Monday, 17 May 2010

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964)

Country: UK

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is a drab and lifeless exercise that highlights the extent to which Hammer Film Productions were struggling to inject any form of inspiration into their early 1960’s gothic horror films. Michael Carreras who was the son of Hammer chairman James was always quite vocal in his distaste of gothic horror and regularly attempted to steer the company in different directions. For this particular film he acts as writer (under the pseudonym of Henry Younger), director, and producer so the blame for the films overall ineptitude can be laid squarely at his door. It is so incompetent in places that it indicates one of two things - either Carreras was so utterly useless that he genuinely didn’t realise the extent of the shoddy work he and his collaborators were producing, or he was doing it on purpose to discredit and destroy the vice like grip gothic horror had over the production rosters of Hammer.

This was the second of four adventures for the bandaged one, and I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of any of them. I have always found The Mummy (1959) to be slow and talky, but is fortunately saved by its excellent casting. The other two The Mummy’s Shroud (1967) and Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) are more interesting, the former probably being my favourite in the series and the latter never really recovering from the production difficulties that plagued it. This film is easily the worst of the bunch. It opens with a series of shots of a suitably dusty Egyptian tomb, a major clue to the location - nevertheless the film still feels it needs to tell us we are in Egypt in 1900. A good sequence follows in which an archaeologist is stabbed and then has his hand cut off. Perhaps the most notable thing about this film is the number of times hands get lopped off! After this promising start we are soon introduced to the obligatory beleaguered archaeological expedition with the normal clichéd characters that make up its party; the older expert who leads the group - Sir Giles Dalrymple (Jack Gwillim), the young disciple - John Bray (Ronald Howard), the love interest and female member of the team - Annette Dubois (the almost incomprehensible Jeanne Roland) - the doom laded representative of the Egyptian government - Hashmi Bey (George Pastell - who also appeared in The Mummy), the loud mouth benefactor Alexander King (Fred Clark), and the usual assembly of wide eyed and superstitious natives - one of which unbelievably is Michael Ripper!!!

Fred Clark injects some much needed enthusiasm into the piece as the brash, over-exuberant American entrepreneur Alexander King. Though his total obsession with making a fast buck offers a far from progressive view of America. The remaining performances are limp and drab. In fact there is much more life in the reanimated corpse of Ra-Antef (Dickie Owen) when he finally starts wreaking havoc. That it takes so long for The Mummy too appear is another weak aspect of Carreras’ plodding screenplay. The real villain of the piece is the slimy aristocrat Adam Beauchamp (Terence Morgan), who in a novel twist (the only one in the film) turns out to be the brother of Ra-Antef, cursed to a life of immortality for his crimes three thousand years prior - these crimes are illustrated in a flashback. He can only be relinquished from his immortal exile by the hand of his mummified brother - who naturally duly obliges. Immortality always seem to be a curse in horror movies, but I wouldn’t mind having the option.

When The Mummy finally does show up the film does become mildly distracting. The death of Hashmi Bey is a definite highlight - he has his head crushed under The Mummy’s foot. Amusement can be found in Sir Giles’ fall from grace, as he goes from eminent expert in Egyptology to a bitter old alcoholic in the wake of King’s decision to tour The Mummy around the world like a sideshow exhibit. Unfortunately the leads are bland, and the love triangle between Beauchamp, Bray, and Dubois sizzles with as much life as a week old cadaver. There is at least some visually arresting scenes courtesy of Otto Heller, but the profusion of interior shots badly damages the look of this film - the painted backdrops, and crude set design that is supposed to represent the desert plains of Egypt are cheap and laughable. So apart from some excellent hand amputation, a crushed head, and an over the top and exploitative American capitalist there is little to recommend here.

© Shaun Anderson 2010


  1. Yeah, not a highpoint in the Hammer canon - usually indicated when Carreras lifted up a pen or got behind a camera (Steel Bayonet being an exception). Head crushing death is a stonker though - the look on the guys faces says it all!

  2. Im not a big fan of the Hammer Mummy movies, apart from Blood from the Mummy's Tomb, which I love. But then I'm a big fan of early 70s Hammer horror.

    But basically I agree that Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is fairly uninspired.


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