Sunday, October 5, 2014

31 Days of Horror Movies - The Mummy (1959)

Sigh…another day, another Hammer film.  This time it’s The Mummy from 1959.  After Hammer had box office success with their own versions of Dracula and Frankenstein, they went for the trifecta with The Mummy.  Christopher Lee became the first guy to play all three monsters on film.  This one is very similar to but not a remake of the excellent 1932 with Boris Karloff in the title role.  Peter Cushing, another Hammer Films stalwart, teams up with Christopher Lee as he did in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Horror of Dracula (1958).

The plot - John Banning (Peter Cushing) is on an expedition in Egypt with his father and his uncle.  Their quest is to find the tomb Princess Ananka, the high priestess of the god Karnak.  Banning the Younger is unable to finish the dig because he’s got a broken leg.  This leaves his father and his uncle to finish the job.  Before they can unseal the tomb, an Egyptian man named Mehmet Bey warned them not to do that, lest they be cursed.  Of course, the two men ignore him and open up the tomb anyway.  While the uncle goes to tell John about the find, the dad reads from The Scroll of Life.  A door opens (we don’t see anything come out) and then we hear his father scream.  When the uncle goes back into the tomb, he finds his brother uttering complete gibberish.  Something scared the hell out of him, but nobody knows what it was.

Fast forward three years - the Bannings are back in England.  Banning’s father is confined to a nursing home.  He hasn’t uttered a single coherent, articulated sound since his committal.  But suddenly he’s lucid and he summons his son.  The son dutifully shows up, and his dad tells him about what happened in the tomb after he read The Scroll of Life.  He inadvertently awakened Kharis (Christopher Lee).  Kharis was mummified alive and sentenced to guard Ananka in the afterlife.  His crime?  He was the high priest of Karnak who unfortunately (for him) fell in love with Ananka.  After her interment, he snuck into the tomb and read aloud The Scroll of Life to try to bring her back to life.  Funny thing is you can see her right eye twitch, but I digress.  Kharis was caught, tried, had his tongue cut out so he won’t scream during his mummification.  So after he’s mummified he goes into his box (a little too willingly - he didn’t struggle).

After Banning’s father tells his son about Kharis, he tells him he believes the mummy will come to England and kill all those who desecrated Ananka’s tomb.  The son doesn’t believe him.  In the meantime, Mehmet Bey has brought Kharis to England.  He’s a believer in Karnak, and he’s sworn to do as Banning’s father suggested.  He hired a couple of drunken guys to bring a crate (containing Kharis) to his house.  Of course, the box falls off the wagon and into a bog.  Bey finds out, but he’s not concerned.  After the police disperse from the scene of the box’s disappearance, Bey comes back and reads the Scroll of Life.  A question I had was “how did the mummy understand when Bannings father read the scroll aloud in English?  I ask because Bey read it in Arabic.  Again, I digress…  When Kharis emerges from the bog, he looks more like Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four than a typical mummy.

What happens next?  Kharis breaks into the nursing home and kills Banning’s father.  Shortly thereafter, he kills banning’s uncle.  Banning figures out that his old man was right all along, and that he’s probably next on the hit list.  While reviewing some old drawings he notices his wife bears a striking resemblance to Ananka.  This comes in handy when Kharis comes to kill Banning.  When Kharis breaks into Banning’s house, Banning shoots him before Kharis starts to strangle Banning.  The wife enters and screams.  Kharis sees the wife, takes note of her resemblance to Ananka, he lets go of Banning and leaves.  When Kharis returns to Bey’s house, he thinks his mission is accomplished.  He is somewhat shocked when Banning himself calls on Bey, his new neighbor.

Bey is somewhat shaken because he knows he doesn’t have a lot of time to finish off Banning, and Banning knows it.  After the police have done some fact checking, they believe Banning’s story about the mummy.  So at least they have a plan for the next time the mummy shows up to kill Banning.  Bey and the mummy go to Banning’s house to finish the job.  But as Banning nearly dies at the mummy’s hand, his wife busts in and commands the mummy to stop.  As Bey keeps telling the mummy to kill Banning, the mummy listens to Banning’s wife instead and kills Bey.  The mummy carts the wife off to the swamp, where she awakens just in time to avoid drowning.  She tells Kharis the mummy to release her.  After he complies, the police and their posse (who have been following the mummy from Banning’s house), open fire and fill the mummy full of holes.  The mummy sinks back into the bog with the Scroll of Life firmly clutched in his hand.  Game over, thanks for playing.

Was this Mummy better than the 1932 original?  As much as I love Hammer films I’d have to say “no.”  But that doesn’t take anything away from my appreciation for this movie.  If it’s a Hammer movie with both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, I’m all over it.

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