Monday, October 20, 2014

Mummy Monday | The Mummy's Ghost (1944)

Who’s In It: Lon Chaney Jr (The Wolf Man, The Mummy’s Tomb), John Carradine (House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula), Robert Lowery (Batman and Robin serial), Ramsay Ames (Calling Dr. Death), and George Zucco (House of Frankenstein, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes).

What It’s About: The new high priest of Arkham (Carradine) is tasked with returning the mummies of Princess Ananka and Kharis from the United States to their Egyptian tombs, but the job gets complicated when the spirit of Ananka is transferred into a local woman (Ames).

How It Is: This isn’t how you’d think it would go, but the Universal mummy movies seem to be getting better as they go. This is my favorite so far. As I said about Tomb, the traditional, shambling mummy is a powerful image and Ghost improves on it by having the monster skulk around the suburbs of a small, college town as opposed to the rural area of Tomb. It’s eerie enough seeing the mummy wander through woods and old mansions, but it’s a special thrill when he step-drags his way down what looks like could be your street.

There are other improvements too. For starters, John Carradine is always a welcome addition to any cast. It’s a little strange that George Zucco is still running the show back in Egypt after seemingly passing the torch to Turhan Bey in Tomb, but after what happened with Turhan's character, it’s understandable that Zucco may have rethought his retirement. As expected, Carradine makes a cool, creepy villain, even if he eventually falls prey to the same passions that ruined both Turhan and Zucco's efforts. Those priests of Arkham are a horny bunch.

In Ghost, the woman the priest falls in love with is an Egyptian American played by Ramsay Ames. I haven’t talked about the titles of the Mummy films yet, but they’re mostly interchangeable and unrelated to their plots. Hand doesn’t especially focus on Kharis’ hand any more than Tomb features his burial place. Kharis isn’t actually a ghost in this one either, but the title is still appropriate if you look at it sideways, because this movie does sort of resurrect the spirit of the original Mummy film starring Boris Karloff. It brings back the concept of an Egyptian woman who possesses the reincarnated soul of the mummy’s true love. And of course her boyfriend (Lowery) has to save her.

Ghost also brings back the mummy as an independent agent. Tomb offered a glimpse of that, but this time when the priest tries to possess the woman for himself, Kharis is having none of it. I thought I was fine with the mummy as a weapon in the last two movies, but he’s way cooler and even more terrifying when he's acting on his own.

The final thing that makes Ghost greater than its predecessors is the way it ends. I’m totally going to spoil it because it’s so cool, but skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to know. Instead of the expected ending where the boy saves the girl from the monster, Ghost goes with a tragic finale. The whole movie, every time Ames’ character sees the mummy, she gets a shock of white hair. At first I thought that was just an aesthetic thing, but it turns out that it’s part of her transformation into Kharis’ mate. By the end of the movie, the change is either completed or almost completed and she’s starting to look like a mummy herself. As the hero and his posse pursue, the mummy carries her into the swamp where they both presumably drown. Forgetting for a second that there’s no way that would destroy the monster (and of course there’s one more film to go in the series), it’s an awesome twist to have the creature succeed in his plans. It elevates the movie above kids’ fare and gives it a shocking, somber finale that reminds me of old EC horror comics.

Rating: Five out of five disentombed darlings.

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