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13 October 2013

The Mummy - Now available on double-play BluRay

Hammer Films continue their special edition releases which this time sees them teaming up with Icon Distribution for an updated examination of 1959’s The Mummy. This was to be the third adaptation of the classic Universal monster movies, for which they had acquired the rights to use in the late 1950s. Successful interpretations of Dracula (AKA: Horror of Dracula 1958 - read review) and The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) had stabilized Hammer’s precarious financial situation and allowed them to breathe easy for a spell. The Mummy was based on a script by Jimmy Sangster, who had previously written the adaptations of Stoker and Shelly’s respective work, and who heralded it as a great adventure story. There is indeed a slight departure of style with The Mummy, for it takes on the feel of a Saturday Matinee adventure; albeit one which descends into the throes of Gothic Horror that Hammer are so well renowned for. Sangster took aspects from several Universal features, including The Mummy‘s Hand (1940) and The Mummy’s Ghost (1944), creating a wonderful father / son dynamic which serves as the crux of the feature.

As with all Hammer releases, The Mummy is a lovingly assembled collection of new and exclusive material, all of which serves to accentuate the importance and significance of the British studio. Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby are names which should be familiar to long standing Diabolique readers (see our Peter Cushing Centennial Issue for an interview with them both which pertains to the Lionsgate Dracula release from earlier this year), and it is a pleasure to discover that they have played a significant part in the construction of this double play set.

The Film

Joseph Whemple (Raymond Huntley), and his associate Stephen Banning (Felix Aylmer) are archaeologists who are leading an expedition on the search for the lost tomb of an Egyptian royal, known as Princess Ananka. Accompanying the group is Banning’s son, John (Peter Cushing), who is temporarily incapacitated due to a broken leg. They discover what they believe to be the 4000 year old tomb and, despite protests from a local man named Mehemet Bey (George Pastell), they proceed. Inside the tomb, a scroll is found and foolishly read aloud. This seemingly innocuous act results in dire consequences for all involved, as the guardians of the dead are brought back to life through such means.

Back in England several years after the initial events, Stephen Banning has been institutionalized following a severe nervous breakdown, which the doctors attribute to a stroke. Whilst visiting his father, John is informed that the high priest of Karnak, Kharis (Christopher Lee) was summoned when Stephen read the scroll of life which he found in the tomb. John, whose leg is now permanently damaged, after not attending to it properly amidst the excitement of the expedition, puts his father’s claims down to dementia.

Bey subsequently returns to England and summons Kharis, whose body had been lost in a boggy swamp. The creature arises and sets about disposing of those who have desecrated the tomb of his great love, Princess Ananka. Emaciated, tall and rotting, the creature attacks Stephen Banning, who has since been allocated to a padded cell, strangling him to death with a single hand.

John is unhappy with the verdict which is decreed in relation to his father’s death and sets out to investigate (eliciting fond memories of Cushing’s run as Sherlock Holmes). His wife, Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux) bears a stunning resemblance to Ananka, which will play a pivotal role in the thrilling climax. It transpires that Bey is manipulating Kharis for his own nefarious means and a tense and shocking confrontation takes place between all involved.

Extras

This is where things get delightfully juicy. There are a magnificent range of documentaries included in this release. Jewel of the crown is a 28 minute documentary about the making of The Mummy, entitled Unwrapping The Mummy. This not only features archive interviews with Sangster and Carreras, but also goes to great length to explain the mummification process and Egyptian ideology behind the story. The Hammer Rep Company is a wonderful insight into the character actors who frequented the productions on a regular basis, presented by the enigmatic Hammer authority Jonathan Rigby (who also provides the film’s commentary along with Marcus Hearn).

A full feature film is also included in the package, Terence Fisher’s Stolen Face (1952) one of his earlier crime dramas. The fate of Bray Studios, home of Hammer for many years, is examined in Memories of Hammer, which reveals the integral role which the London based studios had in the Hammer legacy and how uncertainty and neglect leave it in an unenviable and dilapidated state today.

Oliver Reed narrates the full episode of Hammer Stars: Peter Cushing, which is an entertaining and notable episode of an archived TV show. A promo reel and PDF booklet by Hammer Archivist Robert J.E. Simpson make up the bookends of this impressive assemblance of Mummy-related goodies.

The Bottom Line

A visually rich and sumptuous film in which harsh reds blend and sickly greens with yellow hues to permeate the screen, adding a vivid and tangible sense of adventure to the story. Fisher controls the performances remarkably, as he did in Dracula. Sangster’s clipped and direct method of scriptwriting suits the mood perfectly. Lee, placed at what some would regard as a disadvantage, draws from his early training as a mime artist to evoke pathos in his role as the monster; with torment and anguish peering out from his bandaged visage.

The Mummy is a gem within the Hammer crown. It incorporates a sense of adventure and classicism which allow it to transcend the perceived hokiness of the monster. Often regarded as the least memorable of the three big monster features, The Mummy, when given the opportunity to shine on its own, as it does with this release, may change the minds of certain naysayers, whilst simultaneously winning some new fans along the way.

Film ****

Extras *****


Colin McCracken for Diaboligue Magazine

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