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Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, George Pastell
Screenplay: Jimmy Sangster
Director: Terence Fisher
This was Hammer’s third horror film, and the third teaming of Lee, Cushing and Fisher. Hammer had had great success with their versions of Frankenstein and Dracula, but had to significantly deviate from Universal’s classic, trademarked ’30s depictions of the monsters, so they reached an agreement with the studio so that they could essentially remake the Boris Karloff film of the same name. But what came out was more of a blend of later Universal films, The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Tomb.
Cushing plays John Banning, who, with his father and uncle, discover the Egyptian crypt of Princess Ananka (Furneaux), high priestess of the god Karnak. They are warned not to disturb or take from the crypt by a fez-wearing devotee named Mehemet Bay (Pastell), but ignore him. Banning’s father is injured, scared into a near-mindless state by something in the crypt, and they all travel back to England with their relics.
Bey finds them and starts his revenge, using an ancient scroll from the tomb to reanimate Kharis (Lee), the mummy who we learn through flashbacks was a priest who loved Ananka, and had her buried in the tomb. Kharis was discovered trying to bring Ananka back to life, and was punished by death, buried in the tomb in another chamber. Kharis’ body is accidentally dumped in a swamp but Bey brings him back to life, where he finds and kills the senior Banning in the sanitarium, then goes after the uncle, and finally the younger Banning. He’s not actually that hard to kill.
The tomb is very cheap and new-looking, but Lee gives a good performance as Kharis, both the mummy and priest versions. Still, he rarely gets near the sympathetic performance of Karloff’s. Cushing is fine if you accept that he’s pretty much always cast as a British imperialist, lord or learned man used to having any servants to order around. To be fair, that’s part of the European culture of the eras in which most classic old monster and thriller movies take place, but he isn’t given a chance to show another dimension. Lee reportedly hated the time spent in makeup, as well as having to carry the modern incarnation of Ananka, and never played a mummy again. I’ve never been a huge Mummy fan, though the theme of love transcending death and decay is great, and it comes across moderately well here. It’s a good, fun effort, probably the best of Hammer’s Mummy films.