Tag Mummies

Monster Squad, The (1987)

The Monster Squad (1987)

You know who to call when you have ghosts but who do you call when you have monsters?

A group of young children are members of the Monster Squad, a club who idolise anything monster-orientated in their treehouse hideaway. When they find out that real monsters including Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster have invaded their small town, they realise that it is up to them to save the day as the adults would never believe them.

 

‘The Goonies with monsters’ is how most people view The Monster Squad and whilst that comparison is largely accurate, it does do this fantastic film such a disservice as there’s far more going on here than being a horror-based version of Spielberg’s kids classic. Co-written by Fred Dekker and Shane Black (considered one of the pioneer screenwriters of the action genre with the Lethal Weapon films under his belt), the smart script both pays homage to the old films and brilliantly brings them up-to-date for the then-modern era of the 1980s. This is a film which plays upon the premise that monsters, and all things horror, are the coolest things to a bunch of twelve-year old boys. They are falling in love with the genre for the first time here in their little monster club, and the audience is reminded of their first forays into the genre.

There is something quaint and innocent about this whole film that has attracted such a cult audience over the years. It wasn’t very successful upon its initial release, but time has been extremely kind to The Monster Squad over the years. I’ve never been entirely sure who the film is targeted at – I think it is meant to be a children’s film, though there is far more bad language and serious action (quite a few people die in this one) than you’d probably want to subject your own kids to. Perhaps it’s this confusion which led to both adults and children thinking it was for the other age group and deciding not to watch it. Regardless of who the film was geared towards then, it’s clear that adults have taken this to their heart, particularly those in the thirty-forty demographic who will have been young when this was doing the rounds. There is a real love and affection for the genre shown across almost every aspect of the film and it’s this endearing concept which has kept it feeling fresh.

The Monster Squad is by far from perfect and this is largely down to the plot, which is fairly loose and coincidental and harks back to the monster mash team-ups from the 40s, where the narrative was just a sketchy mess of ideas designed to throw the big monsters together. The prologue is little more than a MacGuffin to give the monsters a reason to be in suburban America, but the film assumes you don’t really care about that and just proceeds to go with the flow. The Monster Squad borders on being funny and scary from herein out. It’s funny in places, though you wish it was funnier in others. Legions of fans across the world won’t help but raise a laugh whenever they hear the “Wolfman’s got nards!” line but the film really needed more silliness like that when it matters.

Stan Winston provides the updated make-up jobs on the monsters and they all look fantastic. Frankenstein’s monster is probably the easiest one of the group to get ‘right’ and Winston opts for the classic look here. It’s the revamped versions of the Wolfman, the Creature and the Mummy which look great, particularly a brief werewolf transformation sequence that deserves more appreciation. It’s a pity that the latter two don’t get much to do in the film at all. The bulk of the monster action involves Dracula, portrayed by Duncan Regehr, and the Monster, played by Tom Noonan. Regehr’s Dracula isn’t the best incarnation of the bloodthirsty count you’re ever going to see but he manages to switch between the elegance and menace of the role well. However, it’s Noonan’s Monster who steals the show, as the lumbering brute develops a sweet relationship with a little girl. Throwbacks to the infamous scene in which the Monster stumbles across a little girl next to a lake in the original 1931 version, The Monster Squad develops the innocent bond even further here, leading to a heart-warming moment during the finale which will have even the most hardened souls reaching for the tissues.

At under eighty minutes long, The Monster Squad is one film where you actually want the production team to have rolled with it a little longer, even for another ten minutes. The film is pacey and light-hearted for the most, so you’ll be able to sit back and breeze through it. Surprisingly, the youngsters cast in the lead roles are all excellent – Andre Gower, Michael Faustino, Bobby Kiger and Brent Chalem (as ‘Fat Kid’) will not get on your nerves like the know-it-all kids from other horror films, and work together well. However, it’s little Ashley Bank who steals the show as the sweet, good-natured Phoebe who steals the Monster’s heart with their touching, though short-lived, friendship.

