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The Mummy (1959)

For many, Hammer's finest hour came at the end of the 50s, when they dropped the monochrome sci fi approach of their Quatermass films and made the three films they became synonymous with - Curse Of Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Mummy.

All three were old Universal properties, and were followed by those other Universal faves, the slightly less well received Phantom Of The Opera and Curse Of The Werewolf. It goes to show that the jaded filmgoers of 2002 who complain that nothing's new any more basically don't know what they're talking about (it's been going on since film was invented), and the only surprise is that with the success of The Mummy and The Mummy Returns in the past few years, no-one's thought to do the Hammer approach and trot all the old favourites out again. The Mummy certainly owes as much to Hammer's film as it does to the Universal one which it claims to be a remake of.

Hammer's Mummy, like their Dracula and Frankenstein, is less a remake and more a re-imagining (although not a shit one, like that bloody awful Planet Of The Apes farrago). And, like its bedfellows, it's a cracker. Do not let the PG rating it now rather shamedly sports put you off.

The story concerns an expedition, which, in 1895, breaks into the tomb of Queen Ananka despite the customary not-very veiled threats from the fanatical fez-wearing bloke who's always hanging around in the background in such films.

Why the tomb has been hidden and inaccessible for so long is a bit of a mystery in itself - it looks like two kitchen unit doors held together with a piece of string.

Expedition leader Stephen Banning finds a scroll, and there's a scream. He's found, a gibbering wreck, and despite having spent years looking for the place, his son John (Cushing) decides to blow the place up.

Mr Fez is perturbed by this (despite it technically being what he wanted them to do - ie bugger off and leave the tomb alone), swearing revenge: "Though it takes me years I shall re-enter the tomb and find the instrument of your revenge," he froths, to no-one in particular. "This I swear."

We fast forward to 1897, and at the nut-house which has been his home since returning from Egypt, Stephen suddenly becomes lucid again. "I wanted to tell you about the mummy..." he explains, not doing his chances of an early release many favours. "It is the mummy that lives... the mummy I brought to life when I read the scroll. It hates us for desecrating the tomb of its princess! It will kill us! All of us!"

The mummy itself, meanwhile, has been brought to England but ends up being dumped in a swamp (from which it rises quite magnificently), and is soon being sent off to do Fez-man's dirty work.

The Mummy is brilliant for many, many reasons. It looks stunning (the sub-Dracula storyline is almost incidental), particularly when we are treated to a flashback to Egyptian times complete with a scholarly explanation of mummification.

And usually I go on about how great Cushing is (he is great, as usual), but special mention has to be given to Christopher Lee as the mummy itself. Although he hardly speaks, he manages to convey the horror of having your tongue ripped out, the terror of being buried alive and the anger of having your bird's tomb desecrated using just his eyes. And whenever the mummy strikes, he's absolutely terrifying.

Compare Lee's monster bursting through the patio doors (an effect so good they keep repeating it) with some CGI monstrosity having chunks blown off it by Brendan Fraser, and I think I can guarantee which one you'll prefer.

The film even has a few harsh words to say about archeology being nothing short of grave robbing. The whole thing is so great you can even forgive Peter Cushing for not spotting that his wife is the spitting image of the Egyptian Queen whose tomb he's been searching for for 20 years. The dolt.

Last updated: February 25, 2010

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