With the surprising recent success of Leigh Whannell's The Invisible Man, the possibility of more worthwhile re-imaginings of the Universal monster classics is looking promising (I'm sure we're all more than happy to pretend Dracula Untold and The Mummy didn't happen). Even if Whannell's film turns out to have been a lucky one-off in an unimpressive series of reboots, perhaps they will encourage a revived interest in the original classics.
Considered to be the very first cinematic universe (though slightly more episodic than the universes of recent years), there are over thirty films regarded as belonging to Universal's original cycle of monster movies (running from 1923 to 1956). The wider series of sequels and cross-overs is, of course, a mixed bag.
Of these films, it's generally accepted that there is an essential eight: The Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Together, they make a cracking place to start for any budding horror fan's horror education.
8. The Mummy (1932)
“I shall awaken memories of love, and crime, and death…”
Having successfully tackled three giants of Gothic literature, Universal Pictures hoped to strike gold once again with an original story, inspired by the unearthing of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the early 20s. Ancient Egyptian aesthetics were highly fashionable at the time of the early horror talkies, so with the tried and tested elements of the previous year’s Dracula and Frankenstein thrown in, naturally The Mummy was a huge success.
In many ways, The Mummy is a shameless imitation of Browning’s Dracula. Studio favourites David Manners and Edward Van Sloan played more or less identical characters to their Dracula counterparts; both films shift the action from the monster’s exotic homeland to a setting more familiar to the audience; and both plots revolve around the monster’s desire to convert the heroine into his undead companion. The introductory Tchaikovsky music of Dracula is even reused.
Had Bela Lugosi not been so concerned about his type-casting after Dracula, it’s likely that he might have been cast as Imhotep – though it’s difficult to picture any actor but Boris Karloff in the role, this would’ve been interesting to see.
Karloff is wonderful in The Mummy. Until this point, cinema-goers had seen him in Frankenstein and The Old Dark House (another excellent Universal horror movie, considered the first horror-comedy), and in both films he had starred as a mute, physically imposing presence.
By far the film’s best scene is that of the mummy’s resurrection, accompanied by the disturbing, manic laughter of Dwight Frye stand-in, Bramwell Fletcher. Imhotep in his bandaged form slowly being revived is a great villain introduction. The flashback scene, too, is a memorable highlight.
The Mummy is an incredible horror movie and is still the definitive version, just ahead of the Hammer retelling. However, it is the least spectacular of the big eight, which is testament to just how brilliant the Universal monster canon is. But there are two areas in which the film excels in above the other seven: its heroine, Helen Grosvenor, and her actress, Zita Johann.
In conclusion, piss off, Tom Cruise.