The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964)
"Half bone, half bandage...all blood-curdling terror!"
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, The Horror of Dracula and The Mummy. Box office success meant audiences were craving more and not wanting to turn down some easy profits, Hammer obliged. However, the Frankenstein and Dracula sequels that were made 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. In particular, the Frankenstein series featured Cushing returning as the title character in all but one of the sequels. Unfortunately for some reason, the mummy series was given the short end of the stick - budgets were 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 enough 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, The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb, is staggering.
Unlike the next two sequels which at least tried to do something slightly different with the story, The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb runs like a very poor like-for-like remake of The Mummy, only without the duo of Cushing and Lee to keep things engaging in front of the camera, director Terence Fisher pulling the strings behind it and Jimmy Sangster tightening the script. 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, only that it takes a long time here 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. The audience just don't care for these characters because they're weak rehashes performed by lesser actors.
However, once the mummy's sarcophagus is opened, The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb 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 make-up is pretty shoddy and the suit looks rather bulky, a massive marked decline since the previous outing. 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 Lee's mummy in the 1959 version but is least serviceable enough to carry the role through as a brutish monster as opposed to Lee's 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 Curse of the Mummy's Tomb was released as part of a double-bill in the US along with The Gorgon and it's easy to see why this was the bottom part of it.
The leads are really disappointing but the script does them no favours. Ronald Howard tries his best as the young hero, essentially a younger version of Cushing's character from the original, 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 side lines 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 requires a bit of brownface and would be very non-politically correct). He would get his chance to shine in the next film, The Mummy's Shroud. George Pastell has a welcome return, though playing a 'different' character called Hashmi Bey (as opposed to the one called Mehemet Bey he played previously).
The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb is 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 save the film. 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.
The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb
Director(s): Michael Carreras
Writer(s): Michael Carreras (screenplay)
Actor(s): Terence Morgan, Ronald Howard, Fred Clark, Jeanne Roland, George Pastell, Jack Gwillim, John Paul
Duration: 78 mins