Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Mummy


Since I covered Universal’s The Mummyyesterday, I thought the Hammer version from 1959 would be an interesting choice for comparison. Upon viewing, I note that, like the Frankenstein series, Hammer takes its update into a startlingly different direction which does not quite resonate as well as Universal’s Frankenstein or Dracula films.

The plot is remarkably similar to the 1932 original. An ancient Egyptian has the hots for a woman destined to be given to the main Egyptian god. Being the devout sort of guy who does not want to tick off the powers that be, he lets his love go until after her death because he thinks her obligation will have ended by then. ‘til death do we part and all that good stuff. It turns out he is wrong. When he is caught in her tomb trying to bring her back to life, he is buried alive to serve as her protector for all eternity.

The film shift gears from the original when the mummy is revived in modern day London to be used as an instrument of revenge by an Egyptian angry that British archeologists have robbed a tomb of sacred artifacts. Whereas Boris Karloff was far more subtle, spending most of the original film as the sinister Imhotep going about his plan, This mummy is Jason Vorhees’ grand pappy. He beats down doors, snaps bones, and generally messes people up.

Is it fun to watch? Yes. Is there anything particularly interesting about it? No, not unless you count the subtle attempt to mirror the mummy to the hero, played, of course, by the great Peter Cushing. The mummy has a slow, painful gait. So does Cushing.. His is the result of suffering a broken leg which was not set properly. But the dichotomy does not go any deeper than that, so whatever the filmmakers were aiming for, they missed as far as I am concerned. Perhaps a wiser head than mine can decipher the nuance.

Speaking of nuance, Christopher Lee does a good job with playing the mummy. He is essentially a silent golem with his face mostly covered by bandages, so it is not easy to give the character a personality as he goes on his killing spree, but Lee pulls it off.

Alas, Lee is no Karloff. That is not a knock on Lee. No one is Karloff when it comes to portraying monster. I said above universal and hammer took their franchises in different directions in order to distinguish their brands. Hammer’s mummy is the least of the franchises to me. For Hammer, Frankenstein is more a psychological study of Dr. Frankenstein. For Dracula, Lee creates a dark character often more frightening than Bela Lugosi. But the mummy turns out to be a less bloody precursor the the Friday the 13th/Halloween/Nightmare on Elm Street flicks on the late ’70’s-80’s. Ther movie does not rely as much on gore, but there is not as much cleverness in it, either.

The Mummy is fun to watch, but disappointing compared to what Hammer has done with other franchises.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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