Osiris was a trendsetter. The God of the dead, after having his body parts unfortunately scattered to the four corners of the earth (happens to the best of us) was put back together by his long suffering wife Isis, who, after wrapping him in the finest of linen and without the need for a gigantic storm and a room full of Kenny Strickfaden machinery (see Frankenstein 1931), resurrected him. Born was the mummy.
1911, the Thanhouser Company produced one of the first mummy movies (now lost), although earlier films to carry the theme were made in 1899 (a reawakened Cleopatra, smoking bra included) and 1909. It does away with Isis’s magic and the more modern method of electricity would spark life into the corpse (maybe that Kenny Strickfaden machinery would come in handy after all). It all ends with the mummy getting wed and, I assume, shuffling off creakily into the sunset where eternal happiness awaits.
The mummy became a franchise, as did all the other movie monsters, after their treatment by Universal, but it has always been considered the baby brother, between the two titans of horror cinema, Dracula and Frankenstein. Its monster, in the sequels, a slow moving mute, that looks like one good gust of desert wind would blow him away. It’s an endearing image, and one that in various reboots has been flipped and twisted to fit modern tastes. Not necessarily for the better.
The following is a list, ranked worst to best, of all the major contributions to cinema this fascinating ancient monster has made, from the Universal series to the Hammer productions and beyond. So wrap (uh hum) yourself up warm (not too tight) and to paraphrase the words of Imhotep himself “You will not remember what I show you now, and yet I shall awaken memories of love… and crime… and death……..and Abbot and Costello”
14. The Mummy (2017, Alex Kurtzman)
Oh Universal! You just won’t let your monsters sleep! This proposed cycle of films will include all of the major movie villains, retooled, restyled and reanimated from the depths to cater for the modern audience and may culminate in a gathering of House Of Dracula (1945) style proportions! Anyway, The Dark Universe comes whimpering into life with its first presentation, The Mummy. A reboot of a reboot starring a rebooted Tom Cruise (seemingly ageless since 1986) as a plunderer of all things ancient, who unearths an Egyptian Princess (Ahmanet), who’s rage knows no boundaries and evolves, angrily, day by day.
After breaking out of her mercury encrusted tomb, she, in her more explosive moments, resembling an anaemic out of control Neytiri from Avatar, fills the screen, and the streets of London with chaos and undead armies of writhing cadavers (who haven’t lost the ability to swim it seems!) to help vent her endless bad mood, and claim poor Tom in unholy matrimony.
The grouping together of Cruise and Russell Crowe (Cruise and Crowe Meet the Mummy…no?) as Henry Jekyll/”Eddie” Hyde, sporting an awful British accent, is star studded yes, but the film just can’t live up to their names on the poster. The scenes in-between the action is clunky and bogs the film down with explanations and conclusions seemingly conjured from the very thin air that produced the idea for this reboot. It pushes too hard to be something akin to the beloved Marvel ensemble films. The little humour there is falls flat, and the thought of plodding through the other proposed entries in the series is a far more terrifying prospect than the last 4 mummy films put together.
The gruff narrations of Jekyll sum it up “The past cannot remain buried forever”. I just wish for Universals sake that this film remains deep in the past for all time, never to be accidentally unearthed to rain humiliation down on everyone involved.
And if you want to see an underwater zombie, check out Zombie Flesh Eaters.
13. Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy (1955, Charles Lamont)
By this point in their career, Bud and Lou had met an extraordinary bunch of characters, and even persuaded Bela Lugosi to don his famous black cape again. But the one monster that eluded them was the mummy. So, after the success of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)/The Invisible Man (1951/Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953) and the “killer” Boris Karloff (1949) they made this, the very last nail in the Universal Monster franchise and Bud and Lou’s careers.
