Category Archives: Universal Horror

The Invisible Man (1933)

4 stars out of 4. Immortal film. A stunning early sound era masterpiece from the genius of James Whale.

“We’ll begin with a reign of terror, a few murders here and there, murders of great men, murders of little men, just to show we make no distinction.”

Let’s make no bones about it. This is a James Whale film through and through. Produced at a time when he had complete autonomy at Universal courtesy of production head Carl Laemmle Jr., Whale chose to reject the stupid proposed drafts and merely enhance H. G. Well’s classic novel with his own trademark brand of black humor and chills.

The Invisible Man is the stepping stone between Whale’s earlier Frankenstein (1931) and the supreme masterpiece that unquestionably one of the greatest films of all time: Bride of Frankenstein (1935). While extraordinarily developed from Dracula (1931) and for being such an early sound film, Frankenstein does have its problems and pitfalls like any other production. All of these are primarily from a lack of hale being involved fully in every capacity and are thus gone in The Invisible Man. Man is not only a classic, a stunning early sound film, but a surprisingly British film made here on American shores.

It is also an absolute gem and along with The Mummy (1932) the most underrated of all the Universal horrors. Whale fills the film with his favored use of offbeat secondary characters including the wonderfully shrieking Una O’Connor and even a bit for Dwight Frye. This helps immensely to fill out to scope of the story’s universe and fills in the gaps that the more limited production values of the time could not. Of course these are all supplanted by the first American screen role of one of cinema’s finest actors, a man so good at his craft that he typically slips into the background as invisible as his character here. The genius of Whale in casting Claude Rains is that he sought a voice and not a performer since who would be seeing the performer as an invisible man?? This allowed the casting of someone thought to be terrible all due to a poor screentest. But Whale heard that one of a kind voice that projects such extreme vulnerability and mortality along with a underlying conviction that could be construed into strength. And that was all it took.

Rains is a wonder as the Invisible Man, running the gamut from weak and terrified to kind and loving to paranoiac and power-mad to vengeful and murderous to finally poetic and elegiac. It is truly a stupendous performance, proving the adage once again of the strength that can come only from the best of radio and voice acting performances. The other roles are filled out accordingly with some of Whale’s favorite actors as mention above along with Gloria Stuart from The Old Dark House (1932) and even a part for our favorite guardian angel Henry Travers.

The special effects still hold up today and despite having a few things visible actually are more effective with the passage of time due to their antique quality, much like King Kong (1933). They seem so archaic from today’s technology we are oversaturated with that they seem downright off-putting and creepy in places. By using black velvet coverings and separately filmed backgrounds, John P. Fulton painstakingly produced scenes that still to this day drive home the idea of an invisible man.

Instead of Frankenstein‘s Gothic atmosphere, Whale opts for a different atmosphere this time and presents snowy villages of England which to be perfectly honest allows for a much more varied and rich atmosphere than the simple trappings of Germany did two years earlier. The setting is so well implemented that one can almost feel the cold charm of the snowy taverns and the cozy atmosphere of an empty rocking chair in front of the fire rocking almost as if its own accord. The black humor maintained throughout enhances this to such a degree that the film becomes for many, myself included, an old and very cherished friend to revisit at least once every October.

Of course remove Whale and the entire thing would fall apart, as the four later sequels proved. Of these only the first has any semblance of the original’s charm due to the plotting of Curt Siodmak (much like the Mummy sequels, only The Mummy’s Hand (1940) is of any merit) and casts another charming actor invisible, Vincent Price. Fulton remained for all of these and only bettered his already outstanding work despite the increasing pointlessness of the films.

Whale abounds in using black humor to round out the story, and thus makes The Invisible Man an absolute delight to return to frequently. By using offbeat characters and enhanced plotting from the novel that makes this the most deadly of the Universal monsters it is a film that is simultaneously thrilling, suspenseful, comic and endearing nearly 70 years on. It betters the novel and Whale’s own Frankenstein, and points he way towards the pinnacle of the entire cycle. A wonderful movie to behold.

Put a warm rug in the car. It’s cold outside when you have to go about naked.”