 

The Monster Squad is not perfect but it’s close. It’s rare example of a film which will have you reverting to your twelve-year old childlike state once again no matter how many times you’ve seen it. It brings back your own memories of watching horror films for the first time, whilst delivering a solid slice of 80s horror-comedy action at the same time.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

Monster Brawl (2011)

Monster Brawl (2011)

It’s the fight of the living dead!

Eight classic monsters fight to the death in an explosive wrestling tournament set inside an abandoned and cursed graveyard.

 

That’s about as much story as you’re going to get from Monster Brawl. It’s an ill-fated film with a one-note idea – that of some sort of WWE-style professional wrestling organisation featuring classic horror monsters doing battle with each other – but it doesn’t work as a feature film in the slightest and seems to have been aimed squarely at wrestling fans. Quite simply, this has no real business being classed as a film and it’s more like watching a pay-per-view wrestling event with a handful of matches on the card.

The entire narrative is strung together by the two commentators who attempt to keep the film somewhat cohesive. But there are no character arcs to follow, no plot threads which unwind and no real centrepieces to the film. This gives Monster Brawl a very weird pace but again, it’s supposed to be aping a typical pay-per-view event so you’ll get the big attraction matches every so often with a load of filler build-up in between, as interviews and backstage clips of the competitors attempt to build the next match. Whilst it’s all done with a good heart, it doesn’t make for compelling film. Even the monsters are just there or thereabouts – nothing much is said about them, they have no real back stories or characters. It all makes for a very disjointed film which has no pace whatsoever and no real hook to keep the viewer interested.

To begin with, and the film’s biggest weakness, is that Monster Brawl requires wrestling knowledge, thus immediately alienating a lot of its potential fan base. I am a wrestling fan so it wasn’t rocket science to me to know what is going on but for novices or those with no interest in the ‘sport’ it’s going to be a bit of an ask to understand all of the in-jokes, references and actually give two hoots about what is happening. Plus there is the glaring fact that there is a lot of wrestling! Whilst a film series like Rocky managed to turn its boxing matches into exciting spectacles that non-boxing fans could watch without fuss, it also had characters and story driving them along. There are no characters here save for the two commentators and given the nature of the film, there is never any intention to develop them. Therefore the wrestling matches look just like those you’d seen on television.

The roster of monsters for the film reads as follows: Frankenstein’s monster, a vampire, a swamp monster, a Cyclops, a zombie, a wolfman, a witch and a mummy.The old fashioned monsters vary in their appearance, though one would question the inclusion of such ‘famous’ monsters as the Cyclops as a bit of a cop-out. Where’s The Gill Man? Or even the Phantom of the Opera or Quasimodo? Frankenstein’s monster looks pretty bad ass and the intimidating man under the make-up, Robert Maillet, was a professional wrestler before he switched to making movies like 300 (as the Uber-Immortal).

In fact all of the people playing the monsters were or are wrestlers in real life. So at least the wrestling matches have some degree of choreography and suspension of disbelief to them.  Given that the costumes range from the cumbersome to the silly, the matches work better than they should do, though anyone expecting a Savage-Steamboat classic (commonly heralded as the greatest wrestling match of all time from Wrestlemania III) should perhaps think twice. At times the matches get embarrassing and really hammer home the ‘wrestling is fake’ stigma that many fans like me just cringe at hearing.

Wrestling alumni Jimmy ‘The Mouth of the South’ Hart and Kevin Nash appear in small roles, presumably questioning just how low their careers have dropped since the glory days of headlining main events in WWF/WWE and WCW. And the referee is played by real-life MMA official Herb Dean. Ironically the most famous wrestler in the film, Nash, doesn’t even get chance to bust out any of his famous moves and Hart is literally hanging around the ring for name recognition only and contributes nothing to the film whatsoever. But then again, nothing much does.

