Tag Mummies

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)

Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971)

A severed hand beckons from an open grave!

At the exact moment that a group of Egyptologists discover the tomb of evil queen Tera, the wife of the leader of the expedition gives birth to a girl before she dies during childbirth. Years later, as the girl grows up into a beautiful young woman, the members of the expedition each begin to mystery die one-by-one.

 

The early 70s was a testing time for Hammer as it drastically tried to breathe new life into its dying franchises. Ralph Bates was brought in to replace Peter Cushing as a younger Baron Frankenstein in The Horror of Frankenstein and the Dracula series was moved into the 20th century with Dracula A.D. 1972, as well as the introduction of more graphic sex and gore into other Hammer films. So it was deemed necessary to turn its mummy franchise away from watching a man in bandages stalk old explorers to something a little more interesting and appealing. Whilst one can argue that the notion of such a change is warranted given the stagnant and repetitive formula of the previous couple of sequels, this double-edged sword will lead to accusations that it’s not a ‘true’ mummy film if ever there was a thought.

Based around ‘The Jewel of the Seven Stars,’ a 1903 novel by Bram Stoker, the film itself seems to have been hit by some sort of Egyptian curse itself. Director Seth Holt sadly died a week before principal photography was due to finish and Hammer head Michael Carreras took over to finish the film and edit it. Peter Cushing also had to withdraw during the first week of shooting after his wife became ill. This surrounds the film with an unwanted sense of real death to add to the on-screen carnage. Knowing the problems surrounding the film certainly adds to the ambiance and Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb continuously feels uneasy, surreal and, at times, dreamlike.

It’s a little slow-going, especially the first half of the film, but it’s setting its pieces up for the second half when the supernatural angle really comes into force and characters begin to die. It does seem a little weird to think we could be watching Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb with a bandaged guy playing the role of the monster. Apart from Tera’s severed hand, there’s no on screen monstrous presence stalking the characters or choking them to death. It’s surprisingly bloody though with neck bites and a stumpy wrist spurting out the red stuff whenever required. This was also one of the first Hammer films to bring their old school gothic touch into a more modern setting as they tried to change with the times instead of churning out period horror. The combination of the modern with the gothic looks like some sort of real life nightmare: streets, houses and alleys suddenly take on a whole new menace with the sense that something malevolent is lurking there. Unfortunately, the film rarely sets foot outside and the fog-drenched streets are replaced by dimly-lit basements and bland house sets.

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb works for other reasons, most notably Valerie Leon. There’s sex bombs from the 60s and 70s but she’s got to be up there with the best of them. Looking like an extra from a Russ Meyer film, Leon slips into a variety of skimpy outfits to reveal her extremely ample figure more than once. The director knows she’s the major attraction of the film and he’s not wrong there. Leon is just drop dead stunning. No other words can describe her. She has to play two roles: that of Margaret the daughter of the expedition leader and of Tera, the evil queen. She spends most of her time as Tera lying down in a casket in little clothing but it can be argued that she does exactly the same as Margaret except that she stands up and talks. Leon is simply mesmerising on the screen and has an amazing presence thanks to her beauty and figure.

Andrew Keir stepped into Cushing’s role when he withdrew. Keir was no stranger to Hammer having played the title role in Quatermass and the Pit as well as a supporting role in Dracula, Prince of Darkness. He’s a solid, dependable actor who isn’t given a lot to do here but does what he has to with the usual commitment and drive. James Villiers slimes it up as the shady and unscrupulous Corbeck, marking a change for an English bad guy instead of the stereotypical fez-wearing Egyptian cultist.

 

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb is a decent effort from Hammer considering it’s without its major assets both in front of and behind the camera. Given the troubled production it had and how played out the mummy formula had become at this point in time, the film does a commendable job of trying to put a fresh spin on everything. It works but not as well as it could have done.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, The (1964)

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964)

It lives again to kill again!

When Egyptologists discover the tomb of Prince Ra, an American entrepreneur immediately insists on shipping everything inside the tomb to England to go on tour for public display. Back in England, someone with other ideas awakens the mummy guardian and sends it to kill those who desecrated the tomb.

 

Like Universal did before them, Hammer churned out countless sequels to their three popular re-workings: The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula and The Mummy. However, the Frankenstein and Dracula sequels were lucky in that most of them featured at least one of Hammer’s two top stars – Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee – in them to boost their popularity. Unfortunately for some reason, the mummy series was given the short end of the stick and had their budgets clearly reduced and their star power severely restricted. Neither Cushing nor Lee would appear in any of the sequels, handing the ball over to solid actors who were dependable but who weren’t the company’s top drawing stars and not marketable enough to get the audiences flocking back. As a result, the drop in quality between the 1959 original and this first sequel is staggering.

Typical of an old fashioned mummy flick, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is slow-moving and takes a while to get going before picking up in the second act. But like all of the Universal mummy films before it and many of the mummy films after it, how much originality can you add to the story? They all involve people desecrating a tomb and then being punished for it by a mummy later in the film. This is no exception at all and it takes a long time for the ‘curse’ to finally kick in and the mummy to awaken. Until then we’re given very little to keep us engrossed, save for an interesting opening where a man gets his hand cut off in gruesome detail. The first half is rather talky, plodding and the attempts to make us care about secondary plots are to no avail.

However once the mummy’s sarcophagus is opened, the film does pick up steam quickly. Characters are bludgeoned to death, blood spilt and in the film’s most memorable scene, the mummy crushes the head of an unlucky Egyptian beneath his huge foot. There’s no visual squishing but the sound effect is rather icky and gives you the exact mental image of what just happened. The mummy isn’t the greatest looking creation – the make-up is pretty shoddy and the suit looks rather bulky. It moves slowly as one would expect and it at least comes off as menacing when it needs to. Stuntman Dickie Owen lacks the sheer physical presence and sympathy of Christopher Lee’s mummy in the 1959 version but is least serviceable enough to carry the role through as a brutish monster as opposed to a forlorn lover.

