Worst to First: The Mummy

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2017-10-10 02:34

It’s fair to say that the Mummy is the most overlooked of the original Monsters, as he’s rarely featured among the original Universal triumvirate since The Wolf Man (who debuted nearly a decade later) is more prominently associated with Dracula and Frankenstein. Despite this, the property has arguably endured even more than the others, having been rebooted twice now since the studio’s golden age. Such a fate is in keeping with the Universal tradition, of course, as the studio has never been hesitant about reviving this property to the point of exhaustion. All told, the Mummy actually featured in six movies, allowing this title to more or less keep pace with its contemporaries, right down to an eventual crossover with Abbott and Costello. In fact, it might be apt to say it was the Friday the 13th of its day, especially once Universal started churning them out on a regular basis in the 40s. Obviously, that’s not a criticism around these parts, and, as with the case with that franchise, I appreciate all of the Mummy entries—it’s just that I love some a little bit more than others.

6.The Mummy’s Curse (1944)

    Despite arriving in theaters just six months after The Mummy’s Ghost, Kharis’s final outing inexplicably transports him to the bayou, where he and his bride have been at rest in a local swamp for several years. The change in location is about the only noteworthy departure here, as it’s more or less a retread of, well, every entry in the series. Both Kharis and Ananka are revived this time out, though the latter still doesn’t quite know who she is since she’s still in her reincarnated body. The duo is again the centerpiece of a clandestine plot by the Egyptian high priests to recover their ancient artifacts, with new disciple Ragheb leading the charge.

    Watching all of these sequels in a short time frame tends to blur them together, and it’s no surprise that Curse suffers the most. With three previous films all riffing around the same themes, it’s left with little to do but recycle the same old stuff. Even transplanting the action from New England to Louisiana does little to distinguish it, save for a gothic monastery, an awesome scene where Ananka rises from the swamp like a zombie, and an unfortunate minstrel-style performance by Napoleon Simpson. Otherwise, Virginia Christine’s turn as Ananka is the only truly compelling element here. At times, it feels like this is finally her sequel, but the film doesn’t quite go all the way through with it; I suppose doing so would have gotten in the way of churning out the same old thing that audiences would have already seen earlier that year.

5. The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)

    Considering it was the third Mummy movie released in four years, it’s no surprise that you can sense the franchise running out of gas at this point. Ideas, too, were seemingly at a premium, as The Mummy’s Ghost looked all the way back to the original film for its inspiration. Perhaps sensing it wasn’t viable to simply have Kharis rip through New England again, the filmmakers here reintroduce the reincarnated, long-lost love trope that drove Imhotep. Set yet another 30 years apart from its predecessor (meaning we’re in the 2000s!), it opens back in Mapleton, where a professor remains fascinated with Kharis’s previous rampage, particularly the mystical science behind it all. Meanwhile, the high priests back in Egypt realize maybe it’s time they cleaned up their own mess, so they dispatch Yousef Bey (John Carradine!) to recover both Kharis and Princess Anaka’s bodies so they can returned to their proper resting places.

    Honestly, I don’t think that makes them the bad guys this time, but, you know, Kharis is gonna do his thing once he’s resurrected—especially when he realizes the spirit of his dead wife now rests in Amina Mansouri (Ramsay Ames), a local girl who’s unsettled by her Egyptian heritage. More or less a mash-up of every Mummy film up to this point, The Mummy’s Ghost shambles along decently enough. Since it, too, is only an hour long, it certainly doesn’t wear out its welcome. More than anything , it’s bogged down by the thick haze of déjà vu, at least until it climaxes with a surprisingly bleak ending that manages to set this one apart just enough.

4. Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy (1955)

    Despite being Universal’s overlooked monster franchise for years, the Mummy scored the last laugh in more ways than one. Not only does this crossover mark the last appearance of the original Monsters lineup, but it’s also the final Abbott & Costello team-up for the studio that revitalize the duo’s career. Given the repetitive nature of the franchise, it comes as no surprise that this is a breath of fresh air, especially when you watch this entire franchise within the space of a week. While it doesn’t blend its comedy into the horror quite a seamlessly as their first immortal monster mash, it at least makes for a fine swan song, as Abbott and Costello revive the signature gags and wordplay.

