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.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 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.

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

For The Love Of Horror cover

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.  

SHOCK SCENES: PHANTOM OF THE OPERA UNMASKED

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SHOCK SCENES:  PHANTOM OF THE OPERA UNMASKED

Lon Chaney unmasked in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) still one of the most shocking scenes in horror movie history.

Lon Chaney unmasked in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) still one of the most shocking scenes in horror movie history.

By Michael Arruda

Welcome to SHOCK SCENES, the column where we look at some of the more memorable scenes in horror movie history.

That’s right.  We’ll be scouring horror movies throughout the decades looking at some of the brightest- er, darkest moments they’ve had to offer.  It should be a fun trip.

First up, a look at the unmasking scenes in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA movies.  Now, there have been a bunch of film versions of the famous Gaston Leroux tale— see my blog column THE HORROR JAR:  THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA MOVIES posted on September 12, 2014 for the complete list— but for today’s column, I’d like to concentrate on the first three film versions:  the 1925 Lon Chaney silent classic, the 1943 Universal remake starring Claude Rains, and the 1962 Hammer remake starring Herbert Lom.  These are the three best versions, as none of the remakes since have been as good.

Most surprisingly, however, is that the definitive and most impressive version of this horror tale remains the original 1925 silent Lon Chaney version.  I still find this difficult to believe.  The film was made in 1925.  It’s a silent movie.  And yet this is the best version.  No one since has been able to match it.  Unbelievable, but true.

Similarly, when you look at the famous unmasking scenes, again, it’s the Chaney version which stands above the rest, and seriously, it stands way above the rest.  No other version even comes close!

The Chaney version also is the most faithful version of the Gaston Leroux novel, and likewise, it handles its unmasking scene in a way that is most true to the book.  For starters, in the book, the Phantom is unmasked early on, as he is in the Chaney version.  For some reason, both the 1943 Universal remake and the 1962 Hammer remake chose to unmask the Phantom at the end of the movie.  Bad idea.

In the 1925 silent version, the first half of the movie, the Phantom (Lon Chaney) is exactly that:  a phantom.  We see only glimpses of him, a shadow, a hand, a silhouette, and he’s there wreaking havoc at the Paris Opera House for reasons we don’t know at the time.  The movie captures this brilliantly, and director Rupert Julian truly makes the unknown Phantom a threatening and menacing presence without the audience ever really seeing him.

When the Phantom shows interest in young Opera singer Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) and secretly whisks her away from her dressing room, we see him for the first time, and he’s wearing a mask so neither Christine nor the audience can see his face.  In the famous unmasking scene, which occurs midway through the film, the Phantom plays the organ, while Christine sneaks up behind him and attempts to remove his mask.  In classic suspenseful fashion, she reaches for it but then backs off, afraid he’ll turn around, before finally ripping it off his face, exposing the horrific make-up by Lon Chaney.

This is one of the best scenes in the 1925 THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.  In fact, it’s one of the most memorable scenes in horror movie history.  The same cannot be said for the unmasking scenes in the 1943 and 1962 versions.

Chaney’s Phantom opens his mouth in what looks like a shriek of terror, and then he turns on Christine with a viciousness that would make Mr. Hyde proud.  He physically attacks her, thrusting his face into hers, screaming at her to behold is ugliness, and then he laughs at her, in what we can only imagine to be an insane maniacal laugh.  It’s a terrifying and brutal scene.

Supposedly, Chaney shot most of this scene himself— he and director Julian were at odds throughout the production and Chaney directed most of his own scenes— and to get the desired reaction shots from Mary Philbin, Chaney hurled insults at her, and she was under the impression he was furious with her and disappointed with her acting abilities, and so her reaction here was based on real emotions.

Interestingly enough, more than one version of this scene exists— heck, various versions of this movie exist!  The history of this film reveals there were multiple cuts of the film upon its release, and over the years as it was re-released multiple times things didn’t get any simpler and different prints surfaced.  I’ve only seen one version, but supposedly there exists out there another version of the unmasking scene shot from different angles.

After this shocking scene, the Phantom lets Christina go, to return to the Paris Opera House, but later, when he spies her with her lover Raoul (Norman Kerry) he vows revenge and then brings his wrath down upon the Opera House one last time while abducting Christina once more in the film’s extremely exciting conclusion.

In the 1943 version, Claude Rains portrays a very different and much more sympathetic Phantom. His Phantom is a violinist who is ultimately wronged and then goes insane later in the movie, and so when this film starts, there is no Phantom haunting the Opera House since he’s a meek violinist at this point in the story.

The mask in this version is probably my favorite mask in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA movies, and it’s so prevalent in this movie that it becomes synonymous with the Phantom, much more than Chaney’s mask.  When you think of Lon Chaney as the Phantom, you see his terrifying make-up, but when you think of Claude Rains as the Phantom, you see his slick white mask.

