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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Day 354: The Mummy

The Mummy
Mummy is the word

As I child, I was really scared of mummies. At the Natural History Museum, I was terrified to go into the mummy exhibit. They may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of monsters and things that go bump in the night, but when you think about it, they are actually quite scary. While it's great that there are tons of movies with giant city-destroying monsters, vampires, werewolves, and extraterrestrial clowns, none of them are actually real. Mummies actually exist and can be seen up close. These are actual rotting corpses from thousands of years ago that may or may not be cursed. That's scary as hell! It's no surprise that there has been a slew of mummy-based horror movies.

The Mummy is a 1932 horror film from Universal Studios starring Boris Karloff (Frankenstein, The Mask Of Fu Manchu) as Imhotep. During an archaeological expedition in Egypt, Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron, Fog Over Frisco, The Man With Two Faces) discovers the mummy, Imhotep and the fabled Scroll of Thoth. His friend and occultist Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan, Dracula, Frankenstein) warns that the artifacts he has discovered are cursed and begs him to burn the scroll. During their discussion, Sir Joseph's assistant Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher, Svengali, The Undying Monster) reads an ancient spell that gives life to the mummy behind him. The mummy takes the Scroll of Thoth and, upon seeing the living corpse, Norton is overcome by uncontrollable fits of hysterical laughter. Norton was committed to an asylum after the fateful night and eventually died. Ten years later, Sir Joseph's son Frank (David Manners, The Black Cat, The Death Kiss) and Professor Pearson (Leonard Mudie, Adventures Of Superman, Cleopatra) are approached by a mysterious man named Ardath Bay, an Egyptian with archaeological knowledge. He leads them the location of Imhotep's lover, Princess Ankh-es-en-amon's tomb. After digging, the treasures and mummy are donated to the Cairo Museum. It is revealed that Ardath Bay is in fact the resurrected mummy Imhotep and he intends to bring his love back to life. Bay kills Sir Joseph when he tries to stop his nefarious plans. Using his mystical powers, Bay mesmerizes Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann) who bears a striking resemblance to Ankh-es-en-amon. Will Frank be able to stop the mummy before it's too late?

Who ordered the Mummy, extra crispy?

It's important to mention that despite being one of, if not the first mummy-based horror movies, there is no shambling mummy chasing after people. That comes in later mummy movies. We only see the actual mummy in the very beginning. Instead, we get Ardath Bay who looks like a raisin covered in mud. Boris Karloff plays the part very well and manages to make the character very creepy with his bass voice and unmoving face. I was disappointed that we didn't get the usual mummy look that I was expecting, but that can be blamed on pop culture. The rest of the cast plays their roles well enough, though David Manners isn't exactly the best leading man from Hollywood at the time. There is a decent amount of action for the time with a few scenes of violence.

The story itself is fairly decent, though it lacks the proper amount of pacing and horror seen in Dracula. The plot moves very quickly and with a run-time of about an hour and ten minutes, things feel very rushed. The scene where Norton sees the mummy alive and is overcome with laughter is quite unnerving even 80 years later. Sadly, this is really where the horror ends. The movie lacks the number of scares even during the Universal era of horror movies. What The Mummy lacks in scares, it makes up for in atmosphere. The movie has good lighting which creates long and unnatural shadows, conveying suspense and fear. The movie manages to squeeze in a little romance between Frank and Helen, but it all feels very convenient for the sake of the story. When looking at the Brendan Frasier Mummy movies, it's easy to see where some of their ideas came from.

Resurrecting your dead lover is serious business

The Mummy is a classic Universal horror movie that spawned countless remakes, re-imaginings, sequels, and adaptations. Thanks to great atmosphere and mood, the movie belongs on the Universal monster's Mt. Rushmore along with Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man. Personally, I think the Creature From The Black Lagoon should be on there as well, but he didn't have the impact on movies like The Mummy did. The movie lacks a lot of scares and the absence of seeing a mummy with it's wrappings, shambling around after people is disappointing. Mummies should be scary, but the movie made a mistake by turning the mummy into a man. Boris Karloff is very good as Ardath Bay and the supporting cast is good enough to keep things going. The pacing of the movie is very quick which makes everything else feel rushed. While it is certainly a classic, I feel that Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man are far better movies. Still, it's worth your time to see Boris Karloff in another fun monster movie role.


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