by Steve Habrat
On October 4th, 1957, the Soviet Union officially ignited the Space Race with the launch of the shiny satellite Sputnik 1. With Sputnik 1 orbiting the Earth and sending otherworldly transmissions, the United States and Russia began frantically trying to send the first human being up into the stars. While it would be just under four years before Yuri Gagarin would orbit Earth, that didn’t stop the science-fiction motion pictures from taking advantage of the headline-grabbing topic. One such sci-fi horror film that dealt directly with humans in space was director Robert Day’s 1959 film First Man Into Space, a small but chilling and bloody warning about mankind’s eagerness to fire themselves into the heavens. Made for a small sum, First Man Into Space doesn’t try to reach beyond its budget and it keeps its action fairly simple. It is essentially a moody monster movie, one that generates moderate suspense when its space vampire is kept largely in the dark. Comprised of strong performances, well-used stock footage, an eerie small town vibe, a gee-whiz cosmic opening, and underlying paranoia about what lies beyond the clouds, First Man Into Space is a first-rate B-movie that deserves the attention of genre fans everywhere. It’s just a shame that the last ten minutes commit the ultimate sin of showing the monster up close and personal.
First Man Into Space begins with hotshot Lieutenant Dan Prescott (played by Bill Edwards) piloting a Y-12 rocket into space while his uptight brother, Commander Charles “Chuck” Prescott (played by Marshall Thompson), monitors from a small space station in New Mexico. Dan’s determination to be the first man into space gets the best of him as he speeds towards the stars and it causes him to ignore orders from Chuck. After a close call and a wrecked rocket, Dan heads off to see his girlfriend, Tia Francesca (played by Marla Landi), without returning to base to report to his superiors. The exasperated Chuck tracks Dan down and threatens to prevent him from flying anymore missions if he doesn’t start following orders, but Dan simply laughs off Chuck’s threats. Some time later, Dan is back behind the controls of a Y-13 and speeding towards the unknown. Just as Dan is supposed to level off and begin his descent, he hits his emergency boosters and rockets into space. Dan quickly looses control of his rocket and he is sent into a cloud of meteorite dust. Dan manages to eject at the last second, but all contact with the ship is lost. Several days later, Chuck, who assumes that his brother is dead, is called out to a farm where a piece of the rocket has been found. Authorities gather up the wreckage and take it back to base where they discover a strange encrustation on the ship. Meanwhile, a horrifically deformed and wheezing creature has been prowling the countryside attacking people and sucking the blood from their veins.
The opening sequence of First Man Into Space is really something to behold. While the effects never get very extravagant and stock footage masks budget restraint, the scenes in which Dan flies into space will give you butterflies. Day keeps his camera trained on Dan’s face so we can see the excitement creeping through his eyes and his forming smile. There are a few moments where Day ventures outside the speeding rocket for a pulpy image but he keeps this adventure about as intimate as you can get. When Dan looses control of his ship the first time, the suspense is felt with Dan inside the cockpit as the Y-12 tumbles end over end, the Earth crashing into view for brief seconds only to be followed by a blur of stars. The second trip is just as breathtaking as Dan’s excitement and accomplishment completely overpowers him, but this excitement is short lived when the meteorite dust swallows up Dan’s rocket. You feel as though all the air has been sucked out of you. From here on out, First Man Into Space slowly simmers the terror as wreckage encrusted with a strange rock-like substance is found near cattle sucked dry of their blood. The suspense grows with scenes that find a silhouetted monster that looks like a zombified astronaut bursting from thick foliage, the shadow of a beastly creature inching down a blood bank hallway, and then a sudden broad daylight encounter between some terrified police officers and a sublime creature that rips and tears at its victims throats.
With its wonder and suspense firmly in place, Day can then focus on the handful of mature performances from his terrific cast. Science-fiction veteran Marshall Thompson (Fiend Without a Face, It! The Terror from Beyond Space) is First Man Into Space’s authoritative figure and it’s Sherlock Holmes as Chuck, the typical all-American hero hot on the trail of a bloodsucking monster. Thompson is controlled, obedient, and brave as he attempts to put the pieces of this intergalactic puzzle together before more bodies stack up. The rigidness of Thompson’s character is matched with the uncontrolled arrogance of Bill Edwards, who is fantastic as the ambitious hotshot pilot doomed to a terrible fate. Early on, while his bad boy persona may be slightly off-putting, his determination to become the first man in space is infectious and more than a little admirable. Near the end of the film, Edwards manages to mold his misshapen monster into a tragic casualty of disobedience. Marla Landi adds some Italian eye candy as Dan’s girlfriend, Tia, who becomes a pivotal player in the quest to find the humanity buried deep within the mangled Dan. Carl Jaffe becomes another key player as Dr. Paul von Essen, a friend to both Dan and Chuck who helps wrangle the rampaging Dan.
