Tag Vintage Universal

Mummy’s Hand, The (1940)

The Mummy's Hand (1940)

The tomb of a thousand terrors!

A pair of archaeologists discover a vase which they hope will lead them to find the tomb of Princess Ananka. What they don’t realise is that the tomb is protected by her former high priest, Kharis, who attempted to resurrect her thousands of years ago but was caught and mummified, forced to live forever as her guardian. He will kill anyone who attempts to desecrate her tomb.

 

Only the second Universal Mummy film made, The Mummy’s Hand shows why the film formula for this cinematic monster has changed so little over time – there is only so much that you can actually do with it! Even in this second mummy film, the story is a basic rehash of the original with a few minor alterations. It’s The Mummy’s Hand where all of the typical mummy clichés come from, not the Karloff original. It is here were we have the mummy in all of its bandaged glory doing the bidding of an evil high priest. He’s not reincarnating himself as a normal-looking human – he’s the walking toilet roll we all know and love.

You can tell that The Mummy’s Hand is a cheap cash-in to milk a bit of money out of one of Universal’s most underappreciated monsters. The mummy has never been given the same A-list treatment as Dracula, Frankenstein or even The Wolfman and the quality of these sequels prove the point well. The whole thing reeks of cheapness, from the running time clocking in at a meagre sixty-seven minutes, right down to the cheap re-cycled sets from another Universal film. A copious amount of stock footage is used from The Mummy and close-up shots of Boris Karloff have simply been replaced by the new actor. I wonder just how much new footage was actually filmed here and rehashing old footage is a pretty shameful thing to do to pad out running time given how short it is. Even the score has been lifted from Son of Frankenstein…..and I moan on about how cheaply some films are made today. They’ve got nothing on these vintage horrors.

Unfortunately The Mummy’s Hand is a mummy film which makes the mistake of focusing on the two lead characters and their ‘comedic’ exploits instead of, you know, the mummy. Dick Foran and Wallace Ford play the Abbott and Costello-lite duo and their bumbling antics replace any sort of mummy action for the first half of the film. Gone is the mood and suspense of the original, replaced by daft and misguided shenanigans. The problem is that Foran and Ford do such a poor job of aping Abbott and Costello, that you wonder why Universal waited another fifteen years to square the duo off against their classic team of monsters.

It’s just too late in the film when the mummy finally gets about doing what it does best and that only leaves around twenty minutes for a few characters to be killed off, the mummy to be defeated and everything wrapped up in a neat package. After the sluggishness of the opening forty minutes, the last twenty flies by too quickly, raising the question of why they couldn’t have spaced everything out a bit more. The mummy costume looks pretty old, tatty and crumbly – exactly the sort of image you’d expect from a decaying corpse so no complaints here. Tom Tyler, the guy behind the make-up, does an excellent job of creeping and slumbering his way around the sets and gives the mummy an intimidating presence.

 

The Mummy’s Hand is a cheap sequel quickie to a relatively poor film. Hardly classic horror so don’t coming looking for something different to the other mummy films out there because you won’t find it.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Revenge of the Creature (1955)

Revenge of the Creature (1955)

Weird Monster Escapes! Terror Seizes City! …a woman’s beauty the lure for his dangerous desires!

A second expedition up the Amazon manages to capture the Gill Man and transport him to an aquarium in Florida where he is to become the star attraction. However he develops a fixation on one of the female scientists and escapes from his confinement to pursue her.

 

Success breeds sequels in the movie world and inevitably the classic Creature from the Black Lagoon would get a follow-up only a year after its release. Nothing was ever going to top that so the rule of diminishing sequels comes into force. Rather than just rehashing the story of the original, this first sequel at least manages to keep the material slightly more interesting than a sequel has any right to do. Like so many sequels, the makers could easily have had another scientific expedition go down the Amazon and encounter him in his domain for the entire film. Although that’s exactly what happens and the same story is rehashed, only it’s kept to a minimum at the beginning. After all, we’ve already seen the Gill Man in his own environment sowhy not transport him to somewhere alien?

