Monday, June 12, 2017

12 Mummy Movies Worth Watching

At an abysmal 17 %, the Rotten Tomatoes rating of the new version of The Mummy (2017) might have you hiding in your sarcophagus instead of rushing to the theater, but, luckily for mummy lovers, Hollywood has produced plenty of better pictures in the genre. You can save your dollars for another round of Wonder Woman and still get your Egyptian undead fix with any of these twelve films, which show the long history of the movie mummy and the many different ways the character can be treated.

1) THE MUMMY (1932) - Boris Karloff shines in this original outing for the iconic monster, although he spends most of the film in more human form as Ardath Bey. The role gives him a chance to use his hypnotic voice, something he was denied as the mute creature in Frankenstein (1931), but it also helps to cement his importance as a leading player in classic horror. This dreamy contemplation on the pas de deux of love and death sets the tone for many of the mummy movies to follow, as well it should. After 85 years, it remains the greatest example of the genre and still captivates audiences as Imhotep lures his lost love back to his immortal side.

2) THE MUMMY'S HAND (1940) - It took eight years for Universal to make another mummy movie, this time without the powerful appeal of Karloff. While The Mummy's Hand isn't a great movie, it does have its charms, and it sets up a series of pictures featuring the character of Kharis. The later Kharis films star Lon Chaney, Jr. as the mummy, but in this outing Western actor Tom Tyler shuffles beneath the bandages as the undead menace. The later films, which fall further into strict matinee fare, include The Mummy's Tomb (1942), The Mummy's Ghost (1944), and The Mummy's Curse (1944).

3) THE MUMMY (1959) - In the late 1950s, Hammer rebooted the Universal monster tales with a series of gorgeous, lurid productions starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and this retelling of the mummy story adds a little of the signature Hammer sex appeal to a story that already has a weird romance as its driving force. Lee shambles tragically as the mummy Kharis, while Peter Cushing plays the archeologist trying to stop an ancient Egyptian curse from depriving him of both his life and his lovely spouse.

4) BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB (1971) - This is a later, sexier Hammer production from the early 70s and a loose adaptation of Bram Stoker's 1903 novel, The Jewel of the Seven Stars. While it's light on actual mummies, the film is memorable for Valerie Leon's allure and a higher body count than many earlier films. Daily Dead has a good review of the film here, if you're interested in learning more, and most Hammer fans will find it worthwhile if imperfect. Some of its problems aren't really the fault of the film, since Peter Cushing bowed out early due to his wife's illness, and director Seth Holt died during filming.

5) AMAZING STORIES: "Mummy Daddy" (1985) - OK, so it's not a movie, but this mummy story has so much love for classic Universal horror that you have to see it, anyway, and it's one of the most beloved and memorable episodes of the influential television series. Tom Harrison stars as an actor in full mummy makeup who takes off from location to greet his new baby's arrival, although along the way he gets into all kinds of trouble thanks to his scary costume and the presence of an actual mummy shambling about the swamp. The plot of the episode mirrors an old story about Boris Karloff rushing to the hospital for his daughter's birth in full costume as Frankenstein's monster, but you'll find tributes to many Universal monster movies over the course of the episode.

6) TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE (1990) - Admittedly, only the first segment of this horror anthology film is about mummies, but it's memorable enough that I include it here (honestly, I remember it scaring me half to death when I saw it in the theaters as a teenager). "Lot 249" stars Christian Slater, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, and Robert Sedgwick in a plot about a college student's gruesome revenge against his classmates. The segment is adapted from the 1892 short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which helped to establish many of the conventions of the mummy horror tale, so this is a good one to track down if you're interested in the history of supernatural mummy stories.

7 and 8) THE MUMMY (1999) and THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001) - Although its history of rebooting the classic monsters has been spotty at best, Universal really knocked it out of the park with Stephen Sommers' delightful 1999 adventure, which mixed scares, laughs, and action in equal measure. Arnold Vosloo is an imposing, muscled Imhotep, accidentally brought back to life by archeologists and bent on resurrecting his long lost love. Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, Oded Fehr, and John Hannah have such great chemistry as our heroic team that it's good to see them back in action for the 2001 sequel, even if the second movie doesn't quite measure up to the first. Like the Amazing Stories episode, part of the charm of this version is its love for the films that have come before, so it pays to watch the 1932 version first and then watch the 1999 one. You can probably skip the later installments of the franchise unless you're really invested in Dwayne Johnson as the Scorpion King.

9) BUBBA HO-TEP (2002) - There's nothing else out there quite like Bubba Ho-Tep, but people who have seen it love it, and I'm happy to be yet another fan urging you to put this one on your watch list. Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis star as nursing home residents who take up their walkers and canes to fight a murderous mummy, but they're not just any old geezers, they're Elvis and JFK, still alive but rather the worse for wear. Adapted from a short story by Joe R. Lonsdale, Bubba Ho-Tep is either your kind of thing or it isn't, but it's a terrific example of horror comedy's ability to juggle its two genres' demands. It's weird and scary and absolutely hilarious, and it's one of those movies that every monster film fan really ought to see.

10, 11 and 12) NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM trilogy (2006, 2009, 2014) - This is a more kid-friendly way to watch some mummy movie adventures, but the three pictures borrow a lot from the genre's traditions in service to the plot of having museum exhibits that come alive at night. Ben Stiller leads a huge cast of well-known stars in all three pictures, and the focus is squarely on comedic adventure, but those who know their mummy movies will see the films putting familiar conventions to work in interesting ways. The ancient Egyptian pharaoh character, Ahkmenrah, figures in all three pictures and is played by Rami Malek, whom you will recognize immediately from his current TV series, Mr. Robot. The Night at the Museum movies mark one of the few times a person of actual Egyptian heritage has gotten to play an Egyptian mummy.