It’s The Mummy. Not the 1932 original. Nor the 1999 remake with Brendan Fraser. And not the upcoming franchise reboot. No, we’re talking about the 1959 Hammer Horror version starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee – rereleased this week on DVD and Blu-ray.
As you might expect, a group of archaeologists discover an ancient Egyptian tomb and are pretty soon being killed off for their troubles. The 46-year-old Cushing clearly isn’t the junior lead he’s intended to be, but it’s an otherwise reliably impressive performance from one of Britain’s finest screen actors. He has a mercurial quality, centred with steel: a very British form of heroism that draws its strength from quiet confidence, rather than grandiosity.
Lee, Cushing’s co-star and close friend, may have won wider recognition – partly through having lived so long – but he’s no less a talent. In the title role of The Mummy, we get a chance to see him in one of his early monster roles, when his impressive size and physical performance were of greater interest to casting directors than his sonorous tones.
The film itself is a homely sort of horror by today’s standards: time and pastiche have lessoned its terror. While it might raise a smile that films once described by the BBFC as “so exaggerated as to be nauseating and revolting to adult audiences” now appear little more threatening than a teenager’s Halloween costume, The Mummy has not been neutered. What remains – what, perhaps, has been revealed – is the the skill.
The production is as assured as you would expect from Hammer. The lighting blends the already-gorgeous sets almost seamlessly with the few exterior scenes – if you want to see a British set designer fly, ask them to knock up a Victorian manor house. The bold colour pallets that are so much a part of the Hammer ‘look’ showed are as striking on Blu-ray as they were back in the day.
The Mummy may not have the cattle-prod starts of Insidious or The Conjuring. It may not have the grue of The Collection. But it has a story that is archetypal rather than typical. It has two of the finest actors ever to grace horror.It has a gorgeous look that has proven itself against time. It has class.
The Mummy is available to own from the 14th October