com, and his social media handle is @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd).
Shambling from the tombs of Cairo comes our next monster in our series reviewing Universal’s classic monster movies. Hard to believe we’re almost already six months since this adventure began. Most of the monster pillars were knocked out within the first two months, and now…well, now we’ve been slowly working our way through the sequels of those lovable legendary baddies, such as Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Mummy. Some of the sequels have been extraordinarily good, others interesting enough to be okay, some only reaching the level of meh, and there have been a few that were just plain awful. I’m not going to pussyfoot around, The Mummy’s Tomb does not sit on my top ten list of Universal Monster Movies. There are some lows with how the movie was made, and I mean some really low-lows, but there are also some highs notes as well, perhaps not entirely about the film itself, maybe the stories the movie eventually inspired down the road, however, they are positive reflections of the movie nevertheless. Yours truly will be your host for this evenings event. So join me as we discuss, The Mummy’s Tomb!
Here’s a synopsis to jog your memory of the movie we’re about to discuss:
The Mummy’s Tomb picks up the story thirty years after the conclusion of the previous last film. It begins with Steve Banning (Dick Foran) reciting the story of Kharis to his family and evening guests in his Mapleton, Massachusetts home. Footage from The Mummy’s Hand appears as Banning tells his tale. As he concludes his tale of the successful destruction of the creature, the scene switches back to the tombs of Egypt. Surviving their supposed demise, Andoheb (George Zucco) explains the legend of Kharis (Lon Chaney, Jr.) to his follower, Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey). After passing on the instructions for the use of the tana leaves and assigning the task of terminating the remaining members of the Banning Expedition and their descendants, Andoheb expires. Bey and Kharis leave Egypt for the journey to the United States. Bey takes the caretaker’s job at the local cemetery, sets up shop and administers the tana brew to Kharis. The monster sets out to avenge the desecration of Ananka’s tomb. His first victim is Stephen Banning, whom the creature kills as the aging archaeologist prepares for bed. As the Sheriff (Cliff Clark) and Coroner (Emmett Vogan) can’t come up with a lead, newspapermen converge on Mapleton to learn more about the murder. Babe Hanson (Wallace Ford) arrives on the scene after learning of his friend’s death. When Jane Banning (Mary Gordon), Steve’s sister, is killed, Hanson is convinced it is the work of a mummy.
Meeting with the Sheriff and Coroner, Hanson is unable to convince them of the identity of the culprit. He tells his story to a newspaperman at the local bar, but is himself dispatched by Kharis almost immediately afterwards. John Banning enlists the help of Professor Norman (Frank Reicher) to solve the puzzle of the “grayish mark” found on the victims. Norman’s test results prove that Hanson was right, the substance was indeed mold from a mummy. Meanwhile, Bey has plans of his own. Knowing that Banning and his girlfriend, Isobel Evans (Elyse Knox) are planning to marry, he sets out to disrupt their nuptials. Bey himself has become smitten with Isobel, and sends Kharis on a mission to bring her to him. Kharis initially balks, but finally adheres to Bey’s command.
In an effective sequence, the monster stealthily enters the Evans’ home and abducts the girl. At the cemetery, Bey unveils his plan to the reluctant Isobel, explaining that she is to become the bride of a High Priest of Karnak, and bear him an heir to the royal line. Banning and the rest of the townspeople have become convinced that their recent Egyptian transplant may be involved in the crimes. Arriving in force, they confront Bey at the cemetery. Kharis slips away with Isobel unbeknownst to the horde, and Bey attempts to shoot Banning, but is himself gunned down by the Sheriff. The creature is observed heading toward the Banning estate, and the group begins pursuit. Inside the home, Banning manages to rescue Isobel from Kharis with the aid of the Sheriff and Coroner. The townspeople set fire to the house, and the monster perishes in the flames. Banning and Isobel wed, and the curse is brought to an end. –Brought to you by Wikipedia.
