The Mummy: Limited Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Second Sight
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (29th August 2022).
The Film

Having broken his leg a few days before, archaeologist John Banning (The Blood Beast Terror's Peter Cushing) must lie in his tent while his father Stephen (Separate Tables' Felix Aylmer) and uncle Joseph (Symptoms' Raymond Huntley) are the first to enter the just-discovered tomb of High Priestess Ananka who died during a pilgrimage to the birthplace of her god Karnak and whose tomb was erected in the middle of nowhere rather than returning her body to Cairo for interment for reasons unknown. Stephen and Joseph are warned against entering the tomb by the mysterious Mehemet Bay (The Magus' George Pastel) but they persist and discover the interior of the tomb undisturbed by time. Joseph goes off to tell John about what they have seen only to return and find his brother in a catatonic state. After sending his father back to England to recover, John and his uncle inventory the tomb, send Ananka's sarcophagus to the British Museum, and dynamite the entrance to the tomb. Unbeknownst to them, Bay is watching and pledges to Karnak that he will reenter the tomb to retrieve the instrument of the god's revenge to punish the desecrators of Ananka's tomb. Back in England, Stephen Banning has showed no signs of recovery until three years later when he suddenly becomes lucid and reveals to his son that he discovered the Scroll of Life in the tomb and read it, resurrecting a mummy intended to guard the tomb that he believes is going to kill him and anyone else who entered the tomb. John believes the diagnosis of his father's doctor (A View to a Kill's Willoughby Gray) of a persecution mania until a person unknown of great strength breaks into his father's padded cell and strangles him.

John does not believe that the killer was some random homicidal maniac and searches his father's personal papers for the identity of a personal enemy only to come across the legend of Ananka and of High Priest Kharis (The Creeping Flesh's Christopher Lee) whose love for her was forbidden because she was pledged to Karnak. When Kharis committed the blasphemy of attempting to use the Scroll of Life to resurrected Ananka, he was punished by having his tongue cut out and mummified alive to spend eternity guarding the tomb. John is more willing to believe the perpetrator to be that "mysterious Egyptian" Joseph told him about until the mummy himself breaks into Joseph's house and kills him right before his eyes. Investigating the deaths of the Banning brothers, Inspector Mulroney (Island of Terror's Eddie Byrne) is ready to believe that John is as mad as his father until he makes the connection between the drunken account of a gamekeeper (Plague of the Zombies' Michael Ripper) who claims to have seen a seven foot monster roaming the woods and an accident involving a crate of relics belonging to a mysterious Egyptian gentlemen freshly arrived from overseas. John realizes he is the next victim and prepares to defend himself; however, while the striking resemblance of his wife Isobel (La Dolce Vita's Yvonne Furneaux) to Ananka may have saved his own life, it may endanger her own.

Hammer Films' follow-up to their immensely successful and trendsetting Gothic horrors Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula, The Mummy as helmed by studio "specialist" Terence Fisher buoyed by the production design of Bernard Robinson and Jack Asher (who also collaborated with Fisher to The Hound of the Baskervilles) is truly a triumph of style over substance in the context of the studio's Gothics. The screenplay of Jimmy Sangster is a mishmash of elements from the Universal series focusing primarily on the vengeance of the mummy on the desecrators of the tomb with the lost love and reincarnation elements of the 1932 film stuffed into the third act. Although some post-production interference tries to impose mystery where there is none and robs the first act of its first horror set-piece by chopping up the opening homage to the 1932 film in which Stephen Banning is driven catatonic with his first sighting of the mummy and Bay intervening transformed into a flashback related by John Banning containing information of which he had no knowledge the script is seemingly to blame for not relaying the backstory of Kharis and Ananka until halfway through the film rather than opening with a display of visual grandeur, and having an archaeologist so dedicated to his work that he has a permanent disability as a result of staying at the dig rather than having his leg set not notice the striking resemblance between Ananka and his own wife until there is only twenty-odd minutes left of the film. The police investigation seems imposed to bring together disparate events but character actor Byrne's performance is either just bad or the result of trying to flatten his Irish accent. Furneaux is striking to look at and it is both her expressivity and that of Lee who has to act entirely with his eyes (not only as the mummy but also as pining Kharis) that lend the film its true humanity while Cushing handles the action in what is probably his least satisfying protagonist of the Gothic cycle. Although the film was well-received, Hammer was not as prolific in follow-ups as it was with the Dracula and Frankenstein films, not following up the film until 1964's The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb written and directed by producer Michael Carreras with Techniscope and Columbia Pictures distribution deal production value trying to make up for the paucity of imagination 1967's The Mummy's Shroud in which the revenge for desecration plot was hemmed in by smaller-scale sets, and then 1971's Blood from the Mummy's Tomb on which Carreras took over for Seth Holt an adaptation of Bram Stoker's "The Jewel of the Seven Stars" (later adapted as The Awakening and Bram Stoker's The Mummy) in which a campy James Villiers was more diverting than seventies Hammer cheesecake.

