Monday, October 23, 2017

What I like about the Hammer 1959 Mummy movie is it takes disparate parts of the less-than-great Universal Mummy sequels, applying them piecemeal into one complete plot and it works. I have always enjoyed watching this film. I would like to have watched this directly after the Universal Mummy movies last week but time didn’t permit and I was busy during the weekend. Lee might have been very uncomfortable in the costume but I think he was at his most imposing when covered in mud. That touch at the beginning when he breaks into the padded cell of Cushing’s father (who doesn’t heed George Pastell’s Mehemet Bey warning of retribution for desecrating the tomb of Ananka), mud-covered and Lee’s menacing, cold eyes really was my favorite attack sequence. Of course, Lee just breaking through doors and windows with his imposing height and fierce presence is incredible. Cushing is the son of a renowned archeologist who scoffed at Bey’s warning of revenge for desecrating the tomb, his role a bit less significant (he’s still co-star with Lee, but Pastell does well in the supporting part of the operations behind Mummy Kharis) but still just fine. He realizes that his wife (played by Yvonne Furneaux) looks like Ananka from photographs of her likeness after digging up Egyptian findings and taking them to a British Museum (infuriating Pastell) and uses that to his advantage. No matter what power Pastell might have, it doesn’t compare to the vision of Ananka when Furneaux has her hair down. I know many feel the Egyptian sets are less than satisfactory and look very studio fake, but  Lee fits the bill and the plot is simple enough not to get too difficult. Again, the bits and pieces from Universal Mummy films gleaned for this film do frame fitly together I felt.

IMDb review from July, 2008

An archaeological dig unearths the ancient Egyptian burial tomb of High Preistess Princess Ananka. Inside a secret burial chamber is the mummified corpse of Kharis(Christopher Lee)imprisoned for blaspheming the laws of their god in his attempts to bring Ananka back from the dead using the sacred Scroll of Life, because of his devoted love for her. John Banning's(Peter Cushing)father, Stephen(Felix Aylmer)doesn't heed the warnings of Mehemet Bey(George Pastell)regarding the desecration of his Princess' tomb. Stephen, who removes the Scroll of Life from it's place, doesn't realize that in doing so opens the burial chamber door. Making matters even worse, Stephen reads text from the scroll which bring life back to Kharis as he exits his chamber. While Stephen is overcome with hysteria at what he just saw, Mehemet Bey takes command of the scroll and Kharis, vowing to kill the three who entered the sacred tomb of his goddess, removing precious artifacts that belong where they were placed.Returning to England, John's father slowly awakens from his emotional plight while resting in a nursing home, to inform his son of Kharis. Thinking his father still ill, John is concerned but bothered by such a statement. When placed in a padded cell after a frightened outburst, Stephen is attacked and killed by Kharis, ordered by Mehemet Bey, when the mummy intruded through a heavily shielded window. Later, John's uncle is strangled right before his eyes after Kharis explodes through his front door. John realizes that his father wasn't just raving madly, and faces the fact that he's next to die. While his testimony of his uncle's killer being in a "comatose state of living death" to the police makes him sound loony, John will attempt to face off with Kharis, only to be saved by his wife, Isobel(Yvonne Furneaux)who is the spitting image of Ananka. After the attack, Inspector Mulrooney(Eddie Byrne) will inform John about an Egyptian who lives not too far from the asylum where his father was murdered. Mulrooney tells him of a crate falling into a bottomless bog, carrying "relics" to the home of this Egyptian, for which John will take it upon himself to meet the man who is indeed Mehemet Bey. Bey will this time follow Kharis to the home of John in one last attempt to fulfill the goal of repairing the honor of his people for the desecration.

It was finally cool for me to sit down and check out Hammer's take on the Universal Mummy series. Obviously, being a major Cushing fan, I enjoyed his starring as the archaeologist, with a bum knee he didn't get repaired, having to use his wits to defeat the much stronger undead foe. I was equally pleased with Pastell as Cushing's true foe, Mehemet Bey, who is actually controlling Kharis as a killing device. There's a great scene where John and Bey meet at the Egyptian's English home..John attempts to ruffle Bey's feathers by attacking, in a wonderfully sophisticated manner, his beliefs which will incite his anger leading him to act against his nemesis, exposing his guilt. While the sets and props used for the Egyptian tomb and people look like exactly that(..which, unlike purists, didn't bother me the slightest, understanding Hammer's limited budget), I found Lee(cutting that tall imposing figure as he bursts through doors and windows, strangling smaller victims with ease)as the mummy, "swathed in bandages" and covered in bog mud, quite effective. Sure Jack Pierce's detailed mummy wraps for Karloff are superior to those in Hammer's film, but Lee still looks quite menacing(..and, a credit to his performance, where we can see only his eyes, he brings extra emotion during the scenes where Kharis sees Isobel, obeying her commands, the presence of love and sadness echoing what he felt as a dashing Egyptian servant so long ago)and his bandages are decent enough. It's a tall order for anyone to match the Pierce design, whether it be werewolf or mummy, so I cut Hammer some slack. As far as the premise for this "re-imagining", basically Hammer takes the best elements from Universal's Mummy series, combining them to create this entertaining effort. You have Kharis being controlled by a shadowy Egyptian hiding in secrecy as he orders his weapon of destruction towards "unbelievers" who dare desecrate the tombs of his people's civilizations. You have John's wife Isobel baring a striking resemblance to Ananka which the archaeologist will use to save himself from harm. You have the Mummy killing members of an archaeological dig with English police baffled as to what kind of fiend could commit such murderous deeds. But, ultimately, the success can be contributed to the big three, Cushing/Lee/Fisher joining forces once again bringing us yet another thrilling horror tale. The film provides a flashback to Ananka's burial and Kharis' fate at trying to resurrect her(..with us getting to see a human Lee in Egyptian garb and face paint)as John reads through his father's notes, speaking about their ways and beliefs. 

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