Okay, for starters, I included a much longer synopsis than I typically do with my reviews. I did this to highlight one particular aspect of the movie I wanted to make mention of. While reading the synopsis, did you feel in any way that there was some measure of excitement going on? Did you grasp an action paced story of revenge and loss? Well, I certainly did, which is why I included this synopsis. The story seemed to have had every intention of being an action packed thriller. HOWEVER, sad to say, any action intended was left in the editors booth. The first ten minutes of the movie was nothing more than a cut and paste of the predecessor film, The Mummy’s Hand. Having reviewed The Mummy’s Hand personally, I walked into The Mummy’s Tomb with little to no expectations. I’d learned my lesson from before, let me tell you. But even with no expectations, the movie failed to captivate the imagination. The pace was never realized, the movie simple went from scene to scene. And don’t tell me I’m not giving Mummy’s Tomb a fair shot, I sat through this sucker twice, just to make sure I wasn’t just having a “case of the Monday’s” or whatever. Thankfully, the film was mercifully only a little more than an hour long.
The only noteworthy casting was of course with Mr. Lon Chaney Jr. Though, you’d be hard pressed to recognize him. And apparently, according to many sources, Mr. Chaney did not care very much for the heavy makeup and hated the role of Kharis. And I believe it showed on screen. Covered almost completely and unable to speak, Chaney bumbled his way from scene to scene just as painfully as the script would allow. Looking at most of the actors and actresses, it didn’t seem as if any of them wanted to be on the set. On a positive note, there were a few scenes in which you could tell the mummy did not want to have any part in Bey’s diabolical plan to kidnap Isobel. In fact, he reaches for Bey’s throat, struggling against (and I’m assuming a lot here) the tana potion that is controlling his actions. Had they capitalized on that notion the story was somewhat implying towards, perhaps something could have been salvaged, it would have, could have been a better movie, making much better use of a talent such as Lon Chaney, who given his sad-tragic portrayal as Larry Talbot in The Wolfman and Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men (1939), should have been perfect for the role of lost-loved Kharis.
The one great positive I can take away, having seen the Hammer production of The Mummy (1959) first, The Mummy’s Tomb seems to be the source material. And let me tell you, The Hammer production is amazingly wonderful, if you haven’t seen that one, you ought to. Like today. Right now. GO! Okay, I don’t want to talk it up too much, but what Terence Fisher was able to do with that mummy movie…wow, it almost makes me want to judge Harold Young much more harshly. And so I shall….
My Rating: 1/5 stars
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of terror. He grew up in the small town of Vinton, Virginia, but in 2001, left home to enlist in the U.S. Army. Following his third tour in Iraq, Thomas moved to Houston, Texas where he now lives with his beautiful bride and amazing daughter. Thomas attended night school, with a focus on creative writing and history. In 2014, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History from UHCL. Thomas blogs at machinemean[dot]org where he reviews movies, books, and other horror related topics.
On today’s agenda, we bring you, The Mummy’s Hand (1940), directed by Christy Cabanne and produced by Ben Pivar. Another first screening for me on this journey through the classic Universal Monster pictures. Thus far, we’ve seen the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Wolfman, and even one of the famed Abbott and Costello flicks, as well as some of the lesser knowns, the sequels to the great pillars of horror. Last week, we had Dracula’s Daughter, which turned out to be a direct sequel from the original film. On this episode, we’ll take a closer look at a movie I doubt many have seen, unless they count themselves among the shuffling, perhaps even undead, prolific Universal aficionados. If you have, bravo. And I hope you enjoy the review. If you haven’t, well, read on and decide for yourself if this of many Universal Monster movies would be something you fancy yourself watching on a dark night during a thunder storm. The Mummy’s Hand was one of my personal picks when contacting fellow writers and bloggers to help with this monumental task of reviewing Universal’s macabre lexicon. Why? Well, I’m glad you asked. It is strange for me to say, the Mummy is one of my favorite monsters, especially considering how most of my published work thus far has focused on creating my own Wolfman’s and Frankenstein’s (though as a side-note and shameless self promotion, stay tuned for later this year when one my stories with my very own version on the Mummy gets published, wink wink). Regardless, the story of the Mummy is fascinating, to me at least. And I’m thinking on the boundaries of the Boris Karloff version, the brooding Imhotep willing to suffer live burial and a cursed death for his betrothed Anck-su-namun. With today’s adaptation, The Mummy’s Hand shares many similar attributes equally as it likewise differs wildly.
Here’s a quick fire synopsis to get us all on the same page.
