Wednesday, October 31, 2012


In anticipation of Halloween and in celebration of the recent blu-ray release of the classic and iconic “Universal Monsters” series, I have decided to review each title individually in chronological order, and the latest review of the series is for “The Wolf Man” that was directed by George Waggner and premiered on 12 December, 1941.

This is the first of these “Universal Monster” pictures that was made in the 1940’s and even though it is a new decade, the level of quality of these films remains at an all time high.  I must admit that my first viewing of this 1941 version of “The Wolf Man” happened after I had seen its 2010 remake.  Unlike everyone else in the world, I loved the remake (with the exception of the CGI finale), and it forced me to finally sit down and watch the original.  Imagine my surprise to find that the original was an even better film than its remake (I know, I know).  This version is such a great film in all aspects and has quickly turned into one of my favourites.

Larry Talbot returns home to his family castle after an absence of eighteen years following the death of his brother in a hunting accident.  Although basically strangers to one another, Larry and his father, Sir John, embrace heartedly and declare that they will bury the hatchet of their pasts and try to become friends on equal footing.  Soon after his arrival in town, Larry happens to meet the daughter of the local antiques store and falls instantly in love with her.  While attempting to woo Gwen, he ends up buying a unique walking stick complete with a silver wolf’s head on it’s top.  The wolf’s head also has a strange star-like shape attached to it and when Larry asks about it significance, Gwen explains that it is the mark of the werewolf.  Even though Larry finds the whole idea fantastic, he soon realizes that this sort of superstition is taken very seriously in this town.  He succeeds in his task at getting a date with Gwen and organizes to meet her later that night.  As protection against anything happening, Gwen brings along a friend, Jenny, with her on the date and the company of three head out to see some gypsies who have recently rode into town to have their fortunes read.  Whilst at the gypsy’s camp, Jenny is brutally attacked by a wolf-like creature and Larry steps in to attempt to save her.  Larry is able to kill the wolf although gets bitten in the attack, and his attempts to save Jenny turn out to be in vain.  After the attack, Larry finds out that the thing he actually killed was a werewolf and that he too is now afflicted with the terrible curse of the werewolf, where he will unconsciously change into a wolf and head out for a victim to kill.  Is anyone safe around Larry anymore?

I will say it again; “The Wolf Man” is a truly magnificent film.  Everything about it is gold; from the look, the performances, the direction, the brilliant script and the spooky music score, it is very near perfect.  I must admit that I am unfamiliar with director George Waggner’s work but it surprises me that he did not become a powerhouse director back in the 1940’s after “The Wolf Man” because his work is just stellar here.  He creates a beautifully rich world here and fills it full of horror but never once forgets just how tragic the story and the character of Larry Talbot are.  This is a dark tale and Waggner shows us this through the equally dark and atmospheric visuals.  Combined with his cinematographer Joseph Valentine, Waggner has created a beautifully macabre environment for the wolf man to exist, but also an incredibly scary one.  The scenes of the wolf man hunting through the fog-filled forests looking for prey are incredibly suspenseful and moody.  It is obvious that they shot these scenes on a set but it doesn’t matter because that actually adds to the atmosphere of the scenes.  Having the ability to control the light perfectly to either hide or expose the wolf’s features is a huge asset within these scenes and Waggner and Valentine take every opportunity to scare the audience.  I must say that the attack sequences were also quite brutal for their time too. 

As good as the direction is in “The Wolf Man” it is Curt Siodmak’s wonderfully rich script that is the film’s greatest asset.  Siodmak has created some truly wonderful dialogue in this film and created the majority of the known werewolf legends such as the fact that a werewolf can only be killed by silver and if one is bitten by a werewolf and survives, he too shall become a werewolf.  In regards to the dialogue who can forget the classic werewolf myth recited by a number of the characters in the film: "Even a man who is pure at heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.".  C’mon, you have got to admit that that is just genius and having thespians the like of Claude Rains sprouting such dialogue only elevates it to an even higher stature.  As entertaining a yarn as “The Wolf Man” is, the story is full of subtext mostly in regards to Siodmak’s own dealings with the Nazi’s in his homeland of Germany.  The wolf man actually is a cipher for both the depiction of Nazi’s and of Siodmak’s life under the Nazi regime.  In regards to it being a depiction of the Nazi’s this is because Larry is basically a good man who is turned into a killing machine and sees his next victim via the image of a pentagram (think the “star of David” that Jews were forced to wear).  As for this being a veiled depiction of Siodmak’s memories whilst being under Nazi rule, he mentioned that his life was like that of Larry Talbot’s, he was living a normal life when it was suddenly thrown into chaos and he found himself constantly on the run trying to survive.  All of this is interesting stuff, but even if you do not pick up on any of it, “The Wolf Man” is such a beautifully written tale that you still get a great film out of the surface tale.