There may be some viewers who can’t warm to the slower pace of First Man Into Space, but if you’re someone who enjoys the slow build horror set in small town America, then this is just the ticket. Where First Man Into Space really hits a wall is in the last ten minutes, when Day basically sits down for a confessional with his monster. The make-up on the monster looks great in the night shots and it is especially unsettling in the darkened chase sequence the leads to the up-close encounter, but when shown in plain view, it just doesn’t have the effect that Day seems to think it does. Edwards and his ability to earn the viewer’s empathy saves the sequence, but you’ll still find yourself wishing that Day would have played with the sequence’s lightning scheme or something, anything to take the emphasis off the fact that Edwards is CLEARLY wearing a droopy Halloween mask that looks like it was stuck in a microwave for five minutes. Overall, First Man Into Space isn’t the fanciest science-fiction film out there, but it very well could be one of the creepiest and bloodiest that the Atomic Age has to offer. It is alive with the perseverance of an era that flew on the wings of scientific progression and it is closes in with a sense of paranoia, suggesting that these advancements may come with a sinister price.
First Man Into Space is available on DVD. It can be found in the Criterion Collection’s Monsters and Madmen box set.
by Steve Habrat
In the heyday of saucer men science fiction movies from the 1950s, most of the films saw the extraterrestrial visitors descending from the stars and roaming the dry landscapes of earth. They landed their shiny UFO right smack dab in the middle of Washington DC in the thoughtful The Day the Earth Stood Still and they sneakily attempted to turn American citizens into mindless clones in the chilling Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Heck, we even visited their home planets in such Technicolor classics like This Island Earth and Forbidden Planet. In 1959, director Spencer Gordon Bennet aimed to change the aliens-on-land mold with his low budget B-movie effort The Atomic Submarine, a serious-minded aquatic adventure that finds its spacemen seeking shelter and attacking earthlings from under the sea. While it certainly doesn’t rank with the classics mentioned above, The Atomic Submarine is still quite an impressive effort for a low budget science fiction outing. It features some heady political debates, some grand special effects that include underwater UFOs and a Cyclops alien complete with slimy tentacles, and a cast of veteran actors that keep the drama and tension high inside the cramped hallways of their Tigershark submarine.
The Atomic Submarine begins by explaining that a handful of ships and submarines have been mysteriously destroyed as they pass through the North Pole. In a frenzied attempt to halt the destruction, the authorities quickly close off the North Pole to any ships or submarines that may be passing through. An emergency meeting is called at the Pentagon between Commander Dan Wendover (played by Dick Foran), Secretary of Defense Justin Murdock (played by Jack Mulhil), and scientist Sir Ian Hunt (played by Tom Conway), who all begin debating how to handle the situation. A plan is devised to send the atomic submarine Tigershark out into the disaster zone and track down what is causing all the attacks. A crew is soon assembled, which includes Lt. Commander Richard “Reef” Holloway (played by Arthur Franz), Dr. Clifford Kent (played by Victor Varconi), and pacifist scientist Dr. Carl Neilson, Jr. (played by Brett Halsey). Shortly after setting out, the crew stumbles upon a saucer shaped underwater craft, which they quickly assume is an Unidentified Flying Object. The order is given to attack the UFO, but to the astonishment of the crew, the torpedoes that are fired do nothing to the ship. With no alternative options to bring the saucer down, the crew begins devising a way to destroy the ship, but their situation becomes even graver once they learn of the extraterrestrial’s plot to invade Earth.
Made with a measly $135,000 dollars, The Atomic Submarine is a science fiction film that doesn’t shy away from showing off for the viewer. The early sequences are minimal, with a group of guys stuffed into a room talking strategy with a bunch of flashing monitors and buttons behind them. Bennet will occasionally cut to the outside of the Tigershark as it glides proudly through a valley of icebergs. At times, it is glaringly obvious that Bennet is simply showing us a close-up of a child’s model submarine submerged in a swimming pool, but these close-ups do add a grand scale to the high tech piece of underwater machinery. As the film progresses, Bennet works up to a sleek UFO complete with a single glowing window on the top that leads the crew to nickname the ship ‘Cyclops.’ The UFO is unique in the sense that it is a living organism that can deflect bombs, a science fiction first! By the end of the film, the few members of the Tigershark crew manage to make their way inside the UFO and snoop around the inside of the ship. They are not met with alien monitors, neon lights, or other ornate decorations, but rather pitch-black open spaces with a single walkway cutting through the darkness and a weapon that can burn the guys to a crisp. Then there is the alien himself, which looks like a bigger version of the extraterrestrials that prowled the deserts of It Came from Outer Space. He truly is nifty and the filmmakers did manage to make him pretty intimidating.
