Universal Studios The Mummy Legacy Collection

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Monday, 13 July 2009

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Universal Studios The Mummy Legacy Collection

A few years back Universal Studios put out six box-sets. Each one focuses on one of its classic icons of horror: Dracula, Frankenstein['s monster], the Invisible Man, the Wolfman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Mummy. These six box-sets come with a MSRP of about thirty American dollars, but usually sell from about half to two-thirds of that. From what I can tell (not yet owning all of them) they contain a DVD of the original, key movie, and some features with a bonus disk (or two) with the other "bonus features" (the pun being that the other movies in the series are treated as DVD extras with relatively little flair, on a cheaper, two-sided disk).

This box set is the same. You have a slip case with a "booklet" style dvd case made of cardboard and firm plastic (unlike some complaints, I think the packaging is fine in an of itself, but see "technical issues", below). The first DVD is the original, 1932 edition of The Mummy and it contains a feature about the movie as well as a few other extras (extras listed with movie description). Quality is fair-to-middlin'. The original has some visual (and audio) noise and a few lines and other signs of wear. The other four movies (more about their status as sequels in a moment) are placed two-to-a-side on a double-sided disk but are overall better restored. The four "sequels" are The Mummy's Hand, The Mummy's Tomb, The Mummy's Ghost, and The Curse of the Mummy. In pretty much none of those except the last one is the title particularly indicative of content. The only features these four movies get is their trailers. There are captions for all five movies (English, Spanish, and French), which is always a plus for me.

The Set-up (and a note about "the sequels): an Egyptian mummy is back from the dead. Dames keep getting in the way, sometimes its the mummy in love with them and sometimes its the Egyptian priest taking care of the mummy. A series of dashing young heroes keep getting in the way. The mummy might be destroyed. Or wait, is he? The end? It is important to understand you have two lines of movies, here. The first involves Imhotep and his cursed love. Boris Karloff plays Imhotep as a schemer trying to ressurect his love in the modern era, and not afraid to kill to achieve this. Less of a horror movie, and more of a supernatural [mild-]thriller. The second movie, The Mummy's Hand is actually about the mummy Kharis and a whole other forbidden love (Ananka, also identified as the virgin daughter of Amenophis, so possibly a sister of Ankh-es-en-amon, who just happened to have another priest try to ressurect her?). The Mummy's Tomb is a follow-up to Hand, though a couple of inconsistencies crop up, and likewise Ghost and Curse continue the overarching story (each case introduces a new set of inconsistencies, but more on them with the individual descriptions below). It is best to not try and reconcile the first movie with the later four, despite any attempt to sell them as sequels. They are sequels to each other, but the 1932 movie is stand-alone.

The Technical Issues: As has been complained about, and kind of often, these Universal Legacy Collections contain more than a couple glitches. I had only a moment or two of "processing glitch", with a couple of scenes looking very grainy (for some reason not restored, or a quality drop in the film quality? Strangely, in a couple of scenes, that weird break in quality actually worked for the movie) but the disk was physically smudged and scratched, and small ticks around the edge, and a kind of deep scratch on one surface (that caused a notable pause in a critical moment that required a quick fast-forward to unstick. I should clarify: the double-sided DVD had these problems. The main DVD seemed fine. A lot of people have attacked the box itself on this one, and there is a chance of the dvd coming lose in shipping. However, the boxes are sturdy containers and protect the DVD well once in hand.

The movies themselves: I will take a moment or two to describe each of the individual movies. I wrote an earlier review of The Mummy which I will supersede below now that I have watched them more as a set. My original review was not favorable, the movie initially struck me as awfully bland. Upon a rewatch, I was definitely more impressed by the whole thing (the movie went from Meh to Good. My new review, as well as the reviews of the others:

