Hammer Films: “The Mummy” (1959)


I just can’t get all that psyched about mummies. The notion of a pharaoh’s curse is more interesting than actually seeing a mummy limping around in some scruffy bandages and strangling people. I’d like to see the “curse” as something more intangible that leads to inventive horror movie death scenes. Regardless, Hammer Films continued with their remakes of the classic monsters with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee starring again and Terence Young in the director’s chair again.

The films opens in 1895. Peter Cushing plays John Banning, who joins his father and uncle on an excavation of a tomb located in a mountainside. The filmmakers attempted to make Cushing appear as if he was young man right of university, but without much success. The tomb belongs to Ananka, High Priestess of the Temple of Karnak. John’s father Stephen (Felix Aylmer) encounters something in the tomb that no one else sees and is left in a catatonic state for the next three years.

Mehement Bay (George Partell), who is still sore about the Banning family desecrating the tomb of Ananka, uses the “Scroll of Life” to resurrect and command a mummy who emerges from a swamp. This mummy busts into a mental institution and kills Stephen. John does some research and the history of the mummy is revealed in a long flashback to the year 2000, B.C.. Here’s where Christopher Lee gets to have his face seen without all that heavy makeup as Kharis, High Priest of the Temple of Karnak. Ananka (Yvonne Furneaux), whom he loved despite it being forbidden, was taken deathly ill while on a pilgrimage. After her mummification, Kharis broke into her tomb, intent on resurrecting her. He was caught and his horrible punishment was to be mummified while still alive and cursed to guard the tomb of Ananka for all time.

Mehement Bay sends the mummy after John next. John’s wife Isobel is coincidentally a reincarnation of Ananka, also played by Yvonne Furneaux. The mummy is confused by Isobel’s presence and refuses to kill her even when ordered to do so by Mehement Bay. Mehement Bay then attempts to kill Isobel himself, but the mummy breaks him in half. The mummy takes Isobel with him back to the swamp. John leads a rescue party and the mummy is bombarded with gunfire. He sinks into the swamp, taking the Scroll of Life with him.

This film took the best elements of the first two Universal Studio mummy flicks, “The Mummy” and “The Mummy’s Hand,” so this is about as good as a mummy movie is going to get. Hammer Films made three more mummy films, but without Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.


About domcappelloblog

New York based screenwriter.

Posted on August 12, 2013, in Hammer Films, Horror and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Beyond the trite reincarnation aspect, which is quite wonderfully handled by Fisher at just the right moment, there’s an interesting tension to this film as Banning and his family are most certainly the villains of the piece. Despite having the supernatural weapon of a revived mummy at his disposal, Mehement Bay’s motives for his vengeful actions are entirely consistent with his religious beliefs, the reasoned actions of thoughtfully considered devotion (the nocturnal visit of Banning to Bay’s home is one of the best written in all of Hammer films) rather than the callous desecration of the tomb for purposes of fame and fortune (someone has to be paying the bills on all of those richly appointed manor houses) by the Banning clan. Even Kharis’ love struck reaction to Isobel is worlds away from the polite but rather distant manner in which she’s treated by Banning; until his possession of her is threatened and then he snaps into action as all good trophy seeking husbands do in British cinema.

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