Video

Although distributed theatrically in the UK by Universal-International, The Mummy's home video and DVD releases have been through Warner Bros. who distributed the film in other territories including the United States. While Warner Bros. continues to own the US rights and have released the film on Blu-ray stateside, the first UK Blu-ray release in 2013 was through Icon Entertainment, and their logo remains at the head of Second Sight's edition; indeed, the same master has been used with the multi-angle navigation feature allowing for the dual-presentations of 1.37:1 open-matte and 1.66:1 widescreen 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC presentations of Hammer's then-recent restoration (also carried over from the Icon edition) compared to Warner Bros.' domestic 1.78:1 presentation. Although a decade old, the master is a treat for Hammer fans who owned the DVD editions. While coarser textures are baked into the credits opticals and dissolves, the contrast between saturated elements and the browns, greens, and grays of the environment pop, particularly Asher's irrational uses of gel lighting that are now more emerald than sickly green, while Lee's eye work is more easily discernable from his make-up.

Audio

The sole feature audio option on both is an LPCM 1.0 mono track that sports clear dialogue even Furneaux does not appear to be looped like many other Hammer starlets foreign or otherwise and supportive effects while the Franz Reisenstein orchestral score has a bigger feel and fuller sound than the usual James Bernard piece. Optional English HoH subtitles are included on both presentations.

Extras

Just as Second Sight has ported over the two fullscreen and widescreen feature presentations from the Icon disc, that release has served as the template for the rest of the disc with the exception of new menus and a handful of new extras which may make the disc worth the upgrade for owners of the Icon edition. The first new extra is an audio commentary by film academic Kelly Robinson which should actually be listened to after the also-included audio commentary by Hammer historian Marcus Hearn and film critic/actor Jonathan Rigby since what Robinson provides is a stimulating overview of the mummy in literature, the popular culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth century's "Egyptomania" and it commodifying of the mummy as souvenir and status symbol, and in film. Although she only gets to discussion of the Hammer films after roughly an hour into the track, she not only provides background on the origins of the reincarnation and desecration plot threads both in literature and in real life superstition (particularly following the Howard Carter expedition) but also speculates on why the genre is the least-loved of monster films. The Hearn/Rigby track is more focused on the feature and the reasons its differs from the other Hammer gothics in the stepping up of production value but also the atypical casting choices like Furneaux, Huntley, and Aylmer. They also note Cushing's physical exhaustion during the film with Hammer propping him up to be their leading man more so than Lee the need to rent out Shepperton for the swamp set, how the meticulousness of Asher ended his relationship with Hammer despite their satisfaction with the onscreen results.

Also new is an appreciation by film historian David Huckvale (10:10) who notes that Universal allowed Hammer access to their back catalogue, and that the Hammer film is a merging of the first two Lon Chaney Jr. sequels with the Karloff original. He also notes the twist of imposing the limp on the hero rather than the mummy, Lee's eye acting, as well as the oddities of the plotting. Huckvale also appears in "The Music of The Mummy" (9:40) in which he discusses the Reisenstein's career which was prolific but included few film scores, as well as his use of the devil's tritone and "oriental" styles in the score.

Ported from the Icon disc is "Unwrapping The Mummy: The Making of a Hammer Classic" (29:53) in which Denis Meikle notes that producer Anthony Hinds worked within the modest scope of Hammer's resources and place in the market while Michael Carreras was less a fan of the gothic than adventure film and that the possibilities for spectacle with The Mummy appealed to him. Robinson's widow Margaret recalls being the only female in the sculpting department and dealing with Eyptology consultant Andrew Lowe while wardrobe assistant Rosemary Burrows recalls working as a receptionist but being recruited to dress several extras for the flashback and being groomed to take over for the studio's retiring wardrobe mistress Molly Arbuthnot. A noticeably younger Huckvale also appears briefly.

In "The Hammer Rep Company" (14:59), Jonathan Rigby spends the first half discussing the supporting players of the feature who had been or would become regulars of the studio like Pastel, Ripper, George Woodbridge (who plays the publican here as he would in a few other Hammers), and Harold Goodwin before moving onto others not in the film, while in "The House of Horror: Memories of Bray" (48:55), Hearn, Rigby, and Wayne Kinsey discuss the studio's use of the shell of a house Down Place early on and their discover that it was cheaper to buy a house and convert it to a studio rather than continue to rent sound stages, rechristening it Bray Studios, expanding from the ballroom as the main soundstage to a handful of new outbuildings. Sangster, Margaret Robinson, Rosemary Burrows, actor Melvyn Hayes (who played the young Baron in Curse of Frankenstein), office boy to production manager Hugh Harlow, and script supervisor Renee Glynne also contribute anecdotes. The disc also includes the original promo reel (5:51) for which the audio no longer exists, as well as a still gallery (6:55).

Packaging

Not provided for review are the rigid slipcase with new artwork by Graham Humphreys, softcover book with new essays by film historians Kat Ellinger, Lindsay Hallam, and Kevin Lyons, as well as five collectors' art cards.

Overall

Hammer's The Mummy is a triumph of style over substance, but that is not the case with Second Sight's Blu-ray which adds some worthy extras to the Icon package beyond a nice "limited edition" cover and book.

 


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