The Mummy

Imhotep (played creepily and well by Boris Karloff) is awakened in the modern day (well, 1921) by a unsuspecting assistant and enacts a scheme to have his lover, Ankh-es-en-amon, ressurected beside him. He finds she is reincarnated in the bottom of a young modern woman, who he begins to magically control her while several somewhat bumbling protectors try and prevent it. It is missing a needed dose of adrenaline in a few scenes, but still manages to convey its story fairly well. Directed by Karl Freund, who worked out some mobile camera shots in Dracula, though many of the shots here are fairly static, and occasionally borderline stagnant. Most of the set design works, but some of the dialogue and visual clues are confusing as to where exactly some scenes are taking place. The "love triangle" makes for some interesting tensions, though the modern branch (the love between Frank and Helen) is overwhelmed considerably by the love of the Egyptian souls. This might be the largest flaw of the film overall. If it had a stronger middle, where Frank and Helen demonstrate their love while Frank and Dr. Muller search for the Mummy (and fail) then the movie would have been a few notches better.

These complaints aside, the movie competently tells its story, and stays intriguing until the end. The first scene of the Mummy awakening is the scariest, though Karloff's quiet menace is as haunting (or moreso) as any of the Universal classic monsters. It also gets props for playing with lighting effects in a couple of scenes, as well as the meta-cinema technique of shooting the "flashbacks" as a silent movie (slightly faster frame rate, with a drop of film quality). Just be forewarned, like many old monster movies, the ending is so abrupt as to induce a quick rewind to see if you took a nap.

This movie does indeed borrow heavily from the movie Dracula. Old, undead creature seduces a young, modern woman while her lover and an older man fight to conquer the evil. The twist here is that Dracula was a literal leech feeding off the happiness and love of his victims, while Imhotep is somewhat wrongly condemned for being in love with the wrong woman. Unrequited love is often a greedy, egocentric love and while Dracula destroys Lucy, and later Mina, in a devouring conquering symbolising a ravishing; Imhotep is willing to destroy his love to be with her, and his magic is less about ravishing and much more about dominating the mind and the will. Which is the real monster? It is an interesting twist to the quintessential vampire tale, amplified by the lack of age old weapons against a mummy. Somewhat interesting is the parallel vibe between the weakening of Helen as she resists, and the "vampirism as a drug" concept used in The Horror of Dracula.

I have given a few positive shout outs to Karloff, but I should also point out that Zita Johann does an admiral job as Helen. Not quite perfect, and a few of her hand gestures towards the end are more suited to stage acting rather than screen. Arthur Byron works well as the elder Whemple, though David Manners does not quite work as well as the younger Whemple (his early scenes of attitude are better than his later scenes as lover). Edward Van Sloan, as this movie's stand-in for a Van Helsing, makes up for Manners' lacks, though, and it is only after the fact when you realize it is hard to remember more than a couple of scenes with Manners that you will notice. I'm not sure how to take Noble Johnson's "The Nubian", which is mostly just a henchman character with little fluff or point. I guess I will leave it at that.

As hinted at, above, the restoration is not as complete here as it is on the follow-up films, but the sound of Karloff's voice comes through jut fine. A couple scenes end a little abruptly, or are cut into a little quick, which might suggest some lost footage, but I do not know. Nothing seems to be lost that would detract.

The movie ges a Good, overall, with some leeway given for a few of the lacks. It entertains, and that's the important thing for such a movie.

Extras: You get three real extras (besides the trailer). The first is "Mummy Dearest" a half-hour documentary that discusses the making of, some of the history of, and the reaction to the movie. A few bits are a bit more advertisement than documentary, and outside of Zita Johann and Boris Karloff, there is very little about cast or crew. If you are curious about the cut scene involving the series of reincarnations, this documentary mentions it. It also includes a brief overview of the four films in the Kharis series, as well as the Abbott and Costello movie. The second feature is a collection of stills. Many are of shots found in the movie itself, and are probably not of high interest, but some shots of the poster and the colored cards (looks like some sort of collector's card) are a nice touch. The third feature is a commentary by a film historian, which I have not listened to and so cannot review.

