John Gilling, 1967
Starring: André Morell, John Phillips, David Buck, Maggie Kimberly
In Egypt in 1920, a group of archaeologists uncover the tomb of Kah-To-Bey, a child Pharaoh who was spirited away by a servant after a violent palace coup. Though a local warns the men — including scientist Sir Basil Walden and entrepreneur Stanley Preston — to stay away from the tomb, the mummy, and its sacred burial shroud, they ignore this advice and disaster strikes almost immediately. Sir Basil is bitten by a snake and, while he is ill, Preson has him committed to an asylum to take full ownership over the find. But the mummy — Prem, Kah-To-Bey’s guardian — awakens and goes on a killing spree.
Released as a double bill with the superior Frankenstein Created Woman, it’s a shame that this doesn’t measure up with some of director John Gilling’s other efforts for Hammer. Not only did he write the script for one of my favorites,The Gorgon, but he helmed unusual later-period entries like The Reptile and The Plague of the Zombies. This was Hammer’s last film shot at the legendary Bray Studios before they moved over to Pinewood and in this sense it’s sort of an early “beginning of the end” film. Though it’s not a terrible film, perhaps its biggest offense is a sense of just going through the motion, phoning it in to flesh out the studio’s Mummy series.
The third out of four films in Hammer’s Mummy series is better than the deplorable second film, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, but it’s still too run of the mill and not far enough outside of the standard Mummy formula. In general, Hammer’s Mummy series had two main problems. For starters, it’s not a cohesive series and none of the films have anything to do with each other, unlike the Dracula and Frankenstein series. Even most of Hammer’s vampire films unrelated to Dracula were loosely connected to each other, which makes this choice with the Mummy films so baffling. While The Mummy is the most solid of the bunch, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb and The Mummy’s Shroud are tired riffs on the same formula.
Another issue is that — again unlike much of Dracula and Frankenstein — different directors were used on all four of the Mummy films, giving a widely out of whack sense of style. While the story hits a wall, hard, and is packed with cliches, Hammer can usually be counted on for breathtaking visuals. This one isn’t terrible in that regard, but it’s definitely not a success, even though the mummy costume is based on actual mummies taken from the British Museum. The budget seems to be relatively low and the film gets off to a sluggish start with a lengthy opening sequence that takes up almost 10 minutes of the film to explain the identity of the mummy and the boy king.
With that said, there’s a surprising amount of gore and some enjoyable death scenes, including one where someone is immolated with photographic chemicals and another where the great Michael Ripper (a Hammer regular) is defenestrated. He, of course, steals the film, even though he is only in a side role. The acting is hit or miss and again suffers from a lack of any really charismatic stars. Roger Delgado (Doctor Who), the Egyptian local who warns them not to disturb the tomb, has a great scene where he raises the mummy, but overall the performances drag a bit. Hammer regular André Morell (The Shadow of the Cat, The Plague of the Zombies) disappears all too quickly and the villainous John Phillips (Village of the Damned) and innocent David Buck (The Dark Crystal) are not an adequate substitute.
And — surprise — the women of the film fare even worse. Though she has a commanding presence, Catherine Lacey (The Sorcerers) is stuck with a role that’s little more than a fairly racist depiction of a vengeful fortune teller, while Elizabeth Sellars (The Barefoot Contessa) is a melancholic wife and mother who has an intuitive sense of impending doom. Maggie Kimberly (Witchfinder General) fares worse as archaeological assistant Claire. Kimberley is strangely aloof and often seems like she’s wandered onto the wrong set and is surprised about the dialogue she has to deliver. The character’s psychic abilities are admittedly confusing, though this sort of nonsense is often thrown into Mummy films with no explanation.
I can’t recommend The Mummy’s Shroud — though at least this time the title makes sense — and I honestly can’t wait to be finished reviewing Hammer’s Mummy films in general. Frankly, today the only thing I really care about is the fact that Lemmy passed away yesterday and now the world will never be the same. The Mummy’s Shroud cannot compare, but if you’re really gaga about horror films set in Egypt or you’re a Hammer completist, this will be up your alley. Otherwise it’s only worth watching for the sequence where Michael Ripper is thrown out a window to his death. Love you Michael. Pick up The Mummy’s Shroud on DVD, if you dare.