An expedition in Egypt in 1921 uncovers the tomb of prince Im-Ho-Tep, who was buried alive for sacrilege, alongside his body is the Scroll of Thoth which can return him to life. Inevitably, a young member of the crew reads it, and mummy is reborn, is search of an ancient princess who may have been reincarnated as the beautiful young Helen Grosvenor.
Those who’ve entered into the mummy myth care of the Brendan Fraser action movie, will be surprised to find the original, made in the heyday of Universal horror, a restrained, atmospheric, if slight suspensor with a typically mesmerising turn from Boris Karloff as the Egyptian zombie in bandages. The set up is familiar, a scroll of dreaded power read out by a delusional wimp casting life back into the ancient prince who’d been buried alive back in the day for various misdemeanours. He then takes the guise of a lurid Egyptian guide (in fact, scarier than the man in wraps) who leads a new expedition to the tomb of his lost love.
Director Karl Freund hasn’t the knack for gothic flourish and melodrama of James Whale (who made the stalwart ‘30s versions of Dracula and Frankenstein) but with nary an effect to work with, does conjure a sticky sense of peril with some finely overwrought turns from his cast. Karloff adds a furious passion to this more eloquent variation on the lurching Frankenstein’s monster. It’s all a bit brief, not very scary, but an important part of horror’s traditions all the same.
Boris Karloff is as watchable and creepy as ever but this is not as scary or fun as it should be.