When Universal Studios decided to up-shift the amount of movies that featured their stock horror characters, you get the genuine impression that the Mummy might have cause a few headaches for any screenwriter hired to tackle his raggedy ass. After all, how many times can people accidently stumble upon a cursed Egyptian tomb or piss off whatever malajusted cult member assigned to protect it so invokes a rash of moldy stranglings perpetrated by the bandaged monster?
Still, that never seemed to bother the producers much and so in 1942 the world got yet another Mummy movie that brought back old characters, enlisted creature portrayal junkie Lon Chaney Jr. in the title role and shifts the sandy action to… Massachusetts?
I should say that this should be a Mummy flick the likes of which you’ve never seen before – but that blatantly wouldn’t be true…
Thirty years after the events of The Mummy’s Hand, an elderly Steve Banning relates the tale of when he and his best buddy “Babe” Hansen discovered the hidden tomb of the mummified Kharis who was routinely brought to life by the sinister Andoheb to initially enforce the tomb’s curse and then used him to be his undead wingman as he abducted Banning’s sweetheart in a creepy display of lust. However, unknown to Banning, Andoheb actually survived getting riddled with bullets at the hands of a grown man called Babe and has groomed his successor, the equally sinister Mehemet Bay, to carry on the curse by shipping Kharis (still in one piece after his brief immolation) to America to take out Banning and his bloodline 30 years after the fact.
Succeeding in murdering Banning and his nagging sister, Mehemet sets his sights on Steve’s son John, a young doctor who is excited at the prospect of being shipped off to fight in World War II and is spending his remaining days mourning his father and making kissy faces at his sweetheart Isobel. Despite the incompetent actions of the local police who seem incapable of finding the slow moving bandaged corpse that’s going around throttling the members of a single family, answers finally arrive in the shape of Babe Hansen who confirms that Steve’s stories of The Mummy actually happened. Finally the authorities have something to go on, but Mehemet makes a textbook error in his quest to make the Banning family pay by doing exactly what his predecessor did and develops a deeply creepy infatuation with Isobel which he intends to consummate with a plan to make them both immortal.
Can John get to the bottom of this ghastly mystery and solve all of his…. Mummy issues?
Possibly more than any other member of the Universal Monsters fraternity, The Mummy often struggles as much to find an original story than he does trying to raise his twisted right arm trying to hail a cab. As if to drive this point painfully home, The Mummy’s Tomb desides to dedicate a fair chunk of it’s opening scene to recapping the previous movie, The Mummy’s Hand, in great detail using more second hand footage than a 70’s clips show. This isn’t so bad on it’s own (god knows plenty of horror sequels have used the same trick since) but when you factor in the fact that the movie goes on to duplicate most of the plot we start to have a major problem concerning originality. The main culprit is the villainous Mehemet Bey, who not only suffers from the foreigner=evil issues that plague the series but also has the exact same character arc as his predecessor as he too mixes questionable business with even more questionable pleasure by risking his insidious plan mainly because he’s got the horn… Again, this wouldn’t be so harmful on its own, but we even get a scene where the elderly Andoheb specifically tells Mehemet in no uncertain terms to keep it in his trousers and think of Egypt as that’s exactly where he went wrong.
Another issue is the rather unnecessary casting of Lon Chaney Jr. as the mute, lumbering Mummy Kharis himself. Karloff got high billing for playing the first Mummy because the character of Imhotep managed to rejuvenate himself beyond the typical bandaged fashion and gets actual speaking lines – Chaney on the other hand is virtually unrecognisable in the thick makeup, isn’t even called upon to moan or groan and frankly brings nothing to the role that any burly stuntman hanging around the lot couldn’t do. Frankly, it’s a waste of talent for a guy who delivered the suprisingly nuanced lead role in The Wolf Man to be shuffling wirelessly around fatally rearranging the neckline of anyone in his path with his dusty mitts, although the makeup admittedly looks pretty sweet.
So if it’s so derivative, why the generous three stars then? Well, what took me by suprise about The Mummy’s Tomb was its remarkably modern attitude it has about how it treats its returning characters with both conquering heroes not only returning as old, grey men but also having them callously dispatched much like the overlapping characters of Nightmare On Elm Street sequels as they’re sacrificed to make way for fresher, newer heroes. It’s even more impressive considering that Dick Foran, Wallace Ford and George Zucco all return to promptly shuffle off the mortal coil as Steve Banning, Babe Hanson and Andoheb respectively. Maybe I’m being may too forgiving on a film that has a very 80’s attitude to character survival despite being made in the 40’s, but on the other hand the production is just as lush despite the fact that the whole 30-years-later setting seems purely in place to save some cash on exchanging ornate Egyptian sets to a drawing room in Mapleton. Also the fiery climax is fairly exciting primarily because the health and safety rep obviously seems to have taken the day off as many actors get worryingly close to roaring flames – shit, one guy fucking falls right on top of a blazing torch – that are caused by the townsfolk not giving a single blue fuck that the Mummy has a female hostage…
Even though this particular entry in Universal’s string of literal pyramid schemes barely squeaks by in making the grade, it manages to shuffle along on goodwill that’s held together as loosely as its resurrected heavy.