The first fifteen minutes or so are set in the lagoon as the scientists attempt to capture the Gill Man. It’s basically a shortened down version of the original in which there’s some underwater swimming (looking as fabulous as it did before hand) and attempts to capture him alive. I mean we already know what the Gill Man looks like and we’ve already seen enough of his domain so it’s not like the slow burn approach is needed. The inventive method of blowing up the lagoon with dynamite is crude but it puts the Gill Man into a coma. When he awakens, he finds himself in the aquarium in Florida. Seeing the distress he is clearly suffering from is a bit heart-wrenching to be honest. More so than ever before, the film attempts to make the creature sympathetic and boy does it work! The sequences in which the scientists attempt to train the Gill Man underwater are cruel and you’ll be rooting for him to break free of his chains sooner rather than later. Getting constantly jabbed with a cattle prod and forced to play fetch would make anything snap and go crazy. Even more haunting are the images of it standing by the underwater window and watching his ‘love’ as she goes about her business.

The reasoning behind his rampage is clear for all to see. He isn’t just a mindless creature out to kill – he’s scared, confused, distressed and when animals are cornered, they fight back. The Gill Man is such an awesome movie monster. He’s got so much character, so much expression and so many different mannerisms – it’s a pity that the rest of the cast can’t follow suit. There have been a few tweaks to the costume this time around but the underwater swimming of Ricou Browning is still amazing. Unfortunately the film suffers from the fact that the Gill Man just isn’t as intimidating or dangerous when he’s out of his lagoon. Watching him stroll around the aquarium savaging staff isn’t as gripping as seeing him weave to and fro underwater. He just becomes any other land-based monster here and there’s plenty of scenes of him sluggishly stagger as he tries to walk on land.

Besides the cool idea of having the Gill Man loose in public, the film does little with it’s fresh take on the story. Once they get him to Florida, he pretty much does what he did in the original and that’s go after the first female he latches onto. We don’t learn anything new about him – why he exists, why he acts the way he does, etc. There’s little scientific research on him. He doesn’t just run amok or try and head home. He turns into the stalker figure again which is what he did before. The script wants to go off in a new direction but then ‘safety first’ comes into mind and this sequel simply rehashes a few old ideas which were done better in the original.

Clint Eastwood makes his film debut here as a lab technician with a couple of poor lines attempting to be funny. It’s a million miles away from the roles he’d become infamous for later in his career. Sadly, the film has become more well-known for that reason as opposed to it being a half-decent sequel to an all-time classic. Eastwood aside, I’m never a big fan of the casting of these old school shockers in general. They’re almost too prehistoric in their depictions of manly men and helpless women. The cast isn’t as strong here as it was in the original. John Agar and Lori Nelson don’t seem to have a spark between them which is a shame because a lot more of the script is devoted to their romance than it should have right to. Agar seems to have had a charisma by-pass and is way out of his depth. Nelson has been cast for her charms but isn’t a patch on Julie Adams.

 

Revenge of the Creature isn’t a bad sequel, just an unmemorable one. It had a tough act to follow but my golden rule of sequels is if you can’t do it better or add to the original, why do it at all? This proves my rule right. They should have left him alone down the Amazon.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

It has been said that a man’s best friend is his mummy…

Two bumbling and broke treasure hunters sitting in a coffee shop in Egypt overhear a conversation with a famous archaeologist and they follow him back to his hotel in the hope of securing a job transporting his newest acquisition, the mummy of Klaris, back to the US. However a secret cult tracks the professor down and murders him for taking a medallion from the tomb which supposedly holds the key to finding the whereabouts of a great fortune. The two men arrive on the scene too late and are framed for the murder. But they find themselves in possession of the medallion and the cult and the police are both soon after them.

 

The last film they made with Universal, Abbott and Costello round up their ‘Meet’ series by coming face-to-face with the mummy, the only one of the Universal big hitters that they hadn’t come up against. The comedy duo was on the slide, their careers were winding down (this was their penultimate film) and you can tell right from the start that their hearts just weren’t in it anymore and the chemistry that they once had seemed to have evaporated. If you’ve never seen one of these films before, then think of it as a really early precursor to something like Shaun of the Dead where a popular comedy duo is thrust into the world of horror to deal with something monstrous. There’s no real modern day version of their antics against the likes of Frankenstein, Dracula and co. but maybe that’s a good thing.

