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There’s this hilarious comedy routine about how the lamest victims in horror films were the people killed by the Mummy. How could this stinky monster creep up on a potential victim? Who couldn’t flee from a slow decaying corpse wrapped in Ace Bandages? The line at the DMV moved faster than the Egyptian nightmare. How can you be caught by a monster that could trip over his gauze wrappings? Luckily the original version of The Mummy figured out a way to create a sinister atmosphere instead of relying on comic monster chases that dominated Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. This horror film is about the extremes a man endures for the chance at eternal love. The Mummy isn’t about sucking blood, stealing brains and eating gypsies. He craves a little romance.
Way back in ancient Egypt, High Priest Im-ho-tep (Boris Karloff) defies the law and attempts to revive Princess Ankh-es-en-amon (Zita Johann) with a life-giving spell. He can’t let their love die. Before he finishes the reading, he’s nabbed by guards. His punishment is to be mummified alive. Centuries later, a British archeological group discovers Im-ho-tep’s sarcophagus. A dopey Brit reads the spell aloud. The mummified body of Im-ho-tep comes alive. What does the Mummy do to the unsuspecting Brit? No need to spoil the brilliant moment, but it’s very realistic.
When Karloff returns to action on the screen, he’s no longer covered in dusty old bandages. He’s transformed into the wrinkly Ardath Bey. The elderly local advises the British where to dig for the princess’ tomb. However Bey discovers not only the corpse of his old love, but divines her reincarnated soul inside the living Helen Grosvenor (Johann). They have an undeniable love. Im-ho-tep has a very twisted way of assuring that their love will truly be eternal. Can the Brits prevent this unholy marriage of the lovers’ souls?
This is a very short movie. There’s not much dawdling on the screen. Director Karl Freund made a name for himself as a cinematographer in Germany on films such as The Last Laugh and Metropolis. His camerawork on Dracula established the Universal’s horror look. The Mummy is loaded with stunning images. Im-ho-tep coming to life shocks with its subtlety. Freund’s work lighting the Mummy came in handy when he become the director of photography on I Love Lucy.
Unlike the recent Brendan Fraser’s Mummy films, the original doesn’t feature massive armies of the undead and tons of chase scenes. Karloff attacks on the living are very reserved. What makes The Mummy compelling viewing isn’t the horror, but the love. Although from what Im-ho-tep has planned for his woman, it’s a horrific kind of love. Isn’t that scary enough?
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The image looks better than the last two releases of The Mummy. It’s still pretty rough in parts, but that can be expected from a film that’s over 75 years old without a negative source. The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. The sound isn’t that full as reflective of films from the early days of sound. A new commentary track features Scott Essman, Steve Haberman, Bob Burns and Brent Armstrong talking in a group setting. Makeup guru Rick Baker is spliced into their conversation. It’s an OK chat, but most of the stuff covered is mentioned in the bonus documentaries. Burns is best known for playing Tracy the Gorilla on The Ghost Busters. Film historian Paul M. Jensen’s solo track that was recorded the 2000 DVD release.
Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed (30:11) is the documentary that has been featured on the other Mummy DVD sets. Rudy Behlmer does a fine job explaining how this Egyptian monster was unleashed on the cinema.
He Who Made Monsters: Life and Legacy of Jack Pierce (25:00) gives respect to the genius make-up artist. Make up masters Rick Baker and Tom Savini praise their forefather. They break down his work on the Universal horror films. There’s a revealing moment that proves that Pierce created the prototype for Batman‘s The Joker. They have a clip of Pierce surprising Boris Karloff on This Is Your Life.
Unraveling the Legacy of The Mummy (8:08) plugs away for the most recent Mummy series. It’s pure fluff.
Universal Horror (1:35:17) was featured on the 75th anniversary Dracula and Frankenstein DVD sets. The documentary gives a history of the studio’s early ventures into fright. The confusing part is all the attention paid to RKO’s King Kong. It is nice to have stories of the big ape from Faye Wray, but they skip over Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.
Trailer Gallery (6:36) has the previews for all five Mummy films. The Mummy trailer is from a re-issue and not the original run.
Posters & Still (9:45) is a slideshow of promotional images.
Free Ticket to The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor will give you up to $7.50 off your admission to the theatrical release. You have to visit a website and type in a code to print out the free ticket. It expires on August, 24 so don’t dawdle.
This is the third DVD release of The Mummy in the last decade. This triple dip is pure temptation with the upgraded image and the Jack Pierce bonus documentary. This is the ideal introduction to the great wrapped wonder.
Universal Studios Home Video presents The Mummy: Special Edition. Directed by: Karl Freund. Starring: Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners & Edward Van Sloan. Written by: John L. Balderston. Running time: 75 minutes on 2 discs. Rating: Not Rated. Theatrically Released: Dec. 22, 1932. Released on DVD: July 8, 2008. Available at Amazon.com