The Mummy (1959) [31 Days of Hammer Horror Review]

With Halloween looming large at the end of the month, and Hammer Horror recently making its return to the world of comics courtesy of the fine folks at Titan, we figured now was the perfect time to take a look some of the fantastic Hammer back catalogue.

So this month, Jules is planning to watch every single Hammer Horror movie and share his thoughts with you fine, horror loving people.

You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of Hammer” by CLICKING HERE.

Released: 1959
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee
Director: Terence Fisher

After re-animating the corpses of Frankenstein and Dracula, the logical next step for Hammer was another of the Universal staples, the ancient Egyptian horror that is The Mummy.

Once again, Cushing and Lee face off against each other, but this time there’s a bit more depth to their relationship than single good versus evil.

Plotwise, this new version of The Mummy skirts closer to the Universal series than you would expect with their previous legal threats, but very much feels like it’s own animal, due to a combination of casting and the studio refining its approach to horror.

In 1895, an archaeology expedition in Egypt uncovers the tomb of Princess Ananka, high priestess of the god Karnak. John Banning (Cushing), his father Stephen (Felix Aylmer) and his uncle Joseph Whemple (Raymond Huntley are warned against desecrating the tomb by an Egyptian named Mehemet Bey (George Pastell), who speaks of a dread curse for any who dare break the seal.

Three years later, it transpires that Banning’s father also accidentally woke Kharis (Christopher Lee), one time high priest of Karnak and lover of Ananka and now mummified living corpse, condemned to eternal life to stand guard in her tomb for all time. Now, Kharis, acting under the command of Bey, sets about bringing the curse of Ananka’s tomb to the members of the expedition.

There’s not a huge amount to The Mummy, but it’s remarkably effective. Considering its little more than a series of murderous set-pieces, it never feels dull or repetitive. The majority of that is down to Lee’s marvelous performance in the title role.

With the exception of a lengthy flashback telling how Kharis became The Mummy (his love of Ananka led him to attempt to raise her from the dead, a blasphemy resulting in his tongue being cut off before being condemned to a living death) Christopher Lee spends the entire film acting in silence with only his eyes to convey any character.

Lee’s Mummy is an absolute tour de force of physical acting, with the actor’s great height giving him a powerful presence, reinforced by marvellously jerky movements, totally selling the idea that muscles were being used for the first time in millennia. Brilliantly, he’s not just a lumbering monster though, exploding into fast, aggressive action when moving in for the kill. Indeed, the scene where he smashes open the hospital window and metal screen to jump down into Whemple’s room is one of the most effective and frightening deaths ever created by Hammer.

It’s the eyes where Lee really shines though. Kharis is a tragic character, not the villain, so the sadness Lee conveys, especially when looking at Banning’s wife Isobel, co-incidentally a ringer for his lost love Ananka, just gives the whole thing so much more depth. It’s a magnificent performance out of pretty much nothing.

Cushing is his usual self, putting in a commanding shift as always, particularly in the double-header when Banning turns up on Bey’s doorstep and the two have a polite conversation, despite them both being full aware that one is trying to murder the other with an ancient Mummy. Marvelous.

It’s still early doors for Hammer horror, but even by this stage, you can see how they had pretty much nailed it. The Mummy is a stone-cold classic and set the bar for their next films at another high. Flawless.

Rating: 5/5.

JULESAV The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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  1. 31 Days of Hammer – Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) – BIG COMIC PAGE

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