The Second Version of The Mummy You Should See (After The 1932 One)

 

I’ve been reading a lot about the new Mummy film and how it’s a complete shitshow trainwreck that somehow shows simultaneously everything that’s wrong with Hollywood blockbusters, reboots, and Tom Cruise (which if you think about it, is kind of impressive in its own right.)

One thing I repeatedly see, in both the articles about the new film and in the comments that reply to it, is that the film doesn’t hold a candle to the 1999 Mummy film starring Brendan Fraser. I even saw an article that said, more or less, “if you only see one Mummy movie, make it the 1999 version.”

Fuck. That.

If you only see one Mummy movie, see the original 1932. That should go without saying. It’s a classic, and features an absolutely terrifying performance by Boris Karloff. I would say it was his best performance without question save for the fact that he was so wonderful in so many amazing films that it’s hard to just pick one as his best.

But once you move past that version, the definitive version, your second choice shouldn’t be the 1999 CGI-filled monstrosity (seriously, that film just looks stupid as hell now) but instead it should be the 1959 version, produced by the venerable Hammer House of Horror.

The Mummy stars the legendary Peter Cushing as the film’s hero John Banning, and the always terrifying Christopher Lee as the title character. After an exhibition led by Banning’s father accidentally unleashes the mummy, Banning’s father goes mad from seeing the corpse rise from his grave (a throwback to the original film) and the exhibition is abandoned. Years pass, with Banning’s father locked up in a mental ward in a catatonic state. Suddenly, he awakens from his stupor to tell his son that the Mummy is after them, determined to kill everyone who disturbed his tomb.

His son doesn’t believe him at first, but once people (his father included) start ending up dead, he realizes he has a supernatural zombie from beyond the grave up and after him, and thus begins his quest to vanquish the monster back from which he came before it’s too late.

Hammer made countless monster movies during its heyday, but only three are seen as direct lifts from classic Universal Studios pictures. Their most well-known is, of course, their classic take on Dracula, which made Hammer, Cushing and Lee all household names. That film continues to have an influence around the world, and is well-regarded to this day.

You should see it by the way, it’s rad.

But I feel as if this film, as well as Hammer’s original Curse of Frankenstein film, have fallen by the wayside. And it’s entirely without justification. Hammer’s take on The Mummy is rather brilliant, a wonderful pastiche of the various Universal Mummy films (it’s barely a remake of the first and has much more in common with later films in the series) all while throwing in some elements that make it uniquely Hammer, mainly being lush set design, unbelievably pitch perfect performances by the entire cast, and a shocking amount of blood for the era. The film also has a wonderful, eerie score by the little-known Franz Reizenstein, and incredible make-up effects on Christopher Lee, who is nearly unrecognizable when fully done up in the bandages, mud and decomposing flesh that make up the undead monster.

 

Cushing is, of course, top notch as well, bringing the same aura of aristocratic anger that he brought to all his best roles. There’s something about Peter Cushing when he’s in hero mode that just makes him so much fun to watch. He always has an indignation, an anger at the entire affair, that makes look like he is a force to be reckoned with, even though he was frail dainty man who couldn’t have weighed more than 130 pounds. Watching Peter Cushing tear at the mummy with a shotgun is a joy. And every time I see Cushing go full action star, leaping abound and around the set to attack the mummy with anything he can get his hands on, I just squee with joy. He’s so much fun to watch.

 

I’m a huge Hammer fan and I think that most of their movies are great, but this one is really one of their most well-made, ranking right alongside the best of the Dracula and Frankenstein films they released. So, while your friends might want to re-visit their childhood’s by watching the 1999 version, and your parents/grandparents will swear by the original 1932 version (which you should also see) please check out this one as well. Not only will you be surprised by a wonderful film that too many people have forgotten, but hopefully it will serve as a springboard to you discovering even more classic films by this legendary studio that rarely did wrong throughout much of the 50s and 60s. The 70s, eh, not so much, but there’s good stuff there too trust me.

(Shit, I’m going to have to write a guide to Hammer films, aren’t I?)

Hammer’s original version of The Mummy is currently available on Blu-ray in both the US and UK, and usually pretty cheaply. Get it.

One Response to The Second Version of The Mummy You Should See (After The 1932 One)

  • Eric Schulz says:

    I will have to check this out. I grew up watching Hammer films on TV but have never seen this. I always stuck with the Dracula/Frankenstein films…and Curse of the Werewolf!

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