Archive for August, 2008

They

2002, US, Directed by Robert Harmon

Colour, Running Time: 86 minutes

DVD, Region 2, EIV, Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

This is one of those films that gets ‘Wes Craven’ slapped above the title in a desperate bid to sell something that would probably otherwise go unnoticed. It’s not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion because I do tend to feel he’s been somewhat overrated in the post-Scream years despite having directed a few minor classics in the couple of decades preceding that. Plus he tends to pretty much sell the use of his name to projects that have the most tenuous links to himself and it’s hardly a commendable commercial strategy - a quick perusal of the credits would suggest no creative input whatever from the veteran. Anyway, They would not appear to be a well liked movie and I think I can understand why. For starters the plot is very basic: after a prologue where a child whose scared of the dark really does get himself sucked under the bed by some unseen presence we jump forward a few years where three twenty somethings, the central character being psychology graduate Julia, come together in the wake of a friend’s suicide and realise that they, as children, all suffered from what’s known as night terrors (an acknowledged disorder often most common in children whereby those afflicted sustain extreme emotional reactions during REM). Julia’s personal problems snowball as she believes that the dark conceals inhuman beings that are waiting to pounce on her, a symptom of remarkable similarity to that recorded by her dead friend and something that the other two claim to be experiencing also. A visit to an old psychiatrist outlines the possibility that it’s the result of post-traumatic stress but the frightful attacks that increase with frequency become awfully difficult to refute.

Laura Regan

The plot is basic as I say - shit in the dark out to get people. There is a little background that the many writers have attempted to establish in some of the dialogue iterated by characters but it may appear contrived in some sense, and derivative. Hence appreciation would be minimised simply as a result of this. Also it seems that some viewers have had a problem with the fact that there’s very little real or scientific explanation for what’s causing these creatures to crawl from their alternate dimension, if indeed that’s what’s actually happening. By the conclusion we know little of what they actually are, hence the title I suppose. This is fundamentally what I like about it - there is ambiguity here. Whilst it would seem that there are creatures in existence out to drag these people back to hell for unknown reasons, it’s possible that they’re just paranoid and completely delusional. This duality is corroborated in my opinion by the two endings shot for the film - I won’t reveal too much about them or which one is used but one suggests a fantastical conclusion where the creatures and their domain do actually exist, the other infers that they’re concoctions of Julia’s badly wired brain. Many viewers don’t like things to turn out unexplained and that’s one of the main problems for them with They. Another problem might be the generic nature of the film as a whole - it’s hardly groundbreaking and does have a tendency to adhere to well established rules of shock film-making of the modern era. Despite this I have a pretty good time with this movie - the primarily young cast generally keep things down to Earth and are obviously for the most part quite talented. Fresh from My Little Eye Laura Regan (Julia) is sort of like a cute cross between Brigitte Fonda and Mia Farrow, and carries most of the film herself. The director himself of course had one previous claim to fame in the cult madman flick The Hitcher (the original) and competently keeps things moving along at a good pace while jolting the audience at various points to make sure their nerves are suitably jangled by the end. Whether the film will stand up over the years I’m uncertain but I’ve seen it three times now and though it’s possible to become slightly cynical about certain aspects of the production I’ve still found myself gripped with unease - a job pretty well done.

 

With the movie not quite shaking the foundations of the planet They comes along on a basic DVD both here and in the US. Aside from an average scope transfer (which has a lot to deal with - the locations are consistently low-lit) and a powerful surround track (an near essential component of the tension) there is a trailer and the rather good alternate ending - no explanation for the choice eventually used is provided, however. An under-specified disc is not a major problem in a world where many extras are merely promotional tools and in this case it can be picked up at a nice price. It is therefore a low risk for a potentially thrilling time - if you don’t like it you can always put it in the charity bag and scare some old granny’s tits off.