Considering how poor some of their later work was, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy is surprisingly entertaining for fans of the duo and does just enough to get by. Its full of the hallmarks of the Abbott and Costello Meet… series including Costello being the only one who sees the monsters until the end of the film and no one believes him, monsters which look intimidating but end up being wet blankets and pure comic foil, bad guys who robotically speak awfully contrived dialogue to make themselves sound tougher, dead bodies which disappear right before Abbott comes on the scene and who then has a go at Costello for making things up, hidden passages which lead to all manner of crazy situations and much more. There’s no plot to speak of, just a continual number of set pieces, characters shifting allegiances and then stalking each other around the desert and then the tomb of Klaris.

It’s pretty flimsy plotting and the film just goes wherever the heck it likes most of the time, drifting from routine to routine without any particular structure. It stretches everything out to pad the running time as much as it can and there’s little material for a short let alone a full feature film. The routine that the duo go through are all well-worn by this point so if you’ve seen any of their previous work, you’ll know what to expect. They do their classic “who’s on first?” exchange (for those who don’t know, check it out at Wikipedia as it’s too complex to explain in a review) with a fantastic argument between Abbott and Costello about a shovel and a pick. The rest of the jokes fall a little flat for the most. It may have been funny back when they first hit it big but by this point, most of it was just too daft or repetitive to laugh at. They’re going through the motions big time and it shows.

Despite Abbott and Costello hamming it up at every opportunity, the rest of the cast play it completely straight which doesn’t work in their favour, especially the cardboard cut-out bad guys. They don’t get anything to do other than run around some of the cheapest-looking sets ever made. The ‘desert’ set looks like a cut-rate school production and the Egyptian tomb must have been for the most hard-up prince because it’s sparsely decorated. Films are supposed to do a job in making you believe that the actors are in these exotic locations but the only thing you’ll believe is that there’s a chance someone would trip and fall into the background, causing the whole set to crash into the ground. Even the mummy looks pathetic – he’s a skinny, shabby mess which looks like a guy who got into a fight with a toilet roll dispenser and lost. This is the sort of cinematic mummy that gave the monster a bad reputation. The mummy does little in the film other than bumble around the tomb at the end of the film and seems to have been forgotten about as the duo try to evade the various groups out to get the medallion for themselves. It’s an afterthought but in a film with little energy, creativity or spark, there’s no wonder that the mummy would prefer to lay in it’s sarcophagus for the duration.

 

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy is far from their best work but contains a few decent moments. Fans may get a few chuckles out of seeing the same routines wheeled out for one last time and as daft as it gets, the finale involving three mummies wandering around the tombs is silly fun. If you’re new to the duo then you’re best off checking out their first, and best, pairing with Universal’s monsters in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (and Dracula and the Wolf Man too!).

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Not since the beginning of time has the world beheld terror like this!

A fossilised claw from a creature living in the Devonian period is discovered in a remote part of the Amazon and could provide some missing answers as to how aquatic life evolved into land-based animals. A scientific expedition heads up the river in an attempt to find further fossils or evidence but encounter something even more shocking – a living version of the creature.

 

It’s an often used saying that the old ones are the best and in relation to films like Creature from the Black Lagoon, that statement is 100% spot on. Although made over twenty years later than Universal’s classic films like Frankenstein and Dracula which turned their literary monsters into cinematic legends, the ‘Gill Man’ creature here has become part of vintage monster movie lore too. It’s an iconic film. It’s an influential film. It’s a classic piece of filmmaking. It has stood the test of time and even towers over modern day horror like an empowering god. Featuring the best cinematic monster since King Kong was shot down from the Empire State Building in 1933, Creature from the Black Lagoon can stir the nostalgia as much as it wants because it was a classic back in 1954 and it’s still a classic today.

Creature from the Black Lagoon has dated somewhat in the fact that it’s just not scary anymore and it’s quite plodding at times. I’m sure it was scary and ‘full of action’ for the time but in this modern era of audiences demanding non-stop thrills and spills, it just doesn’t do enough to keep younger viewers happy. But at a slender seventy-nine minutes, the film can little afford to waste any time and it doesn’t. The pace is generally good and the creature isn’t lurking around the depths too long before we get a good look at it. And let’s face it, the success of the film boils down to the believability of the monster.

