Horror-Wood Blog-a-thon: The Mummy (1932)
Boris Karloff showed off a lot of his body language in Frankenstein. Now, it was time to see what he could as an actor all together. Bela Lugosi was able to combine his hypnotic motion with his haunting delivery in Dracula and that’s what Karloff needed. Enter 1932’s The Mummy.
Universal Studios was hot off their heels with a vampire and a monster so now it was time to expand the monster library and see what they could do. Inspired by the opening of Titankhamun and the Curse of the Pharaohs, the story centers around an ancient priest named Imhotep (Karloff) that is discovered by an archaeological find. Unfortunately, someone happens to read an ancient life-giving scroll that brings the mummified being back from the dead.
You see, Imhotep was buried alive for attempting to resurrect a dead princess that he was forbiddingly in love with. The thought alone of that priest wrapped in bandages and squirming about in its tomb is just disturbing of an idea. Imhotep later masquerades as a normal Egyptian named Ardath Bey and interestingly enough he goes from a corpse to a human with some wrinkles. We can tell its the mummy from the way the face feels pressed by the bandages. Again, I have to give credit for Jack Pierce in the make-up. Seeing Karloff’s character go from wrapped in bandages to a normal human with some less elaborate appliances is interesting. I especially love the detail on the lips where we can see some bandage marks that give the impression that not all of him heals.
So the resurrected Imhotep plans to also brink back his lover by trying to find the reincarnated version which comes in the form of Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann) who also has a striking resemblance to his dead lover. I also like how the Mummy deals with the idea of reincarnation and ancestry. To think years ago, we were someone else or even a historical figure. It challenges the idea of how much frightening it can be to have a past life. Supposedly, this theme was pushed further in a flashback scene that was much longer. It would have gone from Egypt to Rome, the middle ages and even in France. Its a shame it was trimmed down as it would have added onto the idea of how far we go as the life of a human being continues on. In the final cut, we see how Imhotep became a mummy and that’s that. But it still hits on the idea of how interesting it can be to trace your roots.
Aside from that, the center of this film is Boris Karloff’s performance. This time, he is given a role that is able to use his voice and show how powerful and commanding it can be. Much like Dracula, we are hypnotized by his voice and his body language. When we see a close-up of his eyes calling someone to do his bidding, we almost feel like we are being sucked into his power. Unlike Frankenstein where he is waving his arms and grunting, Karloff is giving more to do here and actually feels like a pure threat. His plan to resurrect the princess involves not just meeting the reincarnation but also converting her into a mummy as well. The idea alone is just disturbing to think about.
As always, the cast does a great job and the movie itself is at a slick and tight pace. I can’t think of much problems other than the mummy itself. Those who are expecting to see a living bandaged corpse going around are such to be disappointed. This is an entirely different film as its more centered on a love through the ages and how far one life can go. Its neither too slow or too fast. Its a perfect pace knowing when to set in the eerie atmosphere and when to be intense. This is another Universal Monster Classic that is just flawless in every way.
Now I suppose you want me to discuss the sequels but unfortunately, they feature a different mummy and they weren’t connected to the Karloff in any way. Instead, they were more or less reboots that had a B-movie quality to them which started the cliche of a slow moving killer. And of course the 1999 remake is more close with the rebooted sequels than the 1932 film. Arguably, it does center on Imhotep but its more in-line with the B-movie tone seeing how much action and adventure orientated they are. The original is far more different than you can imagine and I’m sure you too will be surprised by how much theoretically engaging it can be.
Posted on October 4, 2014, in Horror-Wood 2014 and tagged 1932, Boris Karloff, Dracula, Egypt, Frankenstein, Horror, Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon, Reincarnation, The Mummy, Universal Studios Monsters. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.