(From now until Halloween, the Canadian Cinephile will be taken over by pure, unadulterated FEAR. No, I’m not commencing an Adam Sandler marathon. I will be reviewing some of the most spine-chilling, bloodcurdling horror movies, with this year’s trip covering those freaky films released prior to 1970. There will be a special focus on Universal’s classic monster pictures, so bring your hot cocoa. It’s going to be a dark and scary ride. Sort of.)
Universal finally gets it right with The Mummy’s Curse, the best of the generally terrible mummy sequels. The journey began with 1940’s The Mummy’s Hand, then considered a reboot of sorts after 1932’s The Mummy. The series floated on through the dismal The Mummy’s Tomb and improved slightly with The Mummy’s Ghost before finally settling nicely on this 1944 outing.
Directed by Leslie Goodwins and featuring a screenplay by Leon Andrews and Dwight V. Babcock, The Mummy’s Curse is Lon Chaney, Jr.’s last time in the swaddled clothing and such. He goes out with a bang, showing more emotion and purpose than ever before and giving his character a few extra dimensions along the way.
The action begins as the Southern Engineering Company is trying to drain a swamp in Louisiana. The workers are having trouble with the legend of a mummy, though, so experts from a museum are brought in because that’s what has to be done in these situations. Dr. Halsey (Dennis Moore) and Dr. Zandaab (Peter Coe) investigate. Guess which doctor is evil?
After a worker is killed in the bog, the mummy Kharis (Chaney, Jr.) is discovered along with a disciple of Arkam (Martin Kosleck). There is also Ananka (Virginia Christine), who emerges from the swamp and is sought after by Kharis. Dr. Halsey has a love interest in Betty Walsh (Kay Harding) and soon the disparate strands are tied together, with Kharis all the while trying to snag his babe for all eternity.
While it’s hard to blame anyone who’s tired of this series by now, The Mummy’s Curse has a few things going for it. Christine’s character is of particular note, with the scene featuring her emerging from the swamp among the highlights in the entire set of films. It’s an impressive, mud-covered nightmare of a scene and the makeup job is as spine-chilling as anything in Universal’s monstrous catalogue.
Of course, it helps that Ananka is flat-out stunning. Christine accounts for the loveliest of all of Kharis’ ladies and she brings a certain degree of charisma to the part that other performers have missed out on. She is undoubtedly haunted by the mummy, but she also feels the gravitational yank of the fates and can’t ignore the enticement of her Egyptian heritage because Egyptians are like that.
Chaney, Jr’s mummy heaves his humble cadaver after her with a certain fire in his filthy loins. He’s more of a menace, stalking and smashing through anything that gets in his way. There’s a great scene where he’s nearly able to make a grab by a car, but Dr. Halsey and Betty don’t see him at all, even after he unsuccessfully swats at the vehicle.
The Mummy’s Curse makes use of stock footage from The Mummy and The Mummy’s Hand, but it’s not as egregious a move as some might think. Most of it comes in the form of flashback material, with details of ancient Egypt providing context for the events in present day. And there are continuity errors, too, with the swamp of The Mummy’s Ghost having moved a long way from Mapleton.
But The Mummy’s Curse nails it when it comes to focusing on the damn mummy, which is what this series should’ve been doing all along. Past entries have faltered because Chaney, Jr.’s character dipped into the background and became nothing more than a useless weapon. In this instance, he is front and centre and the audience has the opportunity to care about his pursuit of Ananka.
The supporting characters are less important, too, and that’s a good thing. There are no idiotic dogs to contend with and any white-haired professors are relegated to their respective sidelines. The movie is mostly comprised of the titular character fumbling and bumbling around. At one point, he even bursts through a wall and strangles an old lady. Now that’s where the action is.