Friday, October 5, 2012

Psychobabble's 150 Essential Horror Movies: Addition 5

Every day this October, I'll be adding a film to Psychobabble's 120 Essential Horror Movies to bring the list up to 150. Today’s addition is:

28. The Mummy’s Hand (1940- dir. Christy Cabanne)
The commercial and creative success of Son of Frankenstein in 1939 revived Universal Horror—and horror as a whole— after a four-year slump. The studio followed with further sequels, beginning with The Invisible Man Returns in the first days of 1940, but hitting a more confident stride the following September with silent-film vet Christy Cabanne’s The Mummy’s Hand. With eight years having elapsed since the last time the bandaged creep walked, this was the widest span between sequels from the golden age of Universal horror. The filmmakers took advantage of that span by doing what Hollywood now calls a “reboot.” Brooding, lovesick Imhotep, once revived by the Scroll of Toth, now gets his pep from tealeaves and goes by the name Kharis. Cowboy star Tom Tyler looks good in the bandages and eerie black contact lenses, but the mummy’s rebirth as a shuffling hulk doesn’t make for a very interesting monster, even if this has become the more enduring mode of mummy than Karloff’s. Fortunately, and for the first time in the history of Universal horror, we have some human characters that are actually more interesting than the monster. Our heroes are archeologist Steve Banning (Dick Foran, who looks like a beefy Jimmy Stewart), the perpetually clowning Brooklyn yahoo Babe Jenson (Wallace Ford), cherubic magician Solvani the Great (Cecil Kellaway), and his daughter Marta (Peggy Moran), a tough, Hawksian heroine (though one that inevitably ends up screaming, getting carried off by the monster, and fainting. Baby steps, feminist horror fans). The most refreshing aspect of The Mummy’s Hand is that all these people really, really love each other, which is quite a contrast to the usual sourpusses who get upstaged by the monsters in Universal’s horror pictures. When we think one of them has been killed by Kharis, we care and hope he pulls through. When these characters return as tragic figures cowering under Kharis’s curse in The Mummy’s Tomb, it is heartbreaking and I instantly lose interest in the Mummy series. As for our mummy, he’s essentially reduced to the role of Cesare the somnambulist in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, taking murderous commands from George Zucco’s string-pulling villain Andoheb. Simplistic as he is, Kharis would become the most well traveled Mummy, appearing in several sequels and getting the Hammer treatment from Christopher Lee in 1959. Marta Solvani’s legacy is less easy to trace, though she certainly seems to be the main inspiration for Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  

See this piece in context as part of Psychobabble’s Essential Horror Movies of the 1940s here.
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