The Mummy’s Curse
THE MUMMY’S CURSE
Notes: Universal. 61 minutes.
The Mummy: Lon Chaney, Jr.
Ananka: Virginia Christine
Dr. James Halsey: Dennis Moore
Ilzor Zandaab: Peter Coe
Ragheb: Martin Kosleck
Betty Walsh: Kay Harding
Cajun Joe: Kurt Katch
Goobie: Napoleon Simpson
Screenplay: Bernard Shubert
Story (“The Mummy’s Return”): Leon Abrams, Dwight V. Babcock
Associate Producer: Oliver Drake
Directed: Leslie Goodwins
Mummy Make-up: Jack Pierce.
Pre-Commentary: “Chaney disliked The Mummy’s Curse more than any other film in the series. ‘… I was completely covered from head to foot with a suit and rubber mask; the only thing that was exposed was my right [sic] eye! In the last of that series, the temperature was in the upper nineties! It was so hot that I went to my dressing room between scenes, opened a refrigerator and lay down next to it. It was my only relief from the heat’ [‘An Interview with Lon Chaney, Jr.,’ Castle of Frankenstein no. 10 (February 1966), p. 26]” (qtd. in Glut).
This is the last of the Universal mummy series. For a very enthusiastic reading of these ’40s mummy films plus lost scenes from the scripts, see Thomas M. Feramisco, The Mummy Unwrapped: Scenes Left on Universal’s Cutting Room Floor (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., Inc., Pub., 2003).
Summary: A quarter century after the last film, The Mummy’s Ghost (so this is 1995?!), at Tante Berthe’s Cafe, Tante Berthe herself sings the Cajun classic, “Hey You (Yoo Hoo).” Cajun Joe blabs with people with names such as Ulysses and Achilles (who alternately sound sometimes French, sometimes Italian) about working in de swamp and de legends of the mummies Kharis and Princess Ananka haunting the area. (How their previous submersion in Massachusetts has allowed for their reemergence in Louisiana is anybody’s guess). “De swamps have got a curse on dem,” and even Antoine has disappeared.
Labor grumbles to swamp-reclamation supervisor(and all-around rageaholic) Pat Walsh about the same. Young dudeJim Halsey from the Scripps Museum (Louisiana branch?) arriveswith assistant Ilzor Zandaab (secretly the latest high priestof Arkhan) and, although they assure him their search for Kharisand Ananka will not interfere, they hack off Walsh — but then,what doesn’t? He doesn’t want “a lot of college professorsgetting in my way!” His niece/secretary, Betty, doesn’t obeyhis commands. Ilzor announces, appropo of nothing, “In thedicta of the fathers it is written, truth will flourish in fantasyonly to wither and die in what you are pleased to call reality.”
Antoine’s corpse is discovered and black worker Goobie runs about announcing that “The Devil’s on the loose.” Halsey finds the imprint of a mummy body in the mud and a fragment of bandage. Goobie now feels that “The Devil’s on the loose and he’s dancin’ with the mummy!” While “The hours of the night are few,” Ilzor Zandaab’s sleazy lackey Ragheb leads him to a remote abandoned monastery. He indicates that he used local help to cart the mummy cases there and then killed the workers, Antoine among them. Although “the hours do not linger,” we get for the umpteenth time the tana leaf recipe, passed from Ilzor to Ragheb: “three leaves to keep his heartbeating, once each night during the cycle of the full moon. I will dissolve three tana leaves and give the fluid to Kharis … and nine each night to give life and movement.” Ragheb is sworn to secrecy in the name of “Amon-Ra, whose anger can shatter the world.” In the sacred smoke, we revisit scenes from The Mummy (1932) and The Mummy’s Hand (1940), regarding the same 3000-year-old history of Kharis’ crime and punishment. In supplemental material, we are reminded that two high priests have come from Egypt to the U.S. to retrieve the mummies and have met violent deaths. Kharis is then given tana juice and kills Michael “the self-ordained caretaker of this monastery” who has discovered the murdered men and the “sacreligious” goings-on.
