A History of the Mummy

A History of … The Mummy

Ah, the Mummy. The thing about the Mummy, is that in the pecking order of established monsters, most people are unsure of exactly where to place him: is he a lurching zombie? A tragic figure whose story of lost love & downfall presumes that he should be pitied? Or is he something far more powerful: an ageless immortal – an indestructible force who can call upon the elements to lay waste to all those in his way?

Cinematically though, “The Mummy” refers to any one of four film franchises about the ancient Egyptian priest resurrected with a powerful curse and the efforts of heroic archaeologists to stop him.

The Universal Mummy

The classic b-movie machine, Universal Horror, ran their Mummy franchise during 1932–1955, with a series of six instalments. The first film starred the iconic horror actor Boris Karloff as Im-Ho-Tep – the Mummy of the title. The follow up films starred Tom Tyler and subsequently Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis. In the final film of the franchise, Eddie Parker played Klaris, a cousin of Kharis.

Film Year Actor Portraying The Mummy
The Mummy 1932 Boris Karloff
The Mummy’s Hand 1940 Tom Tyler
The Mummy’s Tomb 1942 Lon Chaney Jr.
The Mummy’s Ghost 1944 Lon Chaney Jr.
The Mummy’s Curse 1944 Lon Chaney Jr.
Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy 1955 Eddie Parker

 

tumblr_mvjm7tyCYT1r6sz5wo1_500The Universal offering was classic Black and White horror B-movie fodder of the time and although the studio could be accused of riding on the fame of Karloff’s name from the previous year’s Frankenstein (1931), Karloff put in a classic first turn as the mummy of ancient Egyptian prince Im-Ho-Tep. In the film, the prince is brought to life by the Scroll of Thoth and then attempts to reunite with his lost love: an ancient princess who has been reincarnated into a beautiful young woman in modern day Egypt.

The studio couldn’t get Karloff back for the sequel, The Mummy’s Hand. The studio decided to change the tempo to more of an action comedy – a less than successful idea. For the third film, the studio had a brainwave. Tom Tyler was replaced with the legendary Lon Chaney Jr. – by then a household name after starring in the Wolf-Man movies. A second change was the move to take the Mummy to modern day America.

After three excellent films drafting in support talent such as John Carradine, Universal took a ten year break before producing their final Mummy property – Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, adding the bumbling but brilliant comedy stars into the mythos of the Mummy. The film was arguably not as good as the earlier Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), but was actually the last film that Abbott and Costello made for Universal Pictures. Stuntman Eddie Parker played the Mummy – he had previously doubled Lon Chaney Jr. in Universal’s earlier Mummy films.

The Hammer Mummy

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With the post-war UK cinema explosion came the wave of British horror films. These were based around the old classics like Dracula and Frankenstein and Hammer Horror gave us their take on the franchise between 1959-1971. The production company’s first offering was: The Mummy. Set in 1895, the film pits Peter Cushing against Christopher Lee as Kharis. The plot is lo

osely based on Universal‘s The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Tomb. They followed this with a much more B-movie offering which had a less head-lining cast: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb in 1964. This second Hammer film featured Dickie Owen as the Mummy Ra-Antef. A third film followed in 1966 – The Mummy’s Shroud, which featured Eddie Powell as the Mummy Pre

m and a fourth film, titled Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb was produced in 1971. This latter film was based on Bram Stoker’s 1903 novel The Jewel of Seven Stars and starred veteran Hammer vampire Valerie Leon as the Mummy Queen Tera and her reincarnation Margaret Fuchs. Sadly of all of the franchises that Hammer re-imagined their Mummy efforts were generally less than memorable, with the exception of the first offering.

The Modern Mummy

The-Mummy-ReturnsIn recent times, the best known franchise has been Stephen Sommers’ re-invention of the franchise which spanned from 1999-2008. Originally a proposed remake of The Mummy was to have director Clive Barker create a “dark, sexual and filled with mysticism”, that “would have been a great low-budget movie”. This failed to materialise, but in 1999, Sommers wrote and directed a remake of The Mummy, loosely based on the original film of 1932. Although carrying a horror element, it was more of an adventure movie with elements of comedy. The film concentrated more on action and CGI, mixed in with many references to Egyptian lore. The film was a box office success, making instant stars of Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, and was succeeded by two sequels, a cancelled fourth film, a spin-off series, and an animated television series.

The first two films were well received critically, while the third film, a wholesale departure from the story line centred on a Chinese legend, received mostly negative reviews. Such was the tone of the movies, it has been mooted that the franchise filled the vacancy left by Indiana Jones, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch.

One other Mummy film is worth mentioning, but only as a warning that it should be avoided at all costs: 1998’s Tale of the Mummy, directed by Russell Mulcahy and starring Jason Scott Lee. Despite being directed by the Highlander supremo, and having a big name support cast including Christopher Lee, Honor Blackman, Sean Pertwee, Lysette Anthony, Louise Lombard and even a young Gerard Butler, the end product was completely dire.

My personal favourite? If you can find it, check out the fourth episode of the first series of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, entitled “Mummy Daddy”. In this story, an actor dressed as a mummy Mummy-daddy-with-babyheads off from his location-filming of a horror movie in a Deep South US swamp to get to his wife, who is about to give birth. The local red-necks believe in the eerie legend of Ra-Amin-Ka, who through circumstance also winds up in the same vicinity and when the locals encounter the panicked, bandaged up actor, they are positive he is the real deal and set about trying to kill him, tooled up with torches and pitchforks. Meanwhile the real mummy ends up back at the location-shoot to complete the filming… after Family Dog, this is widely considered to be the best episode of the first season of Amazing Stories and is absolutely hilarious.

Ronald Singh
This article was originally published in our digital Geek Syndicate Magazine. The magazine is our free quarterly publication jam packed with features, interviews, previews and more.Check out the back issues here.

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One comment

  1. The Jewel of the Seven Stars was also made as The Awakening in 1980 with Charlton Heston and then as Bram Stoker’s the Mummy in 1997. there wsa also a version made for TV in 1970

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