Wednesday, October 05, 2016

THE MUMMY (1959)

In Egypt in 1895, archeologist Stephen Banning discovers the long-lost tomb of Princess Ananka. The Egyptian spoilsport Mehemet Bey warns him that there is a curse on desecrators, but he ignores that and, leaving his son John (Peter Cushing) laid up with a broken leg, behind at camp, Stephen enters the tomb. He discovers something called the Scroll of Life, reads it out loud, screams, is found a gibbering mess, and spends the next several years in an asylum. Eventually, he comes out of his state long enough to tell his son what happened: the reading of the scroll awoke the mummy Kharis (Christopher Lee), protector of Ananka, and guided by Mehemet Bey, Kharis will be tracking down the desecrators. Sure enough, that's what happens.

This is a Hammer reboot of the Universal series. It’s largely based on the later 1940s B-movie series of Mummy movies (in which the name Kharis is first used) rather than the 1932 classic with Boris Karloff, and it's one of Hammer’s weaker efforts, though not for lack of trying on the part of Lee and Cushing who, like Vincent Price, almost always tried their best even when the material was far below them. The opening sequence, featuring the archeologist going mad, is based directly on the opening of the 1932 film, and though the tomb set is fairly well done, the scene itself misses the mark by quite a bit—it's just not scary. The idea that a living woman (played blandly by Yvonne Furneaux) reminds Kharis of his princess and the Egyptian character who aids Kharis are both borrowed from the Universal mythology to only occasionally effective use. A specific link to the Karloff film is an nicely done flashback scene showing how Kharis became the creature he is. The one plus this has over the earlier series is that the mummy moves quickly and attacks brutally, and Lee, his piercing eyes vivid under the mummy makeup, makes the most of his scenes. This is worth one viewing, but I doubt it would stand up very well to repeat visits. [DVD]

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