An early Hammer horror effort, and the first of four in their “Mummy Cycle”, this one leaves me weak in the knees. The color is fabulous. The spooky-factor, perfect (although hardly “nerve-shattering shock!” as advertised on the poster). The ensemble cast, including Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, and George Pastell, is on point. The eyecandy – costume, studio sets, and the gorgeous Furneaux – exquisite.
There are liabilities: the blackface. The story. It isn’t that the story is poor, just clumsily told. For instance: there is an inexplicable three-year window of inactivity which is repeatedly referenced, but never satisfactorily accounted for. Also, we learn the mummy’s origins through a clumsy narrative – Cushing shares the legend of Princess Ananka’s death and interment to a peer. During an inspector’s series of interviews, previous minor characters get to share the screen and tell their bit again – in one case, for the third time. Furneaux, playing both the long-dead princess and Cushing’s early-20th century wife, is entirely wasted in the film, shown only a couple times so the mummy can try to carry her off at the end. Bereft entirely of humor – except for one drunk driving scene – the film lacks a little life.
But I DON’T CARE. The merits outweigh the problems. Also: there’s a great scene towards the end where the mysterious villain Mehemet Bey archly explains to our scientist how wrong-headed, arrogant, and ignorant the British are by marching into tombs and disrupting them. That was pretty satisfying!
Christopher Lee, as both a pre- and post-mummy Kharis, is relegated to acting with his eyes here, and this is enough. He is more than brutish monster – not bothering with menacing anyone, just smashing through a window and strangling your ass – because once he lays eyes on the woman he thinks is his princess, he becomes something else: a creature capable of love.
I ain’t gonna lie, I found it all a bit romantic.
Hammer Horror fans, Lee and Cushing fans, have to watch (or likely, re-watch) this film. A solid hit out of the park for anyone who loves 50s and 60s monster movies!