In Cairo, amateur wannabe archaeologist Steve Banning (played by the very stoic but still fantastic Dick Foran) discovers a vase at a local market with his good pal Babe (played by funny man Wallace Ford), which he believes could lead them to the ancient tomb of Princess Ananka. Steve contacts his colleague Dr. Petrie (Charles Trowbridge) who believes, like Steve, the vase is a map to the tomb of Ananka. However, unknown to Steve and Dr. Petrie, fellow professor of Cairo Museum Andoheb (played by the steely eyed George Zucco), who happens to also be the High Priest of Karnac, a cult order of priests who hold the secrets of Karas, a mummy (played by future spaghetti western star Tom Tyler) who guards Ananka’s tomb. He attempts to persuade them the vase is a fake. When that fails, throughout the movie, he does everything he can to thwart the excavation of the ancient crypt. However, upon receiving funds from magician Solvani (Cecil Kellaway) and his daughter, Marta (the famous Peggy Moran), Steve, his sidekick Babe, and the Solvanis, embark on an expedition to the grave site, where Karas awaits slumbering. Andoheb is then forced to summon the shambling corpse to keep the Hills of the Seven Jackals (or some such nonsense) and the Temple of Ananka safe from outside encroachment, because, as every fan of Mummy movies knows, while science may reveal some secrets, there are other truths which must forever remain unknown.
I’m not going to sugar coat my review here, and up front I want to be honest that I had some wild expectations when walking into this movie. Mostly because of my love for the Karloff version, and secondly because of my fascination with the mythos itself, and third, I’d heard or read somewhere the film was actually quite horrifying. And while I will not argue there are some rather dark and terrifying scenes, especially during close-ups of the Mummy when it looks as if the creature has hollowed out eyes, I’d say The Mummy’s Hand was far from being a true horror movie. If I had to categorize the film, it’d be right next to the Abbott and Costello pictures that would eventually release in the mid thru late 40s. The comedy, while at times actually humorous and well blended, did not seem to mesh well with the entire scope of the film. The relationship between Steve and Babe felt as if I was indeed watching an infant version of Bud and Lou. Perhaps, in retrospect, maybe my critique is due to my expectations, after all, the Karloff version had absolutely zero comedy and was altogether serious, due more or less to the decade of depression than anything else. Still, I found more things jarring then I did entertaining. Here are a few of my least favorite things about The Mummy’s Hand:
- Reboot. Yup, pretty much is. Sure, they changed the names, but the first scene backstory is pretty much a shot-for-shot of the story of Imhotep attempting to bring to life Anck-su-namun. Getting caught. And being buried alive. They simply replaced Karloff with Tyler. Some of the scenes actually look identical to the original. To me, this is lazy story telling.
- Full moon? What is the deal with everything involving a full moon with this movie? If I wanted a werewolf I’d watch something with Lon Chaney Jr. in it. This is the Mummy for crying out loud! And the moon is never really fully fleshed out, just given random references from the supporting cast, something about an elixir given to the “sleeping” mummy every full moon or something like that to keep him alive, or rather, undead. And then there was something about Jackals or whatever. And of course, who can forgive the Bela ripoff as the former high priest paraphrases Dracula with a “children of the night” quote. Ugh!
- Motivation. When writing characters, one must make them believable, the reader or audience must understand the motivation of the characters. They don’t have to agree with them, but the motivations must be plausible. I was actually able to follow along with The Mummy’s Hand through half of the movie. Yes, I get it. Steve got canned from the university and is looking prove himself as an budding archaeologist. Andoheb wants to protect the tomb in which the greedy men and woman are attempting to “steal the secrets,” and after watching them sledgehammer and manhandle their way into the tomb, I don’t blame the guy, seriously! Regardless, when the mummy starts taking them out, one by one, and we can certainty cheer during these brief moments of horror, the motivation of the mummy seems dull. The mummy obeys because it wants the elixir? Really, that’s what you’re going with? And what the heck is going on when the mummy kidnaps Marta, aka Peggy Moran? Okay, we can probably chock it up to a classic monster trope, but why, oh why is Andoheb suddenly attracted to her? He plans on making them both immortal, because, as he says, she is so beautiful. While the Elixir of Immortality is an interesting concept, it was very really played up enough in the movie for it to become a prime motivation for the story. It made zero sense.