EDITIONS: The initial DVD and the Legacy Collection version are largely identical. These are missing a music cue found on the Laserdisc, which has been substituted for legal clearance reasons. The film is the most worn of the films, with wear, tears, scratches running throughout the opening reels, but these largely clear up for the most part during the remainder of the feature. The image is an overall nice looking 1.33 Academy ratio SD transfer with good contrast levels and balance. The audio is relatively clear with less hiss than the earlier films, but of course not as well recorded as the later films were. The film has undergone an intensive restoration courtesy of Technicolor and the discovery of an almost complete dupe held at the British Film Institute. This was painstakingly redone to create a new HD master for theatrical exhibition and for the new Blu-ray found in the Universal box set. The BD has some DNR and edge enhancement and this processing while completely unnecessary does not detract terribly from the film and I hope it gains a greater audience in it’s sparkling new HD incarnation.

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Filed under 4 stars, Film Review, Immortal Films, James Whale, Universal Horror

The Old Dark House (1932)

4 stars out of 4. A timeless gem nearly lost to us.

 

Here is a film where five travelers wind up in the titular old dark house on a dark and stormy night. We can already see where this is going. Despite being the inspiration behind so many of these cliched old house plotlines, The Old Dark House is a charming delight of a film in no small thanks to its director, James Whale.

Whale’s films, especially his horrors for Universal, contain a trademark charm and black humor that permeate even the most serious of narratives. his fondness for oddball characters reaches a high point with this film as every single one is so full of vitality that the weirder that events become onscreen, the more we as an audience anticipates with absolute delight.

In this house we find the hulking mute of a butler known as Morgan (Boris Karloff), whose emre appearance should tell anyone daring to enter that it probably isn’t the best of ideas. We are then introduced to the masters of the house, the odd siblings Horace and Rebecca Femm. Rebecca is an old crone of a woman, driven by religious fervor and an endearing bad sense of hearing. Horace is played by Ernest Thesiger which should tell you everything about his character. All right I’ll admit it, I can only think of him as Dr. Pretorious so his appearance in this film as beyond welcome. They live in a semi state of fear of their surroundings and in a sort of power vacuum for some as yet unknown reason.

This quickly becomes resolved as the fact that they have a mad older brother who is kept locked away upstairs, and can only be controlled by Morgan who just happens to have hit the bottle. This quickly turns badly for all in the house, and I will say little to spoil the plot here because the real fun of the film is in the detail. The explicit reveal and pulling back of detail as if to tantalize the audience like a cat with a ball of string.

The cast is first rate, and with a notable early appearance of Charles Laughton, perfectly serves the swift little story so that everything is wrapped up in a neat package at the end of 72 minutes. In fact the relative briefness of the narrative is perhaps the film’s only flaw. We want it to last all night.

The Old Dark House never struck a chord with audiences and was quickly shelved by Universal as a failure. Whale had made a film that was partly a tribute to the great silent films that blended horror, suspense and a drawing room charm and not a runaway hit more along the lines of Frankenstein (1931). Because of this, it was another mark against the director and designated to sit on shelves until either junked or destroyed by time. Thanks to filmmaker and friend to Whale, Curtis Harrington, the negative was saved in the 1960’s despite having to replace one reel.

To understand the basic appeal of the horror film, one must go back to the beginning. The silent horrors have their power still, but once you reach the golden age of Universal horror and feel the power of their sheer imagination, you can never return to what is today considered a “horror film”.

EDITIONS: the only available edition of the film is Kino’s 1998 DVD, which appears to be mastered for the most part from the source used for their Laserdisc release. The source seems to be a battered reduction print, perhaps even 16mm. The image is extremely grainy, with some occasional compression artifacts. There is frame wobble and all sorts of wear and tear. Audio is set in the accurate format of 1.0 mono but in a lossy Dolby Digital track that is filled with hiss and pops. Damage is very prevalent throughout and overall is not worthy of the film. Without detailed intervention the negative would have been lost and as it was only one reel had to be salvaged elsewhere. The fact that the film has never been given the proper treatment is appalling, especially for such an important early American release. I recommend the film, but the disc is quite poor. Highly in need of a new transfer if not the full blown Criterion treatment. Keep in mind, this is like watching a video copy of a battered 16mm reduction copy of a great film. Oh wait, that’s what you’re doing.

