He was laughing when your father found him. He died laughing . . . in a straight jacket.
In 2006, Universal released 75th Anniversary Legacy Series sets of their classic horror films of 1931: Dracula and Frankenstein. Loaded with special features new and old, these 2 disc sets were housed in clamshells sporting gorgeous cover art of the titular monsters. They were fantastic releases. Unfortunately, 2007 came and went without a similar "Universal Legacy Series" for the Boris Karloff 1932 classic The Mummy.
Thankfully, Universal seemed to put off this companion release for 2008, timed to tie in with the soon-to-be-theatrically-released The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. I'm happy to report that it was well worth the wait. The 2 disc The Mummy: Special Edition, under the "Universal Legacy Series" banner, would stand well beside the aforementioned titles and are must-haves for classic and / or horror film collectors.
First off, the packaging should be noted. As with the Dracula and Frankenstein Universal Legacy DVDs, The Mummy comes housed in a beautiful clamshell with a hauntingly well-done cover depicting Boris Karloff as he laid inanimate at the start of the film. The DVDs are housed in clear plastic, with a nice-looking image from the movie underneath. All around, it's an eye-catching product.
As for the movie itself, it's quite good, despite some minor flaws. The film starts off with an extended background scene taking place in 1921. Some British archaeologists are on a dig in Egypt and have uncovered the remains of Im-ho-tep, a high priest who seems to have been cursed. One of the men present, Dr. Muller, warns the others about delving further into the matter and debates Sir Joseph Whemple about it. In the meantime, a young and impetuous archaeologist foolishly begins reading from an ancient scroll, which brings Im-ho-tep back to life. This scene is arguably one of the best and most horrific in any of the early 1930s Universal classics. Jack Pierce's makeup job on actor Boris Karloff is superb, and the mummy's reanimation is slow and deliberate. Upon seeing the mummy come to life, the young archaeologist is driven mad, laughing maniacally as the mummy strolls off screen. The audience is later told that he died laughing. It's a well-conceived scene and pulled off with remarkable precision.
The movie then moves forward to present day (1932). Whemple's son, Frank, is on his own dig in Egypt and not having much luck. That is, until Im-ho-tep shows up under the pseudonym Ardath Bey and tells the young man where to start digging to find the remains of the Princess Anck-es-en-Amon, the woman he once was in love with. The dig is a success, and the relics and the Princess are put on display at the museum of Cairo. Also in Cairo is a patient of Dr. Muller, Helen, who unknowingly has a link to Anck-es-en-Amon. Frank falls for Helen, but Im-ho-tep needs her to resurrect the spirit of his lost love. And therein lies the central conflict of the film.
One of the best aspects of The Mummy is its cast. Many of them were stalwarts of the Universal horror scene of the time period. The aforementioned Boris Karloff, hot off of his iconic performance as the Frankenstein monster the previous year, is spot on again here underneath Jack Pierce's makeup work as the desiccated Im-ho-tep. David Manners solidly plays the doting suitor Frank; he played similar characters in the 1931 Dracula and the very good The Black Cat, a 1934 film co-starring both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Lending gravitas to the proceedings is the excellent character actor Edward Van Sloan, who showed up as similar learned men in Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dracula's Daughter. Zita Johann is beautiful and exotic as Helen.
If there's anything to criticize here, it's the film's pacing. The middle third of The Mummy plods slowly at times, and one can't help but think about 10 minutes could have been shaved from the movie to keep the plot from meandering into unnecessary dialogue. Some of Helen and Frank's dialogue, in particular, seem pat and unconvincing.
Still, The Mummy is a great example of horror from the early sound era. This new edition comes loaded with extras, which will be detailed below. Even though it has been released on DVD a couple times previously, this new edition is still very welcomed.
The Mummy appears in a full frame 1.33:1 image. The back of this edition of the 1932 classic reads "2-Disc Special Edition Digitally Remastered!" Given the age of the movie, it looks pretty good. I suspect, though, that nothing has been improved since The Mummy: The Legacy Collection was released. Dirt and lines are noticeable throughout, as are at least two brief jumps. Yes, this could look better, though the faults strangely add to the ambiance of watching a 76-year-old classic from the early sound era.
The sole audio track for this DVD is Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. There's a fairly consistent background hiss, but otherwise dialogue and the occasional score are well-presented if a little bass-heavy. Overall, it's a warm if unremarkable (by today's standards) audio track.
Subtitles are available in Spanish and French. An English subtitle option for the deaf and hard-of-hearing is also available.
In addition to the film itself, Disc I of the Universal Legacy Series release of The Mummy houses several extras. Most - aside from a new commentary track - have appeared on prior DVD releases of the movie.
This new commentary track comes courtesy of Rick Baker, Scott Essman, Steven Haberman, Bob Burns, and Brent Armstrong. With five participants, this track is quite lively and informative.
The commentary track ported over from previous releases is by film historian Paul M. Jensen. It's rather dry, but Jensen notes a number of interesting details about the film.
Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed (30:11) is a pretty good overview of the classic Mummy films of the 1930s and 1940s.
Posters & Stills (9:45) is a slideshow of posters and stills for The Mummy played to the score of the movie.
Trailer Gallery houses trailers for the first 5 Universal Mummy films: The Mummy, The Mummy's Hand, The Mummy's Tomb, The Mummy's Ghost, and The Mummy's Curse. A Play All option is also included.
Disc II of the Universal Legacy Series release of The Mummy has three additional extras:
He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce (25:00) is an affectionate tribute to makeup artist Jack Pierce, focusing upon his iconic work for Universal studios in the 1930s and 1940s. It's a good featurette with comments from a number of experts and filmmakers. Kudos to Universal for presenting this in anamorphic widescreen.
Unraveling the Legacy of the Mummy (8:08) is described on the back cover art as a "look back at the evolution of one of the most enduring franchises of all time." Technically, that's what this featurette does, although it ends up becoming a promotional piece for Stephen Sommers' Mummy films. This is presented widescreen but not anamorphic.
Universal Horror (1:35:17) is the classic 1998 documentary on the history of the classic Universal horror films narrated by Kenneth Branagh. It's an excellent primer on these iconic movies for the novice, but it's in-depth enough to be of interest to horror film fanatics. Yes, it's appeared on several other Universal releases, but it's a welcome addition here as well.
Finally, depending upon how far down the time stream you are from me, it should be noted that the plastic wrapped around this DVD had a sticker attached proclaiming that a free movie ticket to The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor was included inside. Valued up to $7.50, the ticket is actually a Hollywood Movie Money code usable on their site to produce a certificate that will then need to be printed. This certificate expires on 24 August 2008.
The 1932 Boris Karloff feature The Mummy is a classic - hands down. It introduced one of Jack Pierce's makeup masterpieces, and his take on the mummy has become entrenched in popular culture to this very day. Loaded with solid extra features, this is a must have. Is it worth the double dip? If you still have the original DVD release, then yes, definitely! If you have the 2 disc The Mummy: The Legacy Collection, then it's a toss up. Between the attractive package, new commentary track, and new Jack Pierce documentary (not to mention a free movie ticket!), most collectors would probably want this new Universal Legacy Series release as well as the Legacy Collection (for the four original Mummy sequels).