Speaking of plummeting careers, Lance Henriksen lends his voice to the film, reciting a load of voiceover soundbytes that could have been lifted out of a Mortal Kombat game. At least he didn’t have to appear in it!

 

Monster Brawl would have worked well as a series of Youtube vignettes but as a film, it’s just a non-starter. These are the sort of low brow gimmicked wrestling matches you might see at a circus or carnival where the novelty value will keep you entertained for one match or so but not for the entire show. As a wrestling fan, this was a major disappointment.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dawn of the Mummy (1981)

Dawn of the Mummy (1981)

A monstrous, chilling terror stalking the living …

In the Egyptian desert, a team of archaeologists has unearthed the tomb of the ancient pharaoh Safiraman. Nearby a group of fashion models are looking for a location for their latest photo shoot and come across the tomb. Their trespassing awakens the mummified Safiraman who resurrects his army of undead followers to assist him in killing those responsible for desecrating his tomb.

 

Clearly influenced by George A. Romero and Lucio Fulci’s exploits into the zombie genre rather than anything Universal did back in the 30s and 40s, this mummy film could easily be mistaken for yet another cheap Italian exploitation flick. Though that’s precisely what Dawn of the Mummy is, bearing little resemblance to classic mummy film formula, with the added bonus that it was shot in Egypt to give it a bit of authenticity. Something of a cult classic, Dawn of the Mummy has been extremely hard to find in the UK: first being the victim of the Video Nasties scare and then with a limited uncut DVD release which is hard to find now as leprechaun’s treasure.

You wouldn’t get the impression that this film is as trashy as it’s cracked up to be once you sit down to watch. Dawn of the Mummy takes ages to get going and by this I mean ages. It’s a good fifty minutes before anything worthwhile happens. Before then we’ve given lots of horrid dialogue with the fashion models, some overacting by the American who is looking for the treasure and little else. All the characters ever seem to do is wander between the village, the camp where they are shooting their photo spreads and the tomb. The film does run like your traditional mummy flick at this point, with a tomb being unearthed and an ancient evil being unleashed. Only there is one thing sorely missing – the mummy! The titular creature is hardly anywhere to be found, relegated to background lurking – if he was even lucky to get a few seconds of screen time.

The characters are so irritating too and you’re rooting for the mummy to hurry up and start dishing out some revenge. Funnily enough, according to the film notes on the DVD, this is exactly what the director set out to do – make you cheer on the mummy. Well Mr Agrama, you didn’t do a good job, you did a great job! The quicker these whiny assholes are mashed down into pulpy papyrus, the better. Despite the presence of a lot of nubile young female models, the flesh is kept hidden and the brief sexual encounters are fully clothed ordeals. Considering the sleazy nature of the Italian horror films made during this period, the lack of nudity is startling. It’s also no surprise to find out that they can’t act at all. No one in this film can. The only decent actor is the guy in the mummy outfit and that’s simply because all he has to do is stand there or walk slowly. The make-up effects for the mummy are pretty reasonable – he’s a guy in bandages but they seem to be coated in slime, blood or something. He looks like he just walked out of a swamp.

Sandwiched in the middle of this early monotony is a superbly nightmarish sequence in which the rotting zombie army slowly rise from their desert graves, set against the sunrise. It’s an unnerving sequence which quite frankly looks amazing and deserved a lot better than to be stuck in this. This happens around the three quarters of an hour mark and you’d expect things to pick up. Despite the odd quick mummy attack here and there, the film continues to drag for another half an hour at least. The zombie army has been resurrected. The mummy is clearly angry. Why the wait for the carnage to commence?

