Sunday, October 12, 2014

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: The Mummy (1932)

The Mummy (1932)

It's been a while since I've seen The Mummy. It was never one of my favorite Universal monsters, and I think the poor print quality of previous releases has been part of that. My memory of the film is all dark shadows and flickers.

There's also the problem of the Mummy himself - he's only in the movie for maybe five minutes, and most of that time he's motionless in the background. For a kid watching this movie on TV having the title monster not really be part of the festivities was something of a downer. (Yeah, I knew Ardeth Bay was the same guy - and I loved Karloff - but he wasn't the Mummy. He couldn't be - he wasn't wearing bandages!)

Still creepy, though. Very creepy...

I always liked the look of the film, though - especially the Egyptian sequences (in the digs and in flashback). The Mummy was created to exploit a huge interest in Egypt and Egyptology that swept the world as a result of the discovery and excavation of Tutankhamun's tomb. The world tour of the artifacts from that tomb from 1972-1979 meant another wave of Tut-mania, and I was just as caught up in it as anyone else. When I didn't find what I wanted - more of the monster, more Egypt stuff - other Mummy movies supplanted the original in my affections. (Mostly the Hammer pictures.)

The Medium
My wife purchased the Universal Monsters Essential Blu-ray Collection for me for my birthday. It's one of my treasures. I've already watched the Frankenstein films for previous 31 Days installments - or I'd watch 'em again!

As I mentioned earlier, my memory of earlier The Mummy releases were that they were sub-par. I never picked up the Legacy collection, so I don't know if that was restored. The Blu-ray is spectacular, however, with an amazing picture quality and great sound as well. Watching the Blu-ray of The Mummy is a bit of a revelation, as it's an extremely well-shot film, something I never realized in previous viewings. The extras are okay, with two commentary tracks, a couple of short documentaries as well as a few other things.

The Movie
The Mummy is more melodrama than monster picture, but it's got some horrific moments. The Mummy himself is still sorely lacking, but the moments he's on-screen are great ones. The early scene where he comes to life is still effective and that makeup by Jack Pierce is just incredible. From what I've heard it took most of a day to get Karloff into the makeup and another few hours to get him out of it, so perhaps that's why they opted for the Ardeth Bay character instead.

"See, take away the one. Take away. TAKE AWAY. Do you get it now?"

The story is a familiar one now - the resurrected man who finds his ancient love re-incarnated as a modern woman. He then does everything he can to make her remember who she is and return to him. This must have been one of the first times this story was told, though, and it's done very effectively.

The story starts in 1932 in Egypt at an official dig. The mummy of Imhotep, a disgraced priest, is mistakenly brought to life when the Scroll of Thoth is read aloud. Years later he returns posing as a regular Egyptian and points the way to have his beloved Ankh-es-en-amon dug up as well. He intends to use the scroll to resurrect her in just the same fashion.

Unfortunately for him (and for our heroine) Ankh-es-en-amon has been reincarnated in the person of Helen Grosvenor. He schemes to reawaken her to her past life before killing her and using the Scroll of Thoth to turn her into a deathless mummy like himself.

"That's your plan?"
"You know, it does sound stupid when you say it out loud like that."

Karloff is awesome as always, and the repeated closeups of Ardeth Bay and his glowing eyes are pretty creepy. Actually, Bay is creepy all the time, standing in weird poses way too close to whoever he is speaking to. Dude has no sense of personal space. This being Karloff the character has more depth than your average monster villain, and you feel for him as he recounts his attempts to resurrect his beloved - only to be tortured and buried alive for his transgression.

Still, his plan calls for killing his beloved and turning her into a monster, so she's pretty distressed. Her rejection of him despite all he's gone through is poignant - but oh so understandable. Zita Johann, the actress who plays Helen/Ankh-es-en-amon is very good for the most part, though she sometimes goes a bit over-the-top. She handles the change in personality between the two characters with skill.

"You see this? This is exactly how many fucks I have to give."

The supporting characters are less memorable, with a modern love interest for Helen and the guy who played Van Helsing in Dracula as an expert in the occult being the largest roles. There are a few visual effects - a scrying pool being a standout - but it's primarily the makeup and the set design that pop and they're both excellent, especially in this restored version.

The Bottom Line
The Mummy is another reassessed classic for me. It's creepy and melodramatic and fun. The pace is perhaps slower than some of the other Universal Monster pictures - and the paucity of actual Mummy still bothers me a little - but it's a great monster movie anyway.

No comments:

Post a Comment