Thursday, May 22, 2008


Universal's 1944 follow-up to THE MUMMY'S TOMB, THE MUMMY'S GHOST is one of the better entries in the series (not that it's that great a movie, but coming after the tedium that was TOMB it seems like a refreshing change of pace), though the studio's churn-'em-out mentality is still in full swing.

Once again, a human lackey is charged with the task of overseeing/controlling the mummy Kharis (this time played by John Carradine), with the same high priest giving the same instructions on the use of tana leaves and the very same ceremonial swearing-in (either Universal didn't re-release these films as often as their smash hits, or they assumed audiences would forget the previous installment). Carradine's duty is to bring Kharis and the body of Princess Ananka--currently residing in a museum in TOMB's sleepy Massachuetts village--back to Egypt.

THE MUMMY'S GHOST is a lot more entertaining than TOMB, if only for the additional screen time Lon Chaney, Jr. gets as the wrapped one, spontaneously bursting out of the scenery whenever Carradine calls him into action. Not once does the screenplay ever explain where Kharis comes from, or where he goes whenever he's not doing Carradine's dirty work (does he have a cot at the Y or something?). Obviously we're not supposed to think about the plot holes big enough to hide the Sphinx in that GHOST throws at us.

While the action's still as stiff as Kharis's gait, at least director Reginal LeBorg tries to keep it scary, drawing out Kharis's scenes with plenty of menacing close-ups. It doesn't entirely work, thanks to the by-the-numbers pacing, but the effort is appreciated. At least the police realize this time that a mummy's responsible from the get-go, sparing us a number of boring "You've gotta believe me!" scenes.

As with the previous MUMMY pictures, the villain's the sole reliable actor here (it's fun to see Carradine's relatively early portrayal of a role he'd repeat ad nauseum for the rest of his life). Robert Lowery is the supposed hero, but he's such an arrogant douchebag that it's easy to root for Kharis; the female love object--sorry, interest--is played by Ramsay Ames in an anemic performance, though I did love her Elsa Lanchester-inspired 'do whenever Kharis scares the bejesus out of her. And while I know it's intended to be frightening, but the sight of Chaney stumbling around in the visibly-uncomfortable mummy get-up (which reputedly caused him to break out in hives) is a rather pathetic sight; at least he's more animated here than he was in TOMB.

Just like his fellow mummy-keepers, Carradine decides to ditch his sacred promise and attempt to get the girl for himself (the argument with his voice-over is a smirkily amusing highlight), cementing GHOST firmly within the series forumla; you'd think by now the high priest would start recruiting eunuchs for this job.

The film's climax is well-done, if a little protracted, utilizing an interesting use of exteriors (which look nothing like New England). I did like how Ames, as a reincarnation of Ananka, gradually aged the longer she lay in Kharis's grip, as well as how Kharis sort of wins by disappearing with her into a pool of quicksand--making a somewhat unusual departure from most horror fare at the time, even if it's still a cop-out ending. (At least it put a damper on Lowery's day, the smug bastard.)

(See the previous MUMMY entries for the trailer.)

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