Despite the utterly tedious first two thirds, Dawn of the Mummy does have a killer final act and this is where it gathers all of its marks. This is the sort of low-brow trash I was expecting to see as the mummy and his followers finally begin to do their damage. It begins with the discovery of a severed head in the tomb which leads to the mummy and the zombies following someone back to the camp. Let the zombie mayhem begin! People are set upon by gangs of zombies, their throats bitted into, faces ripped apart, intestines wrenched out and brains chewed from smashed skulls. It’s been dubbed ‘the goriest mummy film of all time’ and that wouldn’t be too far from the truth – however it’s the zombies that do the majority of the dirty work and the mummy kind of just stands back and watches everything unfold. The film’s highlight set piece is when the zombie army gatecrashes the wedding ceremony in the village by making an unscheduled visit to the bridal tent before letting loose on the villagers. To the strains of Shuki Levy’s Egyptian-twanged disco score, the attack sequence is a right hoot and begs the question of why they couldn’t have done something like this a little earlier in the film instead of leaving it until the final twenty minutes. The film is dogged down by constantly poor lighting and as most of the attacks are shot outside in the dark, it can be hard to make out what is going on at times. Though the sickly sounds of organs squelching and flesh-eating is never in question!

 

It is an arduous struggle to get past the first half of Dawn of the Mummy but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with one of the more entertaining zombie flicks of its period: a guilty pleasure of trashy exploitation at it’s finest. If the entire film had been as enjoyable as the last half, you’d be looking at a bonafide classic right here.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Waxwork (1988)

Waxwork (1988)

Stop On By And Give Afterlife A Try.

When a mysterious waxwork museum comes to town, the enigmatic owner invites two teenage girls to bring a few friends along to a special midnight screening of the exhibit. Once in the museum, the group split up to look at the exhibits but when they cross over the ropes to examine them closer, they find themselves actually in the horror scene on display. Forced to battle vampires, mummies, werewolves and more, the group realise that if you die inside the scene,  you die for real.

 

Ah the 80s. Only in this decade could such a frankly shallow premise have spawned such a gloriously over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek comedy-horror fest. Waxwork is like a warped cross between a slasher film, featuring a group of 80s caricatures being picked off one-by-one in a strange place, and a loving homage to the classic horrors of old. Never scary in the slightest and filled with so much camp, it would make a drag queen blush, Waxwork defines the 80s comedy-horror to a tee. And let’s face it, if you’ve ever been to a waxworks (especially a decent one) then the figures can look a little too life-like for their own good. It’s perfect horror material to mine!

Ok, so the plot sounds a bit daft and it’s a very sketchy premise which isn’t overly well-explained (like just who is the waxwork owner, Lincoln, and why is he out to destroy the world). But the beauty with Waxwork is that because the film is basically a series of short films interlocked by the MacGuffin plot about the exhibits coming to life, then every five or ten minutes a new ‘scene’ comes to life which keeps the film fresh and fast-moving. So if werewolves aren’t your thing, then sit tight because a few minutes later you’ll have vampires and then a bit later on some zombies or a mummy. It’s a ‘something for everyone’ approach which is reminiscent of the old Amicus anthologies and works, even if the lesser scenes are unfortunately dragged out longer than the more exciting scenes.

Each scene works on different levels. The zombie scene, with its black and white throwbacks to Night of the Living Dead, adds some much-needed sinister mood and some great zombie make-up but it’s all way too brief. The werewolf scene is well executed, featuring a pre-Lord of the Rings John Rhys-Davies as the man afraid of the full moon and providing some decent werewolf make-up effects as well as a whole batch of deliciously over-the-top gore.  I’ve never been a major vampire fan but the segment here works well, living up to the usual clichés of the sub-genre and featuring some silly comedy moments involving a man chained to a table with half a leg missing. It also stars the stunning Michelle Johnson as the target of the vampire’s affection so it’s easy on the eyes. The mummy scene does what you’d expect a mummy film to do – the numerous Universal Mummy sequels of the 40s proved that the limited narrative couldn’t stretch out too far – and provides the requisite stuntman-in-bandages and Egyptian curses come to life.

