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From the Vault: Universal Mummies

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From the Vault: Universal Mummies

I Want My Universal Mummies!

By Tim Janson     September 30, 2012
Source: Mania.com

Boris Karloff has been quoted as saying that the makeup process for 1932’s The Mummy was "the most trying ordeal I ever endured".  It took Universal makeup guru Jack Pierce nearly 8 hours to apply.  His hair was caked in mud, his face covered in cotton, collodion, and spirit gum, and his body wrapped in strips of baked linen…all for an appearance that lasted about a minute on screen.  Perhaps that’s why he never did a sequel.  In fact, it would take 8 years before Universal produced a new Mummy film and then they would do four of them in five years. 
  
This week in From the Vault we look back at Universal’s four Mummy sequels made from 1940 – 1944 and why, despite the fact that they became strictly “B” movie fare, they’re still highly entertaining. 
  
The Mummy’s Hand 
Studio: Universal 1940 
Cast: Dick Foran, George Zucco, Tom Tyler 
Running Time: 67 minutes 
Grade: B 
  
The Mummy’s hand opens by re-using footage from the original with just a few scenes re-shot showing Kharis stealing tana leaves replacing the scene where Karloff as Imhotep steals the scroll of Thoth, although you can still clearly see Karloff in a few scenes.  We are introduced to veteran horror character actor George Zucco as Andoheb, high Priest of Karnak and guardian of the secret tomb of princess Ananka. Kharis (the mummy) had his tongue cut out and was buried alive for stealing the sacred tana leaves.  However the same leaves, brewed during a full moon can bring him to life.  Andoheb is able to use the leaves to control Kharis.  
 
 

Dick Foran is "Steve Banning", a down on his luck archeologist, discovers  the location of Ananka's tomb and puts together an expedition to uncover it funded by American magician The Great Solvini and his daughter Marta.  Andoheb is determined to keep the tomb safe and sets loose Kharis to terrorize Banning’s camp, killing several members of his party.  Meanwhile Andoheb has become infatuated with Marta and intends to inject himself and her, with the tana leaf fluid to make them both immortal. 

  

It was not Karloff, Lugosi or any of the other well-known horror icons who played the mummy but rather Tom Tyler, largely known for western roles as well as playing Captain Marvel in the 1941 film serial.  Tyler is sufficiently menacing as the mummy and his performance would set the tone for the next three sequels which would start Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis.  Zucco is always fun to watch and it’s no different here as he gives an over-the-top performance as Andoheb.  Foran is the usual handsome hero and Wallace Ford as Babe jenson provides the usual sidekick comic relief so common in these movies.  Directory Christy Cabanne was NO Karl Freund...but it's still a fun movie and a quick watch at just over 60 minutes.  

 
The Mummy’s Tomb 
Studio: Universal 1942 
Cast: Lon Chaney, Jr., Dick Foran, George Zucco, Turhan Bey 
Running Time: 61 minutes 
Grade: C 
  
  
Universal was never above trying to save a few bucks by re-using footage from previous films and they certainly get their money’s worth here.  The first 12 minutes of this short, hour-long feature recycles footage from The Mummy’s Hand.  Set 30 years later in Mapleton, MA, Steve Banning, now an elderly old man tells his family and guests about his discovery of Princess Ananka’s tomb and his destruction of the mummy, Kharis.  However, Kharis and the high priest Andoheb survived and are now out for revenge.  Andoheb passes away, leaving the care of Kharis in the hands of a younger priest of Karnak, Mehemet Bey.  The priest and the mummy arrive in the U.S. determined to destroy Banning and his family for desecrating the tomb of Ananka.  Several members of the Banning family are killed with a grayish residue found on them that is determined to be mold from the Mummy. 
 
 
Lon Chaney, Jr., takes over the role of the Kharis for the first of three go rounds.  Chaney definitely cut a much more imposing figure as the Mummy than either Tyler or Karloff.  Being of larger stature he was more intimidating.  Add to that the makeup was much more effective, giving him a far more decrepit look.  He has some very effective scenes including kidnapping Isobel, the girlfriend of one of the younger Banning men.  As would be a frequent plot device in these films, the high priest always seems to become smitten with a young woman, believing she is the reincarnated Princess Ananka.  The film concludes with Kharis apparently being killed inside the Banning house when the townspeople set it ablaze. 


While Chaney is superior as Kharis, The Mummy’s hand is overall a weak and clumsy production.  Turhan Bey is a welcome addition to the cast but the rest of the performances are “B’ material at best.     

 

 
The  Mummy’s Ghost 
Universal 1944 
Cast: Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Geroge Zucco, Ramsay Ames 
Running Time: 61 minutes 
Grade B+ 
  
Next up is The Mummy’s Ghost set just a couple of years after The Mummy’s Tomb.  Old Andoheb (Zucco) is still clinging to life.  For some reason the name Karnak is now changed to Arkam and Andoheb sends a new priest of Arkam, Yousef Bey (Carradine) to the United States to recover both Kharis and Princess Ananka.  Kharis can still be brought back to life by brewing Tana nine leaves and can immediately sense them.  Meanwhile back in Mapleton, MA, Professor Norman is studying the hieroglyphics on the case which holds the tana leaves.  He discovers the secret of brewing the nine leaves, much to his own unfortunate demise.  Kharis, looking positively ragged is once again reanimated and kills the professor. 