What ultimately separates The Atomic Submarine from the rest of the other science fiction films of the 1950s is the slew of veteran actors gently guiding the film. Dick Foran is quietly in control as the no-nonsense Commander Wendover, a man ready to give the order to fire rockets straight at their extraterrestrial antagonist. Arthur Franz is the true star here as Lt. Holloway, the brave playboy who detests the pacifist Dr. Neilson and has a shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude towards the situation that they find themselves in. Franz also nabs the film’s best line when he comes face to, um, face with the alien menace at the end. Halsey is subdued as the young Dr. Neilson, the liberal-minded son of one of Holloway’s closest friends. Halsey is probably the youngest actor in the entire film and barely given the chance to save the day, strange considering that the fresh faced all-American is usually the one that is sticking it to the invading alien force in these types of B-movies. The other interesting aspect of The Atomic Submarine is the fact that there isn’t a damsel in distress anywhere near the action. In fact, there is barely a female face to be found outside of the blonde bombshell Joi Lansing. She shows up near the beginning as Lt. Holloway’s smoldering distraction for a drunken evening.
It is no secret that the science fiction films of the 1950s warned us of the dangers of the bomb, radiation, mutation, and the Reds while always reminding audiences to keep an eye on the sky. The Atomic Submarine is certainly no different than most of the other B-movies of this era in terms of coming with a message, but it seems to shake its head at some of the liberal mindedness that these films were remembered for. Midway through the film, there is a heady confrontation between Dr. Neilson and Lt. Holloway about how to approach the alien ship. Neilson argues that violence shouldn’t be the first response while Lt. Holloway is ready to bring the firepower. It is certainly a show stopping debate, but it’s especially interesting because it seems to be tapping into the tensions that were leading up to the counter culture movement, something that was only a few short years away. Overall, while it certainly won’t be remembered as one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, The Atomic Submarine is without question one of the more unique, measured, finely acted, and thought provoking B-movies that filled out a cheapie double bill. Come for the impressive underwater UFO and stay for the unsettling final showdown.
The Atomic Submarine is available on DVD. It is available in the Monsters and Madmen set by the Criterion Collection.
by Steve Habrat
In 1956, cheeseball writer/producer/director Edward D. Wood Jr. began work on a small science fiction horror film that would become famous among horror fans and cinema buffs for being absolutely terrible. That film would be Plan 9 from Outer Space, which would go on to be released in 1959 and become the most famous film of Wood’s outlandish career. Plan 9 from Outer Space is a glob of bumbling acting, some of the worst dialogue your ears may ever hear, felt costumes that look like they were made in a twelve-year-old boy’s garage, generous amounts of stock footage, flying saucers made of spray painted plates, and sets made from construction paper, glitter, and super glue. It’s hilariously awful. It’s also probably one of the most enthusiastically made motion pictures you may ever see. Plan 9 from Outer Space is the work of a goofball, that I will not deny, yet there is something to be said about this sloppy B-movie that burst forth from the Atomic Age. It’s not particularly smart or skilled and it is made by a bunch of amateurs, but Plan 9 from Outer Space actually works in a so-bad-it’s-sort-of-good kind of way. It also works its way into your heart because Wood stands tall by his picture from beginning to end, telling this absurd story about saucer men, UFOs, and the living dead without ever cracking a smile, even if we are in tears the entire time. You really have to hand it to this guy. Plus, to be honest, he does deliver a resurrection scene that is just way too cool to be in a movie like this.
