Tuesday, November 1, 2011

October 29th: The Mummy's Shroud (1967)

In the year 2000 B.C., reigning Pharaoh Men-Ta (Bruno Barnabe) rejoices the birth of his first son, Kah-To-Bey (Toolsie Persaud), unaware that his younger brother Amen-Ta, losing his right to the throne with Kah-To-Bey's birth, plots to kill his brother and nephew. Though Amen-Ta successfully overthrows Men-Ta, Kah-To-Bey is taken to safety by his loyal manservant Prem (Dickie Owen), only to die in the desert shortly afterwards.
In the year 1920, an archaeological team consisting of Sir Basil Walden (Andre Morell), Paul Preston (David Buck), Claire De Sangre (Maggie Kimberly), and Harry Newton (Tim Barrett) return to Egypt to discover the tomb of Kah-To-Bey, two months after finding the mummified remains of Prem. Ignoring the warnings of the tomb's guardian, Hasmid Ali (Roger Delgado), Walden and his team find the tomb and its contents, which the team's financial backer and Paul's father Stanley Preston (John Phillips) proudly puts on display in the Cairo Museum.
Following the unveiling of Kah-To-Bey's tomb, Sir Walden is found dead nearby, lending truth to Hasmid's warnings that all who disturb Kah-To-Bey's tomb will die. With Stanley and his long-suffering assistant Longbarrow (Michael Ripper) plot to flee Cairo and Inspector Barrani (Richard Warner) perplexed by the lack of evidence, Paul, Claire and Harry come to fear that someone has resurrected the mummified Prem (Eddie Powell) to carry out the curse.
In that wonderfully gothic world of Hammer Horror, there are two general classes of films; the films from the mid '50s to the mid '60s and the films from the late '60s to the mid '70s. In the first class, you find such greats as The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, The Evil of Frankenstein, The Brides of Dracula, The Mummy, and The Phantom of The Opera. These films were gorgeous productions; with stellar visuals, iconic performances and bloodletting deemed highly controversial at the time, it's no wonder Hammer became the new House of Horrors.
The second class, on the other hand, includes such movies as Taste The Blood of Dracula, The Horror of Frankenstein, The Legend of The Seven Golden Vampires, Scars of Dracula, To The Devil A Daughter, and The Satanic Rites of Dracula. In contrast to their predecessors, these films relied more on gore and nudity, lacking the style, class and production values of those classic films. Going as far as to abandon gothic settings in favor of modern-day ones and rebooting their classic series over and over again, it's no wonder Hammer was bankrupt by 1979.
Released in 1967, The Mummy's Shroud fits into the latter category; it's basically the same story as The Curse of The Mummy's Tomb; archaeologists find the tomb, ignore a local's warnings, put the Mummy on display, the Mummy comes to life and kills the desecrators, etc, etc. The budget is obviously lower, the cast is largely comprised of Hammer newbies and there's a distinct been there, done that feel to the whole thing. Any movie with the tagline "Beware the beat of the cloth-wrapped feet!" doesn't exactly sound like a rollicking good time to me.
Right away, The Mummy's Shroud suffers from lacking anything distinctive or unique. The formula is near identical to The Curse of The Mummy's Tomb; both films have the archaeologist suffer some sort of nervous breakdown, the businessman funding the expedition is hateful (even more so here), the legend of Prem and Kah-To-Bey isn't much different from Ra-Antef's story and as before, there's an inept police inspector leading the investigation. It's all too much deja vu for me and proves why the Mummy hasn't been as prolific on film as Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster; filmmakers have just been recycling the same story over and over again.
No one ever said there can't be exceptions to rules and while not classic by any means, The Mummy's Shroud is relatively satisfying and easily one of the better films to come from this not-so-impressive era of Hammer Horror. Much of this can be credited to the cast; whereas The Curse of The Mummy's Tomb featured a lot of forgettable performances, the acting is much improved this time around. David Buck is genuinely likeable as the heroic lead, Maggie Kimberly is attractive and intriguing as Claire, John Phillips throws himself into his role as the hateful Stanley Preston, and Hammer regular Michael Ripper gets his chance to shine in a supporting role. Look for Andre Morell, who played Dr. Watson opposite Peter Cushing's Sherlock Holmes in Hammer's production of The Hound of The Baskervilles, as the tragic Sir Walden.
One performance that gets special mention is Roger Delgado, taking George Pastell's place as the Mummy's wild-eyed guardian. In contrast to the more stoic Pastell, Delgado's Hasmid Ali is a crazy, sinister presence; his intense, creepy expressions give the film a true villain for the first time in the series. Several years after this, Delgado would become iconic as The First Master in Doctor Who, a show I am a huge fan of, and I'm delighted to see Delgado showcase his talents in a Hammer film.
I also want to give credit to John Gilling. As a director, Gilling classes up this film with stylish visuals, thanks in part to impressive lighting by Arthur Grant, one of Hammer's top cinematographers. It's obvious that Gilling is working with a limited budget; the cast list is short for a Mummy movie and the opening scene (incorrectly assumed to be narrated by Peter Cushing) is primarily comprised of hieroglyphics and drawings. It's to Gilling's credit that he manages to move the story along in a brisk manner.
As screenwriter, Gilling lets his characters take center stage; as someone who prefers my horror films to be character-oriented, I find it fun to watch these characters. Whether it be Stanley's self-promoting, Longbarrow's constant suffering or Ali's plotting, the characters are definitely what makes The Mummy's Shroud effective. Yes, it's nothing new and it's obvious from the word go who's going to die and when, but Gilling keeps it interesting because of the character dynamics he utilizes.
Furthermore, Gilling has added a different twist to the Mummy mythology; this time around, the Mummy is no longer Egyptian royalty, but rather a slave. In human form, Prem is played by Dickie Owen, the actor who played the mummified version of Ra-Antef in The Curse of The Mummy's Tomb; the Mummy version is now Eddie Powell, who made his career as Christopher Lee's frequent stunt double. In contrast to the more plump Owen, Powell is more physically imposing and menacing as the Mummy, though his costume is obviously a suit rather than bandages.
In keeping with Hammer tradition, The Mummy's Shroud features some impressive scenes of horror. In particular, the kill scenes are particularly brutal; people are doused in acid, thrown out windows and have their faces smashed against walls. The most effective death, however, is that of the Mummy himself. As the Mummy comes at them wielding an axe, Claire reads the words of death and in a scene similar to Christopher Lee's demise in Horror of Dracula, the Mummy disintegrates into a pile of ash. It's an impressive finale and arguably the best death for any of the Hammer Mummies.
There's no point in sugarcoating this; The Mummy's Shroud is what it is, a retread of its predecessor, which in and of itself was inferior to Terence Fisher's The Mummy. The finished product is clearly affected by its meek budget and there's nothing particularly unique or different about it. That being said, not every film has to be revolutionary and when it comes down to it, the key question is this; did I regret watching it? No. It's a fairly enjoyable, classy film with strong performances, sinister villains and great visuals courtesy of John Gilling and Arthur Grant. Fans of The Mummy will definitely want to give this one a shot. 3.5 out of 5 Stars.

Next Up: October 30th: Blood From The Mummy's Tomb (1971)

No comments:

Post a Comment