 

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Filed under 4 stars, Film Review, James Whale, Universal Horror

Frankenstein (1931)

Why I Love James Whale Part One:

4 stars out of 4. Immortal film.

The yin to Dracula‘s yang, Universal’s 1931 horror follow-up builds the better beast. James Whale uses the idea of a horror film to build upon everything that had gone before on Tod Browning’s Dracula. While Dracula is notoriously bound to the stage play and deeply lacks in ingenuity, Whale pushed Frankenstein to be something a bit different.

The amount of story action crammed into the terse 71 minutes is a marvel. Especially considering that the majority of scenes therein are so publicly identified with Frankenstein that they have entered our collective consciousness.

The film comes alive in a way Dracula  never does. From the opening scenes of Henry Frankenstein and the hunchbacked Fritz (No, not Igor.) stealing a body from a graveyard, cutting down another body from its hanging post the Gothic atmosphere is fully present and bears down heavily on the people within its influence. These people are immediately noticeable because they seem more like real people than the usual stock cardboard figures typically present in Universal horror. This is all James Whale, because every single one of his films has this remarkable sense of liveliness, even in the draggy bits where the script decrees what must be said. Even the most little of character seems like a real person complete with their own set of wants and desires.

This goes without saying for Henry Frankenstein. In a film that made the Monster a star, it is Colin Clive’s passionate portrayal the overzealous Doctor that really makes the film pulsate with energy. Whenever he utters a single line, it is bristling with authoritative energy and frustration just as if being said by a rich young schoolboy only eager to get on with his experiments. Science has become more than his life’s work, it is his life. By attempting to give his creation life, he will in fact give it back to himself in the process. Clive drives every moment he appears on screen with this insatiable desire to create and pursue his quest of knowledge.  This even comes across in the little moments. For instance look in the opening when Frankenstein and Fritz have to dig up the just buried body. Frankenstein gets a shovel and starts digging furiously right alongside Fritz like an impatient child. It’s this that helps us to keep him in favor with ourselves. Unlike Peter Cushing’s Frankenstein in the later Hammer films of the 50’s and 60’s, Clive’s scientist is more misguided than obsessed with his mad dream. He is not an evil man, but will not be crossed by anyone..or anything for that matter. Instead, he simply wants to make his dream a reality in order to improve the state of mankind and somehow prove himself worth something. That’s not all too bad now is it?

Unfortunately, Fritz steals the wrong brain from the medical university. This criminal brain is put into the Creature and then the operating table is prepared to be lifted into the rafters of the crumbling windmill. In this, the first of the stereotypical mad scientist laboratories it is surprising to see just how sparse the lab is. Sure it may be filled with the bits of fantastic electrical gizmos that became synonymous with Frankenstein, but it is clearly the lair of a former medical student who went off to do his own work in secret. It is also a practical workshop completely befitting of the man working away in it for months.

Henry’s fiancee Elizabeth has grown worried at her lover’s long seclusion to work on his vague “experiment”. She confers with her friend Victor who just also happens to be in love with her. (Why does this always happen in the Universal films? These love triangles only complicate matters because they are never fleshed out.) She asks Victor to consult with Henry’s old university teacher Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan again, playing essentially the same character as in Dracula and The Mummy) to see just what he may be up to. Waldman tells of Henry’s desire to create new life out of the parts of corpses. The three set off to convince Henry to cease his work and come back home.

Of course this just happens to be during the midst of a brewing storm as Henry is preparing to give live to his creation. He allows in his friends and has them sit down in an arrangement that recalls a theater audience watching a performance. And a performance it is. The table is raised and the machines are activated. Lights flash, thunder crashes, electrodes sizzle, and lightning strikes the receptors to lower the table with the covered Creature. All this is mostly done off-screen allowing the audience to create a much more vivid vision of what happens than what is presented. (This reaches a fever pitch when Whale made Bride of Frankenstein four years later.) Everyone gathers around, and Henry sees a hand moving. “It’s alive!” Even more telling and perhaps the truest line in the film, Henry then says in a moment of extreme exhaustion and triumph: “In the name of God, now I know what feels like to be God!” (Which was cut from the initial release and not restored until 1999.)