Plan 9 from Outer Space begins with an unnamed old man (played by Bela Lugosi) grieving the death of his wife (played by Vampira). After the funeral, two gravediggers begin working on filling in the woman’s grave but are spooked after they hear several strange noises. Just as they are about to flee the graveyard, the gravediggers are attacked and killed by the resurrected corpse of the woman. A few days after the attack, the grief-stricken old man is killed in a freak automobile accident. While burying the old man, the mourners stumble upon the bodies of the two gravediggers. A team of police officers led by Inspector Dan Clay (played by Tor Johnson) show up at the graveyard to investigate the bodies, but soon after their arrival, Inspector Clay is attacked and killed by the resurrected woman. Meanwhile, airplane pilot Jeff Trent (played by Gregory Walcott) and his co-pilot are in midflight when they suddenly spot what they believe is a flying saucer. The two men report their sightings but the government swears them to secrecy. One evening while sitting on their back porch, Jeff breaks down and tells his wife, Paula (played by Mona McKinnon), what he witnessed in the skies, but his story is interrupted by strange lights and a strong wind that knocks them both to the ground. As the days pass, more and more reports come in about strange sightings in the sky and eerie activity in the local graveyard, which forces the government to begin an investigation. As the investigation deepens, the government realizes that the events in the cemetery and the UFO sightings may be linked.
Honestly, it is extremely difficult to try to summarize Plan 9 from Outer Space for someone. The plot is extremely convoluted and disjointed to the point where it isn’t even worth trying to really pay much attention to it. Basically, aliens are raising the dead to get the attention of the humans so that the aliens can warn the humans not to develop a weapon that would destroy the entire universe (go ahead, you can giggle). Plot aside, the real reason to watch Plan 9 from Outer Space is to catch all the goofs that Wood makes along the way. Every shot in the entire film is static, with actors shuffling and bumping their way through cramped sets that look like they were filmed in someone’s basement. To make the film seem bigger, Wood cuts the wooden scenes he filmed with about twenty minutes of stock footage of soldiers firing rockets, airplanes flying through the air, traffic in Los Angeles, and unused footage of star Bela Lugosi, who had passed before Wood decided to make Plan 9 from Outer Space. Then we have Wood’s makeshift graveyard, complete with crumbling cardboard headstones and black tarps doubling for crusty ground. He pumps in some fog, drops a black backdrop down, and single handed manages to construct a few semi-atmospheric shots of Johnson, Vampira, and Tom Mason, a chiropractor who stands in for Lugosi with a Dracula cape over his face, wandering around looking for victims. The graveyard scenes really make this movie, but that isn’t saying much.
When you’re not cringing over the DIY set design, you’ll be doubled over laughing at some of the absolute worst acting you will ever see. If the acting isn’t getting you (believe me, folks, it will), wait until you hear some of the dialogue that Wood hands them. The stock footage of Lugosi is pretty breathtaking, that I must admit, and Vampira is campy fun as she shuffles stiffly around the graveyard with wild eyes and outstretched arms, but nearly everyone else is absolutely horrible. Walcott is trying so hard to be believable as the brave hero who stands up to the martians, but you will just laugh him off rather than root for him. Tor Johnson, a former Swedish wrestler, is asked to play the no-nonsense Inspector Clay and he fails miserably. You won’t be surprised that he excels at playing a mouth-breath ghoul though. McKinnon is simply asked to shriek in horror at Mason, who only reveals his eyes to his victims. Dudley Manlove and Joanna Lee shows up as Eros and Tanna, the two aliens who shout classic lines of dialogue like “you see? You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!” Also on board here is Criswell, the narrator who first tells us that the events we are about to see are set in the future and then completely contradicts himself by saying that this story took place in the past. Riiiiiight…
Even at a brief seventy-nine minutes, you could honestly fill a book with everything that is wrong with Plan 9 from Outer Space. Nearly every single scene has some sort of flub, yet that is precisely why the film is so much fun. You’re watching it to make fun of it and laugh your head off right in its face. Given that the film was created out of the radioactive paranoia of nuclear war, Wood certainly doesn’t shy away from slipping in a few comments of his own about the bomb, even if they do get tangled up in a unintentionally hilarious showdown between aliens and humans. They don’t particularly stand out from the countless other Cold War science fiction drive-in movies but they certainly are here, if you can believe it. The film is also worth checking out for Tor Johnson’s resurrection sequence, which is dramatically lit and, shockingly, shot with some sort of artistic vision. It is a brief moment of brilliance and it certainly is cool. Overall, if you’re even slightly interested in science fiction and horror, then Plan 9 from Outer Space is certainly worth checking out on a hot summer night with a cold beer in your hand. It may be the furthest thing from high art, but this is the work of a determined man who completely believed in his own ridiculous vision. Our hats are off to you, Wood.
