Hammer Horror Series: The Mummy (1959)
by Steve Habrat
After Hammer Studios tackled such legendary monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein, the English horror factory then wrapped their claws around The Mummy. Borrowing heavily from the Universal’s rebooted series (The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost, and The Mummy’s Curse) and stitching the best parts together under the direction of Terence Fisher, The Mummy is another solid horror release from Hammer. Released in 1959 and in Technicolor, The Mummy is a bit grander than The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula, daring to hop from Egypt to London and back again. Even if the film was made on elaborate sets with fancy lighting, The Mummy is much more exotic than the previous two offerings from Hammer but the lack of a fresh spin on the material is what keeps The Mummy from reaching the level of greatness found in The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula. It’s the same old shuffle and strangle from our bandaged baddie but you can’t help but get chills from his appearance. Despite being bogged down by the familiar, The Mummy is still a creepy horror film that completes a stunning cycle of horror that reintroduced the world to supernatural terrors.
The Mummy begins in Egypt in 1865, where crippled archeologist John Banning (Played by Peter Cushing), his father Stephen (Played by Felix Aylmer), and his uncle Joseph Whemple (Played by Raymond Huntley) are digging for the long lost tomb of Princess Ananka. Despite bizarre warnings of curses from a local Egyptian man named Mehemet Bey (Played by George Pastell), the group discovers and enters the tomb of Ananka where they also discover the mysterious Scroll of Life, which Stephen proceeds to read from. Shortly after reading from the scroll, Stephen is spooked by an unseen figure and sent into a catatonic state. Three years pass and John has returned to London where he father stays in a nursing home. One day, Stephen snaps out of his catatonic state and reveals to John that when he read from the scrolls, he accidentally awakened the mummified high priests Kharis (Played by Christopher Lee). As John waves off the ramblings of his father, the mysterious Mehemet Bey arrives in London with the undead Kharis, looking for the members of the group that disturbed the tomb of Ananka. By night, Bey sends Kharis out into the countryside and commands him to kill those who were part of the expedition.
A tad longer than The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula, The Mummy has a slow build that really hits its peak half way through the film. The terror really roars in a sequence featuring Bey commanding Kharis to emerge from a murky swamp and begin his rampage. The scene is effectively lit, with a muddy and moldy Kharis rising out of the murky water as those atmospheric mists seen in Hammer’s previous offering creep silently across the frame. It is easily the most memorable and horrific moment in The Mummy and it certainly has to rank up there as one of the most frightening movie moments ever. The rest of the film resorts to what we have seen before, Kharis shuffling through the woods and fields towards illuminated mansions. He does get a nifty jump scare when he heads to the nursing home to find Stephen and he crashes through a window. You will thrill as John riddles Kharis with bullets and even blasts him with a shotgun, leaving two gaping holes in his chest, which add to his macabre appearance. It should also be noted that for a low budget horror film, The Mummy certain has some incredible effects on Kharis, a rotting corpse caked with mud. He certainly is a creature to behold.
Being a Hammer production, naturally Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are the ringleaders of the mayhem. Lee is almost unrecognizable under all the muck covering his body. He is forced to rely on the emotion pouring from his eyes, which dart around the face of Isobel Banning (Played by Yvonne Furneaux), who reminds him of his beloved Princess Ananka. We do sympathize more with this Lee creature than we did with his Frankenstein Monster, mostly because he is a monster because of his love and affection. We do get a chance to see Lee’s face in an extended flashback that reveals his back-story and even then, he is painted up with a fake tan and shrouded in robes. Cushing is given the heroic role and he does it admirably, especially as he drags a crippled leg around with him. There are times where Cushing looks a bit unintentionally hilarious as he flits around with a shotgun but he sells it pretty well. He gets a pretty nifty war of words with Pastell’s Bey, a secretly sinister man who wishes to punish all who dared disturb the tomb of Ananka. Eddie Byrne shows up as Inspector Mulrooney, who is skeptical of that a supernatural being could be responsible for all the madness that is taking place around him.
If you have seen Universal’s Kharis series, then you basically have an idea where Hammer’s interpretation is heading. The fact that the film is so predictable does knock it down a few pegs. After the sequence that has Kharis emerging from the swamp, the film has a hard time really topping that scene. The middle section of the film gets an extended look at how Kharis was transformed into the monstrous mummy that he is. While it is a very ornate and shiny sequence, it plays out a bit longer than it really needed to. It does, however, pack a seriously nasty gross out scare that will have you wincing. The climax of the film is appropriately grim and tragic to go along with the tragic feel of Kharis. The Mummy does find Hammer Studios showing some range outside of their gothic comfort zone but they still manage to sneak a few of those touches into the film. Overall, the film has two spectacular performances from Lee and Cushing and there are a number of moments to send your flying out of your seat, but The Mummy is never as atmospheric as The Curse of Frankenstein or Horror of Dracula. It may not stick with you like the other two films did but there is enough style and grace here to build The Mummy up into a film that will satisfy horror fans everywhere.
The Mummy is available on DVD.
Posted on October 9, 2012, in REViEW and tagged 1959, christopher lee, classic horror, felix aylmer, george pastell, hammer, hammer horror, hammer studios, horror, peter cushing, raymond huntley, terence fisher, yvonne furneaux. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.