The Mummy

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The Mummy

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Here's what the 1932 horror film The Mummy has in common with its five sequels (The Mummy's Hand, etc.), and later remakes: They all feature mummies. Even there, the original Mummy parts ways with the films it inspired. Star Boris Karloff appears as a shambling, linen-shrouded undead creature in the film's opening sequence, terrifying an unwitting British explorer into insanity, then disappearing. When next seen, he's wrinkled, but still distinctly human, and more concerned with reuniting with a long-lost love than terrorizing anyone. It's a monster movie that all but forgets the monster.

What's left is an eerie, weirdly moving film about loneliness and the persistence of history. After waking up and spending a few years blending in with the locals, Karloff fixates on the comely Zita Johann, whom he believes to be the reincarnation of the Egyptian princess he loved many years before. Beguiling her with hypnotic stares and tales of the ancient past and lost memories "of love, and crime, and death," Karloff seeks to draw her into his existence between life and death.

Karloff's character is seemingly far-removed from his iconic turn as Frankenstein's monster from the previous year. His Im-ho-tep is both articulate and focused, but the same loneliness and yearning for something they can never possess haunts both characters. An ace cinematographer directing his first American feature, Karl Freund expands on that haunted quality. Apart from the gung-ho kid made mad in the film's opening scene, no one here seems especially comfortable dragging the ancient world out into the light, and Karloff's specter appears almost like the inevitable embodiment of their fears. They live in a place where the past is reluctant to surrender its grasp on the present, and the lyrical way Freund captures that atmosphere makes for a more unsettling experience than a bandage-clad beastie could ever provide.

Key features: A new commentary with famed makeup artist Rick Baker and others join a track from historian Paul M. Jensen and other features left over from previous DVD versions. Same scratchy print, however. Restoration, anyone?

Filed Under: DVD

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