THE MUMMY (2017) – Messy Movie Mired by Ridiculous Superhero Concept

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mummy poster

Some talented writers worked on THE MUMMY (2017).

David Koepp who co-wrote the Steven Spielberg/Tom Cruise version of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005) and years ago co-wrote JURASSIC PARK (1993), and Christopher McQuarrie who co-wrote EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014) and JACK REACHER (2012), two rare instances of Tom Cruise movies that I really liked, both worked on the screenplay to THE MUMMY, as well as Dylan Kussman.

Which just goes to show you that talent alone isn’t enough to save a concept that is flat-out dumb.

With THE MUMMY, Universal has launched their “Dark Universe” series, an attempt to reimagine their monster movies of yesteryear as a sort of Marvel superhero spinoff.

This is a huge mistake.  Someone needs to shut this concept down yesterday.

The idea of re-booting these classic Universal monster movies as superhero action flicks is an insult to the original films.  If you are going to remake them, they need to be remade as horror movies, plain and simple.

THE MUMMY (2017) is a disaster from start to finish.  I can only hope that this becomes a lost film.

THE MUMMY opens— no, not in Egypt— but in England in 1127 at the burial site of a bunch of crusader knights, who among other things, brought back with them Egyptian artifacts.  Jump ahead to present day and a construction crew building a new subway system under the streets of London happens upon the burial site.

The operation is shut down when Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) shows up with his top secret team of agents, the Dark Universe’s answer to the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., to confiscate a key artifact, a dagger, which ties into an Egyptian Mummy named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) whose back story we learn about through flashbacks and a voice over narration by Dr. Jekyll.

And then we finally get to the opening credits.  Talk about a rambling disjointed way to open a movie.

Next up we finally meet our dashing hero, Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) who along with his buddy Chris (Jake Johnson) are working for Dr. Henry Jekyll in search of Egyptian treasure in— no, not in Egypt— that would make too much sense, setting a movie about an Egyptian Mummy in Egypt– but in Iraq because Ahmanet was so dangerous that she had to be buried miles away from her homeland.

Nick is joined by the beautiful Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) who also works for Dr. Jekyll, and the two of them lead the way— when they’re not playfully bickering and bantering— in returning the mummified Ahaanet back to England.

But you can’t keep a good mummy down.  Ahmanet comes back to life, and the rest of the movie it’s Tom Cruise vs. a mummy in an action-packed tale that is about as believable and compelling as a Pokemon cartoon.

There is so much wrong with THE MUMMY I don’t know where to begin.

The biggest issue of course is this whole concept of the Dark Universe, the idea that the Universal monster movies should be rebooted as a superhero franchise. This idea is a disaster, just like this movie.

For starters, the concept itself is flawed.  Monsters are monsters, they’re not comic book superheroes.  So, even before the films come out, the powers that be are fighting an uphill battle, trying to tell a story that isn’t naturally there.  Let’s re-imagine THE MUMMY as an action movie.  No, it’s a horror movie.

Secondly, this style is clearly borrowed from the Marvel movies, and as such, comes off as derivative and unoriginal, a bad combination, to be sure.

A lot of people never accepted the Brendan Fraser re-boot of THE MUMMY (1999) but I’ve always enjoyed that one, as I thought its script was a good one, even if it played more like an INDIANA JONES movie than a horror movie.  That being said, the 1999 MUMMY wasn’t devoid of horror elements, and the mummy in that film  played by Arnold Vosloo had some screen presence.  Anyway, whatever you feel about the 1999 MUMMY, I liked that one better than this movie.

And it’s interesting to note that even though Tom Cruise is playing a character described in the movie as a “young man,” he’s six years older than Brendan Fraser who played the young dashing hero in the 1999 film.

Also of note, this whole idea of a MUMMY film being more of a dashing adventure than a horror film is not without historical precedent.  The second Universal MUMMY movie, THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940) which introduced Kharis the Mummy (played by Tom Tyler here and in subsequent movies by Lon Chaney Jr.) to movie audiences, had a quick-witted script which featured two American archeologists Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and Babe Jenson (Wallace Ford) who traded barbs and one-liners throughout.  The script, when not featuring the Mummy, was light and fun.  But it wasn’t an action movie, nor even a comedy.  It was a horror movie.

Even more out-of-place in THE MUMMY than the concept of turning a horror movie into an action movie is Tom Cruise.  With the exception of a handful of films, I am not a fan of Cruise’s movies.  I’ve been tired of his shtick of playing himself for years now, going all the way back to the 1980s.  Cruise’s presence here doesn’t do the movie any favors.  Not that it would have saved this movie, but a younger more dynamic actor would have made things a bit better.

