DECEMBER 16, 2008
When I saw the 1999 remake of The Mummy, I enjoyed it, but was a bit bummed that it was not even close to a horror movie like the original. However, I said this without actually having SEEN the original, which I assumed was about a guy running around with bandages, killing folks in London or something. So now that I have seen it, I have to admit: Stephen Sommers made the right choice to go all out adventure with his film, because as a horror film, the concept doesn’t really work for me (the one I made up in my head was way better!).
First off though, let me make something clear: Karloff is great in the role, in fact maybe even better than he is in Frankenstein, simply because he has more to do and is playing someone I can identify with a bit more (I believe in reincarnation more than I believe in stitching a dude together and electrocuting him until he wakes up). But a great performance doesn’t mean the movie itself is great, or even good.
The main problem with the movie is the complete inertness of it all. Nothing fucking happens, and when it does it’s off-screen or skipped over entirely. The finale comes out of nowhere because of this: our heroine is drawn out of her home by the hypnotic lure of the monster (the movie owes more than just a little to Dracula), and then all of a sudden she is decked out in Egyptian garb, convinced she really is "Anck-es-en-Amon" and not the modern day woman she was just seconds before. Huh? It’s like there is an entire reel missing.
Plus, for a villain, he is pretty careless with his attacks. He takes out the woman’s boyfriend, presumably because he is the only one that can pose any serious threat to his plans, yet fails to actually kill him. This allows the guy to wake up and mount a traditional rescue, but even that doesn’t actually happen. Instead, a statue waves its arm around a bit, which causes Karloff to disintegrate for some reason, and the movie ends 10 seconds later. I don’t think the girl even kisses her should-be-dead-boyfriend, a traditional end of the movie moment I assumed would be the only reason he survived in the first place.
Another problem: it’s simply not scary, or even suspenseful. Imhotep is often seen chatting with the other characters, and doesn’t seem to want to cause them any real harm, which means I didn’t really fear for any of their lives. And his motive is hardly a terrifying concept – he simply wants to nail his old girlfriend. If it wasn’t for all of the Dracula swipes (even the Swan Lake music pops up) and Karloff’s Jack Pierce makeup, I wouldn’t even consider this a horror movie. A kind of nice love story maybe, but not horror.
Luckily for Universal, I’m in the minority, so they have assembled a nice package for fans to enjoy. There’s a 30 minute retrospective about the film’s origins, which also has a lengthy section about lead actress Zita Johann, and a rather dismissive account of the non-sequel Mummy films that Universal made in the 40s (this one never had a legit followup). Newsflash – when you are selling a set with 5 movies, try not to trash the other 4 on the disc for the 1st one. Kind of sets me up for disappointment, and I’m already far off the Mummy bandwagon. There is also a commentary by film historian Paul Jensen. Like Tim Lucas on the Bava films, he sounds like he is reading a Wikipedia entry at gunpoint, and spends a lot of time simply narrating the action (and at one point apparently gets bored and begins describing another movie entirely, in full detail), but there’s still a lot of good trivia to learn while listening (that “missing reel” I mentioned is explained: apparently there was a longer sequence, which he describes, but never says why it’s not in the film itself). The film’s trailer and a collection of images round out the disc (the four other films are smushed together on disc 2). The transfer is also better than many of the other 1930’s classics from Universal (in particular Frankenstein, which was pretty lousy if I recall), though I fail to understand why the brand new Universal logo (with the website URL and everything) is shown in black and white, as if someone would be tricked into thinking it’s part of the original print.
One last note – there’s an actor in the movie named Noble Johnson. Is it just me, or is that the classiest porn name of all time?
What say you?