A team of British archaeologists led by Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) discover the mummified remains of the ancient Egyptian prince Imhotep (Boris Karloff), along with the legendary scroll of Thoth. When one of the archaeologists recites the scroll aloud, Imhotep returns to life, but escapes. Several years later, Imhotep has taken on the guise of a wealthy man, as he searches Egypt for his lost love, who he believes has been reincarnated as the lovely Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann)
A true original, The Mummy is a monster movie unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Released in 1932 the film is an atmospheric masterpiece with the legendary Boris Karloff in the leading role taking viewers through a dangerous fable of love destined through time, but cursed by the Gods themselves to be forever doomed.
Directed by Karl Freund, the cinematographer for the classic Dracula film, The Mummy was inspired by a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle’s titled “The Ring of Thoth” and immediately set a template that would forever inspire future mummy-themed films. From the opening sequences of the archaeologists in 1921 who unearthed more than their feeble minds could take to the attempted forced reincarnation from Imhotep himself, the film sets a horrific tone that haunts every scene with an aura of mystery.
With Boris Karloff, the famed Frankenstein actor (and so much more) taking the lead alongside Zita Johann, the performances in The Mummy absolutely steal the spotlight. The rather fantastic setting that feels much more elaborate than other Universal Monster movies helps to sell the world that is being built, but it’s ultimately the performances that make the film such a timeless classic. There is an underlying presence that Karloff brings to the Imhotep role that creates tension and terror almost out of thin air, making you uneasy every time he enters the scene.
The plot is essentially a love story, akin to Dracula, where Ardath Bey (Imhotep) seeks to kill Helen Grosvenor and reincarnate her as the princess Ankh-es-en-Amon. The supporting cast does their job in making this more believable, but it’s the relationship and dynamics that Bey and Grosvenor toy with that give the film depth. It isn’t just some bandaged mummy walking around killing people for over an hour, it’s a haunting tale of eternal love that drives people to do terrible things. The sense of heart grounds the story when it could otherwise go off the rails, but there is still plenty of scares. The special effects used in the first moments of Ihmotep’s reveal, covered in bandages and dirt, is the stuff of nightmares and honestly some of the most iconic imagery in horror still to this day.
The ending takes the film from an atmospheric horror to something else entirely with the intervention of the statue of Isis. The religious aspects of the film are used not to develop the horror within the story, but to quell it. First killing Ihmotep for sacrilege then preventing the Scroll of Thoth to reincarnate Helen and casting down Ihmotep himself in the process. We see a monster unleashed by the curiosities of humanity and struck down by the gods in divine protection from Helen’s prayers. It unravels the horrific tone with tact, and brings the mystery to light in a satisfying way before a climactic finale.
The Mummy continued Universal’s golden age of horror with another instant classic and stands the test of time as one of the best films in the genre. This is an example of everything coming together and clicking in a way that just doesn’t happen often. There are no official sequels, only reimagined takes that pay homage to what was achieved in the 1932 original. It’s not the first film that comes to mind when someone talks about monsters in horror movies, but the influences that came with The Mummy are simply undeniable. It’s a masterpiece through and through, and while it has aged quite a bit, it is still a must see for any fan of horror.
Released in 1932, The Mummy is an atmospheric masterpiece with the legendary Boris Karloff in the leading role taking viewers through a dangerous fable of love destined through time, but cursed by the Gods themselves to be forever doomed.
Monsters Unleashed!: The Mummy (1932)
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Acting - 10/1010/10
- Music - 10/1010/10
- Production - 10/1010/10
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