In the ‘Gill Man’ we have one of the greatest movie monsters ever made. The creature is not only a unique creation which has spawned countless imitations over the years but it’s hard to really comprehend just how flexible, agile and realistic it actually is and this is a credit to the costume design for making the suit. The natural movements of the creature underwater are down to the expert swimming skills of Ricou Browning and its truly remarkable to see how well the effects stand up today. In the 50+ years since it has been made, there have been few monsters that have come to life as vividly and realistic as this. Apart from the inevitable “hold hands out in front like Frankenstein and walk slowly towards the camera” movements that all 50s monsters seem to be lumbered with, the creature comes off as intelligent, curious and scared. Not only are the humans encountering this creature for the first time but the reverse is also true and it’s like watching a child as the Gill Man comes to terms with his new human pursuers. Even little things like his gills moving when he breathes on land just add little bits of character to him and the composer even gives him a thundering theme tune every time he appears.

The film is superbly shot. You always know that old films like this were filmed in studios because they usually have rubbish sets and some awful rear projection. But this one really gives you the impression that they went down the Amazon. The cinematography is superb above the water but below it, it’s simply breathtaking. Underwater filming was in its infancy back in the day so to see it stand up brilliantly today is a testament to the hard work that everyone put in. The underwater scene in which the Gill Man mimics the actions of Julie Adams as she swims is beautiful. Although who can blame him? Adams is gorgeous and one of the finest that the 50s had to offer. His reasons for wanting to take her back to his cave may be more laughable and nudge, nudge, wink, wink but he gets the sympathy vote every time because he’s just protecting his turf and happens to fall in love with the hottest thing in probably a 9000 mile radius.

The other humans lend their considerable talents to add to the film. Richard Carlson is the humanitarian scientist who wants to preserve the creature for the benefits of science whereas the contrasting Richard Denning is the greedy financial backer who wants the creature dead or alive to become famous. The two men both have Adams in their sights and spend the better part of the film trying to impress her and win her over so it’s ironic that the Gill Man is the one who just forgets the war of words and goes in all guns blazing to take what he wants.

 

Its impact may have been diluted over the years but there’s no question that The Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of the daddies of the monster movie genre, arguably second to only King Kong in its legacy. A remarkable piece of cinema from a bygone era and one of the single most-defining horror films ever made.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Mummy’s Tomb, The (1942)

The Mummy's Tomb (1942)

BURIED FURY!…stalking to life from the depths of doom!

Egyptian high priest Mehemet Bay takes Kharis, the living mummy, to America to kill the survivors of the original expedition which desecrated the tomb of Princess Ananka many years earlier.

 

It’s pretty impossible to find a mummy film which doesn’t stick to the same rigid plot about desecrating tombs and extracting revenge. After all, it’s like having a Frankenstein film without the scientist creating some form of monster. Back in the late 30s and early 40s, Universal churned out a number of sequels and follow-ups to their classic hit, The Mummy. Each of them was virtually identical in appearance and it’s almost impossible to distinguish one from the other.

The Mummy’s Tomb is no exception to the all-too-familiar story of a mummy taking revenge upon an expedition for desecrating the tomb of a princess. If you think you’re going to see anything different, then you’re in for a shock because the film is by-the-book to the letter. There’s no tension or suspense as the film quickly shifts into a lumbering routine of stalk and kill. There’s no real build-up to anything, it just happens. With a short running time of seventy one minutes you’d think this would get straight into the thick of it and it almost does but we’re given a gratuitous amount of flashback footage from the previous film to explain what is going on. This lasts for about a quarter of an hour and therefore you’re not left with a lot of remaining time for fresh material.

What does make this feel like more of a sequel than most is it’s inclusion of the surviving cast from The Mummy’s Hand. Watching the two films back-to-back adds continuity to the series (and even by adding the two films, you’d still only get a film a little more than two hours long). Here, the survivors are made-up to look thirty years older which is the length of time between the events in this fictional world even though in real life, the gap was only two. The survivors don’t do much except meet their demises (some would say they get what they deserve for their desecration) and then it’s up to the newer characters to carry the film. But they’re all too thinly characterised to warrant any real audience attention.