Director Michael Carreras only helmed a handful of Hammer films (including the utterly bonkers The Lost Continent) and you can tell that he’s not used to the big chair. The direction is pedestrian and he is unable to inject any sort of life or pace into proceedings. He struggles hard to capture the traditional Gothic Hammer atmosphere at a time in their history when they could really do no wrong. Not only that but he wrote the film and produced it so the blame for this failure can be laid squarely on his front door.

The leads are really disappointing but the script does them no favours. Ronald Howard tries his best as the young hero but seems out of his depth and Jeanne Roland amply fills out a variety of low cut dresses (her performance is even dubbed so it must have been that bad). It’s up to veteran Jack Gwillim to try and instil some sort of authenticity and believability in his short-lived role as Egyptologist Sir Giles. It’s a pity that his character is soon turned into a buffoon and drunk and literally kicked to the sidelines until the time comes when he’s needed to die a horrible death. Michael Ripper, a regular Hammer character actor, pops up as an Arab (a role which is very non-politically correct nowadays as he’s covered in brown face paint).

 

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is arguably one of Hammer’s most pedestrian efforts. Its harmless throwaway horror which sticks closely to the mummy flick formula but the title monster arrives a little too late on the scene to stop the rot. The lack of big ‘Hammer power’ really damages this and it could have used someone more accomplished either in front of or behind the camera to steady the ship.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Mummy’s Shroud, The (1967)

The Mummy's Shroud (1967)

Beware the beat of the cloth-wrapped feet

In 1920, an archaeological expedition discovers the tomb of an ancient Egyptian child prince. Returning home with their discovery, the expedition is keen to prove their original theory that another mummy found is not that of the prince but just his mummified bodyguard who was given the bracelet of the Pharoah by the dying child. The expedition members soon find themselves being killed off by the mummy when a guardian of the tomb reads off the prince’s burial shroud to bring it to life.

 

Hammer’s third entry into it’s mummy series is probably the weakest of the bunch. I mean mummy films have never exactly been anything special – in fact they’re all virtually the same. Someone finds a tomb, defies a warning not to go in, brings home some relics and is soon killed off by a mummy for desecrating the tomb. Much like having Dr Frankenstein create another monster or getting Dracula to terrorize a few nubile young women, there is only so much you can do with a slow, lumbering monster wrapped in bandages. I guess there is a certain comfort zone in watching the same thing time after time. Hammer’s foray into this repetitive sub-genre have been decent, if somewhat flat. You can clearly tell that the budgets that their horror films were getting were beginning to dry up and instead of improving on previous installments with better effects, the mummy films seem to get worse. Case in point is The Mummy’s Shroud.

The Mummy’s Shroud is typical of the Hammer film – lavish sets, vivid colours, haunting music, etc. But they’re pretty unremarkable in that little happens in them that hasn’t happened in other films. No attempt is even made to differentiate this one from the other mummy films. In fact many elements of the film seem to have got worse from the previous installment, notably the villain of the title. The mummy here looks pretty feeble – it’s more like a scarecrow with a cheesy grin on it’s face. It doesn’t have the same powerful presence as the previous mummies and isn’t as scary as a result. However given the origins of the mummy via the plot this could be forgiven for most of the time (I’m guessing that the dying bodyguard wouldn’t have been able to afford a proper mummification nor have the tools to do it, hence the reason he looks cheaper). He also takes some time to get motivated as well so be prepared for plenty of dialogue in the run up to his carnage.

The pacing of the film is very deliberate which is pretty much my polite way of saying it’s slow as hell. Everyone involved from the director, the writer to the actors just seem to be running through the motions. There’s no rush. No one is in a hurry. It’s almost as if everyone is standing around waiting for something to happen. At least Don Banks also gives us a classical flavoured Egyptian musical score which helps the film along. Say one thing about the Hammer films and that’s no matter how poor the film’s may have been, the music was always top drawer.

Semi-regular Hammer actor André Morell is given top billing and much like I stated in my review for The Plague of Zombies, Morell’s acting ability makes him a very good lead role. It’s the sort of role that the likes of Peter Cushing can play in their sleep but it’s nice to see someone else get their turn in the spotlight. Unfortunately his screen presence is cut tragically short which means the film looks for someone else to fill the shoes of the main hero and no one else is able to match up to his talent. I think the bonus of the film is seeing Hammer regular Michael Ripper actually get a reasonably meaty role for a change. This guy was in more Hammer films than anyone, usually playing small roles such as innkeepers or coach drivers. Here he is given a lot more to do and it’s for the best because he’s a joy to watch as Longbarrow and is easily the most sympathetic person in the film. After all of the abuse he puts up with from his boss, he still gets killed in horrible fashion by the mummy. Poor bloke.

Roger Delgado takes over the token evil Egyptian role. Fans of British TV and film will recognise him as The Master from Doctor Who and the role here is no different as he’s in “moustache-twirling” villain mode. But there’s just a real sense of ‘been there, done that six times before’ and we have. Between Hammer and Universal, they pretty much covered all of the possible mummy bases.

 

The Mummy’s Shroud was the last of Hammer’s films to be shot at Bray Studios, marking the end of a sixteen year association. It’s a shame they couldn’t have ended on high instead of this rather unoriginal and downright tiresome mummy film. Dull, uninspiring and lazy at times, The Mummy’s Shroud won’t go down as one of their better efforts.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