His creation is held back from us a bit longer. The reveal of Karloff’s Monster is simple: he walks backwards through a door. But his presence is such that you simply have no idea what he will do. Will he attack? Growl? Kill? No, he sits down and tries to reach for the beauty of the sun’s rays.

Karloff does so much with so little. With no dialogue he completely creates this being as a sympathetic creature who never wished to be in existence. What he wants exactly is unknown, but we sense his agonizing frustration at being attacked by everything. When Fritz enters the lab carrying a torch, the Monster is frightened by the fire and is this  mistaken for attack. Waldman, Henry and Fritz manhandle it down into the locked storeroom below and consider what is to be done with it.

Meanwhile, Fritz tortures the Monster with a whip and torch. the Monster is chained and unable to escape the leering hunchback weaving the terrorizing flame. It is of no surprise then when Frankenstein and Waldman hear a terrible scream coming from below. Fritz has been killed by the Monster, and the two scientists decide that it must now be destroyed. Frankenstein prepares a shot that puts the creature to sleep. He then leaves to prepare his wedding, leaving Waldman to dissect and destroy the Creature.

Of course, the monster rises and dispatches Waldman with little resistance. He then begins to roam the countryside in search of nothing in particular. Then in the most controversial moment of the film, the Monster encounters little Maria playing with flowers in the lake…

As they are about to be married, Victor informs Henry that Waldman was found murdered. Henry then realizes that the Monster has escaped and is roaming the countryside. After screams are heard, they realize the Monster is in the house. Henry locks Elizabeth in her room for safety but she is attacked by the Monster who then hastily departs. Maria’s father brings her corpse into the festive village (the way he carries her body makes the arms and legs swing as if she is still joyfully playing in death.)

Everyone is rounded up by Henry and the Burgomaster to go off in search of the Monster with burning torches and pitchforks. Henry and the Monster have their final struggle in an old windmill with the onlooking villagers surrounding the ramshackle structure.

The degree to which Frankenstein trumps the stagy Dracula has to be seen to believe. A mere few months separated the two productions, but Whale’s film is so much more modern in every sense of the word that Dracula seems a good 20 years older.  Heavily influenced by German Expressionism, Whale readily enhances his camera setups with heavy shadow and moody lighting all while embracing the Gothic setting and eschewing ideas to modernize things. Add in his mastery of theater direction, and you have a fully working bond between characters and setting that creates a fully realized world for audiences. Whale always in some way infused his own personal stamp on his films. This blend of thought, idea, creativity, dark humor, folksy charm is readily apparent in his best works and helps elevate them over the works of his contemporaries. Bride of Frankenstein is essentially this personality in cinematic form.

The film was cleaned up and restored for its initial 1999 DVD release under the “Classic Monsters Collection” banner. Unfortunately, the audio was overscrubbed and lacks in detail and fidelity. This was the first time that the Henry’s line “Now I know what it feels like to be God!” was presented since the original 1931 release. Also restored are a few quick shots, such as the needle being shoved into the Creature’s back.

The 2004 Legacy collection fixed the audio detailing and has the same restored video transfer. Included in this set is a fixed Bride of Frankenstein transfer, Son of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein and House of Frankenstein.

The 75th Anniversary release has a few nice extras and a slightly better looking transfer, but it seems to be from the same element. It may be like the 75th Anniversary edition of Dracula where the original transfer was merely digitally manipulated. Overall, it’s really not recommendable for the slight increase in detail. However, there are some new extras and commentaries plus the end credits fade to black as they were intended. (Previous editions have them freeze and then end.)

Try the Legacy Collection, for you not only get the best versions of Frankenstein and Bride, but also the great and very underrated Son of Frankenstein.

