What’s it about? A team of British archaeologists working in Egypt locate the 4000-year old tomb of Princess Ananka, and have the treasures shipped to a museum in England. They also, unwittingly, resurrect the princess’ high priest, Kharis (Christopher Lee), his sole intention being to hunt down and kill those responsible for desecrating the tomb. After the mummy has murdered two of the team, the last of the archaeologists left alive, John Banning (Peter Cushing), knows he’s next in line to be killed. Banning’s wife Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux), who bears a striking resemblance to the long dead princess, becomes the key figure in a horrific life or death situation.
Verdict: Directed by Terence Fisher, a name as synonymous with Hammer Film Productions as those of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Jimmy Sangster, The Mummy saw all of those figures involved in what became one of the studio’s major successes. Now over fifty years old, Fisher’s Gothic tale of a vengeful undead Egyptian high priest and the British archaeologists responsible for incurring his wrath sees the light of day again, this time in a striking HD print presented on dual Blu-ray/DVD format.
Regarded as a classic by Hammer’s legions of fans (and by many critics), The Mummy, though a cut above much of the studio’s later movies, now feels impossibly quaint, such is its hideously dated representation of class and gender, lack of thrills and dialogue heavy, soporific pacing. In Hammer’s worlds, the middle/upper classes are the embodiment of all that is right and proper, the working classes are ignorant, drunken buffoons, women are either delicate flowers who need protecting or wanton temptresses and the monsters/creatures are invariably foreign ‘others’. Granted, many of their films were period pieces made when social values/norms were themselves still somewhat stuck in the dark ages, but even placed in context it’s hard to view their output without either an amused shake of the head or a cringe on ones face.
Hammer films are, by and large, the equivalent of comfort food – easy to digest but with the taste having long since ceased to offer any form of excitement. Whatever power Hammer’s movies once had hasn’t aged well, and The Mummy falls into that category. Compared to contemporaneous releases such as The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961), Les Yeux Sans Visage (Georges Franju, 1960), Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960) or Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960), Fisher’s film is tame and narratively conventional.
Though it’s true that Lee invests his take on the mummy, by then already seen in countless on-screen incarnations, with a profound sense of melancholy – no mean feat given he spends the majority of the film under wraps with only his eyes visible – and that Cushing is as watchable as he always was, the film just doesn’t grab the attention in the way that the aforementioned quartet of genre classics do.
Final Words: There’s no denying The Mummy looks beautiful in this crisp HD print, and Hammer fans will love the host of extras. The Mummy has its moments but, like the majority of the studio’s output, genuine scares are non-existent and an atmosphere of staid predictability pervades.
Extras: A raft of excellent extras are on offer; the film is presented in both its original theatrical aspect ratio and an alternate full frame aspect ratio, a commentary is provided by Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby and Terence Fisher’s crime drama Stolen Face (1952) is included along with four documentaries, a PDF booklet, industry promo and an HD archive/stills gallery.
The Mummy is released on 3-Disc Double Play on 14 October 2013.