Cult Movies: Stylish and stately Gothic horror The Mummy well worth unwrapping

Christopher Lee as The Mummy
Ralph McLean

The Mummy

IN THE late 1950s, Hammer films changed the face of fantasy cinema forever when they delivered their box office-busting trio of bloodthirsty Gothic re-boots, Dracula, The Curse Of Frankenstein and The Mummy.

All directed with budget-defying opulence by Terence Fisher, boasting sublime set design and visuals from some of the finest craftsmen in Britain and starring the dynamic duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, they remain beautiful and very individual examples of horror film-making at its most romantic and elegant.

The studio's vibrant re-imagining of the Frankenstein fable started the lucrative ball rolling in 1957, before Dracula, in the darkly sexual form of Christopher Lee, sank his fangs into proceedings in 1958. The Mummy arrived in 1959 to complete the Gothic trilogy and, despite its obvious qualities, it remains the least acclaimed of the bunch.

A brand new Blu-ray of the film from Second Sight tries to put that injustice right and reminds us that The Mummy might just be the daddy of them all.

Cleverly crafted by scriptwriter Jimmy Sangster, this is a stylish update on an old favourite that takes the dusty concepts covered by old Universal horrors like Boris Karloff's 1932 original, the 1940 offering The Mummy's Hand and The Mummy's Ghost from 1944, adds a little 1950's sleaze to the mix via the use of bloody Eastman Color film stock and delivers a post-war fantasy classic in the process.

Lee, in perhaps the most physically imposing role of his career, is Kharis, the high priest of a (fictional) Egyptian God, Karnak, who tries to bring his true love Princess Ananka (the beautiful Yvonne Furneaux) back from the dead by reading from the fabled scroll of life. Caught red-handed in his blasphemous work, he promptly has his tongue yanked out and is mummified alive.

The story then flashes forward to a 19th century archaeological dig on the site of the crime where John Banning (the ever immaculate Peter Cushing) and his father Stephen (Felix Aylmer) are busy unearthing treasures they'd be best advised to leave well alone. A local follower of Karnak called Mehemet Bay (George Pastell) suggests they sling their hook, but they pay him no mind and continue to fill their boots.

Before you know it, Stephen has found the scroll and reactivated the deeply miffed Kharis from his slumbers. What then unfolds is a tale of bloody revenge as the mummy tracks down those who have desecrated the sacred ground of his princess.

Fisher moves this Boy's Own adventure along at a cracking pace. Lee stomps his way through Bernard Robinson's beautiful sets with a genuinely powerful, almost robotic presence, and Cushing is, as always, untouchable as the explorer who must save the day and the life of his wife (also played by Furneaux) who bears a bizarre likeness to the old Egyptian princess.

Second Sight's beautifully packed re-issue adds numerous extras which enlighten the production and reveal much about the simple little studio that made it look so beautiful while working within a ridiculously small budget.

Stylish and stately, The Mummy is well worth unwrapping one more time.