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While it may have taken the Universal release of THE MUMMY RETURNS to bring the Hammer production of THE MUMMY ($20) to DVD, it is an absolute thrill to be able to own Warner Home Video’s release of this Hammer classic. 1959’s THE MUMMY, along with HORROR OF DRACULA and CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN hole a place amongst the most influential horror films of all time. At a time when the genre was in decline, Hammer revitalized horror with its unique combination of gothic styling, graphic violence, lurid color and gore. As subject matter for their foray into horror, Hammer wisely chose to reinvent the classic monsters of Universal Studio’s heyday. DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN and THE MUMMY were enormously successful film releases for Universal during the 1930s and in the 1950s the rebirth of these characters, not only put Hammer Productions on the map, but brought about a renaissance of horror films that continues into today.

Like all other cinematic versions of the mummy tale, Hammer’s outing involves archeologists that open up an ancient Egyptian tomb, which unleashes an undead horror that lays waiting within. The plot of THE MUMMY centers on the aftermath of an ill-fated expedition to find the tomb of Princess Anaka, who was High Priestess to the Egyptian god Karnak. Peter Cushing stars John Banning, the son of lead archeologists by Stephen Banning (Felix Aylmer), who has searched many years for the final resting place of the legendary Princess Anaka. Unfortunately, John is laid up with a broken leg and is unable to enter the tomb along with his father. The joy of the discovery is quickly dashed when the elder Banning is stricken while alone in the tomb. Three years pass before Stephen Banning is well enough to warn his son about the horror that he saw in Princess Anaka’s tomb. Unfortunately, John doesn’t believe his father’s tale of the living mummy that will take its revenge on those that dared to disturb the rest of Princess Anaka. With the aid of Mehemet Bey (George Pastell) a modern day Priest of Karnak, the mummy of Kharis (Christopher Lee) is transported to England to fulfill this deadly curse.

While there are certain similarities to Universal mummy movies that preceded it, Hammer’s version of THE MUMMY is an original and truly superior horror movie. Although Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay is lean and to the point, the film does add the romanticized flourish of an undying love that spans four thousand years. It is the film’s strange "love story" that causes the mummy of Kharis to turn against his master, when he encounters the reincarnation of Anaka (Yvonne Furneaux) in the Banning household. Director Terence Fisher keeps THE MUMMY quickly paced and suspenseful, yet he does play up the story’s romanticism. One of the most striking things about THE MUMMY is the beauty of the film’s color cinematography, which is rendered in superb IB Technicolor hues. The film’s prevailing sense of atmosphere is generated in deeply saturated tones that include eerie greens and rich crimsons, which IB Technicolor could produce with aplomb. Finally, THE MUMMY is a monster movie with a genuinely frightening monster. Christopher Lee’s Kharis is like a stealth killing machine that can only be heard when it is too late to avoid its swift and deadly grasp. As a credit to his talent, Lee makes Kharis and unforgettable and almost sympathetic monster, despite the fact that his bandages and makeup force him to do all of his acting with only his eyes. The cast of THE MUMMY also includes Eddie Byrne, Raymond Huntley, George Woodbridge and Hammer regular Michael Ripper.

Warner Home Video has made THE MUMMY available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. This is a truly first rate transfer of THE MUMMY, although the framing appears a little tight on the top in a number of shots. The image on the DVD is cleaner, crisper and better defined than I thought this forty-plus year old movie would provide. It seems that Warner has unearthed a beautiful film element for the transfer, one that is free from most signs of age and wear. Additionally, the film element produces wonderfully rich and vivid colors that make one think of the lost IB Technicolor process. Flesh tones have the characteristic pallor of a makeup man’s kit, but for the most part they appear appealing enough. There are no signs of chromatic distortion or smearing, even amongst the most intense hues. Black are suitably velvety and the picture does provide respectable shadow detail, especially during the film’s climax in the swamp.

THE MUMMY is presented on DVD with a Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack. Considering its age, THE MUMMY sounds quite good. Fidelity is limited middle range, without true high or lows, but the material really doesn’t require anything else. Dialogue is reproduced cleanly and is always quite understandable. The film’s musical score isn’t brash or tinny, and will take a fair amount of amplification without becoming distorted. A French language soundtrack is also provided on the DVD, as are English and French subtitles.

The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer and cast list for THE MUMMY. It’s too bad Warner didn’t include an audio commentary with Christopher Lee, especially since he has been so agreeable to recording them for a number of other Hammer films in which he appeared.

THE MUMMY is a horror classic that genre buffs and Hammer fans will definitely want to own. Warner Home Video has produced a truly great looking presentation for DVD, which is certain to please fans. Highly recommended.

Note: If you are a Hammer fan and want to make sure that Warner follows up their DVD release of THE MUMMY with HORROR OF DRACULA and CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, please be sure to purchase a copy of this film on DVD. Sales actually speak louder than letters requesting the other Hammer films on DVD.



The Mummy


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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