If I had to unwrap the chief issue I have with classic Mummy films, it’s the fact that the majority of them all seem made from the same cloth – it’s a problem I found when sitting through Universal’s original clutch of six movies featuring the maul-happy monster and it’s still noticable as we head into Hammer Films’ second entry featuring the sandy son of a bitch.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but in my defence, while I may keep banging on about the same old things, so do the bloody movies, which, for most part, tend to feature the same combination of a plundered tomb, a Mummy being used as a blunt instrument for revenge, a bunch of scoffing, British explorers and usually a reincarnation or two just to tie everything up neatly. So there’s no great surprise when I announce that Hammer’s second Mummy movie, The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb, is predictably more of the same, but while it loses points for failing to contain either Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing this time round, the usual Hammer bells and whistles manage to carry the bandaged bastard through his latest rampage rather nicely.
It’s 1900 and the tomb of Ra-Antef (son to big cheese, Ramesses VIII) is uncovered by a gaggle of Egyptologists made up of John Bray, Sir Giles Dalrymple and Professor Eugene Dubois whose daughter Annette is also Bray’s fiancée – however, celebrations are cut short when Dubois is cut even shorter by the blade of a cult that desperately wants to keep the tomb as un-desecrated as possible (bit late guys, but I’m loving the energy). This manages to cause a shift in power within the group as shameless huckster Alexander King gets in John and Annette’s ears (“Nuthin’ sacrilicious about makin’ money!”) and instead of letting the priceless artifacts gather dust in a museum, wants to take the artifacts on the road in order to rake in far more cash. While this desicion not only sends Giles into a booze-soaked spiral, it also causes the protectors of the tomb to step up their game – enter Adam Beauchamp, a classy, handsome and mysterious benefactor type who adjusts his bowtie after socking a would-be assasin off the side of an ocean liner with impunity like he’s a 1900 James Bond and who joins the group in order to help them crack the secrets of the tomb.
Setting John and Annette up in his mansion and wowing the latter with his extensive (and suspicious) knowledge of Egyptian history, it soon becomes clear that he has ulterior motives, but what’s the deal with the hulking corpse of Ra-Antef that’s resurrected to put the curse of the tomb into effect with larynx crushing and head popping gusto.
While The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb is, as I previously mentioned, pretty much more of the same, it’s graced with enough polish and atmosphere to still make it a noticably fun watch despite the frantic box ticking that seems to come with every Mummy film made before the 90’s. The plot, while containing all the aspects associated with films featuring the classic creature mixes the order of the established tropes just enough to give it the vague haze of originality. For example, the token Egyptian character who is usually shoehorned in to spout exposition and is usually revealed to be controlling the Mummy is actually benign this time around while it’s actually one of the white guys who turns out to be directly linked to the Ramesses lineage (I didn’t say it was progressive – I said it was different) and we actually get to spend a lot more time with the characters this time around as the big, bandaged one doesn’t make his shambling presence felt for around 50 minutes.
Thankfully, the script is just about up to it even though its lead is typically vanilla and noticably way too old with King’s spiel flinging entertainer amusingly referring to him as “kid” even though Ronald Howard’s doughy features blatantly contains more lines than Keith Richard’s drug intake. Elsewhere Jeanne Roland (Who boasts an exagerated french accent that could sweeten a lemon), comes armed with doe eyes and low cut dresses in order to make her a typically easy-on-the-eyes heroine who faints on command yet at least boasts some form of intelligence while actively cheating on her boyfriend with the admittedly dashing Beauchamp. Speaking of Terence Morgan’s Beauchamp; while the (spoiler) that he’s actually the younger brother of Ra-Antef who has been cursed to be immortal and realises that his big bro maybe his only ticket to finally experiencing the sweet tang of death is a nice, if slightly illogical, variation on a theme – but he’s certainly more interesting than the drab Howard.
Finally, there’s the Mummy himself, who, with his clay-like features, sloth-like pace and his heavy, deliberate breathing feels like the cross between a Golum and one of Lucio Fulci’s notoriously ravaged living dead. Missing a hand and having more of a varied backstory than just a punished, lovesick Egyptian priest, this incarnation may not be as spry as Lee’s version but he’s a more than capable bone breaker with a memorably stunning introduction (he emerges from the London smog to batter his way through some glass doors) and some impressive takedowns (an off screen head smushing was gorily and gloriously homaged in the film Waxwork).
However, it’s fairly obvious that Hammer, much like Universal before them, didn’t really have a clue how to take the franchise forward in any way that was even remotely original. While Dracula ruled over cults and instigated numerous reigns of terror and Frankenstein chose to switch out the monster for various, different attempts, the Mummy movies seemed to be stuck with the same old plot over and over again which is made all the more noticable by the fact that the series already rebooted the first film having wandered blindly into a plot cul-de-sac.
With that being said, The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb still manages to infuse these tired old bandages with enough life to still keep it’s lumbering lead and his overused tropes interesting enough to make this entry a fun, but undemanding watch that’s a watchable bout of doom and tomb.