The Mummy's Hand

Down in his luck, Steve Banning and his friend "Babe" Jenson stumble upon a clue to a forgotten burial spot. With the help of a friendly, but also somewhat down on his luck, magician (of the cards and rabbits-from-hat kind) they set out to locate this lost "tomb of Ananka" but find, instead, the tomb of Kharis. A secret order of priests (down to a single man, now, though he has help) use Kharis, reanimated by extract from the sacred and ironically extinct tana leaves, to protect the tomb of Ananka (why is a little vague).

I am positive that I like this movie for the reasons the detractors consider it the worst of the follow-ups. Boris Karloff's liche-like mummy is replaced by a bandaged zombie-like corpse who is commanded by a high priest. Gone are the mystic powers and self-will, replaced instead by a chemical compound. The forbidden love is now more one sided (from what I can tell) and the horrific, shambling dead pretty much gets a single attack: the one-handed choke (this implausibly slow yet somehow effective attack is the predominant mode of death for the remainder of the movies). What's more, the good guys are played by Dick Foran and Wallace Ford (and Peggy Moran and Cecil Kellaway), chosen apparently for their ability to bring humor to the roles. Ford's "Babe" and Foran's Banning are as much about wise-cracking as tomb-cracking. The only real problems (unless comedy is not your thing) is the lack of reaction to the first death scene and an out of the blue tempted high priest plot materialzing in the final moments. It is better to think of this movie as an early forerunner to the horror-comedy subgenre. You do get the most frightening version of Kharis, though. Not quite as swaddled in cloth as the later versions, and the eyes are blacked out, making it feel much more dead. The "one bad arm" motif starts here, with the description being that the tana leaves have not been given in significant enough quantities for the mummy to be truly free.

I also give this movie a Good because it also entertains, and made me laugh.

The Mummy's Tomb

Thirty years after the last one, though the studio did not try at all to make the future look like anything other than 1942, the story picks up with the mummy brought to America (it makes something like sense as to how this is possible when you watch it, I'll avoid going into much detail). The living members of the previous movie are hunted down to be destroyed. Kind of. Confusingly, a person not even in the first one is killed as "one of the four", presumably because one of the actors from the first one did not reprise her role and so a substitute character of sorts was brought in. Probably the weakest in overall importance, with the new hero and heroine not worth a whole lot and the tempted priest subplot is even more simpering and sudden this time.

This movie gets a Meh, and is the nadir of the bunch. The "shadow of the mummy" scene, the mummy walking down mainstreet, and the first killing, are the only moments really worth it. The final chase scene makes no sense (why are they on boats and why is it taking so long to catch up to a creature that had almost no headstart and movies with a slow limp?) and the climax involves a most improbable fire (which, spoilers I suppose, fails to do a damn thing in light of the sequel).

I am tempted to make a "fan edit" of the first two [Kharis] movies, keeping the scant few bits of Tomb and using them as something of a wrap-around story for Hand.

The Mummy's Ghost

Some years since Tomb, Ghost starts off much like it with the high priest sending another priest to America to seek revenge. Then it cuts to a college and a class of Egyptology, where they preach the living mummy events from the last movie as fact. The characters are more likable, here, and there is an interesting counterpoint to the "I know an Egyptian, let's go mob up on him!" moment from the last when the character Harvey stands up for his Egyptian girlfriend, Amina. Kind of, since, well, she is part of the whole thing (however unwittingly). A step up from the previous one, while aping a few scenes from it, the killings are just a little more scary and while it contains yet another improbable chase scene, at least the love story actually feels like a love story and the suprisingly downbeat ending makes the movie feel more mature than the previous two. It must be noted that for some reason the story of the previous two has been changed so that the princess herself is under some sort of curse for her role in the affair. The inscription, or one very similar, found on Imhotep's sarcophagus is found, now, on Princess Ananka's. Also, the role of the tana leaves has changed. While, before, they were required to keep the mummy alive (presumably if not given to him every full moon, he would cease to live) here they are only used to tempt him and cause him to move. What's more, the fiery end to the previous movie is completely ignored, annoyingly, even to the point that his bandages look pretty clean for a creature that has laid in a swampy region for years.

