The day was November 4th, 1922 when a team lead by British Egyptologist Howard Carter made the discovery of the ages when excavating the 18th dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh, Tutankhamun. Or better known as King Tut. The location was in the Valley of Kings, an ancient burial ground for Egypts royal families and nobles. After a nearly eight years of research interrupted by the First World War and a road that seemed to go nowhere, Howard Carter would unearth what is known as the most well-preserved pharaonic tomb ever. This discovery would be the most defining archaeological discovery of the 20th century.
Along with the discovery of the physical and historical treasure, there would come a trend in western culture over all things ancient Egypt. The mystery of this ancient and peculiar culture would be known as Egyptomania. Egypt motifs would begin appearing in much fashion and design. Art Deco was an architecture and design trend that was heavily influenced by the Egyptian style. With decorative patterns and filling of space. The trend in style breathes all things Egypt. Even media like film would jump on the trend with great works of art like 1927’s Metropolis.
Along with the Egypt design and aesthetic influencing western enthusiasm. So too did the ideas of what lay within the tombs of these ancient royals. Newspapers would publish articles about these curses that would come upon any intruder brave enough to disturb the final resting places of these archaic rulers. Ideas of mummy’s and curses flooded the minds of people and with that came great opportunity for Hollywood.
In 1931 Universal Pictures would introduce Dracula. The film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. About Count Dracula, a vampire that preys upon his victims! The movie would be a box office success and within months Universal Pictures would produce Frankenstein. A loose adaption of the 1818 book Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. With the rise of horror pictures becoming popular, Universal would then step into the still going Egyptomania with a brilliant horror film called The Mummy!
1932’s The Mummy was directed by Karl Freund and stars Karl Freundstars Boris Karloff as Imhotep. Unlike the Frankenstein monster, Boris Karloff would only dawn the Mummy one time. Leaving the roll of the bandaged monstrosity to Lon Chaney Jr. The film also stars Zita Johann as Helen Grosvenor and David Manners as Frank Whemple.
Although it was loosely inspired by the famous Curse of The Pharaohs, The Mummy would be the first Universal monster film that was not adapted from an actual source material. Also, the character of Imhotep would only appear in the original film. The movie would be a box-office success but not spawn any sequels. However, the mummy phenomena would take hold and other movies would follow in its footsteps with 1940’s The Mummy’s Hand, 1942’s The Mummy’s Tomb, 1944 The Mummy’s Ghost and 1944’s The Mummy’s Curse.
After the Golden Age of horror, other mummy movies would be made like 1959’s The Mummy featuring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Then in 1999 Universal would resurrect the Imhotep character in the action/horror film The Mummy starring Brendan Frasier, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah and Arnold Vosloo as Imhotep. The movie was a box office success and would spawn three other films and four other related spin-offs. Then… there was the 2017 remake but I don’t want to talk about that movie right now or ever.
Egyptian archeologists discover the tomb of a mummy known as Imhotep. After reading the ancient scroll, Imhotep rises from his tomb and goes on search for his lost and forbidden love Princess Anck-su-namun. Who he believes in reincarnated as Helen Grosvenor. Whoever stands in the way of this risen priest will face his wrath.
The Mummy is Different… Which Is Good!
I have to be honest, The Mummy doesn’t get a good wrap! Get it! Good wrap! There was my dad joke for the post but in all seriousness. When it comes to classic horror monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man and the Gill Man. The Mummy isn’t as respected as the others. I think it’s because he’s not as equally terrifying. He doesn’t drink blood. He won’t throw girls who can’t swim into a lake. He won’t eat people when the moon rises and he won’t try to kidnap a woman while she’s swimming. He doesn’t even cause terrible chaos like the invisible man or transform into a monster like Dr. Jekyll. What I mean is the mummy, at least the 1932 mummy played by Karloff, is less of a monster and more like… an evil warlock. That doesn’t really make him less terrifying. In fact, I could argue that Imhotep is a far more horrifying character than the other lot.
Think about Dracula and the rest of the crew. Every single one of them are only terrifying when on location of their victims. But in the Mummy, Imhotep displays his evil abilities from a distance. It’s so badass and dark that I would dare say it IS the darkest moments of the Universal Pictures. Sure the movie has this archaic timeless romance attached to it. But that is only to get the ladies in the seats. When Imhotep doesn’t get what he wants, he goes to his magic pool and will call upon his ancient spells to make someone have a heart attack! That is some hard core Harry Potter shit right there!
But even as a “monster” the mummy is terrifying and menacing. You have to give it Karloff in this movie. Sure he was just as scary looking as the Frankenstein monster, but in The Mummy; he is down right sinister. With that deep set of penetrating eyes and that upper/lower lip that institutes dominion over everything he stands before. When he speaks, it is wonderfully nerve-racking and only Karloff could have pulled it off. The guy is a force to be reckoned with! I think deep down, he scares me the most because while he may not physically kill you, deep down he is conjuring a curse to send your soul to the eternal flames of damnation.
But the thing is the Mummy, or more of the depiction of the mummy and what we think of the mummy today is completely created from the brief moment in the beginning of the film. The bandaged dead man appears for about sixty seconds in the film but is so awesome looking, that is laid claim to all other future depictions of the walking behemoth. Think about every other form of film that has the mummy in it.
He’s always the bandaged decrepit version! If Imhotep rose again, he would see what he has become and shake his head. But still, I get it. The wrapped up imagery is frightening and cryptic. But unfortunately the mummy would take on a less dominating roll because of this. He was more of a tool that others use instead of an individual set out to seek his own desires. They did the same thing to Frankenstein in later years actually!
1932’s The Mummy is one of the best of the Universal monster films. The tone and atmosphere of the sets are deep and entrancing. I find the calmness of the cinematography while close up to Imhotep’s face as he chants a curse to be wonderful and alluring. The film is a great fit in for the array of horror films that appeared in that era. While most films are gothic, dark and seeming to drip blood and violence. The Mummy is textually softer but dark. Deeper in its danger than a wolf man or Frankenstein. It is in this diverse selection that The Mummy spans the regions and realms of monsters. His appearance leaves us all a dire warning of respect for other cultures and respect for the past. I love this movie and proudly consider it one of the best of the Golden Age era. That is why I honor it on day five of my Horror Movie Marathon 2021.
Thanks For Reading!
If you would like to check out the past Horror Movie Marathon Day Five entries then click below.