Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Zaki's Original Review: The Mummy (1999)

First published: May 14, 1999

The 1930s and ‘40s or something of a golden age for horror movies in general, and Universal Pictures horror movies in particular. With lightning rapidity, the Studio pumped out a vast coterie of unforgettable monsters ranging from Lugosi's Dracula to Chaney's Wolf Man the Karloff’s Frankenstein monster.

Occupying the lower tier of Universal Horrors was the Mummy series. Never quite as overtly terrifying as his creature kin, the Mummy (first brought to life by Boris Karloff in the 1932 film of the same name) still obviously left enough of an impression on director Stephen Sommers (the underrated Deep Rising) for him to mount a stylish remake cast in the ‘90s mold.

Actually, it's somewhat of a misnomer to say universals new version of The Mummy is cast in the ‘90s mold, since it's very much a period piece (set as it is in the 1920s). It's also a mistake to think of it as a remake, as it can more accurately be called a rethinking. In fact, aside from the title and a few assorted plot points, The Mummy, scripted and directed by Sommers, owes far more to Indiana Jones then Boris Karloff.

In these self-aware days of Scream and its ilk, it's doubtful a revival of The Mummy could have worked any other way. As it stands, the film emerges as a rousing adventure peas, a thrilling a romper that brings to mind 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and King Kong. Brendan Fraser stars as rock-‘em-sock-‘em mercenary Rick O'Connell, the only man who knows the location of Hamunaptra, The famed Egyptian city of the dead.

An expedition to the city with the flighty librarian and her ne'er-do-well brother (Rachel Weisz and John Hannah) lead them to the tomb of the mummified Imhotep (Karloff in the original, South African muscleman Arnold Vosloo in this version).

As in any movie of this sort, the inevitable tampering with "forces man was never meant to control" leads to the waking of the dead, and soon enough, the Mummy is back with a vengeance, absorbing the bodies of others and reconstituting his own.

Naturally, it falls to O'Connell and company to hold the creatures advance before he sets in motion a plan that will destroy all life on earth. It's mindless stuff, to be sure. Most of the characters hit their marks like well-oiled machines, going through the motions that keep the story chugging right along and, in Fraser's case, spouting sardonic one liners along the way.

It works, though. From the prologue in ancient Egypt detailing Imhotep’s treachery against the Pharaoh that led to his mummification right on through to the effects-laden finale depicting Fraser’s O'Connell facing off, sword in hand, against an army of skeletons (shades of Jason and the Argonauts), The Mummy never fails to engage.

With the creature unleashing plagues, locusts, and scarabs that burrow into people’s skins, it's often chilling, but never grisly, and never excessive. Every frame bespeaks a love of the adventure genre, and in many ways The Mummy is a valentine to all the Errol Flynn action yarns of old.

I've always had a soft spot for period adventure films, and although The Mummy misses the high Mark achieved by last summer's The Mask of Zorro, it surely surpasses any number of recent by the numbers creature features based solely on its spirit of old-fashioned heroics and derring-do. B+

No comments: