Those are the sacred words of death, the ones you were afraid to utter.
In the early 1920s an archaeological expedition financed by the arrogant American industrialist, Stanley Preston (John Phillips), and lead by the distinguished Sir Basil Walden (Andre Morell), searches for the true resting place of a forgotten pharaoh, Kah-to-Bey. By finding and entering the tomb, the group invokes a curse of violence and death that has lain dormant for centuries…a curse that will claim the lives of several members of the expedition and will forever haunt the rest. A curse of death that is called into action by the reading of the ancient text inscribed upon the mummy's shroud.
Not to make apologies for the movie, but The Mummy's Shroud is a horror/suspense film in which the charms are of a quiet and subtle nature. No cutting edge, graphic thriller here, but rather one where most of the violence occurs off camera, leaving quite a few thrills to the imagination. At a running time of 90 minutes, The Mummy's Shroud moved along so quickly it left this reviewer very little time to realize that all this has been done before. Done many times before and to be honest, done better. This is not to say that this is a bad movie, far from it. It is just not a very good one and I think that is a pretty big distinction.
There is a certain familiar charm to be found in this kind of movie, a comfort level that I rather enjoyed. Within five minutes I knew exactly who would live and who would die. By the end of the movie, all of my predictions were proven to be right. The movie is a simple one, made in a simpler time.
Speaking with ye ole editor Sean about the Hammer Collection releases, he hit the nail on the head when he described watching these movies as reliving part of our childhood. Saturday or Sundays were often spent in front of the television, at least for me, watching afternoon creature features. It was from these afternoons of quiet terror and suspense that I found the movies of Hammer. For me one of the best parts of writing for the Verdict has been rediscovering these cinematic links to a less complex time in my life.
Horror movies may have gotten more graphic, certainly towards the end Hammer did, although nothing ever came close to the Friday the 13th slice-and-dice mode. Still, for as many horror/suspense movies have come and gone over the decades, few have come close to mastering the charm that was Hammer. The only films that come quickly to my mind are 1985s Fright Night and 1999s Sleepy Hollow.
Looking at The Mummy's Shroud you will find a number of "Hammer Rep" members, both in front of and behind the camera. As Writer/Director, the talented John Gilling serves up the chills. Gilling had done work for the studio before with The Reptile and The Plague of the Zombies, both of which are some of the best films Hammer ever made. While hardly in their league, with Shroud Gilling seems content to simply keep the pace going and offer up one or two moments of wry, dark humor, not to mention the occasional hint of blood and cleavage.
In front of the camera Andre Morell plays the noble but tortured explorer, Sir Basil Walden. Morell was capable of being an extremely droll performer as he proved in The Plague of the Zombies or The Hound of the Baskervilles but here he is rather wasted. With precious little screen time Morell manages to give his roll a sense of dignity, not to mention a streak of pain and confusion.
What Hammer film would be complete without the talents of Michael Ripper? If you have seen many of these films you will know that Ripper usually played the bartender or innkeeper and he was quite often very good. Well, in The Mummy's Shroud he is indeed quite good as the ever hopeful and ever put upon, Longbarrow. In this film Ripper enjoys more screen time than usual and he makes the most of it. His performance is the most complete work in the film and his was the one character I felt myself caring about.
Set design and decoration is top notch, especially considering the famous low Hammer budget and they add to the overall feel of the movie. Don Banks contributes a musical score that, while never quite reaching the heights of regular Hammer Composer James Bernard, still helps the flow and tone of the film.
The Mummy's Shroud is given a stunning anamorphic transfer from Anchor Bay that beautifully frames the movies original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Colors are warm and lush, with the picture showing little to no edge enhancement. Dark alleyways, nighttime sequences and shadows have an astonishing level of detail and clarity with no pixel breakup to be seen. The print used is also in remarkable shape. Very little film grain is present with those annoying scratches and nicks rarely being an issue. I doubt that the movie has looked this good since the days of its original release. Once more congratulations must be given to Anchor Bay for a job well done.
The sound is a Dolby 2.0 Mono and it is pretty effective. The sound has a surprising level of range, with both the score and the dialogue heard easily. Source material is once again of the highest caliber, with there being little to no background distortion heard.
The work from Anchor Bay may not scale the heights it achieved with The Abominable Snowman but it is still of the highest quality. It is obvious with every release, these guys mean business and they care about the work that goes into their product.
As is usually the case Anchor Bay loads this disc up with trailers for the film as well as combo trailers with other Hammer classics. These are always a welcome sight. Watching them I am always reminded of the phrase, "the more things change, the more they stay the same." Like the movie itself, the trailers are a blast from the past.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Mummy's Shroud is not even close to being a perfect film and it will certainly not be for everyone. Its pace is deliberate and its thrills low key. Fans of high-octane horror films with huge and bloody body counts will probably want to stay away. Much of the acting is either over-the-top such as John Phillips as the venal Stanley Preston or so underplayed that it appears the performers never woke up, both David Buck as the handsome lead, Paul Preston or Maggie Kimberly as the beautiful and busty assistant, Claire de Sangre come to mind on that count.
Still, with all that in mind, I find the faults to be part of the enjoyable whole with The Mummy's Shroud. These movies were never meant to be anything more than humble entertainment and entertain they still do. Personally I could not ask a movie to do more.
The only thing I would have liked from Anchor Bay on this count was some extra material that I had not seen before. As is almost always the case Anchor Bay gives us one of the World of Hammer episodes, this time out being Mummies, Werewolves and The Living Dead. On its own, that is well and good. The only problem is that this is the exact same episode that is present on The Plague of the Zombies disc. Come on Anchor Bay, still no subtitles or captions AND we get something you have already made available on another recent release. With these discs retailing for almost 30 bucks I certainly expect more for my money.
Value issues aside, Anchor Bay does it again with The Mummy's Shroud. A sparkling transfer and good sound wrap up this Saturday afternoon memory in a bow.
Fans of this collection of films and vintage horror movies are well advised to pick this disc up.
For the first time Hammer viewer, I would try some other movies from Anchor Bay's Hammer Collection first. Or if you must see this, give it a rental first and go from there.
Both the Mummy, Hammer Studios and Anchor Bay are released for time served. In the Mummy's case, a long time indeed. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Theatrical Trailer
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