The most out-of-place segment comes when the virginal girl (Deborah Foreman of April Fool’s Day fame) enters the sadistic realm of the Maquis de Sade. He’s hardly known as an iconic horror character and the perverse nature of the scene involving sexual torture seems a bit of place with the comedy-horror throwbacks to the wolf man and the mummy. Foreman’s acting in this scene is mesmerizingly erotic but leaves a bit of a weird taste afterwards. It is Waxwork ‘s ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ finale that really spoils the film as ex-Avenger (not the Marvel superhero team but the old TV series) Patrick Macnee and his band of do-gooders storm the museum and engage in mortal combat with the wax exhibits that have come to life. The scene is in total disarray, with people doing what they like on camera and there’s no choreography or anything – just loads of extras fighting each other with anything they can lay their hands upon. It’s hard to keep track of what is going on and it’s almost as if the director just sat back and soaked in the chaos without a clue as to what was intended. All the while Zach Galligan, of Gremlins, has this dozy look on his face an seems almost bemused as the audience as to what is going on.

Waxwork looks to be a decent production though. The museum looks suitably creepy, the individual wax sets look top drawer on their own and then the individual scenes (when the sets come to life) look good as well. Gore is plentiful in that gratuitous 80s style so expect plenty of ludicrous squishy moments, including the mummy crushing a guy’s head under his foot and a werewolf ripping the head off an old man. The gore doesn’t take itself seriously so neither should you. And rounding off the madness is David Warner, who is dressed up like a sinister Willy Wonka and has a hoot as Lincoln, and his two servants: an Eastern European-speaking midget and a giant Lurch-like butler.

 

Nothing really makes much sense but then the film feels like a dozen films all rolled together anyway so just sit back and enjoy Waxwork, a great slice of 80s comedy-horror with a large side-order of ‘fun’ slapped into it. It’s an enjoyable cult film which is sadly hampered from total greatness by a weak plot and disappointing finale.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Mummy’s Curse, The (1944)

The Mummy's Curse (1944)

Egypt’s ancient loves live again in evil!

The mummies of Kharis and Princess Ananka are unearthed from a dried swamp in the Louisiana bayou by a team of excavators hoping to prepare the land for building. Dr Halsey plans to put the mummies on exhibition but unknown to him, his assistant is a priest from the cult of Ilkon and he revives the mummy. Princess Ananka is also reincarnated as a beautiful young woman and is found wondering around the swamp with no memory of who she is. When Kharis finds out, he kills everyone in his path in order to be reunited with his love.

 

If you thought horror sequels got a bad hand nowadays, you should have seen what they like back in the 40s! The Mummy was one of Universal’s more successful monster films and the 1932 film paved the way for a whole slew of sequels, of which The Mummy’s Curse was the final one of the original run. But by this time, the mummy himself had become something of a one-note joke: arising from the dead; being controlled by an Egyptian high priest; going off in search of his love, Princess Ananka; killing people who were too slow to escape; and then meeting his untimely demise before he had chance to be reunited with her. Somehow this flimsy plot managed to stretch itself out over the course of a handful of sequels each with lower budgets. In no other sequel is this stretching more plain to see than The Mummy’s Curse.

Going into production only a few months after the previous sequel, The Mummy’s Ghost, and being released the same year, The Mummy’s Curse is weak rehashing at its finest. Though the change of setting to the Louisiana bayou does make something of a fresh start (though not on story terms as the bodies of the mummies were buried in a swamp in New England in the last one), it soon finds itself repeating the same circle of events as described above. At only an hour running time, the film somehow manages to feel longer. Cue the obligatory flashback scene in which we find out how Kharis came to be mummified – I’m not sure whether anyone wouldn’t have watched the fourth sequel to a series without knowing even the slightest details about its main character. The footage looks familiar and that’s because it’s the same flashback scene we’ve had in each of the sequels.

With the budgets slashed as sequels went on, the mummy costume got progressively worse and it’s the mask which seems to have suffered the worst fate here, sagging around the eyes a little too much. Lon Chaney Jr. dons the costume again and can’t hide his displeasure at portraying the Egyptian menace once more. His performance is dull and effortless, kind of ironic given that’s what the mummy character usually is.

