The following IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column originally appeared in the April 2012 edition of the HWA NEWSLETTER:
Like Universal before them, Hammer Films made a series of Mummy movies, four to be exact, none of them direct sequels, none of them all that exciting, but all of them in vivid color and at the very least entertaining.
THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1964) is the second Mummy movie Hammer made, and of the four, it’s my second favorite. My favorite, of course, is their first Mummy movie, THE MUMMY (1959) starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Again, THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB is not a sequel to THE MUMMY but tells an entirely new story, completely separate from Hammer’s initial Mummy movie.
Egyptologists John Bray (Ronald Howard), Sir Giles Dalrymple (Jack Gwillim), and Annette Dubois (Jeanne Roland) discover the mummified remains of the Egyptian prince Ra. Like all good Mummy movies, there’s a curse that says anyone who messes with the mummy’s tomb will die. The difference in this story, however, is that the curse is welcomed. That’s because the expedition has been financed by an American showman Alexander King (Fred Clark) who wants to take the mummy and all the relics discovered along with it on the road for a sort of travelling road show, the sort of thing Carl Denham would have dreamed up after his adventures with King Kong.
Unfortunately, the show doesn’t last long because someone— the audience doesn’t know who— resurrects the Mummy, and so King can’t have his show without its star. Soon afterwards, the Mummy goes on a murder spree, methodically attempting to kill everyone involved in the discovery of his tomb. Will the Mummy kill everyone in the movie? Or will our heroes figure out the identity of the Mummy’s secret benefactor and stop both him and the Mummy before it’s too late? You’ll have to watch THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB to find out.
I’ve always found THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB to be a fairly entertaining movie, as it has some neat things going for it.
First off, director Michael Carreras cranks up the violence in this one, although admittedly by today’s standards, the movie is very tame. The movie opens with a scene in which a man’s hand is chopped off. In another scene, the Mummy uses a heavy statuette to smash in the head of his victim. This occurs off camera, of course, but alone on the soundtrack— without any accompanying music— is the sickening thud of the statuette crushing the man’s skull. In yet another scene, the Mummy uses its powerful foot to obliterate his victim’s head. Nasty!
Director Carreras usually served Hammer in another capacity, as a producer. He produced many of their early hits, including THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958). As the director of THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB, Carreras performs well.
The first time the Mummy makes his appearance, it’s an excellent scene as he steps from a thick fog onto the top of a creepy outdoor staircase ready to attack his first victim. Later, the Mummy emerges from fog again, this time just before crashing through a window.
Another neat touch is the sound effect of the Mummy breathing. Fourteen years later John Carpenter would use a similar effect with Michael Myers in HALLOWEEN (1978).
Carreras also penned the screenplay using the pseudonym “Henry Younger” which was an in-joke because fellow Hammer producer Anthony Hinds wrote the screenplays for a ton of Hammer movies [including THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) & DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968)] under the pen name “John Elder.”
Carreras’ screenplay tells the usual Mummy tale but does include an interesting plot twist. While it won’t knock your socks off, it’s still an intriguing twist.
The actual Mummy make-up looks fine, but the same can’t be said for the Mummy’s body. The Mummy was played by stunt man Dickie Owen, and he surprisingly sports a noticeable pot belly. It’s sadly laughable.
Lon Chaney Jr. was criticized when he played Kharis the Mummy for Universal for looking too solid and heavy to be an Egyptian mummy, but Chaney looks like a trim Olympic athlete compared to the Mummy in this movie!
THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB has a solid cast. Ronald Howard, the son of famed actor Leslie Howard, is capable as lead Egyptologist John Bray. I also really liked Fred Clark as the showman Alexander King. The best part about the entire cast, which can be said for the majority of Hammer movies, is that they are thoroughly believable in their roles. They make you believe in all the supernatural proceedings.
THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB also has a good music score by Carlo Martelli.
On the other hand, one thing that doesn’t work so well is the ending, which is abrupt and is probably the weakest part of the movie. Compared to the Mummy scenes that come before it, the ending is not very exciting.
Overall, though, THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB is a decent Mummy movie, competently executed by all involved, and it gets much better once the Mummy finally appears. The final twenty minutes are the best part of the movie, except for the ending, which mummy-wraps things up too quickly.
So, this spring, if you’re pining for pleasant sunshine and warmer temperatures, but the weather isn’t cooperating, take a trip to the desert sands of Egypt in search of Mummies and monsters. And like Alexander King in the movie, don’t fear THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB, but embrace it!
That’s right. Hug your Mummy today!