The Mummy (series)

The Mummy (series)

Synopsis of Movie

Although magic and the living dead played a major role in The Mummy and its sequels, this series was much more interested in the terrors that can be caused by mortal men through emotions like greed, envy and obsession over love and religious ideals. Therefore, these films were often as tragic as they were frightening, giving an emotional quality that other horror films lack. The tone was set in 1932 with The Mummy, the first film in the series, which was as much a tragic love story as it was a horror movie.

Based on the novel by Bram Stoker, the movie focuses on the plight of Imhotep, a priest in ancient Egypt. The story begins with Imhotep being mummified and buried alive after he is discovered trying to revive his true love through magical means. Centuries later, his tomb is unearthed in modern-day Egypt by a team of archaeologists. They read aloud an ancient scroll that revives him, and the mummified Imhotep emerges from his tomb. The one person who witnesses this is driven insane by the sight, thus allowing Imhotep to escape.

Years later, Imhotep has taken on the identity of ‘Ardath Bay’ as he attempts to find the reincarnation of his long lost love, the Princess. He knows he has found the right woman when he meets Helen Grosvenor, a woman who is identical to the Princess. Imhotep sets out to capture Helen so he can use her body to return the soul of his lost love to the modern world. To do this, Imhotep is willing to kill anyone who gets in his way. He is doubly dangerous because he is both diabolically smart and gifted with psychic powers that allow him to kill a man by merely thinking about it.

Like the other classic Universal horror films, The Mummy favored atmosphere over shocks. The film had a tremendous sense of mood thanks to the visual skills of director Karl Freund. This was his directorial debut after spending many years as a cinematographer on fantasy film classics like Metropolis and Frankenstein. For this film, he used his highly-developed visual sense to create a series of images that were beautiful and sinister at the same time.

The Mummy became a smash hit, thanks in part to the rising fame of Boris Karloff, the actor who played Imhotep. He had already distinguished himself as an effective horror film actor in Frankenstein and would star in several more horror classics like The Old Dark House and The Bride of Frankenstein. Karloff made the film come alive by the depth and complexity of emotion that he brings to his tragic character, a creature to be pitied as much as he is feared.

Although The Mummy was a success, it did not inspire any immediate sequels. However, the idea of a Mummy film series was revived in 1940 with The Mummy’s Hand. Although it wasn’t a direct sequel to The Mummy, it incorporated footage from that film in a flashback scene.

The Mummy’s Hand focuses on Steve Banning and Babe Jenson, an archaeologist duo who are trying to find the tomb of Ananka, an ancient Egyptian Princess. Banning and Jenson find the tomb, but they get more then they bargained for when they accidentally revive Kharis, a priest of the ancient Egyptian god Karnak who was mummified for trying to revive his Ananka with magic.

They have also angered Andoheb, a Cairo Museum worker who also happens to be the current High Priest of Karnak. Andoheb decides to use the revived Kharis to silence the archaeologists and their search party for good. The last half-hour of the film is riveting rollercoaster of terror as the archaeologists try to escape from Andoheb and Kharis.

The Mummy’s Hand was an unusual film, starting out light-hearted and comedic while it depicted the adventures of Banning and Jenson, only to become deadly serious when Kharis rose from his grave. This unique combination of humor and horror worked well, making the film a success and leading to a demand for more Mummy movies.

The next in the series was The Mummy’s Tomb, depicting Andoheb trying to get revenge on Banning and Jenson. He follows them back to the United States along with his new assistant, Mehemet Bay, and sics Kharis on them once more.

Like The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb cleverly blended humor with scares in an unsettling way. It also benefitted from unusual images, like the sight of the mummy Kharis shambling menacingly through a picturesque New England graveyard. The film continued the success of the Mummy series and thus led to The Mummy’s Ghost.

This installment focuses on Tom Lowery, a college student who discovers his girlfriend Amina is the reincarnation of the princess Ananka. Even worse is the fact that Amina is in danger of being captured by new High Priest of Karnak, Yousef Bey. Bey wants to take Amina back to Egypt and is willing to use the mummy Kharis to do so.

The Mummy’s Ghost set itself apart from the past two films in the series by playing up the tragic/romantic angle of the first film through Kharis’ longing for Amina. It also benefited from solid performances by Lon Chaney, Jr., as Kharis and John Carradine as the sinister Yousef Bey.

The Mummy’s Curse was the final film in the Universal Mummy series. This unusually experimental film begins with a new storyline as land developers accidentally unearth a mummified Kharis and Ananka in a Louisiana swamp. This leads to an unforgettably creepy sequence with Ananka rising from the swamp that has become a favorite among Universal horror fans. Ananka escapes and wanders into a small Louisiana town in an amnesiac state as Egyptian priests Ilzar and Ragheb attempt to track her down. Meanwhile, they are all followed by an angry and rampaging Kharis.

All in all, the Mummy’s Curse ended the series on an effectively creepy note. Universal did not make any Mummy films for the next several years, but the Mummy character was revived by England’s Hammer Studios in a series of full-color gothic epics beginning with 1959’s The Mummy (which was a remake of The Mummy’s Hand). It was an international hit and led to Hammer making a series of Mummy films that continued into the early 1970’s.

After the Hammer series, the classic Mummy character lay dormant for many years until it was recently revived with major success in 1999’s The Mummy. This film mixed the tragic-romance story of the original classic with Raiders of the Lost Ark-style action and the occasional bit of tongue-in-cheek humor to become a massive hit. It grossed over $150 million in the U.S. alone and even more internationally, proving that The Mummy still has plenty of life left in its old bones.

Movie Release History

1932 - The Mummy
1940 - The Mummy's Hand
1942 - The Mummy's Tomb
1944 - The Mummy's Ghost
1944 - The Mummy's Curse

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Imhotep/Ardath  Boris Karloff
The Princess/Helen Grosvenor Zita Johann
Steve Banning Dick Foran
Babe Jenson Wallace Ford
Andoheb George Zucco
Kharis (The Mummy's Hand) Tom Tyler
Mehemet Bey Turhan Bey
Kharis (The Mummy's Tomb, The Mummy's Curse) Lon Chaney, Jr.
Tom Hervey Robert Lowery
Amina Mansori Ramsay Ames
Yousef Bey John Carradine
Ananka Virginia Christine
Ilzor Peter Coe
Ragheb Martin Kosleck

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