 
 
Yousef Bey arrives at a museum in town where Ananka’s mummy is kept, intent on stealing it.  Kharis also arrives at the museum to take Ananka’s body but before he can the mummy simply disintegrates into dust and bandages.  Kharis goes into a rage, killing a security guard.  Bey discovers that Ananka’s spirit has been reincarnated into the body of a young, local girl Amina Mansouri played by 40's scream Queen Ramsay Ames.  Kharis and Bey kidnap Amina but once again we have the plot contrivance of the Priest wanting the girl for his own.  Bey attempts to give Amina the brewed Tana leaves, but Kharis attacks, killing him.  The townspeople form a mob and chase Kharis as he carries Amina’s rapidly aging body into the nearby swamps, disappearing into the bog as the film draws to a close. 
  
Chaney has much more to do in this film than in the previous one. He gets to go on a rampage a couple of times and show some genuine emotion.  Carradine is fun as Yousef Bey even if he doesn't look remotely Egyptian. Ames is pretty standard as the damsel in distress and basically spends the movie screaming and fainting. Her fiancee Tom, played by Robert Lowery, is the usual dim-witted, wooden romantic lead in the great tradition of David Manners. 
  
The Mummy's Ghost is one the best of the Mummy sequels.  Chaney made the Mummy truly terrifying.  Like Karloff, he was no fan of the marathon makeup sessions with Jack Pierce but was able to reach a compromise by wearing a mask for long camera shots. 
 

 
The Mummy’s Curse 
Universal Studios 1944 
Cast: Lon Chaney, Jr., Peter Coe, Virginia Christine 
Running Time: 62 minutes 
Grade B 
  
The Mummy’s Curse came out less than six months after The Mummy’s Ghost, just before Christmas in 1944.  Like The Mummy’s Ghost it is also vastly superior to the first two mummy sequels.  The film contains to an odd bit of Universal continuity craziness...In previous movie, the mummy disappeared under the swampy waters in Mapleton, MA, only to reappear in the swamps of Louisiana!!! Wow! What a trip!  An engineering company is trying to clear a swamp but their efforts are hampered by the workers fears of the legends that a mummy haunts the swamps.  
  
Zandaab is the new High Priest of Arkam and he, along with his disciple Ragheb, have recovered the body of Kharis and taken it to a deserted monastery.  Now, what a gothic looking monastery is doing in the swamps of Louisiana is anybody’s guess!  The tana leaves are brewed and Kharis rises once again, killing a caretaker.  In easily the most chilling scene in the film, or any of the Mummy sequels, Ananka rises out of the muck and mud and shambles along like a George Romero zombie.  It’s a great scene. 

 

She’s found and cleaned up by a man named Cajun Joe and taken to an inn for care but Kharis arrives, killing the innkeeper and later Cajun Joe.  As usual, one of the priests wants Ananka for himself as Ragheb kills Zandaab.  Kharis arrives looking for revenge on Ragheb who flees into a locked room as Kharis brings the entire building down on their heads.  Soon after the mummified remains of Ananka are found, ending the mummy saga.  
 
The Mummy’s Curse had some genuine chilling moments and once again Chaney as Kharis was at his murderous best.  The biggest weakness of this film was that it didn’t have the quality of supporting actors like the previous films did.

 

Tim Janson is a columnist and reviewer for Mania Entertainment. He writes Level Up, the weekly look at videogames, From the Vault, a dig into genre films of years gone by, and the horror dedicated column, Tuesday Terrors. Tim has written for Fangoria, Newsarama, City Slab Magazine, Twitch Film, and Cinefantastique. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA). Be sure to follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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1 
doublec 9/30/2012 12:19:11 AM

Actually it's not ArkaM but ArkaN, which is a rough anagram of Karnak. Anagrams were popular at the time.
Tom Tyler was a former Olympic weightlifter who due to impoper training  was suffering from early onset arthritis, which inspired  his painful shuffle. In later years he bcame almost a total invalid before dying of a heart attack at age 50.

InnerSanctum 9/30/2012 2:34:21 PM

 I know I've seen all the Mummy films, but they did tend to blend together.  Maybe, because of the reuse of old footage.  Either way, the only one that holds firmly in my heart is the Karloff classic.  I still feel it has yet to be topped by any other mummy monster movie.  

Since I was a kid before recorders, it was very hard to piece together some form of continuity with the Universal monster films.  Not sure why they had that problem.  I can see when it comes to actors not wanting to play a part again, but story wise...just seems like they had little respect for the films at some point.  

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