“The Mummy’s Tomb” was the first proper sequel in Universal’s ‘Mummy’ series, starring Lon Chaney, Jr. However, in many regards, it was one of the first slasher movies of its kind!
A simple Google search for “first slasher movie” will yield the following result:
Influenced by a myriad of sources as diverse as the French New Wave film Eyes Without a Face (1960), the science fiction film Westworld (1971), and the slasher film Black Christmas (1974), Halloween became a genre-defining film with the simple yet effective plot of an escaped mental patient stalking unsuspecting teens.
However, after watching The Mummy’s Tomb, it’s quite obvious that Universal’s third Mummy film was one of the first slasher movies; the film could be found described as “proto slasher” on popular site Rotten Tomatoes. It’s somewhat disappointing considering the superior quality of the original 1932 classic starring Boris Karloff and Zita Johann. The Mummy’s Tomb even fails to live up to the positively more entertaining and breezy 1940 follow up and reboot The Mummy’s Hand.
I’m admittedly not the biggest fan of slasher movies where the emphasis becomes more on the entertaining ways the monster kills his/her victims as opposed to the attention paid to the story found in higher grade horror films. The Mummy’s Tomb is mostly regarded as a disappointing entry in the Universal Monsters legacy of films and possibly one of the reasons The Mummy is not often immediately regarded as one of Universal’s top monsters considering Frankenstein was followed up with the arguably even better sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein.
The Mummy’s Tomb has an interesting set up as the film takes place 30 years after The Mummy’s Hand. Tomb, written by Griffin Jay and Henry Sucher, takes a little time to re-introduce us to Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and his family, but just as soon as we see that a then 32 year old Dick Foran is under subtle make-up by Jack Pierce to appear as a man in his 60’s, we know he’ll be dead before Act 1 and surely won’t be appearing in 1944’s The Mummy’s Ghost. Even upon first viewing of the 1942 Harold Young directed picture, I remember immediately thinking Foran’s Banning would probably be killed off just by horror staples that have become borderline cliche now as opposed to its originality back then. Yet I do wonder how much of original audiences were startled when Kharis lumbers into Banning’s bedroom and strangles the now 60’s something man to death!
It’s really no surprise to see Babe (Wallace Ford) brought back into the fold after his friend and colleague’s death, only to reckon that it was Kharis, and then later be killed by The Mummy in a violent alley way sequence.
The Mummy’s Tomb makes no hesitation in killing off all of its returning heroes from The Mummy’s Hand, while seeing to it that Steve Banning’s son, Dr. John Banning (John Hubbard) quickly becomes the hero in a somewhat Frankenstein like ending that sees an estate set ablaze and Kharis die by fire (supposedly).
There’s not too much of an emotional hook with The Mummy’s Tomb other than the deaths of Dick Foran and Wallace Ford’s returning characters, Steve and Babe. As I had originally watched Tomb and Hand back to back, it was just as sad to see them killed as it would have been watching Evy actually die in 2001’s The Mummy Returns. There’s a love story found within Tomb that involves Dr. John Banning and his girlfriend Isobel (Elyse Knox), but it becomes that of just a story point there to give reason to Kharis and Banning’s final and brisk confrontation during the final ten minutes of the hour length picture.
What makes The Mummy’s Tomb a Mummy film worth watching is easily Lon Chaney, Jr’s performance as Kharis, as he replaces Tom Tyler. Chaney, Jr. having already played The Wolf Man in 1941 and The Monster in 1942’s The Ghost of Frankenstein was no stranger to playing menacing and imposing monsters. While his performance in The Wolf Man is sympathetic, his role as Kharis is decidedly not. Kharis is the slasher film monster of the 1940’s.
Jack Pierce‘s make-up work must also be mentioned as, once again, he delivers a thoughtful approach to The Mummy. Taking into consideration that Kharis was set on fire at the end of The Mummy’s Hand, Pierce leaves Chaney Jr’s Kharis somewhat charred, with blackened eyes, and a somewhat immobile right hand with missing fingers.
Also, did anyone else find Andoheb’s successor, Mehmet Bey (Turhan Bey) unintentionally hilarious? His whole motivation of using Kharis to kill Dr. John Banning because he fell in love with Isobel was so funny and surely those scenes of him creeping behind bushes while watching Dr. Banning and Isobel were borderline slapstick!
While The Mummy’s Tomb is a disappointing entry in Universal’s legacy of classic monsters, it’s still worth watching for those that are fans of the Universal Monsters and of the Egyptian mummy, Kharis. But sadly, the next truly worthy follow up to the 1932 classic would only happen in 1959 with the Hammer Horror production of The Mummy, starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.
(Steven Biscotti – @reggiemantleIII)
For more on The Mummy’s Tomb, you may want to check out Shock!