This time the bumbling duo is in Egypt. Where, they encounter bizarre stage acts, the occasional song, some shady dealings, a Princesses treasure and a cursed medallion that will lead them there. Enter Bud and Lou and things don’t go quite as planned. Harmless, but tired comedy routines, dead bodies and a mummy thrown in to boot. The mummy’s make up is sub standard, they seem to be encased in a bandaged onesie with a serious case of chapped lips, and compared to the other mummy films it doesn’t stand up, even for a comedy! The giant lizard scene is more effective, with all sorts of grim treats waiting behind false doors for Bud.
This turned out to be their last outing for Universal and they never recovered. Tax problems, alcohol and ill health dogged them. But even though the chemistry was gone they turned in one last performance as only they could.
Also the journalist asking for a statement off of Dr. Zoomer near the start of the film sounds suspiciously like Joe Pesci!
12. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008, Rob Cohen)
Or Indiana Jones meets The Last Emperor. The third in the….trilogy…of films already left spluttering for air after The Mummy Returns, sees our intrepid heroes Mr & Mrs O’Connell, once again played by Brendan Frasier and Rachel Weisz…er…actually Maria Bello, standing in for Weisz (who’d nabbed herself an Oscar since The Mummy Returns), joined by their son Alex, who unleashes a shape shifting Emperor from his slumber, who is naturally rather affronted with the curse that he’s been saddled with.
Double crossings ensue and The Emperor Han starts his journey, with his minions, to the eternal pool of life (snazzy!). And if Father and son can stop bickering for long enough, they set out to stop him!
Considerably less satisfying than the first Stephen Sommers film in the rebooted series, even with the inclusion of a yeti, it ambles along just like any other action film, and, sometimes has the feel of a latter day Bond movie (Die Another Day could’ve done with a yeti!) and the film is just a fragile gauze of plot wrapped around several pleasing to the senses action set pieces, interspersed with the usual comedic struggles a family would face in bringing their son along to a snowbound temple to fight an ancient dead mummy (who needs Disneyland ey?). Brendan Fraser’s unhelpful smatterings of buffoonery add nothing, making one wish for the more capable John Hannah to handle more of the jokes (although even he can’t lift this film above its tomb).
This is the last in the original rebooted series, and made way for Universal to reboot (once again) the franchise for its…gulp…Dark Universe series, with Tom “Maverick” Cruise himself taking to the screen to defeat another ancient malevolence. Show me the mummy indeed!!
11. The Mummy Returns (2001, Stephen Sommers)
Or Indiana Jones Meets The Mummy (Returns). The Rock (less commonly known as Dwayne Johnson), a purveyor of the finest macho credentials this side of The Nile, is the Scorpion King. And we see those macho credentials in full flow at the beginning of The Mummy Returns, bare-chested, with an army of warriors at his command; he conquers Egypt after selling his soul, Faust style, to the God Anubis, who, once the task is completed, takes Dwayne, his army and his rippling biceps back to the depths.
Enter Harrison Fo…er…Brendan Fraser, reprising his role as Rick O’Connell, along with Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) as his wife and now accompanied by their son Alex. The original Imhotep is brought back from the bowels of the earth by a cult, who kidnaps Evelyn. The Scorpion King returns later, in seemingly cartoon form (the CGI being about as unrealistic as a team of explorers NOT uncovering a dusty, cursed tomb in the middle of the desert). Numerous action set pieces follow, one involving a London bus excites, but the rest is just a rehash of similar ideas from the first film in the series.
Much like the other insipid entries into the earlier Universal franchise, this takes less care with the story and beefs up the action (although what Lon Chaney Jr’s puffed out bloodless mummy would make of this special effects laden feast nobody knows!). And once the process of pulling ones brain out through one’s nose is complete (as is traditional in sitting down to watch a modern action movie) then this will be given top marks. Until then please keep the sarcophagus lid firmly shut.
10. Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971, Seth Holt)
Now this is a strange inclusion, much like Hammers earlier Brides Of Dracula (1960) which didn’t actually feature the good Count, or his brides for that matter, this one, even though there is a mummy in the title, it features no mummy, but uses Bram Stokers 1903 novel The Jewel of Seven Stars as its main source of inspiration instead.
