The Fourth Annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon Begins!

Halloween Horror Movie MarathonImage courtesy of gameanna at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Is summer over yet? Is it nearly fall? Well… it’s close enough! Welcome to the kick off of my Fourth Annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon! This is my fourth year? Incredible! I look forward to it every year and every year I want to start earlier and earlier. “What do you mean I can’t launch my Halloween Horror Movie Marathon in January???” Some people are weirded out enough when I wish them a Happy Halloween in August… but have you seen the store shelves yet? In retail-land, I’m falling behind!

Oh, the creatures of the night are restless. I can hear them howling and I smell the sulfur in their slavering… It seems that they have picked up the scent of the newborn and it’s driving them mad! Not with hunger, no… I believe they’re worried that the recent arrival of a baby means we won’t be able to watch as many horrific films as we have the past three years. That may be the case, dear ones, but we’ll get in what we can.

This year I’m starting things off with a Hammer Film Productions classic…

The Mummy (1959) The Mummy (1959) — Directed by Terence Fisher. Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Felix Aylmer, Yvonne Furneaux, Eddie Byrne, George Pastell, Raymond Huntley.

It is 1895 and archaeologist John Banning (Peter Cushing) is in Egypt with his father Stephen (Felix Aylmer) and uncle Joseph Whemple (Raymond Huntley) searching for the lost tomb of Princess Ananka, a high priestess of the god Karnak. Well, the old white dudes aren’t working that hard but they are keeping an eye on the sweaty locals they hired to dig in the hot sand. Soon the entrance is uncovered but before Stephen and Joseph can enter (John’s leg is broken, keeping him immobile in the tent), a fez wearing Egyptian named Mehemet Bey (George Pastell) arrives to shoo the potential defilers away from the sacred tomb. “He who robs the graves of Egypt… dies,” he warns them. The old men shrug off his warnings and enter the crypt regardless.

Inside, they gaze upon the wonders of a chamber left buried for thousands for years. Stephen verifies that they have discovered the lost tomb and Joseph heads back to share the news with the anxiously waiting John. Still in the tomb, Stephen discovers the Scroll of Life and, after lifting it from a crevice in the wall, a door silently swings open behind him. Back outside, John and Joseph hear a frightened yell. Joseph rushes back to the crypt to find poor Stephen slumped over the Ananka’s sarcophagus, a gibbering, nonsensical mess. After sending Stephen back to a nursing home in England, John and his uncle pack up and, before returning home themselves, they destroy the entrance to the ancient tomb.

Three years later, Stephen, still in the nursing home, wakes from his catatonic state and tells his son about the danger their actions put them in. “Someone has found the scroll,” he says. “The mummy is released again.” Sure enough, Mehemet Bey is in town and he has hired a pair of drunkards to transport a large, mysterious crate. Apparently you can’t find good help in this part of England because the men, drunkenly rushing their wagon down the road, lose the cargo in a swamp. But that works to our benefit as it allows us to experience the dramatic resurrection of the mummy Kharis (Christopher Lee), protector of the High Priestess Ananka.

Kharis Rises

After Hammer’s enormous success with their productions of Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula, Universal handed over the rights to remake their entire library of horror films. Free to do what they pleased with an array of classic monsters, Hammer set Terence Fisher back to directing Cushing and Lee yet again to create The Mummy. The script is not directly based upon the original 1932 Universal film starring Boris Karloff but instead is a combination of the plot and characters from some of the later Universal films The Mummy’s HandThe Mummy’s Tomb, and The Mummy’s Ghost. Of these I have only seen Hand, though I have also seen the original Universal Mummy film, which I quite enjoyed.

It’s hard not to compare The Mummy with Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula. After all, we’ve got the same lead actors and the same director. It’s like a high school drama department, always putting the same pair of actors up on stage in the starring roles. Except most high schools don’t have the likes of Lee and Cushing to choose from. No offense meant to any of the high school drama departments in the world…

Speaking of Cushing, he is fantastic, obviously. In a film that explores the conflict between ancient tradition and contemporary intellectualism, he epitomizes the modern intellectual. I love his scene with Pastell late in the movie as Banning debates with Bey. He uses his verbal cunning and wit in an attempt to trick the follower of Karnak into revealing himself as the manipulator of the horrible events taking place. Eddie Byrne is also great as the forthright Inspector who, in spite of his doubts about the claim of a living mummy on the loose, follows the evidence that soon leads him to the film’s truth, that the dead have risen to kill.

But Lee is the real star here even though he has nearly no lines. He is an enormous physical presence, towering over the other actors. Covered in bandages and mud, he is forced to use body movement and the only part of him that shows through costume and makeup, his intense, vivid eyes. But he’s not stuck in the mummy outfit the entire film. There is a vibrant flashback to ancient Egypt, full of colorful costumes and scenery, that allows us to see his face as we witness the awful fate of Kharis and his love, Ananka.

Overall the sets did not strike me as much as the Gothic settings found in Frankenstein or Dracula. Not that they weren’t impressive. A lot of thought and care obviously went into the details but The Mummy lacked the romantic atmosphere of the previous Hammer films.

For being such a horror fan I am poorly versed in many of the classics. Though I am glad to be catching up now I regret not having seen Hammer horror when I was much younger. I can only imagine how terrifying it might have been as a youngster, convinced that I was actually watching a mummy slowly rise from the depths of the bog. Perhaps I will experience that thrill vicariously through my sons when I introduce them to great films such as this.

Fun Fact! Karnak is actually a temple complex located along the Nile in the Egyptian city of Luxor (then called Thebes). Read more about this fascinating ancient location here.

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One Response to “The Fourth Annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon Begins!”

  1. Michael K. Vaughan Says:

    Man, I haven’t seen this movie in years. MANY years, like maybe 94 or 95. I remember loving it despite it being kind of a mixed bag. Some of those old Hammer movies were pretty bad (in a good/bad kind of way) but many of them were great. Hard to go wrong with Cushing and Lee.

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