Plan 9 from Outer Space is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
You have to love William Castle. Even if he produced B-movie schlock, the man knew how to sell a cheese filled idea. Luring audience members in through gimmicks (buzzers on the theater seats during 1959’s The Tingler, a $1,000 life insurance policy should someone die of fright in 1958’s Macabre), Castle giddily scared the pants off people through marketing alone. Despite the flashy promotion, Castle did direct a number of fairly substantial horror films that have stood the test of time and earned a respectable cult following. One of those films happens to be 1959 haunted mansion film House on Haunted Hill, the Vincent Price funhouse that features several moments that will have you dashing off for a change of underwear. Flawed but certainly a whole bunch of fun, House on Haunted Hill is nothing but an excuse for five strangers to walk into a supposedly haunted house and simply explore the spooks it has to offer. When it sticks to this premise, the film is a horror gem but when it decides to tack on its messy final twenty minutes, things don’t turn out so well. Still, you can’t argue with that skeleton backing a shrieking woman into a vat of acid. That, my friends, is why we see horror films.
House on Haunted Hill introduces us to eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren (Played by Vincent Price) and his wife, Annabelle Loren (Played by Carol Ohmart), who rents out an old mansion that is said to be haunted and then invites five strangers to join him for a night of terror. The guests include Lance Schroeder (Played by Richard Long), Nora Manning (Played by Carolyn Craig), Dr. David Trent (Played by Alan Marshal), Watson Pritchard (Played by Elisha Cook Jr.), and Ruth Bridgers (Played by Julie Mitchum), all who appear to have never met Fredrick and Annabelle before. The group is told that whoever can last the night in the home will receive a check for $10,000. The group is given the history of the house, which includes gruesome murder and mutilation, and then they are taken on a tour. As some of the guests break off from the group, the ghosts begin to reveal themselves and certain guests hint that they may not be random strangers at all.
Like a tour through a Halloween haunted house, Castle hurls one pop-up scare at us after another. Blood drips down from the ceiling, a chandelier comes crashing down on the guests, ghosts float outside of windows, skeletons walk, severed heads wait in trunks, and a witchy ghoul emerges from the dungeon. It’s in this stretch that House on Haunted Hill isn’t exactly heavy with plot but dares to have a cheeky and spooky good time as the characters are scared half to death. Heavy doses of camp are added through the otherworldly score and Vincent Price as he richly sells the ghostly encounters. There are several moments where Castle has Price almost directly address us about the terror playing out in the twisting hallways and cobwebbed dungeons where vats of acid boil and bubble in anticipation for the victim that tumbles in. The home feels just cramped enough to gives us a claustrophobic chill yet big enough to assure us that terror could easily be hiding somewhere and just waiting for the right moment to leap out and scream “BOO” right in our face. It’s loaded with atmosphere on the inside and the outside certainly makes an imposing statement is it stands proudly in the dark.
Much of the success of House and Haunted Hill lies on the shoulders of Price, who brings his usual macabre purrs to the spook show. Only Price was morbid enough to play a character that has stuck around with Annabelle, his fourth wife who has tried to poison him. He takes great pleasure in the horror around him, chewing through a smile as he passes out guns tucked into little wooden coffins as party favors. You’re a mean one, Mr. Price. Ohmart’s Annabelle is just as devious, the lady who came up with this eerie party idea. She brings her own devilish charm to the soirée and she takes terror to a whole new level as a walking skeleton stalks her through that old basement. Cook is great as the scared stiff Pritchard, the alcoholic owner of the home who fully believes that spirits wander the halls. Craig is one hell of a scream queen as Nora, who is consistently tormented by the ghosts or perhaps even one of the other party guests. Her run in with a ghoul is cellar has got to rank as one of the most shocking scenes in a horror film.
While the ending may subtract some of the supernatural creeps that flow freely throughout it, House on Haunted Hill still is a creaky winner in the haunted house subgenre. The scenes where the characters directly speak to the audience are immensely silly and certainly haven’t aged well at all. It actually causes the film to loose some momentum but it is blatantly Castle. At the time of the film’s release, Castle asked theaters to install an elaborate pulley system that would send a skeleton gliding over the heads of the audience members. I still think it would be very cool if theaters showed the film and included that Castle gimmick. It would certainly make for a nifty piece of nostalgia. Overall, House on Haunted Hill has zero depth but it does develop its characters quite nicely and it delivers scares at just the right time. It has plenty of camp throughout, which makes it perfectly safe for the kiddies to enjoy on Halloween night after trick r’ treating. In the end, the film belongs to Price and the disturbing reveal of his character in the final seconds of the film. For those who wish to get into Castle and really have some fun with his work, House on Haunted Hill is a great starting point. Be warned, this one may scare the pants right off of you.
House on Haunted Hill is available on DVD.
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.