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Filed under 4 stars, Film, Film Review, Immortal Films, James Whale, Universal Horror

The Mummy’s Curse (1944)

0.5 stars out of 4. Abysmal. To be avoided.

Let’s start with this: typically when a sequel is released in the same year as the preceding film in a series, the new film will undoubtedly be of vastly inferior quality. Check.

The new film will most likely be an extremely cheaply produced mess. Check.

Still interested? Dear me. The Mummy’s Curse was thankfully the last in Universal’s Kharis cycle, and the last Mummy film the studio ever made. (Until the idea was rebooted for the 1999 Mummy meets Raiders of the Lost Ark Brendan Frasier vehicle.) Somehow the mummies going into a New England swamp have ended up in a Louisiana swamp 25 years later. This of course sets the film in the year 1999. Once again this ridiculous continuity is thankfully ignored and we move into the most monotonous and most awful of all the Kharis films. (and that is a grand achievement in and of itself.)

Engineers determine that the swamp needs to be drained. Two officials from the Scripps museum arrive to request excavation for the two lost mummies. Dr. Halsey and his assistant fez-wearing Egyptian Dr. Zandaab (Oh, what ever could that mean? An Egyptian wearing a fez in a Mummy film?) attempt to find the mummies. They are on hand when a workman is found dead determining that the mummy of Kharis has been found and removed by the murderer.

Zandaab meets with one of the workers that night, who turns out to be his henchman Rageb. Rageb explains that he killed the man and placed Kharis safely in an abandoned church. Zandaab then recalls the story of Kharis in yet another mishmash of clips cut together from the previous films, for he is the new Egyptian High Priest. (Big surprise!) Of course he then tells how to brew the stinking tana leaves and how they give Kharis the power to move.

Then in the only worthwhile second of this terrible trash, Ananka rises from the swampy marsh after being partially uncovered by excavators. She staggers about until she reaches a nearby pond. Later she arises from the waters, revealed to be a beautiful young woman. This sequence is admired as one of the great moments of 40’s Universal horror, and indeed it is. It is too bad that it couldn’t be surrounded by a better film that wasn’t concieved entirely to simply make a fast buck.

One of the workers stumbles upon the girl wandering through the swamp lands and takes her to a local woman’s tavern for care. While he fetches a doctor, Kharis breaks in to reclaim Ananka and kills the unfortunate older woman. Ananka escapes into the night and is found lying in the road by Dr. Halsey and Betty, daughter of the site overseer. They put her in the back of their car and drive off, leaving Kharis frustrated at his inability to catch up to the slow moving car.

They quickly realize she if suffering from amnesia, but when she reveals a deep knowledge of ancient Egypt they ask no questions. Kharis appears and in his attempt to catch Ananka, kills one of the team. She flees into the night again. everyone goes to search for her. Ananka flies into Betty’s tent and Kharis finally captures his prey there. They make way to the church when Betty runs into Rageb who oddly leads her to the church under false pretenses.

Once there, he reveals his lie and approaches Betty. Zandaab has already dealt with Ananka and decries Rageb’s foul desire for Betty. (Because there just had to be someone in the priesthood randomly lusting after a girl haphazardly introduced into the plotline.) Rageb kills Zandaab and is then attacked by Kharis. Betty watches in stunned silence as Kharis pulls down the derelict walls attempting to get to Rageb who has locked himself into an old prison cell. They are both crushed under the falling beams.

Betty is rescued by Dr. Haley and others and they discover Ananka’s mummified corpse finally at rest. Halsey brushes it all off and claims they will dig out Kharis and place him with Ananka in the museum.

The film has been decried as simply one single never-ending chase. This is absolutely true. Of all of the monotonous Kharis films, this is the one that should never have been produced. It is a conscious attempt to fill a double feature and pull in some quick money for Universal by featuring a Mummy. Aside from the resurrection of Ananka, nothing is memorable or even remotely interesting. Lon Chaney gives his least inspired and worst performance as Kharis, which for Chaney’s typically bad Mummy is truly awful. The other actors do nothing and the story is an absolute mess of nothing.

This is certainly one of those films where you ask yourself why you’ve just wasted part of your life. If anything, the one hour run time is a godsend because you’ve only lost an hour due to this garbage.

