Hammer Studio’s The Mummy was made in 1959 by director Terence Fisher and starred Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as an archeologist John Banning and Kharis, the Mummy, his nemesis. Right from the beginning of the film the opening credits with the beautifully painted hieroglyphics and the rousing Egyptian desert musical score you know that Egypt is the flavour and that we are in for a glorious technicolour movie with wonderful sets and all this Egyptian! This Hammer production came fresh after the successes of Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) (reviewed here) and Dracula (1958) aka Horror of Dracula and re-teamed Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in another horror monster movie. These followed with Hammer’s Universal Studio remakes, this one had all the ingredients for a successful horror movie. Terence Fisher had directed both the Frankenstein and Dracula movies, so the Mummy became a very logical choice for him to do next. The Mummy also created three very loose sequels for Hammer, Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Shroud and Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb.
Beginning in an Egyptian archeological dig the team of British scientists dig up the ancient tomb of an ancient Egyptian princess, who was reputed to be guarded by Kharis, the princess’ lover. As the team unearth the tomb, the Mummy (Kharis) is awakened and wrecks havoc and mayhem as he tries to kill all the men involved in the desecration of the tomb. Kharis only meets his match in the guise of John Banning (Peter Cushing), the last survivour of the expedition and the son of the man who reawakened Kharis from his sleep. The finale is great one, as the Mummy drowns in a bog while being shot at by the local police and vigilantes. Christopher Lee is very animated as the Mummy, using his body to convey his anguish and anger at being an instrument of revenge. Peter Cushing
is the ever elegant Englishman, using skill and intelligence to defeat his foe and George Pastell as Mehemet Bey the archetype Egyptian, who uses Kahris the Mummy to exact revenge against Banning and his family is a devoted but dangerous adversary.
In the flashback sequences narrated by Cushing, we see Christopher Lee as Kahris the priest as he prepares the Princess for burial and later trying to resurrect her as it transpires that they are lovers. For this evil, Kharis is entombed with the princess alive, as a guardian. Thus when her tomb is discovered and disturbed, he returns to wreck revenge. These scenes are very well thought out and have the best sets in the whole movie. The exteriors were filmed in the studio while the interiors draw heavly from all manner of Egyptian architecture to create a visually stunning piece of cinematography and set design.
This version of the Mummy borrows some of it’s ideas from the old Universal Mummy films of the 40’s; but in the hands of director Terence Fisher, this version of the Mummy truly is a Hammer film, filmed in glorious Technicolour with lush sets and a simple but effective story and the teaming of Lee and Cushing made this production a certified hit. When watching the film, you fell instantly drawn to the hot sandy Egyptian locations, the supersisitous inhabitants and the stiff upper lipped Englishmen discovering history for all mankind. There is a strong message of respect for history and what man’s part in the world, do not meddle with what you do not know about. I guess that if you stumble about without respecting your surroundings you will inevitable fall into danger.
On repeat viewing of The Mummy, I have slowly come to enjoy this very original movie and it has become a classic addition to the early Hammer gothic horrors. The Mummy is certainly a very watchable film, the sets are beautifully designed, the story is spot on and has enough chills and death to make it eerie. Under Terence Fisher’s direction, The Mummy ranks alongside Dracula and Curse Of Frankenstein as another golden stab at the established traditional horror monsters and it may not have been as popular as Dracula or Curse Of Frankenstein upon it’s initial release; but in terms of acting and production values The Mummy should be as highly regarded, seen for its own merits and as a very worthy addition to Hammers golden age of horror film making.