1932’s The Mummy is the first of the classic Universal Monster movies I’m watching with my son. The tag line is appropriate, given this is launching my new project, introducing the classic Universal Monster movies to him. Over the next few weeks we’ll run through the canon of early Universal Monster movies, and see how they play to a 21st century kid.
A little background first. This is, technically speaking, the birth of the Mummy as a monster. Previous films and stories have drawn the reanimated dead or immortals as creatures, but this was inspired by the opening on Tutankhamen’s tomb ten years earlier. The world was still passionate about the lore of ancient Egypt, and Universal sought to capitalize on it with something that tied into their now successful model of Monster movies. After searching for an original story, they reshaped an existing screenplay about a 3,000 year old magician, adding pieces of reincarnation and a kind of Pidgin Egyptian theology.
This is catnip to my son. We’ve visited Egyptian artifact exhibits, including the collection in the Louvre, and each time he gravitates to the morbid. The whole vision of the afterlife, the legend of Mummy’s curses, he sucks this all up like a sponge. More than once, he’s asked adults if they know how mummies are made, then launched into a detailed description of the mummification process.
So beginning with Imhotep having been buried alive is slightly disappointing to him. We’re not going to be seeing any mummification, but we do get a man driven mad by seeing a 3000 year old corpse come to life. He also likes the touches that tie the movie to the more recent ones he’s more familiar with: Imhotep calling himself Ardeth Bay ( his first comment about Boris Karloff: “nice fez!”) and the girl being a reincarnation of Anakh su Namon. the Egyptian guard being killed in the dark is a little creepy, as is Imhotep hypnotizing Helen to show her their past in Ancient Egypt. The short overall running time works well for this movie (it’s a little over an hour), because just as he’s starting to lose interest Imhotep summons Helen to the museum to sacrifice her and turn her permanently into Anakh su Namon, and my son’s locked in, wondering what’s going to happen and how everything will turn out.
After the movie’s over he says he liked it, and wants to watch another. He thought Karloff was cool and liked the way they made his eyes glow. So far it seems this is beginning well, and he’s enjoying the older movies, but for the next one we’ll jump ahead to the Fifties. Next week we jump from Egypt the the Amazon for Creature from the Black Lagoon.