Watching the mindless Kharis sequels has only strengthened my love for the masterful 1932 original and the unquestionably superior 1959 Hammer film. Enjoy these two great films and skip these trashy 40’s fillers.

Packaged in The Mummy: The Legacy Collection. Like the contained other sequels, Curse is single layer 1.33:1 with 2.0 mono sound. A few print defects here and there but nothing really distracts from the hour of crap.

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Filed under 0.5 stars, Film, Film Review, Universal Horror

The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)

1 star out of 4.

Kharis rises again to wreak havoc in New England and return his Ananka and her relics to Egypt. This is merely an exercise in rehashing the elements of The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Tomb. Nothing really new is presented at least on the surface. Other than the role of another new Egyptian priest being filled by the scenery chewing John Carradine, only the oddly dark ending gives one reason to watch this increasingly monotonous entry in the ever awful Kharis cycle.

The problems are too numerous to really mention. The film roughly takes place in the year 1974 if the laughable continuity of these films is ever to be taken seriously. Yet again, we start a mummy film by wasting time with a recap of the original films’ stories all badly snipped together and only hinting at the greatness of the Karloff original.  This retelling is simultaneously told by the Egyptian priest Andoheb (who is somehow miraculously still alive after dying twice! First shot dead at point blank range in Mummy’s Hand, and then dying of extreme old age in Mummy’s Tomb-scientists must have a lot to learn from this crazy loon.) to new underling Yousef Bey (John Carradine) and the same tale is being told by American Professor Norman at a University in the same small village where Kharis terrorized in The Mummy’s Tomb. Coincidence? Unfortunately no.

Yousef Bey is challenged with traveling to America with Kharis, reclaiming the mummy and possessions of Princess Ananka, and destroying all those who would invoke their wrath. Really? Couldn’t we have changed the general plan up a bit? It isn’t as if you haven’t tried that one before. Back at the University, a student leaves the lecture and visits his girlfriend working in a nearby office. Amina becomes reticent and distant whenever Egypt is mentioned and demands they never speak of it.

That night, Professor Norman finally discovers how many tana leaves must be brewed to complete the ritual he has been attempting to crack. He brews the nine leaves and Kharis begins to stir to find the mystical brew. As he passes Amina’s house she begins to sleepwalk towards the Professor’s home as well. Kharis kills the Professor and drinks the fluid. Amina loses consciousness at the sight of the Mummy. She is found the next morning on the grounds by the police who want to hold her as a potential suspect. No one seems to notice the large white streak in her hair…

The mold left on the Professor’s throat alerts authorities that the Mummy is on the loose again. (Not that they seem to really care all too much. Wouldn’t you?) Some time passes until Yousef Bey arrives and obtains Kharis. What happens in the interim is unexplained. Oh, there’s just an undead Mummy running around. They break into the Scripps museum where Ananka is housed. As Kharis moves to retrieve the mummy, it collapses into dust at his undead hands. Stupified, Kharis looks to Yousef who realizes that her soul has passed on into another body. In one of the only moments of acting in any of these Kharis films, the Mummy destroys the room in rage. A hapless guard is attracted by the noise and quickly dispatched by the monstrous Egyptian.

The police find the dead guard and destroyed museum the next morning. They determine it is also the work of the mummy and devise a trap for him. Amina is strained by the Professor’s death and her possible implication. Her boyfriend Tom persuades her to elope with him to New York. Now Yousef prays to the gods to show Kharis the way to Ananka’s reincarnated form. A shaft of light appears and Kharis is hot on the trail. (Well, as fast as an undead shuffling mummy can be following a non-existent light beam.)

The police have dug a pit outside the Professor’s home and brew tana leaves to lure the mummy. Unfortunately, this also once again awakens Amina into sleepwalking. She has the further misfortune of running into Kharis who recognizes Ananka’s reincarnation. Kharis returns her to Yousef at an abandoned mill. Tom is told of this by the helpless landlady and sets off in pursuit with the police far behind. Yousef tells Amina that she is the reincarnated spirit of Ananka. He then decides that he must have her for himself, and like every single other Egyptian priest suddenly realizes his primal manly urges by trying to make both himself and the female victim immortal.