Most of the supporting characters are there to kill time in between scenes with Kharis and Ananka – with Chaney Jr. getting top billing, the rest of the cast is insignificant and the film could really have done with the likes of John Carradine from the previous film to keep the humans at least looking interesting, even if they were flatly written. Once more, these supporting mummy-fodder characters are too dumb or slow to escape from the shuffling man in bandages. It makes a mockery out of common sense at times when no one seems to be able to get away from the world’s slowest walker.

 

The Mummy’s Curse is a weak end to what was virtually a dead series anyway. It’s more of the same as the last few sequels – there’s no originality, spark or attempt to make it anything but another formulaic carbon copy. Despite a brief reprisal with Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, Universal wouldn’t touch the undead Egyptian until 1999’s The Mummy.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Seven Mummies (2006)

Seven Mummies (2006)

Greed never dies!

Six escaped convicts and their female hostage make a desperate run for the Mexican border, only to hear out about the lost gold of the Tumacacori from a Native Indian. Stumbling upon an old frontier tow, the group decide that the opportunity to look the treasure is too good to pass. However they don’t realise that the town’s population are vampires and that they don’t want anyone stealing their precious gold.

 

A really confusing and cheap From Dusk Till Dawn rip-off, Seven Mummies is one of the sorriest films I’ve seen for a long time – and I watch a lot of bad films. Sometimes I just can’t get my head around the ideas that films are trying to present – the above plot sounds simple enough to follow but what ensues is a ridiculous mish-mash of ideas of which no attempt has clearly been made to get them to work cohesively.

I’d have thought that the title would give you some clue as to what the convicts would encounter in the desert but alas we get a load of vampires as the main villains of the piece and the mummies themselves don’t show up until the final part – even then you’d be hard-pressed to count seven of them! So, already being misled by the film’s title, you’d look at the cast list on the front cover and it’s full of genre and character actors like Danny Trejo, Billy Drago, Martin Kove and Andrew Bryniarski. Again a misleading venture as most of these guys aren’t on screen for that long and seem to have been thrown in there for name recognition only to put on the DVD cover.

Moving on to the film itself, it’s a mess of badly-written ideas and logic-defying twists and plot. It starts off simplistically enough, with the cons escaping and taking one of the guards as a hostage – simply your generic cons-on-the-run story. But as soon as they meet Danny Trejo’s wise old Indian and get told about the gold, it goes downhill quickly. The director presses the explode button and everything goes out of the window. The cons can either escape across the border or go and look for some mythical treasure so what do they do? Do the convicts question the existence of a town which has come right of the Wild West? Everyone still dresses and talks the same way yet the cons don’t worry about that when they’re getting their leg over. What are the townspeople supposed to be? Vampires? Zombies? Mummies? Some stand there waiting to get shot like zombies whilst others leap around with fangs bared. There is also the fact that the townspeople are portrayed as evil, demonic monsters but most of the cons are written up as assholes too. Just who are we meant to be rooting for?

Interestingly enough, it’s the one sequence in the bar where the townspeople reveal to the cons their true identity, about half way through this mess, that is the film’s best moment – and it’s been lifted right out of From Dusk Till Dawn. The rest of the film involves the town’s evil sheriff and his cronies trying to catch the survivors. I honestly can’t really tell you what is going on after this point because I don’t think anyone knows – not that I had much of a clue what was going on to begin with. The screenplay is a mess with, almost as if the writing team used the scattergun approach and decided to throw everything that they could think of in there with the hope that something stuck a chord with the audience. But there’s nothing holding everything together – no story, no purpose and certainly no logic. With a running time of a meagre seventy-six minutes, even that is too long to sit through this without shuffling around and twiddling your thumbs.

 

Seven Mummies looks highly polished and at least it looks way better than its budget would suggest. However that’s the only thing this film has got for itself. It’s a plagiaristic and downright pathetic mess of incoherency, inconsistency and lack of intelligence – you have been warned!