Posted on 24th August 2008
Under: Horror | No Comments »

The Ordeal

2004, Belgium, Directed by Fabrice Du Welz

Colour, Running Time: 88 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Tartan, Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1, Audio: DTS

Having acquired something of a positive reputation following its rounds on the film festival circuit I thought it might be a good idea to belatedly check out The Ordeal (AKA Calvaire in its native land, actually a reference to the crucifixion). Whilst the plot on the surface may appear to be conventional, the end result couldn‘t be much further from it: singer/performer Marc Stevens finishes up a Christmas gig before leaving behind his legion of geriatric female fans to head off in his tour van to do another show miles away. He becomes hopelessly lost on the heavily fogged woodland roads and ends up breaking down in the middle of nowhere, rain pouring and darkness descending. A man appears at the van window, allegedly looking for his dog, but Marc persuades him to guide him to an inn that was advertised on one of the trees a few minutes previously. All seems amicable when Marc arrives at the inn, with a room prepared for the night, meals, and offers to help fix his truck. Things start becoming a little strange when the innkeeper, after towing back and investigating the van’s fault, says that it will take a couple of days to repair and begins asking Marc to sing for him at dinner. After Marc finds the rear doors to his van ripped open one morning and pornographic photographs of one of his fans missing (hidden in the innkeeper’s room) he realises something is wrong. After a confrontation the innkeeper begins smashing up the van with a sledgehammer before also hitting Marc unconscious, and thus on awakening begins a period of unimaginable torment for the singer that he may never escape from.

Not something that would have you returning to the Belgian woods...

It’s not that often where I feel I’m the recipient of such a cinematic dropkick these days, especially with the abundance of torture stuff that masquerades as mainstream horror these days, but The Ordeal was precisely an ordeal, something which I became uncomfortable watching and actually couldn’t wait for the punishment to finish, plus it persists in remaining on the mind afterwards. Whilst it is slow and atmospherically built up early on, once we get to the point where we realise things are going to go horrifically wrong for Marc so begins our discontent also. Pretty much every character in this story is screwed up beyond belief (witness the moment Marc comes across a group of villagers ‘making love’ to some pigs), and to add to the force of delivery these people as realistically portrayed as one can imagine (presumably most viewers have never spent a week inside an asylum) - I don’t want to live in a world where this kind of human being is a possibility, but I probably do. Marc’s tribulations stem from the fact that everybody - everybody - in the cast wants him for one reason or another, whether the motive is innocent desire or homicidal madness. In this, and this is something that only really occurred to me retrospectively, there is an acknowledgeable element of black humour that threads certain aspects of this film, but it’s not something you’re likely to find yourself smiling about, unless you want to appear hip to your mates. As already suggested, there is the reminder of many of the torture films that have ‘graced’ our screens over recent years but bear in mind this was produced in 2004, the same year as Saw, so an accusation of jumping on bandwagons would be unfounded. Plus this film is far more disturbing than most of those in Saw’s wake, and without overt emphasis on gore either. The dinner table humiliation was, however, way too close to a similar sequence in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Laurent Lucas’s performance as Marc Stevens is too authentic, as with most of the insane cast that support him, and it was great to see Brigitte Lahaie still working (and not looking at all bad for her age) - of course she was the star of many a French porno film in her prime, including a number of Jean Rollin genre excursions (Fascination for example). The air of realism is also maintained by a couple of other factors: there is minimal use of film scoring, plus the image is very drab, colourless, and close to ugly. At first I thought it might just be the result of a mundane transfer but the film’s content ultimately makes one aware that the cinematography was almost certainly a creative decision. Whether this film can be recommended is down to viewer discretion really - it’s not something that is actually enjoyable, indeed I was bludgeoned somewhat by the experience and afterwards had to watch a couple of Looney Tunes cartoons so I didn’t go to bed having perverse nightmares. But it does a profound job of administering impact to its audience by use of superior film-making, downright nasty and remorseless intentions, plus a dose of imagination that would make it stand out from the crowd if it were not for the fact that it is foreign, and therefore having an inherently limited English-speaking audience.

