I Dislike Being Touched: The Mummy

By Last Updated: February 28, 2024Views: 2796

The Mummy from 1932 is a classic. A flawed classic for sure, but a classic nonetheless. There are parts of this film that are truly brilliant and there are parts that are…well…not. To be honest this is one film that I have had mixed feeling for. I want to love it. I do. But then this pesky thing called a plot creeps up and I realize that sometimes memories are better than how things really are.

“You will not remember what I show you now, and yet I shall awaken memories of love… and crime… and death…”
– Imhotep

What I Remember…

Most kids when Halloween comes around and when in need of a quick costume will wrap themselves in a bed sheet torn in strips and with arms outstretched and walk stiff legged down the street mumbling something about ancient curses in a gravelly voice. Bada-bing, a mummy! Or, as a certain industrious young boy from Philadelphia would do, wrap up in several rolls of toilet paper (this works surprisingly well).

My memories of watching the film as a child are few and punctuated by frustration. I remember I wanted to see a mummy – a rampaging, bloodthirsty mummy – and this film did not deliver. The iconic mummy – that is the dried up old corpse wrapped in bandages drags itself around killing people – only shows up for the first five minutes. Although he doesn’t actually kill anyone; he just sort of steals a scroll and limps off. The ashen face and the bandages may be the iconic look, sure, but it’s only there for the briefest of moments. I was disappointed, sure, but I do remember enjoying the film. If nothing else this proves that kids are weird.

What It’s About…

An archaeological expedition digs up the mummy of an Egyptian priest called Imhotep. After inspecting the mummy the archaeologists find that the man was buried alive and they decide to read from “Scroll of Thoth” an incantation to bring the dead back to life because…why not? Surprisingly the mummy comes back to life.

many years later we find Imhotep has given himself a new identity as a Egyptian named Ardath Bey. Bey convinces the son of the archaeologist that dug him up to dig up the tomb of tomb of the princess Ankh-es-en-amon. It turns out that Ankh-es-en-amon was Imhotep’s secret, forbidden lover and was the reason he was burried alive.

Imhotep soon encounters Helen, a woman bearing a striking resemblance to the princess. Believing her to be Ankh-es-en-amon’s reincarnation, he attempts to kill her, with the intention of mummifying her, resurrecting her, and finally making her his bride. Ah, romance.

She is eventually saved when she remembers her past life and prays to the goddess Isis to rescue her. A statue of Isis then comes to life and sets fire to the Scroll of Thoth breaking the immortality spell on Imhotep crumbling him to dust.

What I Think Now…

This movie frustrated me as a kid but the movie is a bit of a frustration at any age. There are some really great things in this film but the bad of the film threaten to overwhelm the good bits and almost succeeds.

First off there are long stretches where nothing actually happens. People talk about things that could happen, but then those things don’t happen. The dialogue itself is stilted and forced. Instead of the characters themselves actually telling us who they are and what their motivations are, we are instead given an abundance of asides to unnamed characters having convenient conversations filled with exposition. And the romance…oh, where to begin? Let’s just say when a man tells a woman that he has fallen in love with her because she reminds him of a shriveled corpse he found in the desert it’s not exactly Casablanca.

And we get things like when Boris Karloff, in his guise as Ardath Bay, tells the English archeologists that Egyptians can’t dig up the tombs, “We are not allowed to dig our dead, only foreigners,” he tells them. However in the very next scene we see a large group of Egyptians digging out the site of a tomb while the Englishmen watch seated in the shade. Apparently they can dig out the dead, they just can’t supervise it.

With that said there are wonderful moments in this movie as well.

Karloff – billed as “the Uncanny” – is of course brilliant. He seems easy and comfortable in the role. The bad bits are durable knowing that he will be on the screen again. He is creepy and quiet and punctuates a rather subdued performance with dashes of passion that give the character depth and allow us to sympathize with him. And also adds a level of terror when he actually does do terrible things.

And the film looks great. The director Karl Freund comes from that wonderful German Expressionist background that gives the classic moody look that so many of these early horror films have. Long shadows and smoky rooms with harsh dramatic lighting, it is quite beautiful.

While the film is not exactly scary, not in the way Frankenstein or Dracula is for instance, there are moments of real suspense and one disturbing bit as well. The beginning, that part with the bandages and the ashen face, is truly suspenseful in a ‘oh my God did that mummy just move’ sort of way.

But the real terror comes in the flashback scene where we get to see Imhotep’s arrest and mummification. Karloff plays this perfectly, his shocked and fearful expression and struggling against the bandages is truly unsettling. This is a man being buried alive after all and that in and of itself is a terrifying prospect to imagine, but take into account the fact that he is immortal and will have to endure this suffering for centuries. This is horrific and something that plays on a primal fear that many have.

So in the end we have The Mummy, warts and all. The flawed classic. It is one that frustrated me as a kid and frustrates me as an adult. But I know that one day, maybe soon, I’ll watch it again. The good and the bad wrapped up together like some kind of…toilet paper costume a kid would make for Halloween.

Original Trailer

Monster Memories is an ongoing feature that looks at classic horror films and TV from the perspective of how I remember them as a child and comparing them to how I see them today as an adult. It is not meant to be a detailed critique of the film/show but rather a nostalgic look back on a genre I love.

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