THE MUMMY (UNIVERSAL LEGACY SERIES)
Reviewed by: Dave Murray
Karl W. Freund
What's it about
Hot on the heels of the discovery of King Tut's tomb, archaeologists dig up the mummified corpse of Egyptian high priest Imhotep. Resurrected by the scroll of Thoth, and masquerading as the mysterious benefactor Ardeth Bey, Imhotep begins his search for one woman: the reincarnation of his lost forbidden love, who will be the unwilling vessel for her resurrected soul!
Is it good movie?
What can I say, it's one of the classic pantheon of Universal horror films. While not as technically dazzling as it's contemporaries, The Mummy is more of an exercise in well written story and creeping dread. Sure, the makeup effects of Peter Freil are nothing short of amazing (as in every movie he worked on), but it's the character of Imhotep that drives this understated and disturbing tale. Boris Karloff is one hell of a mighty screen presence, and this being his second most famous role (after the Frankenstein Monster of course), we are getting him in his prime, and in all of his creepy glory. His distinctive voice dominates the entire picture. Most of his more notable roles don't feature him speaking, which is odd because his is a voice that fans most associate as being the quintisential "horror voice". I don't know whether it comes from years of watching his vocal rendition of The Grinch, or from the numerous classic readings I've heard him do, but his voice has always struck a chord with me, and of course it's always filled me with crap-my-pants dread. That coupled with that intense stare (used in this movie to great effect) and an inimicable amount of on screen talent make Karloff a legend to not only horror fans, but to film lovers in general. For anyone who has not seen this master at work in this movie, then I would suggest that you do so now.
The story is a simple one, but well told and evenly paced. The scene when the mummy wakes up is probably one of the more unsettling sequences in a Universal monster feature. From the poor assistant laughing with madness, to the single shot of the mummy's tattered wrappings being dragged out of the tomb, it's an awesomely constructed shot. Using only a handful of sets and a heavy amount of atmospheric lighting, the movie is like a slow boil thriller stage play. And when Karloff reappears as the creepy benefactor Ardeth Bey, you just know that bad shit is coming. The flashback scenes to when Imhotep was entombed alive for loving the Pharaoh's daughter, and the look of sheer terror on Karloff's face as he is wrapped, are some of the most memorable scenes, for me anyway, of any movie from this time period. Cinematographer turned director Karl Freund created a movie that not only tells a chilling tale with minimal production that rests solely on the weight of the story and the acting, but he also gave us a singularly impressive film that clearly influenced hundreds of movies since 1932, including the big budget, effects heavy 1999 remake.
Successful enough to warrant 4 sequels, and good enough to birth hundreds of imitators, The Mummy is a simple but visually stunning classic that sees renewed life in this new Universal Legacy Series. Historically overshadowed by its own contemporaries from the group of classic Universal monsters, and even by it's more recent remake and the subsequent sequels, it's awesome to finally see such a pristine restored version of this movie. Beloved by horror fans, film history buffs and movie lovers alike, this is a brilliant movie that accomplished so much from so little, mostly on the shoulders of one of th genre's most enduring icons. Awesome movie, and it really is a killer addition to this DVD series.
Video / Audio
Video: Fullscreen - 1.33:1. That's the beauty of DVD. Here's a movie made on graiy filmstock 76 years ago, and today it looks pristine and clean as a fresh print. Nice restoration!
Audio: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono) and subtitles in English, Spanish and French. The sound is clear and crisp, and the deep bass tones of Karloff's voice come through with chilling effect.
On the first disc there are Trailers of all 5 Universal classic mummy movies, as well as a Poster and Still Gallery which includes promo materials from the original release. There is a short making-of documentary, Mummy Dearest, which details how this classic film was made, and how the story was told simply and effectively through Karloff's haunted performance. The disc is rounded out with two Audio Commentaries, the first one including special effects icon Rick Baker, along with Scott Essman, Steven Haberman, Rob Burns and Brent Armstrong. While it is interesting to listen too, the real treat comes with the second commentary by film historian Paul Jensen. While this could have come of as a dry academic lecture, it is a fascination look into the place this film has in cinema history, and well worth the listen.
Disc 2 has three documentaries. The first one can be found on this and the 2-disc special ediion releases of the remake The Mummy from 1999 and its sequel, The Mummy Returns. It's the eight minute piece "Unraveling the Legacy of The Mummy", which looks at the evolution of the Universal franchise over the last 75 years. This is followed by "He Who Made Monsters", a 25 minute look at the art and effects of monster makeup man Jack Pierce. His iconic makeup for the classic Universal monsters is still revered today, and the level of detail and his passion to the craft have inspired generations of monster makers. The final piece, the feature length "Universal Monsters", is narrated by Kenneth Branagh, and it details the history not only of the Universal horror series, but also the origins of the horror genre on film. It's the real gem of this DVD release, and it's also a fascinating must-see feature to cap off this essential set.
While not appreciated by modern audiences as much as Dracula or Frankenstein, the influence that The Mummy had on the horror genre, and on atmospheric filmmaking in general, is undeniable. From the singularly inventive lighting, to the simple yet well told story, to the incredible effects, to the historic performance of the great Boris Karloff, this movie defines the term classic. Even the glaring and often hilarious mistakes about Egyptian history and mythology (damn people in the 1920's and 30's really didn't have a clue about history), are part of the charm of this movie. While the remake tops it in terms of effects, action, story depth and fun, this original mummy movie slays its followers on talent, mood and simply by being the first in a long line of "living dead" flicks to scare the pants off of us all.