The Mummy movie connections

(Welcome to Movie Mixtape, where we find cinematic relatives and seek out interesting connections between new releases and older movies that allow us to rethink and enjoy what’s in our theaters as well as the favorites on our shelf. In this edition: The Mummy.)

It’s difficult to overstate how popular mummy movies have been over the years. From 1932 to today, every few decades, a new mummy craze would lift its ragged head from the tomb to shock and amaze before slinking back off into the shadows.

Boris Karloff and Universal definitely capitalized on it, but they have Nefertiti to thank. The discovery of her bust in 1912 kicked off modern Egyptomania, which was sustained by the further discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. Tabloids fabricated and twisted a “Mummy’s Curse” into existence, which became the basis for the first wildly popular film, as well as the foothold for dozens of films over the next century. Tom Cruise leads the next installment, which promises to be the first in an extended Dark Universe when it hits theaters this Friday. Tough luck, Brendan Fraser. There’s a new kid in town. Who’s pretty old.

While we see if Universal can bring mummies back to life, let’s look at some other movies to bring out of the crypt.

The Mummy (1932)

Ah, the original. Not a speck of dust on it. Even though there were mummy movies before director Karl Freund put Boris Karloff through 8 hours of make-up (most notably Georges Méilès robbing Cleopatra’s tomb), this has been the definitive take on the character for decades. It utilized a public’s fascination with all things ancient Egypt to craft a terrifying story of a priest (Karloff) buried alive for loving the wrong woman resurrected by foolish archaeologists who accidentally sets him loose on an Art Deco world looking for a deadly new romance.

It follows the same kind of formula nailed down by King Kong a few years prior: adventurers stepping into the unknown for ego and/or profit, unearthing something from a different time beyond their control, which then wreaks havoc on modern civilization. It’s a gorgeous movie, and Karloff’s Frankenstein eyes stare straight through the screen and into your soul.

Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941)

The Mummy launched a franchise that would be imitated over and over again for decades. Drafting off the same Egyptology craze, Republic Pictures crafted a 12-part serial that blended pyramids, cursed tombs, and comic book superheroes. Why not smash two fads together to maximize ticket sales, right?

While exploring the Valley of Tombs in a very Egypt-looking Thailand, spry expedition teammate Billy Batson (Frank Coghlan Jr.) actually heeds the warning to stay out of a tomb lest he be cursed. In doing so, he earns the respect of the wizard Shazam, who grants him super abilities when he says the wizard’s name. Captain Marvel is basically Superman with spell-casting, but he can only use his abilities to help those in danger from the curse of the tomb’s Golden Scorpion artifact. So, pretty limited range there. This may seem hopelessly dated to most, but the serial is a fun, pulpy example of old timey genre goodness.

The Mummy (1959)

Part of the first resurrection of the character after Universal’s success through the 1940s, it’s no exaggeration to say that this B-horror love fest is just three Mummy sequel plots shoved together, then run through the Hammer Films grinder. The pitch then (and now) was: if you loved Universal’s Mummy but wished it had more Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, here you go. You can guess the full plot because nothing about it is new, but you get Cushing as the intrepid hero and Lee as the mummified horror. The other obvious alteration was the shift from black-and-white to color, and Hammer made great use of a vibrant palette which accentuated the dread of the ashy papier-mâché look to the monster.

Mexican filmmakers also rejuvenated the character around the same time to mixed results, transplating the same genre tropes into Aztec ruins.

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