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Legend of the Mummy 2 (1999)

Legend of the Mummy 2 (1999)

When Terror is alive… evil never dies…

Six young archaeologists are spending the summer with their professor and are working their newest discovery: the remains of an ancient Aztec mummy, found in the ruins of a temple. They don’t realise that the mummy was servant to the Rain God and that one of the group is able to bring it back to life to do his evil bidding.

 

I thought I’d never see a worse mummy film than the first Legend of the Mummy but I spoke too soon. Originally released as Ancient Evil: Scream of the Mummy, this film has since been renamed for its UK release to pass itself off as a sequel to Legend of the Mummy. Quite why anyone would try and pass their film off as some sort of sequel or follow-up to one of the worst mummy films of all time is beyond me and no doubt said person was fired from their marketing job soon after but it’s here anyway. Clearly an attempt to milk some cash from the mummy market due to the popularity of The Mummy, I’d class Legend of the Mummy 2 as one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. I do bandy that around quite a bit on here but usually other films have at least a handful of redeeming features. This has nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Nought.

I can’t see how something like this ever gets the green light to be released. There’s just nothing remotely professional about it and it seems as though everyone involved did just the bare minimum to end up with a film. There’s no story as we join proceedings with the mummy already being unearthed and sat on a slab in the compound waiting to be analysed. And that’s basically it – the mummy is awakened by the last in the line of the high priests and then goes around killing the rest of the students in the compound. Try stretching that out for eighty five minutes! In fact the opening titles and closing credits take up about ten minutes between them (and the opening titles go extremely slowly!) so it’s evident that there was a problem in padding out the running time to something standard. When the film confines itself to the same handful of rooms for the entire duration of the film, save for a few brief shots outside in the compound, then the scenes of the mummy shuffling around exactly the same set for an hour really grind on you after a while. To be fair, I’m not quite sure where the film is supposed to be set. A university campus? Someone’s house? Wherever it is set, it must have been dirt cheap (or free) to film in.

The characters aren’t even one-dimensional, they’re virtually non-existent. Yes they fall into the stereotypical roles of jock, nerd, virgin, etc. but they’re so poorly written that even any semblance of those stereotypes would have been most welcome. They’re totally un-engaging characters – the ones we’re supposed to root for are just as bland and non-descript as the ones who die first. There’s no chemistry between any of the cast either and no sense that any of them had ever been in front of a camera before in their lives. The script tries to keep them ‘hip’ but ends up failing because there’s nothing for them to do except walk around the compound talking to each other and searching the same two or three rooms over and over and over again.

Even the mummy looks to be nothing more than an expensive fancy dress costume. From the first time you see it on the screen, there’s no way that anyone would believe it had been dead for centuries. Having said that, it is the best thing about the film and I’m really trying hard to cling on to some small mercies. Above all, there’s no style or visual flare from the director. Everything is literally from the ‘point and shoot’ mode of filming. No attempts are made to inject any atmosphere or tension into proceedings and the overkill on the lightning effects would have been best served with some sort of prior ‘flashing lights’ warning for epileptics…..all lightning and no rain I must add. David DeCoteau is hardly my favourite director but I’ve seen a few of his other films, Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge springs to mind, so I know that he’s not incapable of making something semi-decent. It doesn’t look like he tried here.

 

I thought the first one was bad but this one is just as terrible for different reasons. Legend of the Mummy 2 is a non-event of a film – a pointless waste of time, energy and effort from everyone involved and everyone who has seen it. It’s like a project from a college student with no story, no structure and is simply a collection of images and scenes which join together abruptly for ninety five minutes of absolute torture.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Mummy, The (1959)

The Mummy (1959)

Torn from the tomb to terrify the world!

A team of British archaeologists discover the untouched tomb of ancient Egyptian Princess Ananka. They are warned not to disturb the tomb but don’t heed the advice and a terrible curse befalls them. Three years later back in England, the curse comes to life in graphic fashion as the undead guardian of the tomb comes to wreak vengeance upon those who desecrated the tomb.

