The Mummy

Paul Yim Paul Yim: (paulyim-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-07-12 00:12:35

The Mummy - Rank B

The Mummy, starring the uncanny Boris Karloff, is not your typical horror genre movie. Yes, there's an ancient mummy that rises from an unearthed Egyptian tomb to wreak havoc and mayhem upon an unsuspecting, fragile mortal world; yes, The Mummy is a primeval embodiment of wicked desire enthroned in the still-heart of an undead fiend; and, yes, he's wrapped in decrepit, ages-old bandages – but that's not all. No sir. This movie is set apart from most B horror movies of the time because it is – dare I say it – understated.

The movie's success is primarily due to the immortal Boris Karloff's restrained performance. That man could convey the most primal of human failings with a simple gesture. His most famous performance was, of course, as Frankenstein's monster where he evoked both sympathy and utter revulsion and horror all in the same scene. As The Mummy he is both human and preternatural which delivers a kind of creepiness all its own.

The movie suffers from its own formula for success, however. Released in 1932, just one year after the release of Dracula, the movie sports movie conventions so similar to Dracula that if you were to splice scenes from one to the other you'd hardly be able to tell the difference: the crusty but benign undead hunter and all-around expert on the occult is Dr. Muller, this time, instead of Professor Van Helsing; the handsome young love interest is actually played by the same actor in both movies (David Manners), a talisman of Isis renders The Mummy's powers ineffective a la the cross, both undead villains (another similarity) use the power of hypnotic suggestion to force mortals to do their bidding, and both villains seek a long lost love in the form of a mortal woman. And, as you can imagine, much of the dialogue is the same.

So what makes this movie so different from all the others in the genre if it is, in fact, almost an identical clone of Dracula? Formulaic though it may be, one cannot deny its power and influence on the genre. Whereas Dracula had a medieval castle and was viscerally connected to his undead birthplace, The Mummy is not tied down to such laws of metaphysics. He can even reach out with an incorporeal hand, stretch across time and space, and crush the life from a mortal form – truly, death by remote. Dracula would be obliterated in sunlight and crosses made him run like a little cunt. Not so The Mummy. He had no such weaknesses to slow him down in his unholy quest for everlasting love. He was a virtual colossus of power that would not be denied, and the only thing in the known cosmos that could stop him were the gods who had cursed him in the first place. Compared to this kind of villain, Dracula almost seems like a pansy. All villains should be this adamantine in seeming invulnerability. When the hero says, "How the hell are we going to stop this thing?" We should be perplexed right along with him.

Another major difference is the one found in the two respective leading actors. Bela Lugosi was all exaggerated movement and lispy delivery of dialogue. Boris Karloff, on the other hand, was carefully measured economy of movement and of words. He was all of 45 when the picture was released but you would be hard pressed to see him as anything under 90 in the movie. He truly entered the skin of Im-ho-tep, a.k.a. The Mummy, and was no more.

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