 

As mentioned above the video is drab and not especially nice to look at, something I deeply suspect is part of the natural style of this movie. Detail in darker areas is subdued by grain, colours are muted, brightness diminished. This is accompanied by very able Dolby Digital and DTS French language soundtracks - little use of music to speak of but excellent standards of audio with sound effects and dialogue. On of the disc also is the 1999 short by the director called Quand On Est Amoureux C’est Merveilleux, the film that got him noticed. Despite the fact that I couldn’t wait for The Ordeal to be over I have to acknowledge that that’s because the director did a very good job, and I therefore await his next project, Vinyan, with a certain level of trepidation.

Posted on 19th August 2008
Under: Horror | 2 Comments »

Inferno

1980, Italy, Directed by Dario Argento

Colour, Running Time: 106 minutes

DVD, Region 1, Anchor Bay, Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

Not many people liked Inferno when it first appeared, or for a few years after that if I recall, and that seemed to be the first signs of a trend’s beginning for the director, something that would become an integral part of audience reaction to each work throughout the later 80s and 90s onwards. It took years for this film to become appreciated, not just on a larger scale but for myself personally also. Inferno’s inherently nonsensical nature can put many people off and understandably so given the cinematic conventions which people have generally become comfortably accustomed to. Of course there was always the possibility that the film was just a complete turd and its artistic pretensions were exactly that: pretensions. As the story opens there seems to be something sinister going on simultaneously in Rome and New York where the discovery of an ambiguous text authored by a medieval alchemist links in with a number of increasingly inexplicable supernatural occurrences, usually resulting in the death of someone who has become involuntarily involved in the awakening of forces beyond understanding.

Miss Wet T-Shirt 1980 - she gets my vote!

To delve into the specifics of the ‘plot’ for the purpose of establishing a synopsis designed to entice viewers seems to be a futile exercise and therefore shall remain as brief as what I’ve outlined above. The delineated plot to the uninitiated might ramble and seemingly lead nowhere, ultimately failing to arouse people to what’s really going on in this film. The main characters are introduced into the story with no real background on their lives and wayward motives preventing us understanding them or the world that they inhabit. An example of the dysfunctional logic appears here: a man takes a bag of cats out to the lake to drown them (don’t ask why), at which point there is an eclipse occurring. He’s attacked by hundreds of rats and amidst the screams the cook of a nearby hotdog stand comes running over, to his aid you might believe. But then the anonymous cook brings up his meat cleaver and butchers the man to death before walking calmly away. There are lots of nice touches that construct the supernatural domain around us, as when a girl discovers an indistinct cloaked alchemist working away beneath the library - as he notices that she’s carrying a book of great significance (The Three Mothers) we catch a very brief glimpse of his hand, something that’s not human, possibly demonic. This subtlety is lost at the film’s conclusion to an extent, however. My favourite sequence falls very early in the film when Rose, after having read that a key lies in an old cellar, is enticed enough to go investigating underground. She comes across a subterranean pool but has to jump in after dropping something valuable in the water, only to find a flooded room with corpses floating within. The whole showpiece is incredibly atmospheric and spooky, and is the first real event that draws you into Inferno’s uncanny dimension. The film is technically a sequel to Suspiria but follows none of the characters (although Alida Valli - Ms Tanner in the 1977 film - makes a reappearance albeit as a different character). It is related only through the core concept of these three mothers we hear so much about, though there are some similarities in visual style with heavy cinematographic emphasis on artificially sourced primary colours such as red and blue. Whereas Goblin provided the infamous score for Suspiria fans of ELP may be surprised to know that Keith Emerson provided the score for Inferno and, whilst it’s not as emphatically insane as the former movie, it does underscore the dark world that Argento has developed here. There are occasions where the music is merely average, but sometimes it rises way beyond that - the film’s final act is driven by one stunning choral-rock track that remains one of my personal favourite musical arrangements among movies. Suspiria was notably easier to follow as far as the narrative was concerned so fan disappointment may originally have emanated from that fact, but Inferno supplies its own mysterious vision of a rising Hell that’s quite unique in cinema and this is where repeat viewings really help - I’ve seen it around seven times personally and find that it still presents a puzzle that I like to attempt deconstruction of whilst simultaneously revelling in the dripping atmosphere of the unknown. Inferno is a nightmare incarnate, a seemingly illogical meandering into an apocalyptic universe. Argento did here what few others might have been equipped for: he brought to audiences a nonsensical film that is inexplicably enjoyable.