    As usual, they’re bumbling their way through the plot, in this case a complicated yarn involving the discovery of Klaris, an ancient mummy that’s attracted the attention of both high priests and an enterprising businesswoman looking to cash in. Caught in between are Abbott and Costello, whose trademark banter provides a raucous energy to a manic story that weaves through a Cairo murder mystery, a game of hot potato involving a cursed amulet, and, finally, a funhouse of horrors once the two are dragged to Klaris’s resting place. The climax—which finds a couple of imposter mummies joining the very real Klaris—is a total hoot, full of trap doors, giant iguanas, and dime store skeletons. Having always been a fan of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the pair still had it here in their penultimate outing together (they would appear in one final, independently produced movie the next year). It wasn’t a bad note for the original Mummy franchise to go out on, either.

3. The Mummy’s Tomb (1942)

    Perhaps best remembered as “the one where the Mummy is transported to America,” The Mummy’s Tomb is a direct sequel the previous film, with both Dick Foran and Wallace Ford making appearances to recap their adventures from 30 years ago (meaning, yes, this film technically takes place in the 70s). While their friends and family can see only thrills and excitement in the tales, they can’t shake just how sinister the experience was. Soon enough, the town of Mapleton, Massachusetts is forced to confront the newly resurrected Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr., assuming yet another monstrous role for Universal). Now under the control of fanatic Mehmet Bey, the undead fiend treks across the pond to exact revenge on the entire Banning clan for their father’s sacrilegious intrusion.

    Even though The Mummy’s Tomb spends 10 minutes (or about 17% of its runtime) literally recapping the previous film (eat your heart out, Silent Night, Deadly Night 2!), I have a fondness for this particular sequel, perhaps because it’s the most straightforward of the films. With Kharis having already been introduced in the first film, he’s free to romp around here and bring carnage to this sleepy New England town. Changing locations is a subtle but crucial alteration that conjures up memories of the region’s ghastly history, which shades the already eerie proceedings. Something about watching Chaney prowl through a fog-drenched cemeteries and the moonlit countryside evokes that classic Universal Horror tone, right down to the townsfolk grabbing their torches and pitchforks to hunt down the monster during the climax.

2. The Mummy’s Hand (1940)

    When Universal finally revived the Mummy franchise 8 years after the original’s debut, it didn’t resort to producing a long-overdue sequel; rather, the studio opted for something of a reboot, which offers further evidence that Old Hollywood is not so different from current Hollywood. Completely unrelated to the film that bowed before it, The Mummy’s Hand trades out Boris Karloff’s Imhotep for Tom Tyler’s Kharis, whose backstory is so eerily similar to his predecessor that the expository flashbacks here shamelessly recycle footage from the original Mummy. Once again, we’re dealing with the spirit of a long-dead Egyptian high-priest executed for blaspheming in the name of love, and he’s returned from the grave after a group of British archeologists dig him up. Mythology aside, however, The Mummy’s Hand shares very little in common with the original. It’s perhaps the sort of move might expect that film to be, as it boasts a decrepit mummy skulking about and strangling the hell out of victims.

    Well, eventually—in truth, that summarizes the second half of The Mummy’s Hand. The first half is dedicated to setting up all the carnage with a story involving a couple of American archeologists (Dick Foran & Wallace Ford) talking a magician (Cecil Kellaway) into funding their latest expedition, much to the chagrin of the latter’s skeptical daughter (Peggy Moran). Even more resistant is Professor Andoheb (George Zucco), an Egyptian native who’s charged with protecting the tomb of Kharis and his bride. Since The Mummy’s Hand only clocks in at an hour long, the setup is far from belabored, and the fun, broadly-sketched performances leave quite an impression. The humorous, easygoing rapport between the American leads lends a screwball vibe that contrasts well with the menacing overtures lurking within Zucco’s shifty, brooding turn. As the events become more ominous, baying jackals roam the eerie Egyptian hillside, their howls setting the stage for a spooky finale to this solid entry in the Mummy canon.

1. The Mummy (1932)

    While I could certainly make the case for one of the first two sequels being my favorite of this franchise, it’s hard to argue that either is truly the best, not when the original—which is quite possibly the most unsung of the Universal horrors—exists. Not only does it boast Boris Karloff in one of his finest performances as Ardeth Bey (the titular mummy resurrected after a bumbling archeologist unwittingly reads a life-giving spell), but it also features the incredible Zita Johann as the reincarnation of his long-lost love. Filling the screen with the epic, theatrical grandeur that defined this era’s horror, The Mummy established a template that would be resurrected over and over again, both by Universal itself and various imitators (it must be noted that vampires especially swiped The Mummy’s gimmick of pining over reincarnated lovers). What’s most striking about it is just how different it is from the franchise it inspired, as none of its sequels quite captured the sense of forlorn romanticism guiding the film. Where those films are perhaps exactly what you expect from an undead mummy film, this one surprises with its commitment to otherworldly horrors and the ill-fated romance at its center.
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