It’s Halloween again, and time for a quick post about my favorite monster movie, the 1932 version of “The Mummy” with Boris Karloff.
This scares the hell out of me from start to finish. I love the opening credits—so creaky and so typical of early sound films. The Great Pyramid and Sphinx seem to rotate on a turntable, and then we get the opening theme. When I was a kid I actually thought this was called “Theme from the Mummy”—it wasn’t until years later that I learned it was Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” And then the fun starts with leather-skinned Ardeth Bey (Boris himself, but why does the character have a Turkish name?) directing the British expedition to Ankh-es-en-Amon’s tomb, where the mummy of Imhotep is found. And then…and then…the classic scene where the young twit of an archeologist opens the forbidden casket (you fool!), retrieves the Scroll of Life and begins to translate…..
My absolute candidate for the Best Maniacal Laughter ever captured on film.
Then it’s on to the half-Egyptian Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann) going into a trance, and things begin to get campy as well as scary. Zita was a Broadway actress married to John Houseman, of all people, when she made this movie, and she didn’t last long in Hollywood. But she does a great job here, and her visit with Ardeth Bey, complete with a misty voyage to the past, is the high point of the film, though I shudder to think what happens to her pet dog. The flashback is eerie for a number of reasons: the silent footage of the Princess’s burial squad being speared to death, the Osiris statute coming to life and condemning Imhotep for attempting to revive his dead beloved, and most horrifically, the terrified look in his eyes as he’s being wrapped up, mummy-style. And let’s not forget the end of the film, when he cracks apart and molders away into dust.
Universal trashed their own creation by turning the Mummy into an instrument of revenge in a string of Grade-Z films in the 1940’s. He was animated by tanna leaves and had zero mystique in my book. It wasn’t until we got the 1999 remake with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz that Imhotep got the zing back into his bandaged step and regained the qualities that made him famous.
Happy Halloween, all!