 

It’s worth pointing out that there is a small amount of animal cruelty in Inferno, and this gave the BBFC cause for concern here in the UK during its original 20th Century Fox (distributors at the time) cinema and video releases - notably a cat devouring a mouse that’s clearly still alive. It’s certainly nothing on the scale of what we find in Italian cannibal films but some sensitive viewers may find it a little disconcerting. Cats are also thrown at one of the actors at one point too (reminding me of Tippi Hedren’s assault in The Birds) though I’m not sure if it’s the cats or the human that received the nastier treatment here. The easiest uncut version to go for currently is the disc from Blue Underground, though this is simply a port of the old Anchor Bay disc (the latter providing the source for this review) and features a widescreen transfer that looked amazing when it originally came out but now only passes as reasonable, being very soft and perhaps overly chromatic. It could do with a complete remaster but along with a limited but satisfying 5.1 track (with standard matrixed surround option available) this is still a great way to see Inferno. However Fox themselves also released a disc in Italy a while ago that is sharper (therefore grainier) and less saturated giving a very different appearance to the movie itself - it’s amazing how different a film can look between DVDs. The Fox disc also contains an inferior Italian track in mono (English is there too though only as a matrixed surround option) and these factors make it quite collectable. Either way, for the cinematic equivalent of a vivid and sadistic but ultimately pleasurable nightmare check out Argento’s Inferno.

Posted on 13th August 2008
Under: Horror | 4 Comments »

The Universal Mummy Series

Universal were almost responsible for initiating the first real horror boom at the beginning of the thirties with the infamous movies already elsewhere discussed at Grim Cellar. Perhaps the arrival of sound had a direct impact on the effectiveness of films to embellish a disturbing emotional manipulation of audience responses, and new possibilities were perceived. In their search for new ideas they turned to Egyptian history/mythology and to assist brought in their established master of terror at the time, Boris Karloff. The Mummy (1932) briefly recounted an age more than three millennia prior to the discovery of an ancient scroll, where priest Im-Ho-Tep is consumed by love and mourning to a point where he commits sacrilege by exercising a hex to raise his woman from the dead. For his sins he is forced to suffer one of the most tortuous deaths imaginable - burial alive. In the early part of the twentieth century his tomb is opened and the bandaged corpse discovered, but a foolishly optimistic young archaeologist reads aloud the ancient scroll, releasing a curse that revives the mummified priest. The young explorer goes insane and the priest departs into the night. Later on a strangely benevolent Egyptian - the priest without his bandages - appears on the scene and helps the explorers locate another tomb, something which leads to his realisation that one of the women, Helen, is actually the reincarnation of the lover that he died for centuries ago. His objective is to reunite their souls but the girl whose body is inhabited by the princess’s soul must die to allow this.

