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THE MUMMY (DEVIL’S ADVOCATES) *****

Written by Doris V. Sutherland.  RRP: £9.99 122pp

Out now from Auteur Publishing.

 

It’s nearly Mother’s Day, so what better way to celebrate than by giving your time to a somewhat un-loved mummy. In this new addition to Auteur Publishing’s DEVIL’S ADVOCATES series, Doris V.Sutherland undertakes a long overdue, and impressively comprehensive, examination of perhaps the most overlooked member of Universal’s classic monster canon, making a fantastic case for why 1932’s THE MUMMY deserves to be critically unwrapped.

 

The book is neatly divided in to short chapters. Each tackles various aspects of the film, from its early antecedents through to production, up to its critical reception and subsequent re-evaluation, and then finally its later cultural influence. Sutherland writes clear and concise prose with an obvious passionate zeal for her subject, making this an easily accessible, and pleasant to read, reference book for anyone with even just a passing interest in classic horror cinema.

 

Sutherland provides useful context with a look at the prior representation of mummies, drawing particular attention to influential short stories which often leant more towards fantasy and romance than true horror (apart from the occasional vengeful mummy tracking down a pilfered appendage). She also highlights the strange western culture surrounding mummies where people would keep mummified remains as souvenirs and the later King Tut mania that gripped the world in the decade before the film’s release.

 

A particularly interesting aspect that Sutherland explores is how, unlike werewolves and vampires which drew upon existing folklore, the mummy as a monster was a ‘blank slate’ and therefore emerged as a weird hodgepodge of existing tropes. For instance the film’s script started out inspired by the real life cultism Count Cagliostro, and was sci-fi influenced (featuring death rays!), but screenwriter John L Balderston eventually ‘reworked it from a muddled mixture of magic and mad science to a narrative that defined a subgenre’ with the death ray now changed to magic incantations that kill from afar. Balderston’s involvement may also explain the film’s many similarities to DRACULA (since he scripted the stage version).

 

In another illuminating section Sutherland makes a thorough comparison between the detailed plot synopsis for the original Cagliostro movie and the subsequent script drafts that eventually became THE MUMMY. It gives a canny insight in to the film making process as you see what elements stayed and which mutated or were outright abandoned.

 

We also get some great quotes from the titular mummy, Boris Karloff, and the lead actress, Zita Johann, giving further production insight but unfortunately revealing that Johann had a terrible time due to the targeted bullying of the director (which included putting her unprotected in front of lions in a scene that didn’t even make the final cut!).

 

Lastly, Sutherland looks at what followed THE MUMMY including Hammer’s gorier Technicolor cycle (where Cushing’s protagonist was given a bad leg to make his shambling foe more of a threat) through to the Brendan Fraser starring blockbusters and the most recent unsuccessful attempt to start a franchise with the 2017 reboot. She also takes the time to flag interesting Mummy movie outliers such as BUBBA HO-TEP which features  ‘a mummy who dresses like a cowboy and acts like a vampire’ and Mexico’s THE AZTEC MUMMY which begat a whole series including the interestingly titled THE WRESTLING WOMAN VS THE AZTEC MUMMY. We also get a tantalising glimpse of some aborted mummy movies such as one scripted by Clive Barker, but dismissed by execs as ‘perverted’, and another by Joe Dante that would have been ‘hip’ and featured ‘a very handsome mummy’.

 

Overall Sutherland convincingly argues that this movie ‘cemented the concept of the mummy not as a human corpse […] but as a monster […] comparable to the vampire or werewolf’ and without it we perhaps would have never gotten mummy cameos in Backstreet Boy music videos and on American breakfast cereal (‘Fruity Yummy Mummy’- which apparently ‘makes your tummy go yummy’). There’s not much serious critical attention given to this film elsewhere, but honestly it’s not now needed as Sutherland really covers everything that you could possibly want to know. Therefore this book is definitely worth a look for horror cinema fans and will likely give you a new-found appreciation for the bandaged black sheep of the monster family.

 

Reviewed by John Upton.

 

 

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FrightFest is the registered trade mark of London FrightFest Limited.
 © 2000 - 2018