I did enjoy Annabelle Wallis as Jenny Halsey.  In fact, hers was probably the only performance in the movie that I felt was worth watching, but the role itself was not that exciting.

Russell Crowe is forced to utter the worst lines in the movie as Dr. Jekyll.  His voice-over narration at the end of the film is so bad it sounds like an off-the-cuff ad lib about good vs. evil.  He gets to say such nonsense as “which side will win— we just don’t know.  He might be a hero.  He might be evil.”  This might be a real script.

And as the Mummy, Ahmanet, Sofia Boutella just isn’t given enough to do to have any relevant impact.  Compared to the original mummy in THE MUMMY (1932), Im-Ho-Tep, played by Boris Karloff, who had to endure mummification, resurrection, and ultimately rejection all in an effort to reclaim his one true love, Ahmanet is a villain who seems only to be obsessed with power, but even that interpretation is a stretch since her character simply isn’t developed.  Boutella was much more memorable as Jaylah in STAR TREK BEYOND (2016).

Jake Johnson is supposed to be providing comic relief as Cruise’s buddy Chris, but his character’s plight is an in-your-face rip-off of Griffin Dunne’s character from AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981).  Dunne’s role was hilarious and original.  Johnson’s character here is neither.

Director Alex Kurtzman works hard on the action scenes, but they’re not enough to save this movie.

The screenplay doesn’t work either, and at the end of the day, THE MUMMY fails because the idea behind it is so very flawed.

Here’s hoping it’s lights out for the Dark Universe.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

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FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

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Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE MUMMY (1932)

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the mummy 1932 poster

Here’s my latest IN THE THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Boris Karloff classic, THE MUMMY (1932), appearing now in the August 2016 edition of the HWA NEWSLETTER, and it’s a reprint of a column which originally appeared in those pages back in August 2009.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT:  THE MUMMY (1932)

By Michael Arruda

“It comest to life!” screams its movie poster.  It’s a Universal monster classic from the 1930s, and it stars Boris Karloff, but it’s not FRANKENSTEIN (1931).  It’s THE MUMMY (1932).

THE MUMMY showcases a masterful lead performance by Boris Karloff as the undead mummy, Im-Ho-Tep, exceptional direction by DRACULA (1931) cinematographer Karl Freund, remarkable mummy make-up by Jack Pierce, and unlike FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA, a music score.

The screenplay for THE MUMMY was written by John L. Balderston, no stranger to classic horror tales.  Balderston adapted the play used for the screenply for FRANKENSTEIN (1931), which of course was adapted from the Mary Shelley novel, and he also wrote one of the stage versions of DRACULA, which served as the model for the Universal Bela Lugosi movie DRACULA (1931).

THE MUMMY opens in 1921 in Egypt, where an expedition led by Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) has just discovered the remains of an ancient mummy, Im-Ho-Tep (Boris Karloff).  Doctor Muller (Edward Van Sloan) warns Whemple and his young assistant Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) not to ignore the ancient curse discovered along with the mummy, but the young assistant is too eager, and as he reads from the Scroll of Thoth, behind him, the mummy awakes.

It is probably the film’s most famous scene.  As the words are read, the camera focuses on the dead mummy’s face, and ever so slowly, the eyes open, and then the arm slowly moves.  When the mummy takes the scroll, the young assistant bursts into uncontrollable mad laughter, and as we learn later, “he died laughing.”

The action switches to 1932 (which was present day when THE MUMMY was released).  Im-Ho-Tep has shed his bandages and is using the alias “Ardath Bey.”  The make-up here by Jack Pierce is superb.  Without his bandages, Karloff really does look like the walking dead.

imhotep

Jack Pierce’s haunting mummy make-up, turning Boris Karloff into the resurrected undead mummy, Im-Ho-Tep.

 

Im-Ho-Tep attempts to bring his long lost love, the princes Anck-es-en-Amon back to life.  He discovers that her soul is now in the body of Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), who happens to be in love with Joseph Whemple’s son, Frank (David Manners).  Im-Ho-Tep wants to kill her so he can resurrect her as an undead, but Frank Whemple and Doctor Muller stand in his way.

johann - karloff

Helen (Zita Johann) falls under the spell of Im-Ho-Tep (Boris Karloff) in THE MUMMY (1932).

In THE MUMMY, Karloff delivers another wonderful performance.  His mummy is much more evil than the later depictions of a mute bandaged monster lumbering around the countryside strangling people.  Yet, Karloff also makes Im-Ho-Tep a somewhat sympathetic character.  We feel for the guy, and his plight to get his long lost love back.

But the best part of THE MUMMY is the cinematography and direction by Karl Freund.  Freund does a more impressive job at the helm of THE MUMMY than either of his more famous counterparts, Tod Browning directing DRACULA and James Whale directing FRANKENSTEIN.