M1

For younger viewers more familiar with the Stephen Sommers/Brendan Fraser action adventure yarns the original Universal film may be considered something of a whopping great bandaged borefest. It is quite slow and very old fashioned in terms of cinema, while gore didn’t really exist in this era and scares were of the atmospheric variety (i.e. there wasn’t a 100 decibel soundtrack jab designed to make you leap involuntarily every time something frightening was supposed to happen). It crafts a story that mixes the tragedy of impractical love with mythology and history, and the highlighting of cultural issues preventing two people from being together is just as relevant today. After establishing himself as a classic cinematographer on many German silents Karl Freund was rushed into directing, ultimately proving himself here to be methodical and considered, sometimes imaginative at the helm. There are inspired moments, such as Karloff’s foreboding narrative recollection of his former life, and the glowing eyes of course, though these do become a tad overused by the conclusion. There’s also the inclusion of a beautiful clip of a wolf in medium shot howling against the moon - probably stock footage but a phenomenon to witness nonetheless. Zita Johann is an alluringly naïve Helen, wearing amazingly low-cut dresses but not quite having the upper body physique for raincoat viewers (like me) to salivate over. The Motion Picture Production Code became a serious entity in 1934, something established in the USA to essentially force film-makers to abide by a series of rules that precluded sexual references, imagery, etc. Therefore films made prior to this often contained elements that were slightly more risqué than their post-1934 counterparts, and the wardrobe of Johann I believe was a product of this. The undisputed star of Universal’s early make-up era, Jack Pierce, provided groundbreaking processes for the mummy itself/himself. Both bandaged and ‘unclothed’, Karloff’s make-up is stupendous even to this day. One final surprise for those who only have vague recollections of these films is the mummy itself - in his stereotype form he is barely used here: we see he awaken at the film’s beginning, we see his feet stagger from the room, and that’s it. Afterwards Karloff returns only as the Egyptian Ardath Bey, an old but very human-looking man. The Mummy achieves its goal well enough and, while not quite a classic film, it possesses its fair share of eeriness combined with good storytelling.

It took the studio some time to follow up this moderately successful outing but it was inevitable at some point. The Mummy’s Hand (1940) recreated the history set up in the earlier movie. Taking elements of the filmed flashback featuring Boris Karloff (who’s not participating in this one or any of the subsequent sequels in the conventional sense) we learn that Kharis was condemned to the same mummification and death for similar reasons. Some time around the thirties or forties a couple of losers have their final chance at making a buck in Cairo before having to head back to the USA bankrupt. They learn of a hidden tomb which is sure to be filled with concealed treasure and persuade an erratic magician to lend them $2000 to fund an expedition. Along with some workers and the magician’s feisty young daughter they head out to uncover the tomb, but get more than they expected when the desecration of the Kharis resting place brings about his resurrection, something that’s welcomed by a local priest who enslaves Kharis to perform homicidal bidding.

M2

It’s immediately obvious in the first sequel that the tone is lightened somewhat, mostly through the implementation of two wannabe comedians in the principal roles. Whilst their tomfoolery is generally incompetent, their comic timing being inadequate to some extent, the story and dialogue manage to keep your attention while you’re perfectly aware of what the film is building up to. It takes some time to get there too, with about half the film passing before some action appears on the horizon, however I think this contributes towards the formulation of a reasonable helping of atmosphere. This is where we see the mummy in all his traditional horror glory for the first time - a staggering, bandaged corpse intent on avenging the curse that has brought about his reanimated misery. His eyes appear to be blacked out by a possible manipulation of the negative (an effect not completed for the trailer itself) and his presence, courtesy of highly prolific actor Tom Tyler, is ominous - Pierce once again graced the creature with his skills. The flashback is quite a strange phenomenon: clearly they’ve used footage from the first film as they retell the story and Karloff is right there in many shots, but for close-ups it switches to new footage of Tyler, creating an oddly jarring effect. It could be said, consequently, that Karloff is actually present in this film, though his participation is nonexistent. While the budget for …Hand was approximately half that of its predecessor some of the production design may seem pretty outstanding, though that’s simply a result of economical set regurgitation - some of them were actually built for James Whale’s adventure story Green Hell. Finally, the sole female of note this time is Peggy Moran and whilst not quite as revealingly dressed as Zita Johann she is visually appealing and her initially dominating approach is unwittingly sexy. The Mummy’s Hand, directed by quickie specialist Christy Cabanne, is no doubt inferior in many respects to the original film, but it is entertaining and the pace is perceptively executed.

