Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on basement television.
I’m continuing to find my way through the Universal monster films, and have now made it to the end of the Mummy franchise, more or less. With The Mummy’s Ghost, we’re going to get a great deal of movie packed into a one-hour running time. We’re also going to get Lon Chaney Jr. playing the title character. It would seem that eventually, all roads lead to Lon Chaney Jr. in the Universal monsters world.
We’re going to start with a lot of exposition, giving us the back story of how Kharis (Chaney) become the undead monster he is. It’s the way all of these movies start, more or less. We learn about Kharis and his love for Princess Ananka. An attempt to raise her from the dead gets Kharis cursed for all eternity, and naturally his tomb was eventually discovered and his body brought to America. Now, his new high priest, Yousef Bey (John Carradine!) must retrieve the body of Kharis and Ananka and bring them back to Egypt.
Meanwhile, in the States, Tom Hervey (Robert Lowery) is romancing his Egyptian girlfriend Amina (Ramsay Ames), who acts oddly whenever anyone mentions Egypt. Since Tom is evidently an Egyptology student, one imagines this might put an interesting strain on their relationship. Nonetheless, Yousef Bey eventually shows up, revives the mummy by brewing the tana leaves that give him life, and then attempting to reclaim the body of Princess Ananka. But, low and behold, it all goes wrong when the body disappears. Why? Because of course Ananka has been reborn. If you guessed that Amina is the new home for that spirit, well, you’ve seen a movie at least once in the past.
It seems strange to say this, but Lon Chaney Jr. is actually pretty good as Kharis. He’s buried under a metric ton of makeup and bandages, of course, so he’s completely unrecognizable, and in this case, that really works for him. Chaney’s hangdog expression wouldn’t work for this character at all—Kharis needs to be all menace and implacability, two words that don’t really work for Lon Chaney Jr. Under all of the cosmetics, he’s just a monster, and it works really well.
I’m always amused by horror movies of the time. So many things are handled by showing us the start of something (like an attack by the mummy) and then showing us the shadow of what happens on the wall, thanks to a strategically located light source. It’s entertaining, but I’m sure happened as a way to make some effects easier and to get around possible censorship.
What’s really surprising here is the ending. I won’t spoil it except to say that the film ends in a completely fair and natural way for the story being told, but it was surprising nonetheless. I love it when that happens, especially from a film of this vintage.
Truthfully, The Mummy’s Ghost isn’t going to be anyone’s favorite Mummy picture. It’s good and entertaining, and there are a few decent deaths in it, but it moves along too quickly and is over and done with just as it is starting to hit its stride. It’s clearly a film that was made to be a part of a double feature.
Interestingly enough, the next movie in the franchise, The Mummy’s Curse, was released in the same year and also features Lon Chaney Jr. in the title role. This is a film that we’re told takes place decades after the previous Mummy films, but other than being told that, there isn’t any real indication of that being the case.
The swamp that ends the previous film is where we start this time. An engineering company is attempting to drain the swamp using a crew of workers who are stereotypes of African-American and Cajun folk. Seriously, everyone either sounds like Justin Wilson or Uncle Remus. Just as the offensiveness of the characters is reaching its height, we’re introduced to Dr. James Halsey (Dennis Moore, not the Monty Python character) and Dr. Ilzor Zandaab (Peter Coe), from a museum, sent to retrieve the mummies alleged to have disappeared into the swamp years earlier. Since this is the sixth film in the series, anyone watching already knows that Zandaab is going to end up being a bad guy because he’s Egyptian and wears a fez.
Anyway, of course Zandaab is a bad guy, and he meets up with his cohort Ragheb (Martin Kosleck) to bring back Kharis and to find Princess Ananka. We’re give the backstory once again just for good measure. Assuming hour-long films like this one ended up on the back half of a double bill, the exposition was probably necessary to some extent. Anyway, what happens next is, surprisingly, one of my absolute favorite moments in the entire franchise.
While work in the swamp continues, a vehicle partially uncovers the body of Ananka (Virginia Christine), who rises from the mud and comes back to life. This sequence is genuinely creepy and disturbing. She looks to be pained and horrified to be struggling back to life and struggling to move. For a film this short, we spend a good deal of time watching her crawl up out of the mud. Eventually, the mud washes off and we’re presented not with a mummy, but a young woman with amnesia.
Honestly, the rest of the film is going to go about as you expect it to. Our young woman is going to have surprising knowledge of Kharis and Egypt and is also going to through bouts of being almost in a trance and hunting for Kharis. This will flip-flop with Kharis finding her and her being terrified of him. Again, where this is going to go is not too difficult to figure out. A movie like The Mummy’s Curse more or less writes itself once you have the basic premise settled.
Truthfully, when it came to deciding whether or not this was worthy of a recommendation, I find myself split. The scene of Ananka returning to life is genuinely good and a genuine piece of horror footage. The fact that it is entirely bloodless doesn’t detract from just how good it really is. On the other hand, the most Steppin Fetchit-ish of the characters is named Goobie. It’s a step away from them naming him “Sup’rstition.” There’s also a forced romance here between our Dr. Halsey and Betty (Kay Harding), the niece/secretary of the guy in charge of the swamp excavation. This serves no real purpose except for it evidently needing to be in every movie.
Why to watch The Mummy’s Ghost: Lon Chaney Jr. is a better mummy than you’d guess.
Why not to watch: Way too much plot for one hour.
Why to watch The Mummy’s Curse: The rebirth of Ananka is genuine horror filmmaking.
Why not to watch: It’s pretty racist in places.