The Mummy: Universal’s Misfit

Continuing my Universal Classic Monsters marathon and exposing my wife to movies she probably would have been fine never watching, I turned to The original Mummy series, which ran for six films from 1932 to 1955. As I believe I have mentioned previously, I’ve always been a huge fan of Universal Classic Monsters. As a kid, I begged my parents for the DVD set – and before that I was collecting VHS tapes during the 90s (which had amazing box art by the way).

Universal Classic Monsters The Mummy VHS
I’m trying to think if I ever owned this one or if I viewed it for the first time on DVD. I know I had about four or five.

But, with all that said, I was never a fan of The Mummy. Even as a kid, I only watched this film once. I found it dull and disappointing. After all, I pictured a mummy as a monster in bandages, whereas the 1932 film sheds these after a single sequence. I remember referring to it as “watching a guy kill people through a mirror for an hour and a half.”

My interests have of course evolved since then, and I enjoy many movies now that I did not as a child. So I was curious to see how I would react to The Mummy watching it as an adult. To give you the short version: I think my eight-year old self had some good points.

The Mummy: Dracula in Egypt

In short, I do not believe The Mummy holds up for modern audiences, unless you already have an appetite for monster movies. Boris Karloff is wonderful sure, but the film just doesn’t have the identity of some of its peers.

What do I mean by that?

Well, for one thing it’s pretty much Dracula…but, you know, in Egypt. Karloff spends much of the movie hypnotizing women with the same intense stare that Lugosi made famous just one year earlier. The women who resist him are drained of their strength and confined to bed. Really they’d be done for if not for the intervention of Dr. Muller, who plays Van Helsing in unraveling the secrets of the mummy. Fun fact: actor Edward Van Sloan who played Muller had also played Van Helsing in the 1931 Dracula movie.

Dracula Mummy
Can you spot the similarities with the featured image?

Imhotep also employs henchmen, mere mortals who run around and do his bidding, in a manner very similar to Dracula. The comparisons begin immediately, as both films use a selection of classical music (from Swan Lake I believe) to open their credits.

Perhaps if I loved Dracula more I would be fine with this likeness, but truth be told – I’m only a real fan of the Spanish version. Given that The Mummy released only a year following Dracula, all of this feels a bit lazy. It also really reflects the times that the people involved could not be bothered to learn any of the interesting history around mummies and Egyptian curses and instead just rehashed a European horror story.

The Mummy’s Hand: Inspiration for the Stephen Sommers Series

While most of The Mummy series blurs together, there is one film I feel I should mention: The Mummy’s Hand (1940). This was the second in the series and…I guess it could be a sequel. Really it’s more of a reboot – something almost unheard of back then.

So in this one, Imhotep is gone. He’s been replaced by a new mummy called Klaris. What’s Klaris’ deal? Well, it’s pretty much the same as Imhotep. He also fell in love with a princess he was not supposed to and was cursed because of it. However, this time the story involves a hidden tomb – a map – and a secret society sworn to protect the secret of the mummy.

In other words, Stephen Sommers’ underrated 1999 film takes a lot from The Mummy’s Hand. The big difference is that Klaris is not the schemer that Imhotep was. Really he’s more of a servant and the order guarding the tombs are the true villains. I mean really – the nerve of these people – trying to protect their heritage from ending up in British and American museums. What a people.

This film has more of an identity than The Mummy in my opinion and, if you want to get the essence of Universal Classic Monsters then it should be in your list. Is it amazing? Not really, but it is a fair bit of fun. Or you know, just watch the 1999 version.

Series Ideas: Brides, Full Moons, Evil Priests – Oh my!

As the series went on, the Mummy films became more or less repeats. Every film featured an evil priest (with the exception of the final comedy, Abbot and Costello Meet the Mummy). Every film featured the mummy shuffling around at a snail’s pace, somehow evading detection and murdering people who only to walk away from him.

It is worth nothing that The Mummy’s Tomb straight up murders all the heroes from The Mummy’s Hand, really repainting the fun nature of the second film with an air of tragedy. No Rick O’Connell-esque adventures for those guys.

Lon Chaney Jr. as the Mummy
Kind of a bummer that Karloff usually gets all the credit for playing the Mummy. Lon Chaney Jr. played the monster more often than anyone, appearing in three of the movies.

I also noted that, yet again, the lack of identity crept in. When can the Mummy come to life? Oh – mostly at night during the full moon. He’s used by evil men and more than once hunted by village mobs. Oh, and he gets a bride toward the end (in really horrific fashion too – drags a young woman into the swamp and murders her).

It’s a good thing Universal never crossed over the Mummy and Frankenstein or people would have been bound to see the numerous likenesses. Ditto with the Wolf-Man.

These films mark the weakest series I have seen thus far. There’s no flexibility like in the Invisible Man films and no overarching tale of tragedy like in The Creature from the Black Lagoon trilogy.

It feels like they did not have a lot of creative ideas for this one and yet somehow it still became six movies. I guess people really enjoyed being threatened by slow-moving guys in bandages back then.

Going forward, my usual series breakdown will end. I intend to combine Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf-Man, watching the films as they were released rather than in series’ groups. Why? Because, unlike the first three film series, these are ripe with crossovers and I want to follow whatever continuity there is between the films.

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