- Babe straight up murderers an unarmed Andoheb and nothing is said about it or comes about.
- Category. I’m really not sure how to categorize this film. Is it a black comedy, is it horror, or is it something of a noir film as it seemed most of everyone was costumed in those sleek fedoras. Or maybe the film was a hybrid horror, comedy, spaghetti-western (the ending will explain this for you, six-shooters and all, and noting how pretty much the entire cast went on to make a dozen of those grainy wagon wheel movies).
Certainly, there was plenty wrong with The Mummy’s Hand. I had expected serious horror and got instead a strange brew (no pun intended) of dark comedy and noir-western. However, we cannot discredit the film as being both moderately entertaining and a member of the Universal Monster classics. Watching the film for a second time, I did everything I could to remove all expectation and truly found myself enjoying the movie more than during my first screening. Some of the issues cannot be ignored, but altogether The Mummy’s Hand was still a monster movie, and in of itself had inspired later monster pictures, including a very reminiscent 1959 Hammer film titled simple, The Mummy starring both Peter Crushing and Christopher Lee (but in all honesty, Hammer did it waaaaaay better). The comedy of Wallace Ford (also marvelous in Tod Browning’s Freaks) playing the part of Babe was fantastic, in its own right. Dick Foran as our leading man was…okay, he did seem to be a bit stoic, and as I understand it he returned to the Mummy lexicon for one more picture in The Mummy’s Tomb with Lon Chaney Jr. taking on the role as Mummy. Peggy Moran was, to be blunt, kind of a prune, yet surprisingly strong and willful, until the end of course when her character Marta falls into the inevitable monster movie trope for women, which sadly still seems to go on into modern horror movies today. What can we say about Tom Tyler, who donned the bandages of the Mummy? His actions were certainly creepy, but the character in itself was mute, in more ways than one—sort of betrothed just as the movie was.
My Rating: 2/5
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of terror. He grew up in the small town of Vinton, Virginia, but in 2001, left home to enlist in the U.S. Army. Following his third tour in Iraq, Thomas moved to Houston, Texas where he now lives with his beautiful bride and amazing daughter. Thomas attended night school, with a focus on creative writing and history. In 2014, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History from UHCL. Thomas blogs at machinemean[dot]org where he reviews movies, books, and other horror related topics.
Of all the Universal Monsters, the Mummy is one of my favorites. For this reason, I felt inclined to say a few words regarding my affection. Why the Mummy? Certainly, as you will discover here with this review by the most excellent Mr. Chant, The Mummy is not the most flamboyant of creatures. Considering how monster-ish Frank and Drac are and continue to be through the duration of their respective films, one wonders why The Mummy was so…well, droll. And yes, its true, The Mummy is droll to many monster fans. But as it were, still, I adore The Mummy. The Mummy, Ardeth Bay, Imhotep, Boris, what have you, reminds me of another would-be villain from my 90s childhood, Mr. Freeze. In the Batman animated series, Mr. Freeze is both a brooding and terrifyingly stoic, yet tragic and very much human. His motivations make sense and its because of this the character, to me, feels more real and thus more horrifying than a majority of the classic monster tropes. As it were, monsters are of personal taste and perspectives, so without further ado, I present to you this second installment in the Universal Monsters in review. Enjoy!
THE MUMMY: a monstrous retrospective
By: Daniel Marc Chant
The Mummy, directed by Dracula cinematographer Karl Freund, shares a lot of similarities with Universal’s breakout vampire hit. Both films have luscious imagery, a great central concept and a ponderous (if somewhat dull) plot overshadowed by the performance of its titular monster. In other words The Mummy isn’t a great film, even when viewed with a wave of heady nostalgia, but it’s an important one nonetheless and is more often remembered for its legacy than its content.
After the lucrative success of Dracula and Frankenstein, Universal was looking for another monster smash and followed the studio formula we still find in Hollywood today, that of utilising established and proven talent from past blockbusters in the hope of creating a new one.
Inspired by the archaeological find of Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb by the British Museum in 1921, and the subsequent tabloid craze about the curse unleashed by opening it, there was an untapped demand for Egyptian mystery at that time and Universal saw an opportunity to cash in on the craze a decade or so later.