In the wake of a bulldozer, a woman’s hand slowly emerges from the muck, and gradually a dirt-encrusted Ananka arises. The sun revives her somewhat, but she staggers mindlessly in the Bayou, wistfully mumbling “Kharis.” Cajun Joe finds her, astounds us with his deduction “I think something happened to you,” and brings her to Tante Berthe’s side room.Ragheb witnesses this and tells Ilzor, who summons Kharis to announce his “bride”: Now you shall go and take her…. And any who stand in your way, kill, kill!” Kharis seems to read the Cafe sign, limps up the side stairs, and strangles Berthe to death. Amnesiac Ananka makes an escape.
Ananka is discovered unconscious and is soon hired as an assistant by Jim Halsey and Betty, although her insistence on doing lab work in the sun is deemed peculiar, and the fact that she knows so much about ancient Egyptian gauze. Ilzor sees her at Halsey’s camp, and she drifts into a trance of murmuring “Kharis” before being snapped out of it by Jim. Later, she senses correctly that Kharis is coming for her, so she appeals to Dr. Cooper, saying, “It’s as though I were two different people. Sometimes it seems as if I belong to a different world. I find myself in strange surroundings with strange people. I cannot ever seem to find rest. And now Kharis!” Yep, she’s right. The mummy arrives and, despite a not very valiant attack with wicker furniture, Cooper is killed. Ananka flees again.
Walsh has a fit at Halsey, “By Jupiter!” Betty refuses to help her uncle pull the plug on the Scripps project though. A search for “the girl” is launched, and Cajun Joe encounters Kharis. He shoots, but the mummy kills Cajun Joe. Ananka appeals to Betty, claiming to hate the darkness. This time the mummy gets her and takes her to the monastery.
Ananka is encased in a sarcophagus to be returnedto Egypt, removed from her mortal form somehow, and “thereto be embraced by the sands of the past.” Ragheb likes BettyWalsh and brings her to the monastery, ticking off Ilzor, whoputs the “curse of Amon-Ra” on him: “Your tongueshall be torn from your mouth” for the violation of his vowsof secrecy; oh, and Betty must die too. Ragheb knifes him andthen attacks the newly arriving Jimbo. Kharis comes on the sceneand pursues Ragheb, who claims, “If you destroy me, the secretof the tana leaves will die!” But Kharis keeps coming. Ragheblocks himself in a cell, but Kharis bursts through the wall, causingthe collapse of the monastery onto Ragheb and himself.
All others arrive. Goobie points out that Anankahas reverted to being an ancient mummy in her coffin. After asnarky exchange with old man Walsh, Jim and Betty walk off intoa life of blandness.
Commentary: The persistent pursuit is fairly effective in the final scene, where, as sleazy as Ragheb is, one finds oneself trying empathetically to strategize a way out of the crumbling cell while the mummy is singlemindedly breaking through the wall. A similar claustrophobic situation can be found in the Hammer film, The Mummy (1959).
More effective in this film, although unfortunately stumbled upon in these last Universal mummy films, is the potential for female horror through the character of Ananka. Bodies emerging from the ground is always creepy (one of Dark Shadows‘ finest moments is a similar resurrection), and it works well here because Ananka’s eyes are sealed shut by mud at first and she seems truly brain-dead when she first emerges. It’s eerie. Then, the otherwise unsophisticated stalking here is at least part psychological: “It’s as though I were two different people. Sometimes it seems as if I belong to a different world. I find myself in strange surroundings with strange people. I cannot ever seem to find rest.” Amen, sister. RAS (rapidly aging syndrome), so common as to seem natural in soap opera in regards to children, might potentially be good horror material for a female audience too, and enters into the mess of themes in these late Universal mummy pictures.
Most unfortunately, while all this might be shaped into an effective text, the inexplicable setting in the Louisiana Bayou fouls everything up. Again, Egyptian mummies needto be associated with arid topography.