Today’s review is something that you either have seen or you know of the many remakes..
I’m not sure if this is available on streaming services right now but thankfully, I had this on vhs in my collection, still wrapped in plastic.
I’ve been on a recurring journey of exploring horror films that are either black & white, considered classics or before the 70s. At least this year so far, about 6 to 7 films fit this category. I’ve been into watching older films and I’m not entirely sure why but that’s okay. I’m still getting the foundations of horror checked off my list.
You know what this movie is by the title of this post so let’s discuss the 1932 Universal picture, The Mummy.
This movie is more gothic than horror. It’s more fantastical and supernatural than the expected horror. There aren’t really scares, it’s all about the atmosphere and building up the tension. We are watching Ardeth Bay (Karloff) come back to life and every time he is on screen, you just anticipate the energy shifting and that’s the magic of this film. It isn’t the setting of Egypt or the costume design, this movie comes down to two things: atmosphere and the talents of Karloff and Zita Johann (Helen).
They carry this film in my opinion. The other actors, very meh, forgettable almost but it’s these two who intrigued me the most throughout the film. Karloff in makeup and special effects doesn’t take away from those sunken eyes that he has or how his voice and poise through the film is a mix of intimidation, mystery and intrigue. Johann as Helen provides a great balance. She is the character we are to sympathize the most and there’s a slight hinge of helplessness she gives. She is also quick witted, smart, beautiful and for some odd reason, a love interest to the character Frank but I feel she’s too good for him. He is not on a level of what she needs in my opinion and sorry Frank, but you cannot make someone love you.
Random side note to the review, I also like the title card sequence.
I also found it very cool at how similar but different this film is from the 1999 remake. The ideas of immortality, set in Egypt, a mummy is resurrected and looking for his love who was the princess, all that is present in both films. The biggest difference is the remake is very action packed, filled with special effects and explosions and humor and great talent in front and behind the camera and the movie takes you on a big ride that you come back for in the sequel, The Mummy Returns. The original 1932 film is more subtle, a smaller cast, limited budget, a simpler but tighter story and short. The remake is more of a build up and the original is immediately boom, we found a sarcophagus, read the incantation, he comes back to life and the second act after 15-20 minutes in.
The only critical piece is a) we have European actors playing Egyptian characters and b) some of the background characters are painted from the waist up either dark brown, black or gold, I can’t fully tell but it doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe I need to research it more, could just be for “aesthetic” purposes but the way it is on screen did make me question what exactly I was looking at. It could be nothing or it can be something but that’s about it.
The Mummy stars Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Edward von Sloan and Arthur Byron and is directed by Karl Freund. I will give this pre-code horror film a 4.5 out of 5. It’s a foundation of horror film, it’s a huge part of the Universal Horror/Monsters “universe” and it’s a must watch.