This movie gets an Eh. The chase scene was unnecessarily frustrating, though the town accepting the facts in front of their eyes and fighting back was a nice touch and John Carradine wins kudos for turning a potentially hokey character into something close to a menace. Again, though, the priest suffers sudden-onset temptation. Features the prettiest female lead in the series, mind you, so there is that.

The Curse of The Mummy

Set an improbable twenty-five years past the ending Ghost, this movie would take place in the 1990s or around 2000 or so. That nitpick aside it makes a a really questionable decision to shift the events of the last three movies to Lousiana (though this might explain the southern style mansion and the swamp scenes from the earlier movies, though one would be hard pressed to explain why they would make multiple movies set in Lousiana and then have that changed to New England after the fact). Not satisfied with just stereotyping Egyptians, this movie has a comic-relief black man and the most cliche version of the priest character (though the award for the most bizarre "Egyptian" goes to the beggar in Hand). And Cajun Joe, who does not seem so much Cajun as just "ethnically" quaint.

What this movie does have working for it is the scene where Princess Ananka crawls out of the mud and bathes in the swamp. About triple the maturity of staging, lighting, and impact of every other scene in this movie combined, one is left wondering where its brief brilliance is in the rest of the film. If I ever make a movie where I could reference that scene, I would. After this first, well shot appearance, Princess Ananka settles in as a perplexed character and is mostly a plot device. Which is a shame.

This movie scores a Meh because the priest's narration of past events is delivered about as hokey as you can get, the temptation subplot returns with its nadir of believability, the movie makes finding things in the Bayou seem to be as easy as walking up a down a couple of easy trails, and the one-armed choke neither feels menacing nor believable. Plus, like the last movie, the make-up artist went for some sort of rictus grin on the mummy's face that comes across as a look of doofus contrition. The ending of Ghost would have made a better finale to the series since this neither particularly settles anything new nor justifies itself outside of trying to end on a falsely positive note.


You get three movies of three slightly different genres worth watching. You get a mildly interesting making of documentary, and you get a couple of not quite worth watching, though only about an hour long, movies. I paid about fifteen dollars for it. This comes out to be, say, ten dollars for the first disk with The Mummy and the special features, and five dollars for the other two movies (with Tomb and Curse considered absolute freebies). I would say it's worth it, and give the overall package a Good (even the two I did not really like were interesting to watch as b-movies from over six decades ago). If you find yourself netted in for the full, or fuller, amount, you might want to reconsider depending on whether you are interested in The Mummy or Boris Karloff or interested in Hollywood take on the mummy as a monster. Another option is to get the standalone, two-disk set of the The Mummy which contains a few new features (a new commentary, a new documentary about the make-up artist, Jack Pierce, and a new feature about the legacy of the mummy). There are also DVDs pairs of Hand with Tomb and Ghost with Curse. All told, the cost of these three sets separately will cost more (you are looking at nearly double the legacy collection, even with reasonable discounts) but might allow you to focus on just getting the ones you want (presumably just the original).

Bonus: 1932 The Mummy compared with 1999 The Mummy

Since there is a fair chance that you have seen the newer remake instead of the old, and might be curious how the two link together, I figure I would make a short description of their likes and not-likes to help you out. The sames: The mummy is Imhotep and his love is roughly the same. First coming back from the dead in a more decayed state, and becoming more mystical and more human like before the end of the movie. In both, a dashing young man falls in love with a young woman connected to the old love of the mummy. The not-sames: most everything else. The mummy and his lover were killed due to regicide brought on by said lover being also the pharoah's lover, not just his virgin daughter. The 1999 mummy is much closer to a force of Biblical proportions, while the 1932 movie is much more menacing on a small scale. The dashing young 1999 hero is of the action sort, while the 1932 hero is much more of the "I come from money" sort. The wise-cracking sidekick angle, the "museum" worker destroying the map to protect the secret, the secret order of priests, and the overall balance of the love angle is much more related to The Mummy's Hand.

Si Vales, Valeo


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