The Mummy (1959) | 31 Days of Horror: Oct 25

by Jovial Jay

All wrapped up and nowhere to go.

The Mummy is an interesting blend of previous Mummy movies with Hammer Film’s sensibilities and cast.

Before Viewing

The Mummy has never been a particularly scary film. The trailer for this Hammer version doesn’t seem too scary either. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing team up again as monster and monster-hunter in a film about a thousand year old dead corpse that becomes reanimated.

Presented below is the trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

The Mummy

The Mummy title card.

After Viewing

At an archaeological dig in 1895, Egypt, a group led by John Banning (Peter Cushing), and including his father Stephen Banning (Felix Aylmer) and his Uncle Joseph (Raymond Huntley) discover the tomb of Ananka, a 4,000 year priestess of Karnak. Unfortunately John has a broken leg and is unable to enter the tomb with the others. Before Stephen and Joseph enter, a local man in a red fez, identified as Mehemet Bey (George Pastell) in the credits, warns him that “he who robs the graves of Egypt dies.” They of course ignore him.

Stephen discovers everything he hoped for: the sarcophagus of Ananka, and secret scrolls including the scroll of life, which he starts to read. John hears a horrible scream and hobbles to his tent entrance to see what happened. Joseph races back to find Stephen catatonic. The team seal off the tomb and return to London. Three years later John is visiting his father, a patient at the Engerfield Nursing Home for the Mentally Disordered.

Stephen admits to having read the scroll of life and bringing the mummy of High Priest Kharis (Christopher Lee) back to life. Two drunken men, hired by Bey to transport a box with the mummy, crash into a bog losing the relic. Bey arrives later with the scroll of life and brings Kharis back to life. He sends the mummy into the nursing home to kill the elder Banning. Inspector Mulrooney (Eddie Byrne) is puzzled by the murder, and begins investigating.

The Mummy

Stephen and Joe discover the burial chamber of Princess Ananka.

John relates the story of Ananka (Yvonne Furneaux) to Uncle Joe. She was beloved by Kharis who presided over her ritual embalming and burial. He arranged a multi-day festival celebrating her. After she was placed in the burial chamber, he breaks the seals to re-enter it and attempts to use the scroll of life to bring her back. He is captured and has his tongue removed before being bandaged up and left to die, buried with the princess. Shortly after the tale, the mummy of Kharis breaks into John’s house and kills his uncle. John shoots the bandaged monster several times to no effect.

Mulrooney comes to investigate, not believing the wild story John tells of a mummy come to life. John shares the events that led to his father’s death, which includes reading the scroll and being attacked. John explains that Mehemet Bey stopped Kharis from killing Stephen at that point and took the scroll. After some other investigation, Mulrooney starts to believe John, and warns him not to bother the local Egyptian man that recently moved in nearby, Mehemet Atkil (a pseudonym for Bey). John and Mulrooney note the resemblance of John’s wife Isobel (also Yvonne Furneaux) to a drawing of Ananka.

John tips his hand when he visits Bey, who had believed Kharis had previously killed him. When Bey sends Kharis to kill him again, Isobel is able to order the monster to stop, but soon feints and is carried off by Kharis–believing that she is Ananka reincarnated. Mulrooney and John corner the monster near the bog. Bey orders Kharis to kill Isobel as well, but the monster rebels, smashing Bey instead. Isobel manages to get Kharis to let her go as the Inspector and his men open fire on the mummy, who sinks into the bog with the scroll of life still clutched in his hand.

It’s the mummy who lives!” – Stephen Banning

The Mummy

Mehemet Bey commands the arisen form of Kharis to go and kill the infidels that disturbed his rest.

The Mummy is a slow moving film befitting of its lead monster. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The film is from another time and more of a slow burn thriller than an outright scarer. Produced by Hammer films in England, this was the third film by director Terence Fisher to star actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. The trio had also worked on Hammer’s take on both Frankenstein (The Curse of Frankenstein – 1957) and Dracula (Horror of Dracula – 1958) which were both inspired by the original Universal monster movies of the 30s but also tried to stay true to their original texts.

Universal Pictures The Mummy (1932) was a mostly original story of an undead Egyptian priest, Imhotep, that is brought back to life when English graverobbers disturb the sanctity of his tomb. He is able to masquerade as a modern day Egyptian and discovers a woman that is the apparent reincarnation of his lover Anck-su-namun. You can see the similarities in this version of The Mummy, but that’s not the end of the story. Universal’s film was a hit and had three sequels between 1940 and 1944. Those films, primarily The Mummy’s Hand (1940) makes up the bulk of this story.

Both the 1940 and 1959 mummy films follow similar pilot lines, with similar character names. Some elements from The Mummy’s Tomb (1942) are also included. The finale in the bog is pulled from the third sequel, The Mummy’s Ghost, which seems like as much of a rip off as The Banning’s robbing a grave. But Hammer received special permission to use the title, and the characters and plot elements from these films in its remake. The Mummy is even distributed by Universal International.

The Mummy

A flashback shows Kharis in a much more hydrated state, as he leads the funeral rituals for his love, Princess Ananka.

The one difficulty with Mummy films is, unfortunately, the protagonist. The creature is usually a shambling monster who can’t move that fast. It may be strong, but is susceptible to fire and bullets destroying its body. It does not lend itself to jump scares and overt frights. The horror comes from the situation of the mummy’s untimely death, being buried alive or some such. Universal did try to turn the franchise into more of an action adventure series, in which the mummy was given a host of supernatural powers in 1999. Those were fun films, which spun off The Scorpion King films, but overall, not as entertaining as a vampire or werewolf.

Hammer would produce three more Mummy films, but none of them would contain Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing, who would return for the majority of the Dracula and Frankenstein films instead. The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb (1964), The Mummy’s Shroud (1967), and Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb (1971) would all feature different mummy’s and different stories, though all leaning on similar elements to the original. The Mummy has some good moments, including the beginning and the climax, but seeing 20 minutes of the funeral preparations for a dead princess in a flashback in the middle of the film are just not as entertaining as it may have been 60 years ago.

The Mummy

Isobel, the spitting image of Ananka, and John banning discuss how best to protect themselves from the Mummy.

Assorted Musings

  • Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Eddie Byrne all acted in the Star Wars saga. Cushing and Byrne in 1977s A New Hope as Grand Moff Tarkin and General Willard, with Lee in 2002s Attack of the Clones and 2005s Revenge of the Sith.
  • As John recounts the (long) story of Kharis and his burial, he mentions that none of the remaining Egyptians ever returned alive. If that’s true, then how did John know this story?
  • This film proves, once again, that intolerance of other cultures (as well as disrespect) can get you killed (except that in the end the “good guys” are finally triumphant and defeat Mehemet Bey).

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