The Mummy’s Curse (1944) [31 Days of American Horror Review]

Following on from his on “31 Days of Hammer” in January, his “31 Days of British Horror” in March and May, and his “31 Days of American Horror” in August and October, Jules is fixing to round out 2018 with 31 more days of classic American Horror movies.

So brace yourself, folks.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Director: Leslie Goodwins
Starring:  Lon Chaney, Jr., Peter Coe, Virginia Christine

The fifth and final film in Universal’s Mummy series (unless you count the 1955 Abbot and Costello comedy), The Mummy’s Curse is exactly what the last few films have been – more of the same.

Like …Tomb and …Ghost before them, this one would liberally reuse ideas and even footage from previous entries, display a casual attitude to continuity and vary wildly in quality from scene to scene.

There’s some great ideas in here and there’s a lot of the same old same old, but in the end, that makes it a suitable finale for the series. It’s another Mummy film. You know the drill.

An irrigation project in the rural bayous of Louisiana is trying to drain a local swamp, but is plagued with rumours that the site is haunted by Kharis the living mummy and his bride Ananka, who were buried in quicksand twenty-five years earlier.

Sent by The Scripps Museum, Dr. James Halsey (Dennis Moore) and Dr. Ilzor Zandaab (Peter Coe) to locate the bodies of the Egyptians, the pair instead arrive to find that a worker has been murdered and evidence points to the victim having uncovered Kharis himself.

Zandaab is revealed to be secretly a High Priest of the Arkam Set and is working with fellow cultist Ragheb (Martin Kosleck), who brought Kharis’ body back to a disused monastery after killing the unfortunate worker.

Meanwhile, the mummy of Ananka (Virginia Christine) rises from the swamp after being partially uncovered by a digger during the excavation, becoming young and beautiful again under the rays of the sun and is taken in as an amnesiac by Halsey and Betty Walsh (Kay Harding) before finding work with the company.

Kharis has been revived with the sacred Tana Leaves though and the cultists have plans not just for him and Ananka, but Betty too…

The last time we saw Kharis and Ananka was in that wonderfully iconic and very downbeat finale to The Mummy’s Ghost, with the pair slowly being buried by the quicksand in the Massachusetts swamplands. Which now appears to be in Louisiana, with all it’s attendant bayous and local Cajuns.

Why? Seriously, what purpose did it achieve to change the entire location of the film? Between that and the dating issue, where according to my math this film is set in 1995 (!), there’s a real lack of care apparent here. The last film only came out earlier that year, did they think nobody would remember?

Okay. They’re the two niggling issues that didn’t have to be issues at all. What about the rest of the film?

Well taking aside the usual extensive flashback scenes (it is a Mummy film after all) and there’s a lot to enjoy here.

Chaney Jr’s Kharis is back to looking his best again after the bodysuit horror the last time. He looks like he’s been in a swamp for thirty years and dead for thousands more and his physical acting hits the right balance between menacing and tragic, like all good Mummies should do.

It’s the same old story for him though, which is why the different approach to the revival of Princess Ananka works so well. That initial scene where her ancient-looking corpse hauls itself out of the mud and crawls across the swamp, slowly being reborn as a young woman again as the water washes away the filth is absolutely magnificent. Effects-wise it’s brilliantly effective, but it’s the power of her rebirth itself that really hits home. This isn’t the usual scroll/leaf revival we’ve gone to expect in these films, it’s played for wonder, not horror and Virginia Christine absolutely nails both the pain and ecstasy of the experience.

She’s marvellous once she’s a functioning human again too. Sure, the job offer is pushing credulity a bit, but her turn as the charismatic amnesiac with the strange expertise in ancient Egypt and a lust for life is a real joy and she’s the living, breathing heart of the story.

The supporting cast do well with what they have, but these films stopped giving good character detail about three films ago. It’s all very black and white stuff, but it works and maybe that’s all that was needed?

The Mummy series was the slasher films of its day – repetitive, high body count thrillers with not a huge amount of thought going into them at times. Which is no bad thing, but it would have been nice for such a great movie monster to have at least one classic while in the bandages throughout. The Mummy’s Curse is not that classic, but in the Ananka plotline, they brought enough new ideas into the mix that it’s definitely up there with the best of the series.

Rating: 2.5/5.

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

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