1944 saw Universal release the last installment in their Mummy franchise with “The Mummy’s Curse”. This would be yet another far cry away from the 1932 classic and would mark Lon Chaney Jr’s final performance as Kharis.
I have something to admit. I’ve seen The Mummy’s Curse countless times and I’ve watched the musical opening at least three or more times in the last month. Sure, “Hey You (Yoo Hoo)” is a catchy opening, but it’s not because I’m secretly a big Ann Codee fan, it’s because I’ve tried to watch this film from start to finish more times than I’d like to confess. The Mummy’s Curse is not a very good movie, but then by Mummy standards, it’s a whole lot better than 1942’s The Mummy’s Tomb. I’d even say it has moments that work more than 1944’s The Mummy’s Ghost, but I actually very much enjoyed that one. (Partially due to my crush on Ramsay Ames!) The truth is, there isn’t a whole lot written on The Mummy’s Curse and regardless of whether or not audiences enjoyed this film or were disappointed by it, it’s rather a shame that Curse is forgotten most of the time.
Over the past few months I’ve watched all of Universal’s The Mummy films; the subsequent installments following the Karl Freund and Boris Karloff classic came pretty close in tone to what Universal did with 1999’s The Mummy and sequels. The Mummy’s Curse isn’t a sweeping work of art, not is it really even “epic” in regards to the adventurous nature of The Mummy’s Hand. It’s purely a monster movie and borderline science-fiction in the most subtle of ways. Taking place 25 years after Ghost, for those that have paid attention to the timeline of these movies, The Mummy’s Curse is actually supposed to take place in the year 1995. Pretty sci-fi for a movie made during the early 40’s. While it’s a plot point that is never directly brought up, it’s very plausible that the filmmakers never even gave thought to the fact that Curse took place in 1995. But it’s an interesting aspect to the film, regardless. The Mummy’s Curse is straight-forward and presents Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr) as the bandaged, lumbering stereotypical mummy, complete with his trademark death grip.
The Mummy’s Curse takes place in Louisiana and, once again, has something to do with Kharis, Ananka, tana leaves, and the high priests of Arkam. The story isn’t really muddled; it’s so very simplistic that not much really could be made of the actual plot. However, writers Leon Abrams & Dwight V. Babcock, along with the director Leslie Goodwins, contribute two things to the movie that may have had a greater impact on the legacy of The Mummy than they may have realized. Not only does a character named Dr. James Halsey appear, but The Mummy’s Curse is the first to feature a female mummy! There’s a fun site on monsters and in a particular feature on Curse, it’s written that “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.” Ananka, in a very memorable scene, emerges from the ground in a very eerie way. While at first she’s a full on mummy, she later transitions into that of a young woman played by Virginia Christine, who for some reason kept on reminding me of Elizabeth Banks. The concept of a female mummy as in Sofia Boutella in 2017’s version, especially next year during the height of The Mummy promotion, should go on to credit The Mummy’s Curse, but that all remains to be seen. Also, as we learned from reading an early draft of Jon Spaihts’ script, Annabelle Wallis‘ archaeologist character is named Jenny Halsey, whom I believe owes her name to the James Halsey character in Curse.
There are ideas in The Mummy’s Curse that work very well. Taking place in Louisiana adds a different tone to the movie as superstition is played up more. While it may even be borderline cliche, Napoleon Simpson’s character Goobie is pretty fun. Shouting things like “The devil’s on the loose and he’s dancin’ with the mummy” stands out and even adds a little bit to the sense of terror the community is facing. Relying on the previous film’s end with Kharis carrying Amina Monsori (Ramsay Ames) off into the swamp was shocking and, here, years later, the town is petrified that draining the swamp will awaken the mummy. Of course it’s the draining of the swamp for the betterment of the community that unearths the mummy and the princess.
Martin Kosleck is Ragheb and pretty much is the lackey of the film to the high priest. Kosleck, a German actor who fled when the Nazis came to power, delivers an exceptional performance and is just as fun as Kevin J. O’ Connor’s Beni Gabor in 99’s The Mummy. Just not comical. Kosleck’s Ragheb is devious and sleazy as the end sees him kidnap Kay Harding’s Betty, stab the High Priest (Peter Coe), and come face to face with Kharis in a solidly staged fight scene at a monastery. This may be of interest: Martin Kosleck did NOT like Lon Chaney Jr and, this may be something you wish to look into further, but many performers did not like Chaney.
While certain changes don’t make sense, such as the sudden location shift from Massachusetts to Louisiana, The Mummy’s Curse is worth watching and one definitely to see sometime before 2017’s The Mummy. Universal’s Mummy legacy is fun and while there are moments that don’t hold up, chances are you won’t hate the movies as much as Lon Chaney Jr did.
Interestingly, the original title for The Mummy’s Curse was The Mummy’s Return. Fascinatingly, nearly 60 years later would see Universal release The Mummy Returns, which would in turn effectively bring about the end to the more adventure based Mummy franchise. Universal has had a good, long history with their undead and bandaged friend, but it’s been nearly 20 years since the modern day classic starring Brendan Fraser and 84 years since the original. Who else agrees it’s time for The Mummy to, well, return? And who believes that Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy starring Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella is just the film to return Universal Monsters back to their right place?
(Steven Biscotti – @reggiemantleIII)