The entire time Rains is the Phantom, he wears the white mask.  Unlike the 1925 version, the unmasking scene in the 1943 film doesn’t come until the end of the movie.  This scene just doesn’t have the same effect as the Chaney scene.  The mask comes off, and we see minimal make-up on Rains’ face, and then he promptly dies in the film’s conclusion.  Gone is the maniacal laughter, the threats to Christine, the essence of what made the character the evil Phantom.  I like the 1943 version a lot, but its unmasking scene and its abrupt anti-climactic finale are two of the weakest parts of this movie.

Claude Rains unmasked in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943).

Claude Rains unmasked in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943).

For some reason, Hammer Films chose to follow the style of the 1943 version instead of the 1925 version.  I’m guessing this decision was a financial one.  The 1925 version was an epic production, complete with a massive set of the Paris Opera House, and its enormous catacombs, which were used in a huge part of the movie, unlike the subsequent remakes which spent little time underneath the Paris Opera House.  Hammer probably didn’t have the budget to make a movie on the scale of the 1925 version.

Hammer’s 1962 version gets off to a rousing start, however, as the Phantom (Herbert Lom) is wreaking havoc immediately, and so in this regard Hammer did choose to follow the 1925 version.  And I’ve argued that the first half of the 1962 PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is among Hammer’s and director Terence Fisher’s best work, but then things take a dramatic turn as we see via flashback the story of how the Phantom became the Phantom, and suddenly Herbert Lom’s Phantom becomes even more sympathetic— albeit, even heroic— a heroic Phantom?  Come on!— than Claude Rains’ Phantom.

And the unmasking scene in the 1962 version might be even weaker than the one in the 1943 version.  Again, it occurs at the end of the movie.  Again, there’s no insane rants by the Phantom, there’s nothing terrifying or frightening, as there was in the 1925 film.  Again, the make-up is inferior to the Chaney make-up.  There’s a little excitement involving a falling chandelier, but it’s so quick and abrupt that if you blink suddenly you’re reading “The End” on the screen.

Herbert Lom unmasked in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962).

Herbert Lom unmasked in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962).

The 1962 version by Hammer Films cries out for an additional 20 minutes where after the Phantom is unmasked, he whisks Christine into the catacombs beneath the Opera House while the heroes pursue them into the Phantom’s lair, where they must face all the traps set for them by the insane Phantom.  But alas this doesn’t exist.  The Hammer version simply ends with the unmasking.  The good news is this part of the story does exist in the 1925 silent version, and it’s one of the more exciting parts of that film.

The unmasking scene in the Lon Chaney 1925 version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is one of the most terrifying scenes in horror film history.  It’s not to be missed.  The unmasking scenes in the 1943 Universal Claude Rains version and the 1962 Hammer Films Herbert Lom version are both duds and strangely remain the weakest parts of both movies.  Go figure!

So, there you have it:  a look at the unmasking scenes in the three most prominent PHANTOM OF THE OPERA movies to date.

I hope you enjoyed this new column, SHOCK SCENES, and that you’ll join me again next time when I look at more classic scenes from classic horror movies.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

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.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 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.

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

For The Love Of Horror cover

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.  

STOCKING STUFFERS 2014: Gifts I’d Like to Find Under My Tree This Year

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"I hope you like my gift, Larry.  I picked it out of the graveyard myself."

“I hope you like my gift, Larry. I picked it out of the graveyard myself.”

STOCKING STUFFERS – 2014

Gifts I’d Like to Find Under My Tree This Year

By

Michael Arruda

 

Here are a few horror movie goodies that I’d like to find under my Christmas tree this year, in no particular order:

 

-A newly discovered unedited complete version of KING KONG (1933) including the infamous lost “spider in the pit” sequence.  Sorry folks, this still hasn’t been discovered yet and as of right now only exists in our collective imaginations.

 

-For the recently restored unedited version of HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) to be made available here in the United States.  This one does exist, but no sign of it in the U.S. yet.  What’s the hold up???

 

-A boxed set of all the Universal monster movies with long lost scenes restored, including Bela Lugosi’s scenes of dialogue as the Frankenstein Monster in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943), Dwight Frye’s extended scenes as Karl in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), and the original cut of THE WOLF MAN (1941) where Lon Chaney’s Larry Talbot only becomes a werewolf in his own mind.

 

-A horror movie with Johnny Depp in a serious role instead of the over-the-top goofy roles he’s been taking of late.  It’s as if he’s quit being Depp and instead has adopted the persona of Jack Sparrow from the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, and it’s Sparrow making all these recent films like DARK SHADOWS, THE LONE RANGER, and INTO THE WOODS, not Depp.

 

-More horror films with Chloe Grace Moretz.  She was phenomenal in LET ME IN (2010) and pretty darn good in the re-boot of CARRIE (2013) as well.  And the best part?  Chloe Grace Moretz is not a scream queen!  She’s a force to be reckoned with.