Freund creates an unforgettable opening sequence of the mummy resurrected, a haunting and dreamlike flashback sequence (the scene where the slaves get spears thrust through their chests still makes me wince), and he imbues the scenes inside the museum with creepy shadows and mysterious lighting.

If there are any flaws, it’s the ending, which is quick and shot in a choppy clumsy manner, not at all like the rest of the movie.

So, as we make our way through the lazy hazy days of summer, grab a beverage, dig your toes into the sands of the Egyptian desert, and welcome Im-Ho-Tep into your living room.  Just don’t say the words of that ancient curse too loud.

One guy dying laughing is more than enough.

—END—

 

PICTURE OF THE DAY: THE MUMMY (1959)

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"Say, Aaaahh!"  That's Christopher Lee as Kharis, the Mummy, about to have his tongue cut from his body in the Hammer Film THE MUMMY (1959)

“Say, Aaaahh!” That’s Christopher Lee as Kharis, the Mummy, about to have his tongue cut from his body in the Hammer Film THE MUMMY (1959)

PICTURE OF THE DAY: THE MUMMY (1959)

“Say, Aaah!!!”

That’s Christopher Lee as Kharis the Mummy-— well, as Kharis before he becomes a mummy— about to get his tongue cut from his mouth in the Hammer Film THE MUMMY (1959).

Yikes!

Hmm. Having your tongue pulled out with a set of tongs, to then be severed from your mouth with a sharp blade. Very nasty.

While my favorite movie Mummy remains Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis in the Universal Mummy movies, I do like Christopher Lee here in this version from 1959. Like so many other Christopher Lee performances, this one was largely overlooked when this film was initially released. Sure, fans have always liked Lee, but critics have been less than kind. Want further proof? Lee is largely recognized today more for his longevity in the movies than for his acting chops, which is too bad, because he’s a darn good actor. If he weren’t, he would have stopped making movies years ago.

Sure, at first, Lee was overshadowed by Hammer’s other star, Peter Cushing, who also stars here in THE MUMMY. But more importantly, Lee’s strength, especially in his role here as the Mummy and earlier as the Creature in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN  (1957) is his ability to do more with less, and in the case of these monster roles, to incorporate his pantomime skills. Even when playing these brutal monsters, Lee makes his mark by doing the little things. The strength of a Christopher Lee performance is its subtlety, and this often gets lost on critics.

For example, once his tongue is cut from his mouth, Kharis is mute, which means as the Mummy, Lee has to perform without saying a word, and he doesn’t disappoint. He does so much with just his eyes, the way they dart to the left and right for full dramatic effect. Sometimes it’s just a quick shake of his head, or a gaze of longing as he sees the reincarnated body of his long dead love for the first time.

Lee is terrific as Kharis the Mummy, and he does it all here without saying a word. Of course, in the flashback sequence in THE MUMMY, Lee does speak dialogue as the human high priest Kharis, before he commits blasphemy by trying to resurrect his dead girlfriend, the Princess Ananka. Yup, even back in ancient Egypt, men were getting in trouble over women. Lee is great in these speaking scenes as well, until, of course, as we see in today’s Picture of the Day, he loses his tongue, in a not-so-pleasant manner.

Think going to the dentist is bad? Look once more at this picture, and think again!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942)

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the-mummys-tomb-lon-chaney-john-everettHere’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Lon Chaney Jr. Mummy movie THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942), appearing now in the July issue of the HWA NEWSLETTER.

—Michael

  IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

With apologies to Michael Myers, Kharis the Mummy just might be the scariest monster who can’t outrun a turtle ever to lumber across a movie screen!  And he’s never been more frightening than in today’s SPOOKLIGHT feature, THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942).

THE MUMMY’S TOMB has always been my favorite Kharis MUMMY movie.  The make-up here on Kharis by Jack Pierce, the man who created most of the iconic Universal monsters, including Boris Karloff’s Monster in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), is by far the best MUMMY make-up of the Kharis series.

It’s also my favorite due to nostalgic reasons, as I owned an 8mm Castle Films copy of it when I was a kid.  The film also boasts the most exciting ending of any MUMMY movie, period.

Kharis the Mummy was featured in four Universal Mummy movies, and in the Hammer Films remake THE MUMMY (1959) starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as Kharis, but it was Lon Chaney Jr. who played the definitive Kharis, appearing in three Universal Mummy movies, the first being THE MUMMY’S TOMB.

THE MUMMY’S TOMB opens with a comprehensive synopsis of the previous film in the series, THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940), so if you’ve missed this first movie, no need to worry!  The initial ten minutes of THE MUMMY’S TOMB brings you up to speed on previous events quite nicely.  You can almost hear the voice-over narration, “Previously on THE MUMMY’S HAND.”