 

After tackling Frankenstein and Dracula and giving the old guard a new lease of cinematic life in lavish Technicolour, Hammer turned to another of the famous Universal monsters for their next film. Brought to life with the same Gothic atmosphere and graphically violent approach as its predecessors, The Mummy is arguably the lesser of the ‘big three’ monsters which is hardly something to worry about since the other films were genre-defining classics. Even more so since this one doesn’t technically remake Boris Karloff’s 1932 version of The Mummy and has more in line with it’s sequel, The Mummy’s Hand, in which the bandaged creature is given iconic screen time. Basically taking all of the elements that would work from the Universal series and bundling them all together in one package, The Mummy has big footsteps to follow in and almost manages to follow them, but not quite.

Belaying its low budget, director Terence Fisher brings to life this fantastical tale through a variety of amazing sets. From the ancient Egyptian mummy’s tomb right through to the eerie swamps in which it’s resurrected, the sets are bursting to life with detail, all astutely picked up on by Fisher. He rings every last drop out of the budget, transporting the viewer back to a recognisable era of discovery and mystery. The swamp set provides the film with it’s greatest moment, that of the mummy rising up from the murky depths, slowly writhing and wriggling it’s way to the bubbling surface.

The presentation of the film oozes the Hammer vibe but it’s remarkable how different this feels to both The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula. It feels fresher, more modern and a little more exciting and unpredictable. That’s not to say it isn’t predictable. Everything pans out the way it should for a mummy film with secondary characters not making it to the final reel and such like. It does take a while to get going though as the story needs establishing before the mummy can arise. There is a lengthy flashback to ancient Egypt in the middle of the film and it is just that – lengthy. It’s quite unnecessary to take up as much time as it does and a few cuts here and there would have quickened the pace up at a crucial point just after the mummy has claimed his first victim. Instead it acts like a speed bump, putting the brakes on momentum that the film is building and then letting it build again.

Peter Cushing stars as John Banning and….well its Peter Cushing. You shouldn’t need an introduction to him if you’re even a part-time horror fan. It’s hardly Cushing’s best performance, certainly the worst of the ‘big three’ Hammer horror originals but that was because both Van Helsing and Frankenstein are generally more iconic and unmistakable characters from literature. Banning is simply just a normal man written for the purpose of the film. Cushing does what he does and it’s great to see him in his prime when he was able to tussle and roll around in the thick of the action. Never really an action man, Cushing handles the action scenes well but, as always, saves the best moments for his verbal exchanges with other characters.

A testament to his talent, Christopher Lee brings to life the mummy solely through mannerisms and use of his eyes. The monster is ruthless, almost stealth-like in its methods but at the same time there is an eternal aurora of tragedy surrounding it. The audience knows that his only crime in his previous life was love and thus the monster is sympathetic. Having said that, during the scenes in which the monster powerfully strides across the screen, smashing doors open and choking the life out of its victims, it’s hard to feel anything but outright fear. Lee’s physical presence makes for a formidable monster. The make-up effects do their job too. We all know that he’s a guy in bandages but there are some memorable visuals involving the mummy, notably the previously mentioned one in which he rises up from the swamp.

George Pastell deserves a mention as Mehemet Bey, the Egyptian who commands the mummy. He’s undeniably sneaky and shares the film’s best scene with Cushing as the two men verbally spar off against each other: Cushing trying to provoke him into revealing more about himself and Pastell passionately talking about his religion and beliefs. The script is really sharp here but it’s the delivery which makes it work.

 

Complete with great performances, a strong plot, good special effects and a sharp script for its day, The Mummy is one of Hammer’s best films and easily the best mummy film to date. It’s just lacking that little bit of spark which would turn it into a genre classic. Being overshadowed by two such genre classics doesn’t do it any favours though as expectations are high going in and there’s no way that it could top The Curse of Frankenstein or Horror of Dracula.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

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!).

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