 

-Speaking of LET ME IN, how about some more horror movies by director Matt Reeves?  He’s directed two of the best horror movies in the past decade, CLOVERFIELD (2008) and LET ME IN (2010), not to mention the excellent DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014).  He’s one of the most talented genre directors working today.

 

-Speaking of CLOVERFIELD, how about the long awaited sequel which has been rumored for years finally coming out?  That would be nice.

 

-A reversal in the decision to turn the Universal monsters into superheroes.  The powers that be at Universal are making a huge mistake here.  To me, this decision is a concession that these monsters are no longer scary, and that’s simply not true.  All it takes is a good writer, combined with a talented director, and these monsters could be relevant again.  Don’t bother remaking the origin stories- we all know them.  What we need are new tales of these monsters in frightening horror movies which will scare modern audiences to death.  Leave the superheroes to Marvel!

 

-Speaking of Marvel, I’d like to see Robert Downey, Jr. in a horror movie.  Scarlett Johansson too, for that matter.

 

-Speaking of people making horror movies, Woody Allen made his decision to move on from comedies years ago and continues to churn out quality films year after year.  I sure wish he’d channel his keen writing talents and write a horror tale someday.  I think it would be pretty cool.

 

-Lastly, to all my writer friends, I’d like to find a copy of your latest book under my tree so I could read your work throughout the year.  My Christmas wish for all of us is that we have books in print year after year for years to come!

 

Thanks all!

 

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, happy winter!

Thanks for reading!

 

—Michael

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933)

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The Invisible Man's grand entrance

The Invisible Man’s grand entrance

Here’s my review of the Claude Rains classic THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), another sample from IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, my collection of horror movie columns now available as an EBook from NECON EBooks at www.neconebooks.com.

This review was originally published in the HWA NEWSLETTER in April 2002.

Enjoy!

—Michael

 

THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933)

“I meddled in things man must leave alone.”

            One of the most famous lines in classic horror cinema.  Who said it?  No, it wasn’t Colin Clive.  [He got to shriek the most famous of all- “It’s alive!” in FRANKENSTEIN (1931)].

            It was Claude Rains in THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933).

            THE INVISIBLE MAN is not always mentioned in the same breath with FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA (1931), or THE WOLF MAN (1941).  Nonetheless, it’s a topnotch horror film that entertains from beginning to end.

            Directed with flair by James Whale, the man who brought us FRANKENSTEIN and its superior sequel THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), THE INVISIBLE MAN is full of the stuff that makes old black and white horror movies so magical.  Take the Invisible Man’s first entrance, for example.  The tavern door swings open, and through the entrance steps a mysterious man in a trench coat, his head and face completely bandaged.  All noise within the tavern ceases.  The only remaining sound is the howl of the swirling blizzard winds outside.

            The screenplay, by R.C. Sheriff, is a nice adaptation of the H.G. Wells novella.  It tells the story of Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), a scientist who becomes invisible when he uses his invisibility formula on himself.  Unfortunately, the concoction also drives him mad, and he causes a reign of terror over the countryside.

            Claude Rains, in his starring debut, excels as Dr. Griffin, a.k.a. the Invisible Man.  Enough cannot be said about an actor who steals a movie just by using his voice!  Rains’ voice dominates the film, capturing Griffin’s madness perfectly.

            And Rains is supported by a fine cast.  Gloria Stuart, nominated for an Oscar in 1998 for her supporting role in TITANIC (1998), plays the leading lady who’s in love with Griffin.  Her father is played by Henry Travers, most famous today for his portrayal of the angel in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946).  Also on hand are Una O’Connor at her shrieking best, and E.E. Clive as the befuddled police constable.  Even Universal favorite Dwight Frye makes an appearance, as does John Carradine in a quick snippet on the telephone!

            The special effects by John P. Fulton are amazing.  They’re incredibly fun to watch.

            THE INVISIBLE MAN is full of humorous moments.  My favorite is the scene where the screeching old lady runs down the street.  As she disappears off camera, we see the reason she is screaming.  Along the road comes skipping a pair of pants, and we hear Claude Rains’ voice singing, “Here we go gathering nuts in May, nuts in May, nuts in May—.”

            And director Whale doesn’t skimp on the horror either.  THE INVISIBLE MAN contains one of the scariest murder scenes in all classic horror.  Griffin captures the cowardly Dr. Kemp and binds him in his car at the edge of a cliff.  He then tells Kemp in gruesome detail what’s going to happen to him when he pushes the car over the edge.  As the vehicle plunges from the cliff, we hear Kemp’s high-pitched shrieks just before the car hits bottom and explodes.  Chilling.

            Since it’s that time of year again, and we’re all thinking about the best horror works of the year, why not check out one of the best horror movies of all time?  THE INVISIBLE MAN.  A classic chiller that is high quality entertainment all the way.

            “This will give them a bit of a shock.  Something to write home about.  A nice bedtime story for the kids too if they want it!”  — Claude Rains as the Invisible Man.

(April 2002)