PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Film

Don't Open That Door! #44: 'The Mummy' (1959)

Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: Peter Cushing gets wrapped up in an ancient curse in The Mummy.


The Mummy

Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, Felix Aylmer, Raymond Huntley
US Release Date: 1959-12-16

Alternative title: Walk Like an Egyptian

POSITIVES:

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are back again in Hammer remake.

Ancient Egyptian outfits were just too cool.

The Mummy is, as a monster concept, pleasantly bizarre. Think about it.

Colorful support from talented cast of Brit character actors.

Slow start gives way to energetic conclusion.

NEGATIVES:

A bit lackadaisical compared to Hammer's first two horror remakes, Frankenstein and Dracula.

Un-frightening mummy outfit looks more like spandex than bandages.

Lots of sitting around and talking, when really, people should be running around and screaming.

SYNOPSIS: Archaeologist Steve Banning and his buddy Joe are on the verge of opening the tomb of long-dead Egyptian princess Ananka when he is urged by a local Egyptian dude Mehemet to desist with their meddling and leave at once. (You can tell the dude's local by his fez). Dr Steve ignores the chap, of course, preferring to break into the surprisingly clean tomb and do all sorts of nasty intrusive scientific things. Meanwhile his son, the hawk-nosed John, mopes around in his tent with a broken leg. Maybe this is for the best after all, though, because five minutes alone in the tomb is enough to leave daddy twitching uncontrollably, jabbering on about resurrected mummies coming to kill them all. The others pack him off to a sanitarium and get on with the task at hand.


Alas, that task apparently involves being tracked down years later and slaughtered by the dead-come-to-life guardian of the tomb, the surprisingly well-preserved mummy of the title. Tall and gangly, mummy dearest casts an angular, lurching shadow across the English countryside, where it has been brought by the above-mentioned Egyptian dude. Dr. Steve tries to warn his now-hobbling son about the danger, but when was the last time you paid serious attention to someone residing in the Engerfield Nursing Home for the Mentally Disordered?

At this point we're halfway through and ready for the bodies to start piling up. There are a number of likely targets, chief among them Steve, John and Joe. We also hear the true story about how the mummy Kharas came to be, in what is arguably the most engaging portion of the movie. Mayhem ensues, including a couple of twists that come about as a result of John's wife Isobel looking an awful lot like Princess Ananka.

John, who is clearly the brains of the operation, is the first to put the pieces together. Unfortunately, by the time he does so, he and Isobel are about the only pieces left. Racing as best he can on his crippled leg, he strives to keep one step ahead of Kharas—who's none too steady on his feet either. The final showdown is at first suspenseful and then explosive. In the end, love conquers all. In a way. That's nice.

Best line of dialogue in the movie: "Confound this leg!" or possibly: "The best part of my life's been spent among the dead."

What gets mummified for good: A meddlesome professor; a skeptical uncle; a couple deputies; a dude in a Fez; an ambulatory band-aid.

What gets saved: True love! Which, as the Beatles remind us, is all you need.

Did you know? Egypt is famous for its mummies, but they were also made by the ancient Romans and Greeks, the Andes-dwelling peoples of South America, and—much more recently—by Sicilians in what is modern-day Italy. (Insert Mafia joke here.)

Don't try this at home: The ancient Egyptians really did take 70 days to embalm the body for mummification, just like the movie says. But, they also removed all the internal organs (except the heart), and used plenty of natron, a type of local salt that absorbed moisture and left the corpses dry but flexible.

This reminds me of... 1932's The Mummy starring Boris Karloff, and numerous other presentations from Universal Pictures, Hammer Films and others. For many, the Karloff rendition, in creepy black and white, remains definitive. The 1999 remake starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz is heavy on wham-bam special effects, but plays the story for campy laughs. Fraser can't help himself, but the mummy deserves better.

Somehow their careers survived: Peter Cushing (John) and Christopher Lee (Kharas, the mummy) enjoyed long careers; some of their best-known collaborations are Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Horror of Dracula (1958) and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959). Yvonne Furneaux (Isobel) starred alongside Catherine Deneuve in Roman Polanski's landmark Repulsion (1965), while Felix Aylmer (Steve)'s long career included roles in Spellbound (1940), Quo Vadis (1951) and Exodus (1960). Raymond Huntley (Joe) appeared in the bizarrely funny I'm All Right Jack (1959) starring Peter Sellers, as well as 1974 creeper Symptoms.


BOTTOM LINE: Not up to Hammer's previous standards, but entertaining nonetheless.

NEXT WEEK: The Mysterians (1957)

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.