Stephen Banning (Dick Foran) the main character from THE MUMMY’S HAND recounts his adventures in that first movie to his son John (John Hubbard) and his future daughter-in-law Isobel (Elyse Knox), and his story is shown via flashbacks.  Little does Stephen know that over in Egypt the high priest he thought he killed, Andoheb (George Zucco) still lives, albeit he’s now an old man, as thirty years have passed since the events of THE MUMMY’S HAND.  Hmm.  With this timeline, shouldn’t THE MUMMY’S TOMB be taking place in 1970?  Where are all the hippies?

Andoheb now turns over the Mummy-caring duties to his young protégé, Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey) because Kharis the Mummy didn’t die either.  Not only is Kharis still alive, but he’s put on some weight!   Has he been eating too many tanna leaves?  No, he’s just being played here by the husky Lon Chaney Jr. rather than Tom Tyler, who played him in THE MUMMY’S HAND.

Chaney has been criticized over the years for being too big and thick to look like an authentic Mummy, but I’ve always liked this look, as it made him scarier.  I mean, Chaney isn’t flabby and overweight.  He’s solid and huge, like he could crush a man with his fists.

Mehemet Bey brings Kharis to the United States, to Massachusetts to be exact, to hunt down and kill the members of the Banning family.

And that’s pretty much it in terms of plot.  The screenplay by Griffin Jay and Henry Sucher is pretty standard.

The strength of THE MUMMY’S TOMB is not its plot but its visuals.  The movie contains some really neat scenes, and Kharis has never looked creepier.  Shots of Kharis closing in on his victims still make me shudder, and some of the murder scenes in this one are downright brutal.  Director Harold Young, not known for his genre work, really deserves a lot of credit for making a very chilling monster movie.

Young also makes good use of shadows here.  Many times we see Kharis only through his shadow.  In fact, when Kharis creeps across the countryside at night, he is unseen except for his shadow which falls upon several unsuspecting townsfolk.  The shadow is used so frequently I’ve often wondered if the shooting script was entitled THE SHADOW OF THE MUMMY.

There’s a curious moment in the movie in the scene where Kharis attacks Babe (Wallace Ford), another character from THE MUMMY’S HAND.  After Babe shouts out Kharis’ name, Kharis’ lips move as if he’s saying something in response.  It looks almost as if a scene of dialogue has been cut from the film.  I’ve never read anything to support such a cut, and it wouldn’t make sense in terms of the story anyway, since Kharis had his tongue cut from his mouth in the previous film, and is mute.  But if you watch this scene, you definitely will see Kharis’ mouth move, and a cut does appear to have taken place right at this moment.  Interesting.

The ending is exceedingly memorable.  The torch-wielding villagers, in a chase scene reminiscent of the ending to FRANKENSTEIN (1931)- in fact, some of the footage from FRANKENSTEIN is used here— chase Kharis, who’s carrying an unconscious Isobel, and trap him inside a large house.  John Banning, the sheriff, and another man run inside the house to rescue Isobel.  The climactic battle on the second story porch between John, the sheriff and Kharis, while the villagers fling burning torches from below, is pretty exciting.  I can’t think of another MUMMY movie that has a better ending than this one.

The cast is standard, and other than Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis, no one really jumps out at you.  However the beautiful Elyse Knox who plays Isobel is notable because she’s Mark Harmon’s mother.  Ms. Knox only recently passed away, in 2012 at age 94.

Lon Chaney Jr. actually does a stand up job as Kharis the Mummy.  Chaney played all four main movie monsters:  The Wolf Man, the Mummy, Dracula, and the Frankenstein Monster.  While he’s most famous for his portrayal of Larry Talbot aka the Wolf Man, and rightly so, his three performances as Kharis the Mummy are more effective than his work as either Dracula or the Frankenstein monster.

He makes Kharis damned scary.  His look is such that when he enters a room, he almost paralyzes his victims with fear, which is a good thing for him, because with his limp, he’s not going to catch anybody.  You can outrun Kharis running backwards.  But Kharis always seems to corner his victims, and once he’s blocked the exit, his prey is as good as dead.

Very few of the old Universal monster movies are frightening.  I would argue that THE MUMMY’S TOMB featuring Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis the Mummy is one of the scariest.

I dare you to watch it alone this summer without having nightmares of Kharis the Mummy breaking into your bedroom in the middle of the night.

Over there, by the wall!  Is that the Mummy’s shadow I see?

—END—

Did you enjoy this column?  You can read over 100 IN THE SPOOKLIGHT monster movie columns in my horror movie review collection IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, now available as an EBook at www.neconebooks.com, or as a print edition at  https://www.createspace.com/4293038.

—Michael