After finding success with further sequels to their Frankenstein and Invisible Man franchises, Universal decided to plunder the sarcophagus of their horror back catalogue and resurrect that bandaged bad boy known as the Mummy. Clawing it’s way out of the tomb in 1940, this version of the shambling supernatural husk wasn’t the Boris Karloff version who had not only come back from the dead but actually got himself a job and started assassinating his peers with heart attack magic, no, a whole new story had been cooked up for this edition of a sandy franchise that went on to have an impressive six installments of it’s original run.
But how much originality and threat can you possibly infuse into such a creature who most people can accurately co-play with only ten minutes and three rolls of toilet paper – I guess we’ve got no option but to take The Mummy’s Hand and find out…
The wilfully sinister Professor Andoheb travels to meet with the sickly High Priest Of Karnek – a secret sect that keeps watch over various ancient Mummy shit – and is told the story of the defiant, but most definately screwed, Kharis. It seems back in ancient Egyptian times, Kharis stole sacred, life restoring tana leaves in the hope of curing his beloved Princess Ananka from a rather nasty case of death, but instead was caught in the act, had his tongue removed and buried alive as a deterrent. I mean, I guess it worked because he never did it again… Anyway, as caring for a cursed Mummy comes with more instructions than an IKEA wardrobe, Andoheb is named the new High Priest and must be sure to keep the curse in check with regular doses of tana leaves.
Meanwhile, struggling archeologist Steve Banning and his best buddy (and professional hanger on and wisecracker) Babe Jensen find a cracked vase that may hold the secret to discovering the lost tomb of Ananka only to be stone walled by Andoheb who decries it as a fake in order to keep his sect’s secrets. Undeterred by little things like the professional opinion of a peer and having absolutely no money to fund an exposition, Banning manages to get much needed moolah from travelling magician The Great Solvani, much to the alarm of his daughter who is convinced he’s being swindled.
They all head off to to the location where they believe Ananka, only to find the tomb of Kharis instrad who Andoheb revives a weaponises with increased doses of those funky leaves. With an undead mummy on the loose throttling everyone Andoheb points him at, Banning and Jensen have to find a way to stop the curse; especially since the evil Professor has decided to go far outside his job description and make himself and a kidnapped Solvani’s daughter immortal because he’s got the horn…
If I had an issue with the original Mummy, it’s that it wasn’t the movie I was expecting. After all, when you picture a mummy movie you expect to see explorers being chased around sandy tombs by the moldy title creature and not a wrinkly Karloff in a fez planning the deaths of his enemies like a second rate Bond villian. However, while The Mummy’s Hand is much more what I was expecting to see originally, it’s slightly a case of “be careful what you wish for” as we get plenty of tomb raiding but with far less subtlety.
For example, there’s nothing here that gets remotely close to the orginal Mummy’s opening scene where Karloff, in full bandaged regalia, reaches slowly across a table to grab a map while a witness instantly goes insane with terror. Similarly, while Karloff doesn’t stay in his mummified form for long, at least he was calling the shots; in comparison Kharis is not much more than glorified muscle for Andoheb to use at will which gives him way less character than the tragic Frankenstein’s Monster, the sinister Dracula, the depressed Wolf Man or the raving mad Invisible Man.
He certainly looks the part though, as Tom Tyler ably drags himself through the frame under a ton of makeup crushing windpipes wherever he finds them like he’s got a quota to fill while fixing his victims with the the dead, black eyes of a great white shark – it’s just a shame that’s all he is.
Still, George Zucco admittedly gives good 40’s villain and gives out reams of exposition in suitably grave tones but his character’s motivation is all over the shop as he falls in love and abducts the female lead because that’s seemingly only because that’s what bad guys are supposed to do in movies like this – also it is pretty amusing that for all of his grandstanding that Kharis is a creature of lethal, unmatched power; it turns out that the monster’s main weakness appears to be that it’s as flammable as a kerosene soaked bonfire and such is easily dispatched to go and chill with Ra in the afterlife.
Weirdly enough for a period in film where most horror leads where lantern jawed photocopies, The Mummy’s Hand actually endeavors to have some fun interplay between the good guys with the banter between hero and sidekick plays very much like a toned down relationship much in the style of Abbott And Costello (who coincidentally would go on and meet the Mummy themselves in 1955). There’s even a genuinely amusing running joke that, due to his first name, the sidekick is repeatedly being called “Babe” by the manly hero which I genuinely feel that it only came about by someone not thinking it through.
Despite giving me all the dusty loping and crypt fleeing I thought needed after watching the original, this particular Mummy movie still can’t garner any momentum to get any speed up (both literally and figuratively) even though it’s a perfectly respectable flick in it’s own right. Even though he’s noticably getting on in years, The Mummy’s Hand still manages to maintain a fairly decent grip…