Dracula screenwriter John L. Balderston took the idea and wrote his draft, originally titled Cagliostro, which was largely a beat-for-beat remake of his work on Dracula. His work as a Playwright first and foremost shines through both works as they often play like a theatre production as opposed to a film – set pieces and cast are minimal, it’s as though it were intended for the boards rather than film. Indeed I dare say The Mummy would be better as a stage play than a film but that’s just me.
The film opens with a stereotypically British ensemble of archaeologists uncovering the ancient tomb of high priest Imhotep, buried with the mystical scroll of Thoth, and a warning that whoever disturbs his eternal slumber shall suffer the bitter consequences. Dr. Miller (Edward Van Sloan), Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) and scenery chewing Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) discuss their findings while the good Doctor and Sir Whemple head outside leaving Norton to mess about with the scroll, reading from it with young foolishness. It’s here that we see the Mummy, and really the only time too, as Boris Karloff’s Imhotep is shaken to life after the reading. As Imhotep stumbles to life and takes the scroll Norton erupts into a camp cackling descent into madness that would embarrass a Lovecraft character.
This is where we flash forward ten years and another expedition by Sir Whemple’s son Frank (played by David Manners) is frustrated by the lack of discoveries. A ponderous Egyptian calling himself Ardeth Bay (an anagram of “death by Ra”) enters claiming he knows the exact location of Princess Anckes-en-Amon’s burial chamber. Ardeth is so obviously Karloff that the ‘bait and switch’ reveal is signposted a mile off but that’s not the real point – Ardeth’s undying love for his dead lover is supposed to resonate with us, creating sympathy for the devil as it were.
It’s here that Ardeth first sees Helen Grosvenor (actress Zita Johann) who possesses many similarities to the deceased Princess and that beguiles him to her charms. And as British born Boris Karloff portrays both Adeth Bey and Imhotep, his performance is fantastic and excruciatingly slow.
While it might be looked down upon to speak negatively of old classics I’ll be the first to say that Universal’s Dracula isn’t that good a film. It’s pacing is monotonous and dull. As I mentioned beforehand the hand of a Playwright writing cinema has created a production better suited for one of London’s great theatres rather than the silver screen.
Director Karl Freund, cinematographer on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis let’s not forget, is capable of delivering stunning imagery – more potent given the technical limitations of the time – and his Germanic expressionist roots made Tod Browning’s Dracula more visually exciting than the director ever could alone. Especially considering that Browning abandoned the set after a well-documented disorganized shoot leaving Freund to pick up the pieces and stitch together the Godfather of horror films.
The Mummy and Dracula also share more than just Freund, actors David Manners and Edward Van Sloan return to essentially play the same characters and screenwriter Balderston imbues The Mummy with the same presence of Dracula within the script. Hell even the framing of Karloff employs the same cinematic methods applies to Lugosi in Dracula. Remember when I said Universal was utilising established and proven talent from past blockbusters in the hope of creating a new one? Here we see it in full force.
The most disappointing thing about The Mummy is the fact that the phenomenal make up by Jack Pierce is only seen for five minutes or so at the start of the film when Imhotep is uncovered. The rest of the time Karloff is playing Ardeth Bay, with aged make up rather than bandages. This is a monster movie without a monster.
Regardless The Mummy stormed to massive success in 1933 and Universal had their new hit to join the ranks of Dracula and Frankenstein. The Invisible Man would soon follow, as would The Bride of Frankenstein and more. There would even be further journeys into Imhotep’s legacy, with 1940’s remake The Mummy’s Hand and its subsequent sequels. Also Hammer Film Productions took their swing at the bandaged bastard in the 1959 film The Mummy, itself based on The Mummy’s Hand rather than the original. And lest we forget Stephen Sommers’ gleefully fun 1999 re-imagination as a rollicking adventure.
The Mummy is a curiosity of a film. A piece of history. A relic. Its legacy is more important than itself. It is wrapped in history like its monster in bandages, unable to escape them but more interesting because of them.
Daniel Marc Chant is the published author of several terrifying tales, including: Maldicion, Burning House, and his newest venture, Mr. Robespierre. Daniel is also one of the founders of The Sinister Horror Company, the publishing team that brought us such frights as, The Black Room Manuscripts and God Bomb!. You can follow Daniel on his blog, here.