The story of …Hand is recounted at the beginning of The Mummy’s Tomb (1942) where the two guys responsible for the expedition that kicked everything off have returned to the USA and grown older. Still holding a grudge, however, the wizard who knows when it comes to mummified corpses (George Zucco) sends his servant across to the land of the free with the body of Kharis to reap vengeance on those who’ve caused all the trouble. The servant sets up as a graveyard caretaker while sending the mummy out to kill off the two clowns and anyone genetically associated with them, one by one.

This one really is a quickie: not only does it only run for an hour but the first ten minutes of that are taken up with a recap of the previous story, via flashbacks and the narration of Dick Foran’s returning character Steve Banning. Universal also managed to bring in Lon Chaney Junior (no doubt a consequence of his success in The Wolf Man) this time to play the monster, something he would do in the following two films also. They also managed to annoy the star in the process by dropping the ‘Jr.’ from the actor’s screen credit, something which favourably distinguished him from his famous father in his eyes. Chaney does a good job but there’s little real challenge with this creature, while the make-up, though not as proficient as the first movie, is suitably putrescent. Some of the stunt work is quite rough on the actors, particularly when it comes to fire. Several people are dangerously close to the flames at the end and one actor (who visibly falls against his torch) was reportedly burnt during filming. Neil Varnick’s story is quite feeble and lacking a certain amount of imagination, resorting to Universal’s obligatory mob of angry villagers for the film’s climax - quite strange because they’re carrying burning torches and clubs despite the time period somewhere around the middle of the twentieth century by my calculations based on the men’s ages, etc. The early sightings of the creature bring about a number of amusing situations when he manages to avoid being seen in almost every instance with the exception of his shadow, consequently this giving rise to several reports of ‘a shadow’ in the area! Imagine West Midlands police responding to reports like that… The entertainment factor here is diminished compared to the preceding chapters but the flick does retain a certain charm in its madness.

M3

Some time after the events of …Tomb a group of hip students are learning history in The Mummy’s Ghost (1944) when the teacher decides to tell them about the mysterious mummy attacks that once allegedly took place in their very town. Whilst it all seems a little difficult to digest they don’t realise that the mummy inexplicably survived (indeed, it just wanders out of the forest near the beginning) and is soon on the move when the college professor experiments with the leaves that grant it strength and life - he is drawn to the leaves instinctively but kills the professor in the process. The servant (John Carradine) of Andoheb (George Zucco again) has been sent on a mission to track down the body of Kharis’s ancient lover, which has been shipped to a museum in the USA, but realises when the body crumbles that her spirit has reawakened in the shell of one of the young student girls. The servant decides that she must be ‘reacquired’ by Kharis. I’m sure they were making this stuff up as they went along at this point!

By about half way through …Ghost I’d pretty much resigned it to being a worthless pile of camel waste. Carradine’s acting is serious to the point of being about as active as a plank of wood, the mummy make-up seems to have been substantially cheapened (though Pierce was still involved, perhaps rushed), the story pedestrian and generally uninspiring. There are even clumsy errors such as Chaney’s useless arm suddenly becoming functional when he needs to carry an unconscious woman. However the damn film almost won me over by its conclusion: why? Because of that bloody dog! This thing outshines Lassie when it comes to intelligence. It’s only one of those small Jack Russell type of canines but, boy, is it smarter than the humans in this film. It actually responds to their statements and even goes to fetch the mob of angry villagers when the two heroes are in trouble - I couldn’t help by laugh. Also, the denouement of the story is quite grim compared to virtually all other Universal monster bashes, and the outcome surprised me. It’s not a good film by any stretch but the dog provided a few smiles (though whether those were intentional is another matter) and the climax is the most effective of the whole series.

