Blu-ray Review: ‘The Mummy’

“He who robs the graves of Egypt…dies.” It’s sage advice oft proffered to enthusiastic archaeologists and rarely taken heed of. Unsurprisingly, it proves as valuable as the wise words from a stranger that discourage visiting that ominous Transylvanian castle, or investigating the abandoned cabin in the woods. It’s the laughing-off of such a recommendation by an affable, well-dressed Englishman in rich Technicolor that assures audiences that they’re about to enjoy the recognisable comforts of Hammer Horror’s The Mummy (1959). No sooner has he dismissed the warning he’s scared into a coma.

The tomb of Princess Ananka, a high priestess of Karnak, seems a haunted place to John Banning (Peter Cushing), son of the fabled and now committed treasure hunter (Felix Aylmer). After his father’s collapse, he and his uncle (Raymond Huntley) seal off the tomb, but the mysterious Mehemet Bey (George Pastell) seems hell-bent on wreaking a terrible revenge on those that disturbed the slumber of the priestess. When he follows the three back to England, a crate of ‘relics’ are lost in a bog. However, under the cover of darkness, he raises from the swamp the eponymous demon. Terence Fisher’s effort is superior to some of the later entries in this particular Hammer series, far more akin to the earlier Universal iterations.

There’s not actually as much of the studio’s later hamminess here, with buxom wenches and Kensington Gore kept to a minimum and Cushing on fine form with his straight portrayal of a baffled and beleaguered academic. The sections in which we learn of the tragic past of Christopher Lee’s mummy Kharis, a priest desperately in love with Ananka, convince the least, but do add a fun flashback element. Ultimately, though, it is once the bandaged body rises from the water and begins to exact Mehemet Bey’s diabolical revenge that Fisher’s The Mummy comes into its own.

Time-worn motifs like local villagers running into a pub for a drink after seeing a something ‘non-human’ marauding through the woods are all included and serve only to make it more enjoyable. The trio of Fisher, Cushing and Lee are rarely likely to disappoint and they don’t do so here. It’s not quite on a par with Hammer’s best stuff, or indeed with Karl Freund’s initial black and white treatment of the mummy myth, but this a solid effort and the restoration and a wealth of extras make this a release worth checking-out.

Ben Nicholson

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