When people think of ‘The Mummy’, they tend to think of the 1932 film starring Boris Karloff – well, sort of.
This was just one of several Mummy movies Universal churned out, but this one stands alone because, well, there’s just not a whole lot of mummy in it.
Oh, there IS a mummy, for a few minutes at the beginning of the flick, no doubt about that. Specifically, the mummy of Imhotep, who is indeed the major villain of the piece. The thing is, Imhotep doesn’t stay a mummy for very long! Once he’s resurrected by the Scroll of Toth, he am-scrays and makes himself scarce for years, then pops up as Ardath Bey, supposedly an old Egyptian fellow.
Yes, this is the movie those Brendan Fraser flicks were based on. We’ll get to that, briefly.
Really, it’s practically a remake of 1931′s ‘Dracula‘. Mostly the sane cast playing mostly the same roles, an ancient undead being messing about and causing trouble. See, Imhotep was mummified alive as punishment for attempting to resurrect Princess Ankh-es-en-Amon, and now he’s got archaeologists digging her up so he can use the Scroll to bring her back.
As luck would have it, there’s a lady present who just happens to be a dead ringer for the late Princess – what an amazing plot twist! You may recognize this concept from almost every vampire movie ever made, but in 1932, it was still fairly fresh. And like I said, ‘The Mummy’ was basically a rehash of the ‘Dracula’ movie, so I guess turnabout is fair play, why not?
Well, long story short, Imhotep is destroyed and everything works out just fine. So that’s nice.
As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, this was the early days of cinema, and apparently, bad guys stayed dead, even if they were supernatural, so Imhotep never cane back for a sequel. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t Mummy movies! Oh, gosh, no.
Enter Kharis, the mummy you’re REALLY thinking of when you think of the Mummy.
Kharis has a backstory remarkably like old Imhotep’s: the Princess he wanted to resuscitate is called Ananka and they use tana leaves instead of a scroll, but the basic concept is pretty much the same. In fact, they just used the same footage for the ancient Egypt stuff as the Karloff movie, except with new shots of Tom Tyler as Kharis!
Now, that is budget-conscious!
They made four of these. Yes, FOUR. ‘The Mummy’s Hand‘, ‘The Mummy’s Tomb‘, ‘The Mummy’s Ghost‘, and finally (and thankfully) ‘The Mummy’s Curse‘. And they’re all pretty much exactly the same story, except the intro gets longer for each one, because not only do they have to retell Kharis’s origin story, they also have to recap the events of the previous installment! In the days before home video, this was probably very helpful: it caught you up on what’s been going on so far. Actually, it really doesn’t matter what order you watch these in, because they are ALWAYS going to spend a huge amount of time just going over the story of the earlier movies, so you’ll be able to keep up just fine.
In ‘The Mummy’s Hand’, cowboy actor Tom Tyler plays Kharis, but for the rest of the series, the Mummy is portrayed by – you guessed it – Lon Chaney Junior.
Kharis was surprisingly dangerous, considering the fact that he was so darn slow. It seems like he’d be pretty easy to get away from – just walk briskly – but he managed to rack up a pretty decent body count nevertheless.
Now, Egyptians did not believe that mummies would be up and about. In fact, even if you DID somehow wake one up, they were wrapped up pretty darn tight, so it would just lay there. The idea of walking mummies caught fire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially after the much-reported unearthing of King Tut’s tomb. But the movies have cemented the Mummy firmly in the ranks of classic monsters. Kharis (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) shows up on Halloween decorations and costumes, along with Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man and all the rest.
Curiously, when Universal started teaming up their monsters, the poor Mummy was nowhere to be seen. Dracula, check, Frankenstein’s Monster, yeah, Wolf Man, uh-huh. Mad scientists, hunchbacks, ditto. But no Mummy! But really, when you have Frankenstein’s Monster there, the Mummy seems kind of redundant, I suppose.
Even when Abbott and Costello met the monsters, Kharis was conspicuously absent.
Of course, Bud and Lou did eventually meet the Mummy. Well, not THE Mummy, A Mummy. In this case, a mummy. For no reason whatsoever, the mummy they had to deal with was called ‘Klaris’. Because you know, that’s funny(?) And as always, once Abbott and Costello get involved with a monster, that monster’s franchise is dead as disco.
Hammer Studios, of course, brought back the monsters in the 50′s and 60′s. They soon partnered with Universal, which meant they could use characters and such from the old films. So when they made THEIR film ‘The Mummy‘ in 1959, it was good old Kharis again! It starred Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, because OF COURSE it did. Hammer made a slew of Mummy movies, but each one was completely different, with different characters, different mummies and different storylines. Well, not THAT different. I mean, it’s always find a mummy, somehow it gets brought to life, goes on a killing spree then gets put down. But you know, still a bit of variety in there.
Then in the 90′s, Universal did a remake of ‘The Mummy‘, with Imhotep again. Sadly, Kharis was left behind. But I’d like to think old Kharis is still out there somewhere, lurching about and occasionally strangling anyone slow enough for him to catch.
‘The Mummy‘ (1932) is available for streaming viewing on Netflix.