The film begins during a field expedition in 1921 Egypt (a year prior to Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun). On behalf of the British Museum, Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) and his small team uncover the tomb of Imhotep (Boris Karloff), a high priest buried alive for sacrilege 3700 years earlier. That night, a careless archeologist reads the Scroll of Thoth aloud, resurrecting Imhotep, who scuffs off into the night, his linen dragging behind.
Dissolve to ten years later--enough time for Whemple’s son, Frank (David Manners) to be handed the torch as head archeologist and Imhotep (now living as Egyptian contemporary Ardath Bey) to master the English language. With the help of Bey, the team uncovers the tomb of Princess Anck-es-en-Amon (owl-eyed Zita Johann), once the lover of Imhotep and now reincarnated as Helen Grosvenor (“Have we not met before, Miss Grosvenor?”). To reunite with his lost love, Bey must mummify Helen and for kicks, claim the lives of most of Whemple’s crew. And still, we find ourselves sympathizing with a monster.
Boris Karloff, billed on posters and lobby cards as ‘Karloff the Uncanny,’ is the apparent star of the show, but his enduring performance is uncanny only through the work of the second star, Jack Pierce, Universal’s chief makeup artist who created the iconic looks of Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf Man, and over a hundred others in his 35-year career.
But how does The Mummy stack amongst the other Universal Monster movies? Though not as heartpounding as The Phantom of the Opera, as quotable as Dracula, or as exciting as my personal favorite The Wolf Man, The Mummy (the first original story in the series, though you’d be fooling yourself to ignore the rips from Dracula) lives today as an outstanding example of the early days of horror (courtesy of top-quality set design and cinematography) and the co-inhabitance of the fright flick and the love story.
Feature Commentary by Film Historian Paul M. Jensen: Jensen offers a scholarly view on The Mummy, offering facts on production, the stars, and much, much more. Jensen’s obvious reading from a script is a bit distracting, but not enough so to skip this commentary.
Feature Commentary by Rick Baker, Scott Essman, Steven Haberman, Bob Burns, and Brent Armstrong: The five gather for an enthusiastic commentary that serves as a great contrast to the previous track.
Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed (30:11): This in-depth 1999 featurette takes a look at the backstory of The Mummy, with notes on the story’s origins and inspirations, makeup, casting of Karloff and Johann (and her rocky relationship with director Freund), and the film’s legacy.
Posters & Stills and a Trailer Gallery.
He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce (25:00): This tribute to the makeup legend gathers experts and fans to discuss his inspirations (The Phantom of the Opera), methods (many still used today), most famous work (the Universal monsters), and more.
Unraveling the Legacy of The Mummy (8:07): This clip-heavy featurette offers a look at 1932’s The Mummy and the 1999 remake (and sequel).
Universal Horror (1:35:16): Through interviews and clips, this 1998 documentary (narrated by Kenneth Branagh) is an examination of the studio’s early horror work. Segments devote themselves to actors, directors, and individual films (with special focus on the Universal Monsters). Though rehashed from previous DVDs, the feature is still an excellent addition.