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.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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