It’s Hammer time: The Mummy (1959)

Torn from the tomb to terrify the world!

You have to wonder about Peter Cushing’s archealogist John Banning. He’s been studying the ancient Egyptian priestess, Princess Ananka for most of his adult life, and is so dedicated to the cause that he risks being crippled forever rather than missing the opening of her tomb, and yet he doesn’t twig that his wife, rather conveniently, is the spitting image of her. What a plum.

After enduring The Mummy’s Curse I was more than releaved to fast forward fifteen years to Hammer’s 1959 The Mummy. Of course, the Terence Fisher flick is almost a Universal mega-mix. There’s the scroll of life from The Mummy, the legend of Kharis from The Mummy’s Hand and the swampy finish of The Mummy’s Curse. But while the Universal Mummy’s were set in the present day (or even the future) Hammer’s offering was firmly set in what was becoming its signature gothic style. 

There’s another Hammer icon here; Christopher Lee as the living corpse himself and without doubt Lee is the joy of this film. Encased in wonderfully rotting bandages, his is a Kharis who is brutal and driven. Though stiff-legged, when he’s set you in his sights, you don’t stand much chance. Smashing through doors and windows, he’s like a juggernaut, marching forward with terrifying speed. And then there’s those eyes. They really are the window to Kharis’s troubled soul; terrifying one second and bursting with pathos the next. The scene when he first spots the doppelgänger of his beloved Ananka is simply beautiful and on a level of Karloff’s best monster performances.

The movie does have its faults. The opening is a trifle slow and you have to question why Ananka’s tomb has escaped tomb robbers as it’s defenses seem to be a couple of doors from MFI and a piece of garden twine, but as soon as the action moves to Britain, its a full on creep-fest with sinister fez-wearing priests, drunken peasants, lunatics and even a debate of whether displaying ancient corpse’s is morally right. Mummy movies never got better than this. 

4 (out of 5) Tana Leaves

Ananka’s High Priest, Mehemet Bey, is played by George Pastell who eight years later, in the guise of Eric Kleig, would be raiding tombs of the planet Telos, in Doctor Who’s first tribute to the Mummy genre, .


One Response to “It’s Hammer time: The Mummy (1959)”

  1. […] mummy (so to speak) found in the British Museum. While you’re missing the pathos of Lee in The Mummy, you’re treated to an unstoppable killing machine. It’s like the Terminator wrapped in linen. […]

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