Octoblur 2015 - #20: The Mummy (1959)

The Mummy (1959)

Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by dorrk
17 October 2015

The Mummy (1959): Reviewed

As a horror fan, I haven't been particularly good at exploring the classic horror movies of the 1930s-1950s, including both Universal's pioneering monster movies and the English Hammer Studios' revivals of those franchises starting in the late 1950s. While I have a great fondness for those monsters and the legacies of those productions, I've only seen a handful of movies from each era, and have yet to delve very deep into all of the sequels and spin-offs.

The one monster of which I am almost completely ignorant is the Mummy. the only version of that story I had seen all the way through is the 1999 remake starring Brendan Fraser, which I rewatched recently and found very manic and dull. My favorite mummies — from The Monster Squad and the great Amazing Stories episode "Mummy Daddy" — tend to be comical in short subjects or as bit-part players. So I was both intrigued and a little wary going into Hammer's 1959 The Mummy, and came out appreciating its mild thrills and decent production, but didn't find much to love about it.

A team of English archeologists (including Peter Cushing) uncover the hidden tomb of a lost Egyptian princess and, despite warnings to keep away from that sacred site, they inadvertently revive a mummified high priest (Christopher Lee) who was assigned to protect her in the afterlife. Years later, a follower of the princess' obscure sect (Mehemet Bey) brings the mummy to England to exact punishment on the desecrators. Like most Hammer revivals, this version of The Mummy is not a direct remake of Universal's 1932 original, but rather picks bits and pieces from several different mummy movies to create a version that is simultaneously new and derivative.

One of the big problems with the concept of "The Mummy" as a monster is how slow and easily avoidable it is — imagine if a zombie movie featured only a single zombie — and Hammer does not do much to address that issue. Bringing the story from Egypt to England robs the movie of potential to use labyrinthine pyramids or other exotic trappings as a source of atmosphere and and danger, and at no point are additional magic or curses introduced to augment the mummy's threat. Lee looks great as the lumbering Kharis, but all his victims need to do is walk away at a brisk pace (if they would only try it!). Cushing, who can sometimes come across as an ineffectual fop in Hammer's output, is pretty good in The Mummy, especially in a scene during which he taunts Bey with the insignificance of his object of worship. Yvonne Furneaux (from Repulsion) and Eddie Byrne co-star in very typical roles.

There is an easygoing antiquated charm to The Mummy — which is maybe not what one might want from a horror film — that keeps it engaging, but it never achieves the same level of gothic menace that makes Hammer's fantastic 1958 hit Horror of Dracula still effective today.

Trailer for The Mummy (1959)

The Mummy (1959) movie stills gallery