Mummies feature in my novels Curse of the Blood Fiends and Silver Tomb. In writing them I drew on mythology more modern than ancient. Although the concept of reanimated mummies are never mentioned in Egyptian sources, the writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were fascinated by the creepy possibilities they posed as plot devices. With the rise of cinema, mummies were every bit as suitable for celluloid terror as vampires and other monsters and there were several silent mummy-themed movies like The Eyes of the Mummy (1918, released in the U.S. in 1922). However, few of these films actually featured a reanimated mummy. Most dealt with reincarnation and some were comedies in which a character wraps himself up as a mummy in order to scare people.
It wasn’t until 1932 that the definitive mummy movie would make it onto screens. Universal Studios, fresh from their success with Dracula and Frankenstein (both 1931) were looking for a vehicle for their new star, Boris Karloff. They landed on Ancient Egypt, still popular thanks to the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb ten years earlier and all the associated talk of curses. The Mummy tells of Im-Ho-Tep; an Ancient Egyptian priest who was mummified alive for blasphemously attempting to bring back to life his deceased lover, Ankh-es-en-amon using the Scroll of Thoth. Accidentally reanimated by a young Egyptologist involved in uncovering his tomb in 1921, Im-Ho-Tep gets a new lease on life and promptly vanishes, leaving the young scholar to die raving in a madhouse. Ten years later, an expedition of British archaeologists are led to the tomb of Ankh-es-en-amon by a helpful (although decrepit) Egyptian called Ardath Bey. Bey turns out to be none other than Im-Ho-Tep, now mostly restored to human form, who is still looking to reanimate his lost lover. When he encounters Helen Grosvenor – daughter of the governor of the Sudan – he sees in her the reincarnation of Ankh-es-en-amon and decides that she will do instead.
Universal’s 1940 follow-up – The Mummy’s Hand – was less of a sequel and more of a remake with the mummy this time around being Kharis, buried alive for attempting to restore his lover, Princess Ananka, using the sacred ‘tana leaves’. Far from being an independent thinker restored to some semblance of his former self like Karloff’s Im-Ho-Tep, Kharis remains under wraps (so to speak) and is under the control of the Priests of Karnak, ordered to kill at the behest of the insideous sect. Kharis is much more of a traditional lumbering monster than Karloff’s articulate and intelligent character and remained so in the three sequels that followed. Set thirty years on in (supposedly) 1970, The Mummy’s Tomb (1942) sees Kharis and his new master travel to the United States to wreak vengeance on the Banning family who desecrated Ananka’s tomb in the first film. The Mummy’s Ghost (1944) is also set in the ‘future’ of 1970 and has a further disciple of the Priests of Karnak (now called the Priests of Arkam, inexplicably) revive Kharis and attempt to return him to Egypt. The final entry in this series – The Mummy’s Curse – was also released in 1944 and is set twenty-five years later, (presumably 1995, despite the hats and spats on show). In this one an engineering company inadvertently dredges up Kharis and his bride, Ananka, from the swamp where they perished in the previous film. The old tana leaves are brewed up once again by a new disciple of the Arkam sect for a final lurch across screens. As with most other Universal monsters, the Mummy got the Abbott and Costello treatment in Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955) which was to be the comedy duo’s final movie together.
Hammer Film Productions – the British heir to Universal’s horror mantle – had already found success with remakes of Dracula and Frankenstein in 1958 and naturally dusted off the Mummy for their next full color outing. The Mummy (1959), starring Hammer stalwarts Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as John Banning and the mummy respectively, was a remake of The Mummy’s Hand rather than Universal’s 1932 original, although Hammer dispensed with the tana leaves idea and reverted to the ‘Scroll of Thoth’ as a plot device. Hammer borrowed elements from the other Universal mummy movies like the pursuit of John Banning to his homeland (this time Victorian England) by Kharis and his master and the use of a local swamp as both the site of resurrection and eventual fate of Kharis.
Hammer’s other mummy movies bore no relation to their 1959 version or to each other. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) had a by-the-numbers plot involving three archaeologists who bring the mummy of Ra-Antef back to 1900s London, only to have it come back to life while on tour. The Mummy’s Shroud (1967) parallels the alleged curse of Tutankhamen in that the mummy of a boy pharaoh, Kah-To-Bey, is discovered by a British expedition in 1920. After bringing the mummy to the Cairo museum, the archaeologists soon find themselves hunted down by the reanimated mummy not of the boy-king, but of the devout slave who mummified him and had subsequently been discovered and kept in the Cairo museum. Hammer’s final mummy movie – Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) – did not include a mummy per se, but rather the reincarnation of Queen Tera, being a loose adaption of Bram Stoker’s 1903 novel The Jewel of Seven Stars. The queen – found in her tomb perfectly preserved by Professor Fuchs – is brought back to London and kept in an eerie shrine. As in the novel, the professor’s daughter Margaret finds herself gradually possessed by the spirit of the ancient sorceress.
Unlike vampires, zombies and werewolves, mummies did not prove much of a box office draw in the following decades and were relegated to low budget grindhouse movies like Dawn of the Mummy (1981) which is more of a zombie movie with an Egyptian theme. A rare exception is the Charlton Heston starring film The Awakening (1980), another version of The Jewel of Seven Stars. Going direct-to-video in the US, Tale of the Mummy (1998) – also available as a directors cut called Talos the Mummy – has Christopher Lee playing the doomed archaeologist this time, unearthing the tomb of Talos in 1938. Fifty years later his granddaughter strives to continue his work, awakening Talos in the process. 1998 also gave us the direct-to-video feature Bram Stoker’s Legend of the Mummy; yet another version of The Jewel of Seven Stars, its title clearly trying to continue the legacy of the Copploa-produced Bram Stoker’s Dracula/Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein double-punch of 1992/1994. A sequel followed in 1999 (also known as Ancient Evil: Scream of the Mummy) which traded Egypt for an Aztec theme.
In 1999 the mummy movie came back in a big way. Universal Studios decided that their original Boris Karloff feature was due for a remake. But this CGI-filled adventure extravaganza was more reminiscent of Indiana Jones than the atmospheric 1932 chiller. Set in 1926, librarian and Egyptologist Evelyn Carnehan hires mercenary Rick O’Connell to take her to Hamunaptra where, due to the unwise reading of the Book of the Dead, the mummy of disgraced priest Imhotep is brought back to life. Imhotep sees in Evelyn the reincarnation of his lost love Anck-su-Namun and brings with him several spectacular plagues in Biblical style. The Mummy was vastly popular resulting in two sequels; The Mummy Returns (2001) and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) which ditched Egypt for China and saw the O’Connell family
(including their fully grown son) fend off a resurrected Chinese warlord, yetis and an army of reanimated terracotta warriors. Universal is set to redo the mummy yet again as the kick-off of their anticipated monster ‘shared universe’. Starring Tom Cruise, The Mummy is expected to hit screens summer 2017.
My newest novel – Curse of the Blood Fiends – is an homage to the monster movies of the 1940s. As well as vampires and werewolves, there is a mummy and a nod to the Universal mummy films in the nefarious Tana Inc. – a research company that unwittingly releases a virus that threatens to turn all of Los Angeles into blood hungry monsters. Blending genres, the novel is also a noirish detective story as PI Rosa Bridger trails a drug-addled starlet into the dark shadows of the City of Angels and uncovers something much more sinister than the hoodlums and hop-pushers she is used to dealing with.