Halloween Endurance Test: the Mummy (1959)
Wow. It’s amazing what a different studio can do with an otherwise stale script. Hammer Film’s the Mummy has completely washed the taste of Universal’s Mummy out of my mind. Seeing the success of Hammer’s the the Curse of Frankenstein and the Horror of Dracula, Universal wisely decided to give Hammer films its old scripts for the remake treatment.
The movie’s only just begun and already we’ve had an archeologist, Stephen Banning, sacrifice his son, John, (Peter Cushing) to a lifetime spent with a gimp leg and angered a Egyptian cult! Egyptians who, thanks to an easing of racial discrimination, actually look Egyptian!
“Mr. Banning! You would do well to remember the ancient saying, ‘He who robs the graves of Egypt dies.”
Not to mention the sets and costumes! While I personally have no way of knowing if the set does, in fact, look like Egypt, I do know it does, in fact, look like the Egypt portrayed in Raiders of the Lost Ark. This same sort of comforting movie logic dwells behind the costumes too. As if Steven Spielberg bought all the extras from Revolt of the Zombies (pith helmets and all) and relocated them to his archeological fantasy.
Cosmetics aside, Hammer’s version of the Mummy’s tale is pretty similar to Universal’s. A tomb is desecrated, and Kharis is revived to reap revenge. Pacing is the biggest difference here, as Universal used numerous flashbacks to tell the backstory, where Hammer just has the head priest drop bits and pieces of it into his incantations.
Mummies rising from a watery grave = frightening. The same cannot be said, however, for when the Mummy breaks into a sanitarium to strangle his first victim. The padded room’s bright lights effectively mute all the menace out the Mummy; making him look like a clumsy, muddy ninja.
Of course, with Christopher Lee wearing the Mummy’s rags, it’s a 6 and a half foot tall muddy ninja! So tall when standing flat-footed that the Mummy’s one-armed chokehold is totally believable, just because he towers above the rest of the cast anyway.
(Lee’s stature playing a big (pun intended) part in his becoming Hammer’s iconic movie monster man. Lee’s transformation into Frankenstein’s “Creature” in the Curse of Frankenstein was believable because his natural height was already so unusual.)
Kharis kills off the two of his three archeological victims easily, but is seen by John while killing his father, Stephen. Leaving John of Princess Ananka’s tomb to wondering who the mystery, rag-wearing assailant was, and why was he impervious to bullets?
An interesting question considering the monster in this film. Normally a monster’s weakness is as common knowledge as their strengths. Vampires are vulnerable to stakes through the heart, sunlight, holy water, running water, garlic, and crucifixes. Frankenstein’s monster’s biggest weakness is its own piecemeal construction; with it usually being burnt or clumsily falling to its death.
Leaving viewers to wonder, how does one kill a mummy?
Every film should have a Mummy versus shotgun scene. Even if the shotgun is as ineffective on Kharis as the poker that next gets jabbed through him.
Luckily John’s wife, Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux), looks exactly like Ananka (surprising since one would think Ananka would look more Egyptian, having been a Egyptian princess, rather than European), and is able to fool Kharis into murdering his master and slowly walking into a swampland ambush.
Where John Banning’s lone shotgun failed, a police battalion of shotguns succeeds; sending Kharis back to his watery grave.