The Mummy Special Edition (1932)
Directed by Karl Freund
Boris Karloff, Zita Johann
Universal Home Video
Release Date: July 8, 2008
In this original Mummy film, Boris Karloff plays the Egyptian mummy Im-Ho-Tep, who’s accidentally brought to life by British archaeologists 3,700 years after being buried alive. Once revived, Im-Ho-Tep sheds his funeral wrapping and takes on the persona of Egyptologist Ardath Bay with the intent to reunite with the reincarnation of his long lost love, Princess Anck-es-en-Amon, the young Helen Grosvenor. Unfortunately, in this lifetime, Helen’s in love with someone else, and while she is mesmerized by Ardath Bay, in order for the lovers to reunite in their ancient roles, Helen will have to die and be reborn as Im-Ho-Tep was.
This 1932 black and white Universal horror classic was greatly inspired by the discovery a decade prior of King Tutankhamun’s tomb and the supposed curse it contained. Universal was making a name for itself in the horror/monster genre and thought that The Mummy would be the perfect follow-up vehicle for Karloff, who had at the time just gained recognition playing the iconic Frankenstein’s Monster in Frankenstein.
While horror has become a more intense and graphic genre since the days of Universal’s film, there’s no mistaking that the chilling aspect of The Mummy has not only influenced subsequent horror movies, but holds up well today. In a flashback scene, we find out what Im-Ho-Tep did to deserve such a cruel fate and we see the torture he’s put through as punishment for his actions. This disturbing scene could possibly be considered early torture porn. And even after sitting through the likes of the Saw and Hostel movies, I’m still not desensitized to the bone-chilling effects of The Mummy.
The Mummy is more than just a classic horror film, it’s a brilliant movie on its own … period, regardless of genre. It’s a well-acted, complex, serious movie with none of the campiness of later monster movies. Yes, the over-dramatic acting of the time is present, especially with Zita Johann‘s Helen, but it’s just the right amount and suitable behavior for someone going through something so unbelievable. But it’s truly Karloff who carries the film and manages to turn this threatening, murderous figure into a sympathetic, charismatic character.
The movie was a great box office success for Universal at the time of its release and even all these years later definitely holds up. Had this DVD, recently released by Universal Studios Home Entertainment, contained just The Mummy movie, it’d be worth getting, but this 2-disc set — reasonably priced at under $20 — contains hours of bonus features, which is a great treat for fans of the film.
DVD Bonus Features
• Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed [30:00]
This is the making-of documentary for the film. It begins with the revelation that the movie-going public at the time would have already had a familiarity with Egyptian history because a decade earlier, King Tutankhamun’s tomb had been discovered and the movie houses had been styled in Egyptian decor. There’s a lot of information about Boris Karloff, his career, and what led to his casting in The Mummy; there’s also background information about the story conceived by Nina Wilcox Putnam that the film was based on; details about the script by John L. Balderston, who also wrote had worked on Frankenstein; and the methods used by director Karl Freund, a noted cinematographer who worked on the 1927 classic Metropolis. Also included in this feature is the personal history of the film’s leading lady, Zita Johann, who butted heads on the set with Freund, and who was actually a devout believer in reincarnation. There’s also a lot of information about the film’s innovative make-up artist Jack Pierce and all the details that went into transforming Karloff into the titular character.
• Feature Commentary by Rick Baker, Scott Essman, Steven Haberman, Bob Burns, and Brent Armstrong
Part of this commentary is information already given in the other bonus features, but we do learn quite a lot about the film, as well as about Karloff and about the other Universal horror movies of the time. There’s also little tidbits revealed, like that fact that when we first see The Mummy all wrapped up, that’s a dummy, not Boris Karloff in make up; and while Karloff spent eight hours getting into the innovative Mummy make up, he actually had very little screen time in the Mummy garb. This commentary is more from the filmmaker and creative film team’s point of view.
• Feature Commentary by Film Historian Paul M. Jenson
For serious fans of The Mummy as well as filmmaking in general, this commentary is a must-watch. Jenson is a bit stiff-sounding and he sounds more like he’s providing a documentary narrative. It’s a stark contrast to the casual commentary on the other track. Jenson’s contribution is highly informative, as it not only annotates the story itself, but it also explains the reasoning behind certain camera angles, scenarios, and actions. The best part is Jenson gives details on scenes that were in the original script that were cut out.
• Poster and Stills [9:45]
Original publicity materials, including posters, lobby cards and photos, extended scenes, or items that contain parts that were cut from the film, like when Karloff takes the scrolls in the beginning. Special make-up effects artist Rick Baker talks a lot about Jack Pierce‘s make-up techniques for the film, and theorizes about other possible methods used.
• Trailer Gallery [6:30]
Original theatrical trailers for the five Universal Mummy B movies from the 1940s.
• He Who Made The Monsters: The Life and Art Of Jack Pierce [25:00]
A tribute to legendary make-up artist Jack Pierce: Pierce created the classic Universal monsters — Frankenstein, The Mummy, Werewolf. Today’s make-up effects artists talk about Pierce and how he was responsible for groundbreaking techniques and make-up effects. We learn, sadly, that Pierce was eventually let go from Universal for a newer faster breed of artists; he died in the 1960s in near poverty and was hardly remembered, but he is the inspiration to thousands of make-up artists, directors, and horror creators.
• Unraveling The Legacy of The Mummy [8:00]
A look back at the evolution of Universal’s Mummy franchise through the recollections of producers, actors, and other people in the film industry. Director Stephen Sommers along with the actors from his 1999 Mummy remake (Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and John Hannah) talk about reviving the classic franchise and the special effects used in the modern films.
• Universal Horror [95:00]
This lengthy documentary feature is about The Mummy, narrated by actor/director by Kenneth Branagh who revived Frankenstein in 1994. Author Ray Bradbury, actress Nina Foch, actor James Karen, and many others, including family members of those involved with the film, talk about The Mummy and its influences.