Tag Archives: Karl Freund

The Mummy (2017): a triumph of spectacle over substance

As you may have noticed, June has been a lazy month with no particular motif or theme, aside from some lackadaisical coverage of a few summer blockbusters.

Yesterday, I bit the proverbial bullet and watched the new remake of The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Annabelle Wallis, and Sofia Boutella. I tend to be wary of big-budget Hollywood horror films, not because I have anything against casting A-list actors or using sophisticated special effects, but simply because mainstream Hollywood tends to play things safe and not create films that are too disturbing. This is fine for some genres, but not for horror, for obvious reasons.

The original teaser trailer for The Mummy didn’t fill me with optimism. While it’s kind of neat that they have a female mummy, I was immediately put off by what appeared to be silly and exploitative costuming. Do her bandages really need to create a push-up bra effect? Why do female monsters have to be sexually objectified rather than just scary? The ancient Egyptians definitely did not beautify female corpses. In fact, the ancient historian Herodotus wrote that wealthy families deliberately let the bodies of their deceased women spoil a bit, so that embalmers would not be tempted to engage in necrophilic acts with the corpses. Also, the new mummy’s bandages progressively unravel during the course of the film, creating a revealing of macabre pinup look. That could be a legit problem, but at least Boris Karloff had the good sense and dignity to procure some real clothes in the original 1932 version.

Upon seeing the new Mummy, I had wished they had  left some semblance of the original love story intact. Boris Karloff’s character in the original film was sympathetic because his only “crime” was forbidden love. This story could have worked with any gender combination, but the new mummy Ahmanet is massively unsympathetic. She was sentenced to being embalmed alive because she was a baby-murderer, motivated solely by power and greed.

Still, I believe in approaching every movie with an open mind. The 2017 version of The Mummy is actually a lot of fun, if you can approach it for pure entertainment. Aside from a few jump-scares, the film is never truly frightening, but it does seemingly pay homage to darker horror films. The mummy Princess Ahmanet reconstitutes her body by sucking the vitality out of her victims in a Hellraiser-lite fashion. Similarly, when protagonist Nick’s (Cruise) dead buddy keeps showing up to tell him he is cursed, it’s a lot like An American Werewolf in London. There’s also a lot of action, comedy, and a subplot involving Dr. Henry Jekyll.

The original film did so much with so little. There were no action scenes and all of the violence was offscreen, but director Karl Freund and his cast were able to convey so much with meaningful glances and subtle dialogue. In contrast, the 2017 remake does so little with so much. I was never bored while watching The Mummy, but it didn’t give me much to deconstruct afterward. For that reason, it’s not going to be a film I watch obsessively again and again.

This weekend, I’m looking forward to breaking away from mainstream entertainment by seeing Crispin Glover perform live at the Omaha Alamo Drafthouse, June 16-17. Check back soon for more information about this event, which will surely be anything but bland and conventional. For more information about Crispin Glover’s appearances, visit his website.

November is Boris Karloff Month; Review of The Mummy

To kick off our celebration of Boris Karloff’s birth month, I want to first direct our readers to the only Official Boris Karloff Web Site, which is maintained by his descendants. This site has fascinating interviews, articles, and a gift shop. I was quite pleased to see that they sell More Than A Monster, the only Karloff biography approved by his surviving family. This book has been hard to find, and hopefully, my copy will arrive in time for me to post a review of it this month.

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I’ll be discussing several of Karloff’s lesser-known films later, but my favorite is The Mummy(1932), directed by Karl Freund (who also directed ┬áMad Love , another personal favorite). The Mummy of course spawned many sequels and remakes, many of which depicted the titular mummy as merely an automaton doing the bidding of another villain. Only the 1932 version featured Karloff’ and provided a character with enough depth to showcase his acting range. Based on the films I’ve viewed, The Mummy may be the closest thing Karloff had to a romantic lead.

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As Imhotep, a disgraced Egyptian priest condemned to be mummified alive for his love affair with a priestess of Isis, Karloff brings a great deal of humanity and sensitivity to the character. For a time, Imhotep even wins the heart of his reincarnated lover. However, anyone who loves someone so intensely for thousands of years may have a bit of an obsessive streak and trouble accepting rejection. When his love interest Helen refuses her role in a ritual to gain immortality, Imhotep decides complete the ritual by embalming her alive.

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In many respects, The Mummy is a pagan and proto-feminist counterpart to Dracula, as Imhotep’s powers can be diminished with an amulet of Isis rather than a crucifix, reincarnation is a key aspect of the plot, and Helen defeats Imhotep by invoking Isis for protection, rather than relying on her dull boyfriend and other male characters to save her life. All aspects that were a bit unusual for films of the era. The Mummy is essential viewing for not only Karloff fans, but all lovers of horror.