In the only other bit of acting, Kharis realizes Yousef’s intention and kills him. This is almost as if Kharis come to this realization and declares: “Hell, no! Not this stinking crap again! Bitch, I am not being set on fire!” He then carries Amina off into the swamps with Tom and the police at his heels. The pursuers refrain from shooting the monster in fears of hitting the girl…who is getting a rather quick hair bleaching. The Mummy sinks into the swamps with her withered old corpse.

This ending is a curveball when considering everything else that has transpired up to this point. There is no indication that the ending will be dark, and thus it doesn’t fit the film whatsoever. It is a completely unnecessary moment that despite its shock does not have the power to redeem this schlock. The performances are forgettable save for Carradine’s mad Egyptian. He chews scenery as if it was his mandate, and gives a slightly more interesting face to look at then yet another bland young fez-wearing Egyptian.

Lon Chaney Jr. famously hated playing the Mummy. His disdain is obvious for he shuffles along doing absolutely nothing. Although, he wasn’t really ever made to do much of anything else. Chaney does show some emotion in a few scenes as I’ve mentioned, but it just isn’t enough. Christopher Lee was able to do so much with only his eyes in the Hammer 1959 Mummy film that it seems like a Mummy acting masterclass after watching all of these Universal Kharis films.

Save for a few choice moments with Carradine and the ill-fitting ending, The Mummy’s Ghost is an absolutely forgettable piece of double bill filler.

Like all the other Kharis films, Mummy’s Ghost is packaged in the Mummy Legacy Collection in a well presented single-layer transfer. Sound is standard Dolby 2.0 mono and the print source is very clean.

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Filed under 1 star, Film, Uncategorized, Universal Horror

The Mummy’s Tomb (1942)

1.5 stars out of 4.

This is the beginning of the dull and monotonous Mummy sequels. Lon Chaney Jr. takes over as Kharis the undead Egyptian and seems to never have any desire to be in the film.

We open with the surviving lead from the previous film back home in New England 30 years after the events of The Mummy’s Hand. (This begins the increasingly odd and silly timeframe of these sequels: Hand is in 1940, Tomb is set thus in  1970, Ghost is set in 1974 and Curse is set in 1999. What hack writer came up with that brilliant idea?) The next high priest of Karnak is selected and somehow this is done by the villain from the previous film who had been shot point blank in the face and fallen down stairs. The new priest is assigned to take Kharis to New England and kill all those who desecrated the tomb of Princess Ananka. Then they are to return home with the Princess. The 1959 Hammer film is largely lifted from this film’s plotline along with elements of The Mummy’s Hand.

So all of the atmosphere of Egypt is eschewed for the standard small-town America back lot sets. A lumbering bandaged figure staggers around and kills some people who stand unmoving in dark corners. Some people see some mysterious “shadows” and call police. There’s some really pissed off Egyptians.  What joy. The only interest really comes from the entire remaining cast of the previous film meeting their demise at the hands of the thing they had destroyed already. Their mounting horror is fully realized when they see that it is Kharis who has come for them, and that the curse they so foolishly invoked has come for them at last. Otherwise this is standard B-grade schlock.

Once the first victim is claimed, his old friend arrives by train and identifies it as the work of a living mummy. The death by strangulation and odd imprint of dark mold on the throat is the exact way Kharis kills people. Of course, no one listens to this and the man is dispatched a short time later.

The Egyptian controlling Kharis for some odd reason falls for the fiancee of the first victim’s son. He has Kharis abduct her (in the scene where he orders Kharis to do this, Chaney initially refuses his Master giving the only real emotion from the Mummy in any of these B-quickies.) and then reveals his plan to make her and himself immortal using the tana leaves that give Kharis life. This is exactly what the other priest did randomly at the end of Hand, and here again it feels added only to pad the runtime to just over an hour. This goes without mentioning that this tacked on subplot makes no feasible sense.