Shot around the same time The Mummy’s Curse (1944) took Universal’s tendency towards temporal distortion one step further, with some pub-dwelling gypsy-types retelling some of the last movie’s events as being about twenty five years prior. Adding that up with the bodily aging of some of the previous characters, etc., this should place the time around the 1980s by my calculations, however it seems more like the turn of the twentieth century at the beginning before strangely shifting to 1940s America. I don’t suppose chronological logic was at the front of the minds of Universal’s writers… Anyway, there are plans to completely renovate the marsh near Mapleton, where the events of previous films took place, but a couple of museum archaeological buffs turn up wanting to dig out the mummy and his bride Princess Ananka (after having been left there at the end of …Ghost) to return them to the museum. Some of the locals are concerned that this interfering with the mummy’s current resting place will arouse the curse again, fears which aren’t without good cause it seems. After dredging half the swamp they soon find an empty space in the mud where ‘a large man’ would have lay, and of course a dead villager nearby. Oh yes, and the giveaway, there’s a bit of bandage left on the murdered person (I shit you not). While Kharis is roped in by one of the Egyptian servants to kill more people, this time Ananka also reawakens to wander around in a state of perpetual confusion regarding her origins or purpose.

M4

The problem primarily by this point was the fact that the stories really had nowhere to go and very much continually rehashed ideas from earlier films. Quite literally too, as we were very often treated to flashbacks of footage from the other movies despite meagre running times. The mummy, again played by Lon Chaney Jr., was a creature of limited potential and was lucky to have his lifespan stretched out over this number of movies. The Mummy’s Curse begins more in the vein of many of Universal’s other films of the period, almost a timeless entity in a dimension undiscovered. The murders themselves are quite feeble - one guy stumbles in on a ritual during the awakening of the mummy and sort of asks what they’re up to, like one would, before the mummy, which would have been plainly in his sight, staggers right up to him without him noticing until he‘s actually being strangled. There is one standout sequence in this film, and indeed one of the best of the whole series; the revival of Ananka: she squirms awkwardly out of her grave, her eyes covered in mud and barely able to open, then staggers off in a manner that the TV girl in Ring would have been proud of. It’s possibly the creepiest scene in the whole mummy series and director Leslie Goodwins must have realised he was on to something because he gets his mileage out of it. Other than that it’s a derivative and uninspired finale to the series.

There was of course one more appearance for the monster to come: Abbott And Costello Meet The Mummy (1955), but this would offer little other than the two comedians making fools of themselves as the creature proves ineffective as a killing machine, though at least it would return the series to its Egyptian beginnings. The mummy films provide some fun overall, but were clearly not greatly respected by its studio - this is apparent by the haphazard manner in which the stories were rushed together and the running times as meagre as the films’ respective budgets. The mummy (actually Im-Ho-Tep in the first one, Kharis in the following four, and Klaris in the A&B entry) had minimal development as a character beyond the first film though at least there was some narrative progression and continuation from film to film, but within each context there was little to do for the monster other than stagger around and kill. In that sense he is almost a precursor to Michael Myers of Halloween or the homicidal lunatic of almost any other long-running slasher series - this is possibly the slasher movie in its embryonic infancy here, formulating many of the staples that would much later on become clichés in slasher cinema. Compared to Universal’s other series of the time the creature is less charismatic and quite a lonely entity. The fact that his arm and leg are virtually unusable (unless he needed to carry a helpless woman) did irritate me a little throughout - he’s rendered practically impotent and the explanation for this was briefly iterated early on in the series but afterwards employed simply as a tool for having him walk in a (then) tension-building fashion. The aforementioned temporal distortion is something that stands out if the viewer is to watch them in sequence, but there is some inadvertent bewilderment to be had with this. In fact the series as a whole works at its best if you simply switch off the logical side of your brain and accept the crazy rules on their own terms but, though idiosyncratic in the extreme, it can never quite match up to the studio’s Dracula, Frankenstein, and Wolf Man cycles. It’s a pity that the gradually diminishing quality of the series detracts from its achievements but it is nevertheless something that will provide a reasonable degree of entertainment, and that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.

 

(P.S. Extra special thanks to Colin at Riding The High Country for making this article possible)

Posted on 7th August 2008
Under: Horror, Miscellaneous | 9 Comments »

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