By the time Karl Freund (a renowned cinematographer making his directorial debut) began shooting The Mummy with pre-eminent horror star Boris Karloff, himself fresh from the success of 1931's Frankenstein, Universal Studios had positioned itself as one of Hollywood's leading purveyors of skin-crawling cinema. By the time 1950 rolled around, the studio, over a span of three decades, would've ushered Dracula, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Phantom of the Opera, the Invisible Man and the Wolfman onto screens and into our nation's collective cinematic consciousness.
Karloff is rightly hailed as one of cinema's most intense presences and his smoldering, slightly terrifying visage is used to breathtaking effect throughout the fleeting run time (73 minutes). He stars as the recently revived Im-ho-tep (AKA Ardeth Bey), a mummy accidentally awakened during a British field expedition in Egypt. (That'll teach those starchy Brits to read the scroll of Thoth aloud!) Im-ho-tep/Bey becomes infatuated with Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), a reincarnation of the 3,700-year-old mummy's love Anck-es-en-Amon.
That 73-minute run time means there isn't much breathing room, but rather than full-tilt action (as would be glimpsed in director Stephen Sommers' 1999 update), Freund, working from a screenplay by John L. Balderston, elects to let Karloff lurk about and glower, which as expected, is fantastically effective. One of the film's most unnerving images is simply Karloff's down-turned face, eyes narrowed and unblinking. The Mummy feels slight, compared to Frankenstein or The Wolfman, but no less chilling. It's one of Hollywood's spookiest offerings and for those who haven't yet experienced it, this is an edition worth seeking out.
As with most of the Universal Mummy films, this "special edition" is merely the latest in a stream of near-constant revisions and updates. Karloff's original has been issued twice previously and this marks the third -- but likely not last -- offering on DVD. Thankfully, it retains the packaging of Universal's "Legacy Series," the bookish digipack. (And as with the other two Mummy reissues in July, the occasion is the impending release of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor in Aug. 2008.) There's little new here, but I'll detail the specifics about the supplements below.The DVD
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, The Mummy doesn't leap off the screen, but it does look remarkably problem-free considering its age. The packaging claims that this is a "digitally re-mastered" image but given the number of brief scratches, instances of flicker and washed out scenes, this is probably the best the film is ever going to look.The Audio:
As with the visuals, the Dolby 2.0 mono track suffers from a few pops, clicks and hisses, but will likely never sound any more crisp or clear than what's offered here. Dialogue is occasionally muffled, but the score and numerous shrieks are heard with a minimum of distortion or drop-out. Optional English, French and Spanish subtitles are also included.The Extras:
Aside from the film, the first disc also contains a number of bonus features -- some new, some recycled. In addition to film historian Paul M. Jensen's commentary (which returns from the previous two discs), there's a brand new commentary track featuring special effects legend Rick Baker, writer/director Scott Essman, screenwriter Steven Haberman, memorabilia collector Bob Burns and sculptor Brent Armstrong. Compared to Jensen's more academic track, the group track skews more trivia/fanboy gushing; it's a great addition. Other returning features include the nine minute, 43 second poster/still gallery, presented in fullscreen and set to the film's creepy score, as well as the 30 minute, 11 second featurette "Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition" (presented in fullscreen), which explores the film's history and impact. A new, welcome touch is the trailer gallery, which includes The Mummy's theatrical trailer, along with trailers for four more Mummy films (The Mummy's Hand; The Mummy's Tomb; The Mummy's Ghost and The Mummy's Curse). All the trailers are presented in fullscreen.
The second disc holds some serious weight, beginning with Kevin Brownlow's 1998 feature-length (95 minute) documentary "Universal Horror," narrated by Kenneth Branagh, presented in fullscreen and highlighting the studio's considerable contributions to the horror genre. The 25 minute featurette "He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) details the man behind the make-up in The Mummy, while the eight minute, seven second featurette "Unraveling the Legacy of 'The Mummy'" (presented in fullscreen) is identical to the one included on the 1999 re-issue. Lastly, a voucher for one free admission to The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is also tucked into the digipack -- FYI: It's not redeemable until Aug. 1, 2008.Final Thoughts:
One of The Mummy's most unnerving images is simply star Boris Karloff's down-turned face, eyes narrowed and unblinking. While Karl Freund's directorial debut feels slight, compared to Frankenstein or The Wolfman, it's no less chilling. It's one of Hollywood's spookiest offerings and for those who haven't yet experienced it, this is an edition worth seeking out. The addition of two great docs make this latest re-issue highly recommended for those who don't already own a version of this classic.