Everyone goes after the girl of course, and the Mummy is then trapped in a burning house. The house is burned to the ground and everyone lives happily ever after. Even though killing it with fire didn’t work last time! Some idiots never learn.

Available in The Mummy Legacy Collection along with the masterpiece 1932 film, the acceptable first sequel, the terrible Mummy’s Ghost and the putrid Mummy’s Curse. The DVD is 1.33:1 with standard Dolby 2.0 mono. Taken from a relatively clean print source.

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Filed under 1.5 stars, Film, Universal Horror

The Mummy’s Hand (1940)

2.5 stars out of 4. One cannot deny its charm.

Here is the first of the oft-maligned 40’s Universal films featuring the Mummy. And there is a reason why they are so maligned. All are just over one hour in length with drastically reduced budgets. These are double bill fillers, the kind of B-movie that was cranked out at such a speed that little care or thought was ever put into them. Remember time = money!

The first of four, The Mummy’s Hand is probably the only one actually worth watching. It blends the mystical resurrected Mummy with a cheapy serial film effectively to become a nice throwback to the fantasies of childhood. It doesn’t ever claim to be anything greater and we wouldn’t want it to.

The Mummy itself doesn’t appear until late in the film and this allows for our characters to be built up from scratch. The audience is allowed to form attachments instead of  not worrying when they are picked off later on. The story is actually well constructed, holds interest and moves at a astonishingly quick pace because there’s only 70 minutes to work with!

Our journey begins with new priest Andoheb journeying to the dying old high Priest of Karnak in order to become the next high priest. The old man tells Andoheb of the story of Kharis the living mummy whom they have controlled for centuries in the event that anyone should disturb the tomb of Ananka. Fans of the original film may notice that the names are different here. Some subtle and not so subtle alterations were made to the original story line to fit this new sequencing. We are then treated to a flashback while the priest narrates over the footage from the original film. Inserted badly are shots of the new actor Tom Tyler, while Boris Karloff is still visible in others. Kharis now steals tana leaves to revive his love instead of the unbelievably superior mac guffin the Scroll of Thoth.

Andoheb is sworn to uphold the ways of the priesthood and becomes the new man in charge. He is entrusted with Kharis and instructed on how to use him as the instrument of the priest’s will. During the full moon, the brew of three tana leaves will keep his heart beating. Nine leaves will give him movement and motivation. But if Kharis were to obtain any more he would become an uncontrollable monster. (This last bit is never utilized in any of the films.)

Two down on their luck American archaeologists in Egypt stumble upon a broken vase in a Cairo street vendor’s stall that shows the way to the legendary lost tomb of Ananka. They take it to another archaeologist friend who works in the museum which just happens to be headed by Andoheb. He claims the vase as imitation and then “accidentally” breaks it.

The three continue with their plans to find the tomb unknowing that Andoheb is secretly out to stop them. They end up securing finances from a traveling magician and his daughter but inadvertently take every cent the man had. Ater gathering supplies they travel to the site but find the tomb of Kharis instead of Ananka. All of the men are frightened away and Kharis is brought back to life by Andoheb to destroy all those who would violate the ancient tombs…

This is a 70 minute serial that happens to feature a Mummy as a henchman. Said mummy is revealed well and in post-production, its eyes were blacked out actually making the ridiculous seem quite creepy.

Unfortunately after this, the other films transplanted the action to an American location and dropped any of these wonderful serial adventure elements. Gone were also the relatively developed human characters and the actor who played Kharis.  Tom Tyler was replaced by Lon Chaney Jr., and while this seems like a wise decision in both performance and billing, Chaney spends his time merely stumbling about and not really seeming threatening to anyone. These three other sequels are exactly 1 hour and 1 minute celluloid filler.

Many of the elements from these Kharis sequels were combined and rearranged to form the basis for Hammer’s superior The Mummy (1959).

The film was originally released on a double sided disc with other Mummy films, and these were repackaged into the Legacy Collection. The print source is very clean and the DVD is well done from the best available print. Affordably packaged here with the masterful Karloff original and the other three vastly inferior sequels.

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Filed under 2.5 stars, Film, Universal Horror