No chains can hold it! No tomb can seal it!
Boris Karloff's Imhotep was so effectively destroyed at the end of Universal's 1932 horror classic, The Mummy, that the studio was forced to create a new storyline from which to create sequels to the popular series. 1940's The Mummy's Hand tells the tale of archaeologist Steve Banning and his attempts to uncover the ancient tomb of Egyptian Princess Ananka. In doing so, Banning awakens the mummy of Kharis, the prince who, 3000 years before, tried to resurrect his love Ananka. His penalty: a severed tongue and live burial. Kharis torments Banning and company until they set him on fire. In 1942's The Mummy's Tomb, Kharis returns 30 years later to get revenge on Banning, this time in the New England town of Mapleton. After quickly dispatching the famed archaeologist, Kharis goes after Banning Jr., who apparently never learned from his father's mistakes and again sets fire to the mummy. Lon Chaney Jr. played Kharis in every mummy sequel except The Mummy's Hand (Tom Tyler gets the honors in that film) and returns for the final two films in the series, both released, notably, in 1944. The Mummy's Ghost and The Mummy's Curse make an appropriate double feature disc thanks to Universal.
Facts of the Case
The Mummy's Ghost takes place thirty years after Kharis last unleashed a reign of terror on the sleepy New England town of Mapleton, Massachusetts. The townspeople have made the mistake of keeping the mummy of Princess Ananka in the local museum, while the high priest of Arkam (George Zucco, who apparently didn't die in the last film?) feels her remains should be returned to their original resting place. He dispatches a junior priest, Yousef Bey (John Carradine) to right the wrong. Yousef Bey resurrects Kharis the Mummy (played once again by Lon Chaney, Jr.) who promptly attacks a local college professor unwisely fooling around with tana leaves (Kharis has a serious addiction to tana leaves as they sustain his life). Yousef and Kharis make an attempt at stealing Ananka's remains from the museum, but find that her soul has relocated into young co-ed Amina (Ramsay Ames). Amina's fiancé (there's always a fiancé), Tom Harvey (Robert Lowery), must protect her from the monster, and help the local police catch Kharis before he can continue killing townspeople.
The Mummy's Curse is set 25 years after the events of The Mummy's Ghost. Kharis pulled his love Ananka to the bottom of a swamp at the end of the last film, and now an excavation crew plans to drain that very swamp. The captain of the crew, Pat Walsh (Addison Richards) finds it difficult to pacify his workers (oddly, a group of local Cajuns) who are superstitious about the mummy legend surrounding the area. Against the wishes of Walsh, Dr. Halsey (Dennis Moore) of the Scripps Museum has plans to locate the bodies of Kharis and Ananka and display them in the museum. Little does Halsey know that his assistant Illzor (Peter Coe) is the High Priest of Arkam. Illzor uses tana leaves to resurrect Kharis. Soon Princess Ananka rises from the swamp, albeit as a beautifully rejuvenated young lady suffering from amnesia. Though Ananka finds him repulsive, Kharis stalks her according to the wishes of Illzor, killing the local townspeople who stand in his way. Dr. Halsey has to get to the bottom of this mess before more people are killed, including the beautiful young Betty (Kay Harding), who is Walsh's nephew and Halsey's love interest.
The Mummy's Ghost is a virtual remake of its predecessor The Mummy's Tomb. Like that film, The Mummy's Ghost concerns an Egyptian priest who travels to America, falls in love with a local girl and attempts to use the secrets of eternal life to secure their future. The girl's fiancé fights against the union, as does Kharis, who, aside from killing local townspeople, is actually a good monster at heart, not unlike his cousin Frankenstein. Where The Mummy's Ghost differs from The Mummy's Curse is that it is set on a college campus. But The Mummy meets American Pie this is not. These young students have about as much fun as I did in college, which is to say, not much. With the exception of a terrific performance by John Carradine, Lon Chaney, Jr. does the best acting here. That's saying a lot, since all he's got to do is creep around, dragging one foot behind him. The rest of the actors belong in regional theater, at best. Correction, a small terrier named Peanuts gives a performance worthy of Lassie herself.
Despite repetition, bad acting, and repetition, The Mummy's Ghost is a fun movie for fans of the series and of classic horror in general. Again, John Carradine alone makes this film worth a viewing. The Mummy series was definitely showing signs of wear and tear with this production. Attempts at a logical plot were thrown by the wayside, though a nicely somber ending makes The Mummy's Ghost the Empire Strikes Back of the franchise.
Production on The Mummy's Curse began just a few short weeks after wrapping The Mummy's Ghost, and the lack of story preparation shows. The Mummy series must have been a sure-bet moneymaker for Universal, as both films were released in 1944. As such, this film feels like the product of an assembly line, barely indistinguishable from its predecessors. The mummy slinks around as usual, killing several people with the choke of his hand. Nobody is ever able to outrun Kharis, despite the fact that he can barely walk. Most of the time they don't even try because they are apparently paralyzed with fear. At this point, I'm not sure if Lon Chaney Jr. is actually behind all the makeup and bandages, and it doesn't really matter. The important thing back then was to get his name on the poster (which was pre-sold to theater owners, hence the irrelevant titles of most of these films). A better title for the movie might've been "Bride of The Mummy" as it's the first time we see a flesh and blood Princess Ananka after hearing about her for three films. Virginia Christine brings an enigmatic quality to the part, echoing shades of Bride of Frankenstein when the woman the monster's been searching for rejects him.
Universal wisely concluded The Mummy series with The Mummy's Curse (not that its ending is any more conclusive than the other films). The series definitely had run its course and needed a break. With the exception of 1955's Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, the studio would not revisit the monster again until 1999's The Mummy, a popular remake with Brendan Fraser and the beginning of another run of sequel hits for Universal.
The Mummy's Ghost/The Mummy's Curse is part of a new line of classic horror double features by Universal. Whereas Universal's more popular monster classics were given full-fledged special edition treatment, the draw of these discs is getting two films for the price of one.
The theatrical trailers for both films are provided, albeit in scratchy condition. The production notes for all of these Universal Classics are very interesting, especially since it's not always easy to find background information on these second-tier cheapies. Also provided are the usual cast and crew filmographies. Other than that, these discs are featureless.
Both films are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Considering that both movies are almost 60 years old, the quality of these transfers is very good. There are a couple of instances of grain and dirt on the prints, but nothing too distracting. Black levels are solid with minimal edge enhancement. This is a very nice video presentation.
The Mummy's Ghost/The Mummy's Curse are both presented with the original English mono audio tracks. The audio track is solid for both films, with minimal distortion or deterioration. The age of the films presents its own limitations and nothing here is going to maximize your sound system. But overall, the audio experience is very adequate. The Mummy's Ghost/The Mummy's Curse also contains a Spanish mono track, and English, Spanish and French subtitles.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Of course, these discs might've benefited from some more special features, but that seems like sour grapes. Universal has a huge catalogue of monster titles and cannot realistically be expected to give each one special edition treatment. So instead, Universal's goal is to give the consumer more for their money, and should be applauded as such.
With the concurrent DVD releases of The Mummy's Hand, The Mummy's Tomb, and Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, Universal's release of The Mummy's Ghost and The Mummy's Curse completes the entire collection of classic Mummy films on the format. Though the sequels are all inferior to the terrific 1932 Karloff film The Mummy, collectors and fans of the genre should be pleased to have this nice double-feature set with a surprisingly good quality audio-visual presentation.
Not guilty! Kharis is free to suck some more tana leaves!
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