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Spoilers follow ...
on 7 July 2017
It’s strange to think that only 15 years separates Hammer Films’ bright and colourful version of ‘The Mummy’ and the last of Universal’s Lon Chaney fronted Mummy series. And yet, here it is: buoyed by the success of their recent internationally successful horrors, Michael Carreras’ tiny British company forged on with this tale of Egyptian tombs and legends …
… except that this has all the Egyptian atmosphere of a telephone box. Hammer were careful to reconstruct their take on ‘Dracula (1957)’ and ‘Curse of Frankenstein (1958)’ to take into account the modest budget at their disposal; ‘The Mummy’ makes little such concessions. As a result it is, to my mind, highly over-ambitious and unconvincing. There is a poky, studio-bound feel to the Tomb of Ananka and its surrounding settings that even tremendous actors like Raymond Huntley, Felix Aylmer and of course Peter Cushing cannot distract us from. Later, we revisit the tombs in a familiarly protracted flashback sequence.
George Pastell makes the first of two appearances in this Mummy series, as respectful servant Mehemet Bey, and Michael Ripper is on hand as a poacher (in some much needed lightness during what is little more than a handful of cameos) once we are back in the easier-to-convey 1895 England. Christopher Lee’s Kharis is so angry about the tomb of his princess Ananka being desecrated that he comes back from the dead, resurrected from the studio-swamp Bey’s incompetent lackey’s have inadvertently left him. Cushing’s stoical John Banning happens to be married to Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux), the spitting image of Ananka.
It’s all a little staged and mannered and the story is highly reminiscent of a number of the Universal films, which were pretty familiar by 1944. Even some of the characters are very similar. Despite the intensity of the performers and the beautifully lit visuals, there is a staidness about Terence Fisher’s direction ensuring that, unlike Kharis, the film never really comes to life (although clever camera angles make it appear the mummy could indeed be the ten-foot tall he is purported to be).
Kharis is lean and powerful, and Hammer’s best looking mummy. Lee’s expressive eyes shine through the make-up, conveying the creature’s emotion as required, but this added sense of humanity ensures that, despite his power, Kharis isn’t particularly ethereal or frightening.
Events do liven up during the final reel, where Kharis and Banning once again come face to face. But, as with Hammer’s ‘Curse of the Werewolf’ the following year, an exciting finale is sadly too little, too late.