|The Mummy's Hand/The Mummy's Tomb|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Monday, 24 September 2001|
Universal both delighted and disappointed fans of classic horrror movies when they continued on beyond the originals and a few of the early sequels to issue a series of double-feature discs that polish off each of their series titles. The movies are here, in good shape -- but their extras (trailers) and production notes are skimpy, sometimes giving the feeling that Tom Weaver, the classic horror movie expert who writes them, knows a great deal more than he's allowed to express, especially while filling out filmographies of actors not likely to be of much interest to those who will pounce upon these discs with glad, whimpering cries. It's only text, for crying out loud....
When a reissue double bill of "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" did great at the local Los Angeles boxoffice, Universal packaged them for distribution across the country, and they did well everywhere. They produced the expensive "Son of Frankenstein," but then shifted gears: instead of each movie being treated like a stand-alone treat, the horror films were platformed as a medium-budget (and in some cases, low-budget) series. After "The Wolf Man" and "Son of Frankenstein," the films were all produced on a budget (with one or two exceptions, like "House of Frankenstein;" they were intended to make so much money, then forget about 'em, except for possible but unlikely reissues.
They tried faithfully to recreate or emulate the older films; in some cases, Frankenstein's Monster most notably, they brought back the original creature. In the case of the Mummy, they whipped up another Mummy, Kharis, designed to keep his bandages on, and in the first film, played by stunt man/Western star Tom Tyler.
But Kharis didn't show up for more than half the film; the first part is a sprightly comedy-adventure with penniless adventurer Steve Banning and his buddy Babe Jenson sure they've found the long-lost tomb of Princess Ananka. Andoheb (George Zucco), a high priest of Karnak who lives as a paleontologist, is orderered by the even higher priest (Eduardo Ciannelli) to stop Banning's expedition, headed by chuckling, good-natured magician the Great Solvani (the always-welcome Cecil Kellaway) and his daughter Marta (Peggy Moran).
Naturally, they come across Kharis' tomb, placed where it is to guard Ananka's from infidels. A few secondary characters are killed by Kharis, who's occasionally seen stalking through a pretty good on-set forest. Eventually, he kidnaps Marta, though in this first in the series, he's much more interested in the tana leaf tea that keeps him alive than he is in the heroine -- he's grabbed her for Andoheb. Zucco flares his nostrils and bulges his eyes with the best of them, even though eventually everything goes badly for his team.
Technically, the movie is well-done, though it's a horror film mostly because that's how it was advertised. Yes, the living mummy turns up occasionally (though not often), and sometimes there's a spooky shot or two of Tyler as Kharis (including one in which his eyes have been optically rendered as only black). But the intent of the movie clearly is not to scare anyone over the age of 12. And in fact over the 40s, the movies tended to be regarded as hilarious by the high school and college age kids who would seem to be their main audience.
But it was popular -- not quite popular enough for the sequels to hold up the top half of the double-bills Universal began issuing about now, but enough to draw people into the theater. When "The Mummy's Tomb," the first sequel came along, it was not treated as the most important part of the double bill.
That first sequel was "The Mummy's Tomb," an appropriate title for a Mummy movie -- except there's no Tomb. Set some 30 years after "Hand," Curse first has now-elderly archaeologist Steve Banning (Dick Foran, with his hair grayed) telling his son John (John Hubbard), John's girfriend Isobel Evans (Elyse Knox) and others about how Kharis' attempt to return the Princess Ananka to life doomed him to centuries as the Living Dead himself. But as he walks home that night, Stephen encounters Kharis -- not only still alive, but in the United States -- who easily kills him.
Andoheb, who we learn also still lives, sics another junior priest, Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey) onto the Banning family. The next victim is Babe Hanson (formerly Hanson, just one of many inexpecable changes in Mummy Movie Mythology), and then Kharis lowers his sights to the next generation. Once again, things do not go too well for Kharis and his High Priest, involving a pretty spectactual fire.
"The Mummy's Tomb" is much more of a horror movie than its predecessor, with George Robinson providing stylish and spooky shots of Kharis lurching his way through the night; some of them are genuinely eerie, and would make excellent mounted stills. Even though it's undoubtedly cheaper than "Hand," "Tomb" overall provides more horror movie thrills, though as a movie, it's less entertaining -- and clearly marked the direction for the next two in the series.
Lon Chaney, Jr. took over the role of Kharis; instead of the elaborate, effective makeup that Tom Tyler wore, Universal's brilliant makeup artist Jack P. Pierce created a very elaborate (but not very convincing) rubber mask for Chaney, to get him in and out of costume -- Chaney's least favorite -- more quickly. But Chaney emotes more as Kharis than did Tyler, and despite the rubber face, is a more effective mummy.
This double-bill package is an ideal, and inexpensive, way to pick up the first two Universal Mummy movies; the other two are contained in a similar package.