Horror legend Lon Chaney Jr. puts on the costume of bandages to portray Kharis. Hardly a monster for any actor to really shine through the layers of make-up, Chaney Jr. doesn’t make much of an impression. The mummy has turned into a characterless cliché devoid of personality or traits. It’s now simply a screen monster, not a tragic character full of secret love for his princess. The mummy doesn’t do anything but slowly and aimlessly mill it’s away around the town looking for its next victim. Even when it tracks down the next target, the characters just stand there and wait for this monster to slowly shuffle over to them and then let it strangle them to death. Why not get the hell out there? A man with no legs could out run this fiend. There are a couple of effective shots of the mummy traipsing through the forest but the cinematographer doesn’t do the mummy any justice whatsoever, constantly thrusting it into well-lit sets where all of it’s shabby attire is evident. Funnily enough out of the three mummy films that Chaney Jr. made, the make-up in this one is the most impressive. He’d eventually look like a man in jeans and a white t-shirt by the time the budgets were cut for The Mummy’s Ghost.

 

The Mummy’s Tomb is one of the weaker mummy films from the Universal stable but when they’re all basically the same film anyway, that’s a good thing or a bad thing depending on your taste for the living mummies. At just over an hour long, it outstays its welcome long before the final credit rolls.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Mummy’s Ghost, The (1944)

The Mummy's Ghost (1944)

Nameless! Fleshless! Deathless!

An Egyptian high priest, Youseff Bay, is sent to America to retrieve the body of Princess Ananka so that she may find peace in her proper resting place. Bay resurrects Kharis the mummy to assist him in the task. When they arrive in America, they find that Ananka’s soul now inhabits the body of a young college student. With her fiancé desperate to protect her from Bay’s advances, the inevitable showdown with the mummy is just around the corner.

 

Be forgiven if you think that you’ve clicked on the wrong link. This is The Mummy’s Ghost and not one of the other three virtually identical mummy films released by Universal in the 40s. You could easily mistake one entry for another because it’s all practically the same film over and over again: The Egyptian cult wants their stolen Princess back, they send one of their priests along with Kharis to get revenge on those responsible, the priest falls in love with someone and Kharis ends up turning on the priest before meeting his demise. Is there any wonder that the mummy films were soon consigned to the scrap heap of history before Hammer came along in the 50s and 60s to try their luck (with similar repetitive consequences)?

The Mummy’s Ghost doesn’t pick up where the last one left off as Kharis was burnt to a crisp. He’s back with all fresh bandages and a clean, albeit it shoddily cheap, look. In fact this mummy looks to be wearing jeans and t-shirt with some toilet roll wrapped around the top part. The mummy still acts exactly the same as he did from the other films – you’d have thought he’d have learnt his lesson by now not to do certain things like mess around with people with flaming torches. He still walks excruciatingly slowly. He still strangles people to death in very weakly-staged attack scenes where the victims stand waiting for him to slowly lumber over to them and kill them. The only difference this time around is that Kharis wins! Well sort of. He finally gets the girl in the finale which is what he always wanted instead of being torched to death or thrown into swamps on his lonesome. The ending is rather bleak and a change to the norm which instantly gives this entry slightly higher marks than the others. More in line with the continual demises of Frankenstein’s monster, the mummy is met with hostility and violence from the local townspeople.

Horror legends John Carradine and Lon Chaney Jr. both star. Carradine makes an extremely sinister high priest but does little more than stand around and boss Kharis about whilst Chaney slumps his way around the set as Kharis once again. George Zucco returns as well despite having died in the last film. There’s little to comment on overall though because no one really gets much to do. The film is more or less over before you know it but at least the hour-long film is full of newly shot material. Some of the previous sequels were more than a little guilty of recycling footage from earlier films to pad out the running time. Universal may not have pumped much money into the film judging by the state of some of the sets but at least they made an effort by not padding out the film with filler from the earlier sequels. Despite the new footage, you’ll find yourself drifting. The pace is almost as lethargic as Kharis and there’s no sense of urgency during proceedings. For an hour long film, this one seems to go on for twice that length.

 

The Mummy’s Ghost is really hard to recommend when it’s practically a carbon clone of the previous films. Like the other films it’s pretty lacklustre and doesn’t really do much in its short running time. But it’s innocent horror from a golden era which will no doubt attract fans.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