Quick Hit: Boris Karloff struts his stuff as Imhotep in one of the most revolutionary Universal movies.
A lot of people forget about 1932’s the Mummy when they mention all the classic Universal horrors. I think a large part of that has to do with the fact it was Karloff’s second monster role, and the third of the major Universal monster movies. But what’s amazing is, outside of maybe Dracula for being the first, this movie is incredibly revolutionary, and you can see our current horror industry ALL over it. Before I get into the review, I just want to mention some of the major changes that took place here that influenced horror even to this day (and yes, how revolutionary this movie is plays into the grade, as it should).
The filmmakers are now a year forward from Dracula, and they’ve learned to accept music in films. However, it’s still not as widely used as today – but the filmmakers learned how it could change the tone of a scene completely, and actually heighten the emotions of fear that you feel. Second, there are some extremely violent deaths for 1932. We actually see people get impaled by spears, and a man buried alive. While most of the violence takes place off screen, there are a few scenes that provide some foreshadowing for where the horror industry was headed. Lastly, costar Zita Johann shows a LOT of skin for 1932. Sex was starting to be a big seller, and horror was a great venue for it, which inevitably lead to the pointless nude scenes we now experience in today’s horror films.
Now, on to the movie!
The Mummy may have one of the best cold opens of any horror film. After being presented with a curse, people do what they do in horror movies and ignore it. This leads to the slow reveal of Boris Karloff (under eight hours’ worth of make-up) waking up and getting out of his sarcophagus. But what’s great here is that he doesn’t immediately murder the man who wakes him (like so many of the following Mummy movies). Instead he just takes what he needs, and walks away. Overall, Imhotep is a really sympathetic character – he just wants to find his love again after all these years.
The make-up job on the character in the casket is amazing (fun fact of the day – well, one of them – Jack Pierce created the make-up for Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, The Mummy, and The Wolfman!). Featuring layer upon layer of wrinkles, you can truly see the work and detail that went into it. Ardeth Bay, Imhotep once he awakes, is similarly covered in wrinkles, but in a way that allows Karloff’s face to be the main event, with the wrinkles enhancing it.
There is a lot of suspense in The Mummy which is good for fans like me, but not so much for those that like a lot of action. As I said, some of the violence takes place off the screen, or features things that are less exciting, like forced heart attacks. However, I think that this movie is a great example of a slow burning horror film, and Karloff excels in the role. He dominates the screen, looming larger than life over the other characters. His voice matches his hypnotic stare, and you feel yourself longing to have him on the screen more. As he should be, he is by far the greatest part of the movie. However, one of the first dynamic women in horror films, Zita Johann provides a lot of Ying to Karloff’s Yang, and while she may overact at times, some of it may be due to the fact that sound films were still so new, and actors weren’t used to having their voices conveyed yet.
This movie is another of the pillars upon which horror is built, but we’re not quite to my absolute favorites. For everything the Mummy does right, there is some small flaws in execution. I’m giving it an “A-“.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"