The Mummy – The Legacy Collection (2004, Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
After having already viewed the studio’s Dracula, Frankenstein & Wolf Man output many times over the last two or three years I’ve gone started watching some of Universal’s more obscure horror movies. This year in addition to my continuing quest for their B-grade stuff, I turn back to one of their major horror franchises — The Mummy.
The Mummy would be the fourth in line for Universal’s major monsters. I remember watching some of these movies as a kid around Halloween but wasn’t really interested in them but as I’m starting to exhaust and discover all of the classics, it was time to revisit these movies and give them another chance…
The Mummy (1932)
This seems to have almost become a forgotten role for Karloff (at least where the mainstream is concerned who prefer to remember him for being Frankenstein’s Monster) but Imhotep is another signature performance from him. Sadly, we only see him wrapped up in the bandages for just a few moments but it’s a quite striking visual as Boris looks nothing short of awesome. Furthermore, out of the bandages his performance and look under the guise of Ardeth Bey is just as impactful and that deathly gaze still works today. It’s a shame for whatever reason Karloff & Imhotep were not brought back for the sequels. As for the movie itself, it’s full of atmosphere and looks good but it shuffles (pun intended) at too slow of a pace for me. Good Universal horror but not great.
The Mummy’s Hand (1940)
The first Mummy movie was success with movie-goers and critics so it’s odd that Universal waited to so long to produce a follow-up. The Mummy’s Hand popped up during the 2nd cycle of Universal’s horror line and like so many of those movies from the 1940s, it’s all done a bit tongue-in-cheek. No longer are legit chills the focus, as was the case in the early 30s, instead it’s all a bit more light-hearted. Also, this movie seems to act as a reboot for the series. There is no mention of the events from the previous movie and the origins of Kharis are exactly the same as Imhotep’s (right down to the recycled footage)! Solid B-movie effort starring Horror Island‘s Dick Foran (as Steve Banning) and the super cute Peggy Moran.
The Mummy’s Tomb (1942)
When your 61 minute sequel starts off with 11 minutes of footage from the previous movie, things aren’t looking good. Although, I did like how this movie takes place 30 years after The Mummy’s Hand and how Steve Banning’s family is now being targeted by Kharis & the new High Priest of Arkam (Turhan Bey as ‘Mehemet Bey’). Dick Foran is back as Steve Banning but it’s unfortunate Peggy Moran doesn’t reprise her role. Then again, I’m not sure I would want to see her walking around made up to look like she was in her 60s anyway. This movie is odd in that it doesn’t take place in Egypt! Kharis & Mehemet come to America and terrorize a New England all in the name of revenge. Lon Chaney Jr’s first appearance as the Mummy (a role he supposedly loathed for all the make-up but that didn’t stop him from taking a paycheck for two more Mummy movies after this one…). Nothing special, really.
The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)
Taking place 4 years after the events of The Mummy’s Tomb, this was a better movie, I thought. Of course, the fact that it didn’t feature ANY recycled footage at all helps. John Carradine also does a good job as Yousef Bey (yep, ANOTHER newly appointed High Priest). Yousef travels from Egypt to the town of Mapleton, Massahusetts, USA to insure the mummy Kharis and the Princess Ananka (on display at a museum) are brought back to their Egyptian tombs. I thought the ending was suitably tragic, falling more in line with some of the 1930s Universal movies.
The Mummy’s Curse (1944)
Not as good as The Mummy’s Ghost but still better than The Mummy’s Tomb, this movie brings back recycled footage and recycled ideas. It’s apparent there was a real lack of care regarding the Mummy series as the movies vary about as much as Home Alone 2 differs from the first Home Alone. The only real difference (and it’s startling one) is that the setting has been changed from New England to the Louisiana Bayou. It’s not that the Mummy has all of a sudden popped up somewhere else in the United States — the characters in this movie clearly recall previous events involving the mummy. Just a weird thing to do after firmly establishing the two previous movies as taking place in Mapleton, Mass. Even weirder since this movie came out just 5 months after the previous one! I guess some movie exec just really wanted to see the mummy running around the bayou.
By the way, for anyone following the time line, The Mummy’s Hand took place in the then-present (1940), The Mummy’s Tomb is 30 years into the future (1970), The Mummy’s Ghost takes place in four years later in 1974 and The Mummy’s Curse takes place 25 years after that in 1999! Amazingly, the 1940s apparently never went out of style in that world.
The original Karloff film, while not spectacular, is good and full of atmosphere and great performances by Karloff and Zita Johann. The rest of the franchise falls into standard B-movie fare full of recycled ideas and predictability. I don’t think these movies are necessarily but they are bland and can become boring at times. Probably the weakest franchise in Universal’s horror catalog. The Mummy is essential viewing but the rest is recommended only for classic horror completists.