A Quick Guide to Mummy Movies

mummy movies

Mummies feature in my novels Curse of the Blood Fiends and Silver TombIn 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.

7204978_f520It 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.

mummy_1959_poster_01Hammer 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.

The-Mummy-movieposterdbIn 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.


1942-complete-cover-2My 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.




Vintage Reads #13 – The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned

TheMummyAnne Rice, writer of the famous Vampire Chronicles, penned this short stand alone novel in 1989 and, drawing upon the legacy of Universal and Hammer monster movies, succeeded in creating a great modern version of an age old tale set during the wave of Egyptomania of the early twentieth century.

Opening in 1914, a mysterious tomb is discovered by wealthy archaeologist Lawrence Stratford. There is a mummy and some notes written by the deceased that claim he is none other than Ramses II (the Great). This is regarded as a hoax by most as the mummy of Ramses II had already been discovered by this point and the style and script found in the tomb are from the Ptolemaic period, many hundreds of years after the time of Ramses II.

Ramses’s deal is that he obtained the elixir of life from a Hittite princess and is thus immortal, although often dormant to be ‘regenerated’ by the rays of the sun. He existed in this way for centuries, called upon by the rulers of Egypt for counsel in their times of need. The last to call upon him was Cleopatra who he fell in love with. Needless to say, with Mark Anthony and the birth of the Roman Empire on the horizon, that ended badly.

RAMmummy (1)The villain of the piece is Stratford’s nephew Henry who poisons his uncle shortly after the discovery of the tomb. The mummy is brought back to London and promptly regenerates just in time to stop Henry from trying his poisoning trick on his cousin, Julie. In his new form as a living, breathing Adonis, Ramses quickly has a new lover in the form of Julie. Calling himself Ramsey (see what he did there?) the undead pharaoh immerses himself in the modern world, drinking it all in like a giddy schoolboy.

With the drunken Henry, driven half mad by what he has seen, now obsessed with getting his hands on the elixir, Julie and Ramsey travel to Egypt, intent on seeing the sights. Things don’t go to plan however as Ramsey spots an unidentified mummy in the Cairo museum and, recognizing his old flame Cleopatra, uses the elixir on her resulting in two mummies on the loose.

Inventions and Discoveries of the 19th Century #7 : The Deir el-Bahari Mummy Cache

The second Lazarus Longman novel – Silver Tomb deals with Egypt both ancient and nineteenth century. Despite being fiction, it does touch on a real event which was vastly important to the burgeoning field of Egyptology. By the 1880s, the practice of rooting about ancient Egyptian sites for treasure or purchasing it from antique dealers and shipping it out of the country to private collections in Europe and America was outlawed. The study of the country’s past and preservation of its antiquities became a national concern thanks to the likes of Amelia Edwards and the renowned scholar and founder of the Egyptian Department of antiquities, Auguste Mariette.

But in 1881 items began appearing on the black market which clearly came from tombs undiscovered by Egyptologists. Mariette, now nearly blind and approaching death, desperately hoped to discover the source of these artifacts but it was to be under the authority of his successor – Gaston Maspero – that the discovery was to be made.

escondrijo1The source was a single tomb accessible by a vertical shaft located in the vicinity of Deir el-Bahari (northern monastery) of the Theban Necropolis. Most likely it had been the tomb of the High Priest Pinedjem II but had been used as a cache by other priests in antiquity to conceal the mummies and funerary equipment of more than fifty pharaohs and nobles to protect them from grave robbers. A local family from the three villages known collectively as Kurna/Qurna had discovered the tomb some years prior to 1881 and had been steadily selling off artifacts piece by piece. Some internal dissention within the Abd el-Rasoul family led one of their members to talk to the authorities.

Émile Brugsch – assistant curator of the Bulaq Museum – was led to the tomb by one of the Abd el-Rasouls and made the discovery of a lifetime. Among the mummies were the remains of Ramses II; Egypt’s most renowned and, until then, sought after pharaoh. In order to secure the items quickly and avoid any more being stolen, Brugsch cleared the tomb within forty-eight hours. But upon the procession’s arrival in Cairo, word had got around and people turned out in droves to welcome the returning pharaohs.

RAMmummy (1)

In my alternate history novel Silver Tomb, I have played around with the dates of these events, pushing them back to 1886. Émile Brugsch is still the one who discovers the Deir el-Bahari cache with the help of Flinders Petrie, Lazarus Longman and of course, the disgruntled member of the Abd el-Rasoul family.

The Egyptian film The Night of Counting the Years (1969) is based on the discovery of the Deir el-Bahari cache. Also known as Al-Mummia, it is a surreal, dreamlike piece and is considered by many to be Egypt’s finest film. It fictionalises the Abd el-Rasoul family and focuses on Wanis who begins to question the morality of robbing their ancestors in order to sustain themselves.