This film was unfortunate in that the great Peter Cushing was meant to star as Professor Julian Fuchs, but departed from the film early on as his wife was desperately ill, replaced by Andrew Keir, and it lost its director Seth Holt in the latter stages to a heart attack, to be replaced by Michael Carreras.
The presence of Cushing would’ve possibly elevated the film from where it currently sits, but Keir is great in the role of the Professor who finds the tomb of yet another Egyptian Queen, Tera, played by Valerie Leon, a striking looking actress, not used to a leading role, let alone playing two separate characters (Tera and Margaret, the professor’s daughter). Untouched for centuries, shorn of a hand and preserved without the aid of several miles of bandages, she is taken back to England and possesses the Professors daughter who has acquired her ring. And the Queen acts out her revenge on the Archaeologists through Margaret.
Hammer was never really blessed with high budgets, but their films always look great. Although lacking the vibrant colour palette of previous films, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb is full of set pieces gory enough to satisfy the average horror fan and the Hammer aficionado. It just falls short of its lurid title by not actually having a mummy involved in the action (a disembodied hand will suffice). But in that early 70’s horror mould, it fits better than most.
9. The Mummy’s Curse (1944, Leslie Goodwins)
“Sometimes it seems as if I belong to a different world”…well Princess Ananka, you ARE in a different world, one where sequels are churned out incessantly and cheaply, with not much care being taken to present an actual half decent horror film. This was the 1940’s and it’s much the same now.
This is the 4th film in the series and a step down from the previous ones (although a worse one was to follow), and features Lon Chaney Jr back behind the bandages for the final time, as Kharis, who now resides in a Louisiana swamp (strangely as this is a direct sequel to The Mummy’s Ghost (1944) its setting has been moved from Massachusetts) with his bride Ananka.
These swamps are due to be drained, but the workers; scared by superstitions of, won’t go near it! Kharis is found and resurrected by one of his many disciples, one a high priest no less! His bride meanwhile also rises and is revealed to be, not a chalky old pile of bones, strapped together by mud and bandage, but a rather beautiful woman. Repulsed by him, and with Kharis frustrated and now a mindless, grunting swatter of people he sets out to find her.
As is customary in movie sequels with bare bones plot, this reuses footage from the first two mummy films, seemingly just to pad it all out. But not really adding anything. The make-up of the mummy is fantastic though, and nearly as iconic as Karloff’s and the run time is brisk (the longest run time of the original series is only 73mins) and the Louisiana Cajun setting actually works, surprisingly, (just as surprising as Dracula turning up in New Orleans (Son Of Dracula (1943)) I suppose!).
8. The Mummy’s Ghost (1944, Reginald LeBorg)
John Carradine looks great in a fez, that long willowy face and a booming voice greet us almost instantly, introducing us to Yousef Bey, soon to be High Priest of Arkam and another disciple of Kharis, who is sent out to retrieve the crusted monster. The care taken into making these Universal sequels were much less as the years rolled by (especially for the poor mummy), and scores were re-used, scenes from previous movies in the franchise took up more of the short run time than they should’ve, resulting in fast moving, but ultimately lifeless movies that slip in and out of the mind quicker than Fay Wray’s night dress off of King Kong’s bed post.
Every full moon Bey must make a brew from Tana leaves, and Kharis, completely ravenous after centuries of famish presumably, goes on the hunt, following the strange concoction wherever it may be. Unfortunately Professor Norman (Frank Reicher) in the sleepy town of Mapleton, Massachusetts, has learnt how to use Tana leaves in such a way, and the mummy follows them there. Making headline news in the process!
Lon Chaney Jr, as limited an actor as he was, always injected pathos into his roles (most famously as the tortured Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man) and here, as Kharis leans into the tomb of Ananka, and upon touching her, she crumbles and decays, you see genuine anguish from the mummy. This, and the presence of the wonderfully, bug eyed madness of John Carradine and a bravely grim ending saves the film from complete burial.