Vintage Reads #12 – Arthur Conan Doyle’s Mummy Stories

Sir Arthur DoyleRenowned spiritualist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in a variety of genres, not least of which were his tales of the supernatural. As well as taking part in seances  and claiming to be able to communicate with the dead, he lent support to various reported phenomena (later revealed as frauds) such as the Cottingley Fairies. Naturally the mysteries of Egypt appealed to him. He strongly believed in ‘elementals’ created by the priests of ancient Egypt to protect the tombs of the pharaohs in the form of curses. He attributed the death of his friend Bertram Fletcher Robinson, who had been studying a female mummy in the British museum, to these elementals. When asked by a reporter in 1923, he also put the death of Lord Carnarvon (discoverer of Tutankhamun’s tomb) down to his tempting fate, thus fuelling the sensational rumours of ‘King Tut’s Curse’ further. But it was his two short stories dealing with ancient Egyptian magic and mummies that had the biggest effect on popular culture.

Published in the Cornhill Magazine imummy ardethn 1890, The Ring of Thoth tells of an Egyptologist named John Vansittart Smith who, on a visit to the Louvre museum, comes across a haggard-looking caretaker who catches his imagination. Convinced that the fellow is an Egyptian of the oldest order, Smith is unable to concentrate on his studies and eventually drifts off to sleep only to awaken to find that he has been locked in the museum for the night. Wandering the lonely and shadow-haunted rooms of the Louvre, Smith comes across the strange caretaker removing a mummy from its case and unwrapping it to reveal a beautiful woman. Startled by the Englishman’s approach, the attendant eventually agrees to tell his story; a tale of love, rivalry and a quest to find the Ring of Thoth which is the only thing that can break the spell of immortality and reunite him with his loved one.

tumblr_mcf5ozVsA41qmemvwo1_500Lot No. 249 is perhaps the most influential of Doyle’s mummy tales in that it was the first story ever to feature a reanimated mummy as a figure of horror. Jane Webb wrote the first mummy story in her science fiction tale of the future The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century in 1827 and Edgar Allen Poe had reanimated a mummy in his satire Some Words with a Mummy (1845) but it was Conan Doyle who can truly be said to be the root of the modern ‘mummy monster’ popularised by the movies. Published in 1892, Lot No. 249 regards medical student Abercrombie Smith who, after moving into his rooms in a crumbling tower at Oxford, begins to have suspicions about his neighbor on the floor below. Edward Bellingham is an Egyptologist who has an array of weird artefacts in his room, weirdest of all is a mummy in a glass case. Smith begins to think that Bellingham is not alone in his rooms at night as the footsteps of a second individual are often heard. Then attempts are made on the lives of Bellingham’s rivals by an unknown assailant…

Whereas The Ring of Thoth undoubtedly influenced Universal’s The Mummy (1932) Lot No. 249 was a definite inspiration for most mummy movies that followed it, notably Universal’s second mummy feature The Mummy’s Hand (1940) which began the cinematic tradition of big, shambling mummies lurching after their victims under the command of wicked individuals. The idea of burning special leaves to control the mummy (a plot device used in most of Universal’s mummy movies) may also have come from Lot No. 249 as strange leaves are found in Bellingham’s room at the end of the story.


Vintage Reads #11 – The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century


Ancient Egypt has given us many things, not least of which the idea of mummies resurrected to fulfil some terrible curse or to pursue the sinister ambitions of those who raised them. Nevermind that such a concept was far from the mythology of the Ancient Egyptians themselves, the mummy is as iconic a figure of horror as Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. But unlike those stars of cinematic terror, the mummy lacks a single literary root. There is no novel called ‘The Mummy’ that was the single inspiration for the slew of movies featuring bandaged terrors resurrected from their tombs. But then, there is this novel from the pen of Jane C. Loudon (born Jane Webb) which is the first real story to feature a reanimated mummy, albeit in a futuristic setting with a plot dominated by ideological philosophizing and political intrigue than horror.

English born author Jane Webb published her story in 1827 to financially support herself after her father died penniless. It’s a fantastically bizarre story of the future, showing the world as it may appear in 2126, a world that has made great leaps in technology but is morally bankrupt. Women wear trousers and headdresses made of flames. Airships prowl the skies, letters are sent via cannonball and steam-powered automatons serve as surgeons and lawyers. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Steampunk. Egypt was all the rage at the time of writing thanks to Napoleon’s looting of the country during his invasion and the discovery and translation of the Rosetta Stone. Mummies were being unwrapped before audiences in Piccadilly. And another novel by a female author had been published in 1818 which had thrilled and disgusted the public with the idea of reanimating the dead.

Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is an obvious influence on Webb’s The Mummy!. Much like Victor Frankenstein, the main character, Edric, becomes obsessed with the God-like power he would receive should he be able to reanimate the dead. Instead of sewing together corpses, Edric is more interested in returning the soul to its mortal vessel and sets out for Egypt with his professor, Dr. Entwerfen, with the aim of reviving Cheops (Khufu) in his Great Pyramid at Giza with a portable galvanic battery. Immediately regretting his actions once the mummy is up on his feet, Edric and his companions soon find their airship stolen by the renegade pharaoh who promptly sails to London and lands on Queen Claudia, killing her. Spread over three volumes published anonymously, the story goes on to include political intrigue, murderous rivalry and conspiracy, with Cheops playing his role in all, dispensing political and moral advice along the way. Graf_Zeppelin_over_Pyramid2