Larry Talbot and the wolf man are played by Lon Chaney Jr.  Being a huge fan of silent films and particularly those directed by Tod Browning, it is fair to say that I am a huge Lon Chaney Snr. Fan.  He was a true genius of the medium who was incredibly physical in all of his roles.  He always gave 100% in anything he did, pushing his body to the limit many times.  Unfortunately I do not think his son is anywhere near as talented, but I will say that he too gives his all to this film.  While Chaney Jr. is good in the role, he just always looks like he is acting and that it does not come easy to him.  Particularly as Larry, he does look at times a little uncomfortable in the role, however when he becomes the vicious wolf man, he truly does own the role.  I will say that he never forgets how tragic a character Larry is and plays him like this, it is just I can always see him “acting”.  What he is great at though is the physical side of the role and he uses his size to great advantage, especially in a scene where he intimidates some locals.

I mentioned in my review for “The Invisible Man” my love for Claude Rains as an actor, and again, he steals the show here.  Rains has the non-flashy role of Sir John Tolbot and dominates every scene he is in.  It is interesting to watch the scenes he has with Chaney Jr because even though Chaney’s stature is huge compared to Rains diminutive appearance; it is always Rains that comes across as having the greater strength.  His smooth and nuanced way of delivering dialogue is just masterful and although it is a cliché, I could honestly sit and listen to him reading the phone book.  Acting just comes so naturally to him and because of this I believe every word that he is saying.  He just commands the screen and is instantly charismatic; your eyes are just drawn to him.  As I mentioned, Sir Talbot is not a flashy role, but Claude Rains makes it forever memorable.

Another one of the “Universal Monsters” legends also shows up in “The Wolf Man”, albeit in a small role.  Bela Lugosi plays the doomed werewolf that Larry kills near the start of the film and he is wonderful.  He plays the gypsy full of emotion and despair as he understands that he is going to be the cause of another murder and there is nothing he can do to stop it.  There is a sadness behind his eyes here that is heartbreaking and you assume his death at the hands of Talbot would offer the poor man some relief.  I also cannot fail to mention just how good Maria Ouspenskaya is as Bela’s mother.  She understands the pain and risks involved in being a werewolf and never once attempts to go for revenge against Larry for the death of her son, instead she becomes an understanding mentor to the troubled man.

Once again I have to mention the brilliant make-up effects by genius Jack Pierce.  Here he has created the definitive werewolf which at the time of the film’s release terrified movie goers.  While the transformation scene, made up entirely of dissolves, may seem dated and primitive now, back in the 1940’s people were horrified as they witnessed a man change into a wolf before their very eyes.  Interestingly, the famous scene of the wolf man’s face changing via dissolves does not exist in this film (it shows up in the films sequel), as all transformations into the wolf were shown via Talbot’s feet.  Seriously, you have to wonder just how successful these “Universal Monsters” films would have been without the talents of Jack Pierce.  It is my belief that his dedication, expertise and extreme attention to detail in all of his make-ups are the unsung reasons to the success of these films.

Overall, “The Wolf Man” is a terrific film and one of the best of the entire “Universal Monsters” canon.  The commanding performance from Claude Rains is the standout but really, everyone performs admirably in the film.  Behind the camera, George Waggner does fantastic work directorially, but it is Curt Siodmak’s brilliantly layered screenplay that is the key to the success of “The Wolf Man”.  It is such a beautiful and yet deeply tragic story about the duality of man and that the fact that inside each of us, is the power to commit evil.  I cannot recommend “The Wolf Man” enough and is a film that will get regularly re-watched in my own home.

4.5 Stars.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


In anticipation of Halloween and in celebration of the recent blu-ray release of the classic and iconic “Universal Monsters” series, I have decided to review each title individually in chronological order, and the latest review of the series is for “The Bride of Frankenstein” that was directed by James Whale and premiered on 22 April, 1935.

For most people the sequel to James Whale’s original “Frankenstein” movie is often considered the crown jewel of the “Universal Monsters” series, however while I think that “The Bride Of Frankenstein” is a great film, I do not find myself as engaged in it as I was with the original film.  When “Frankenstein” became a huge hit back in 1931, Universal obviously wanted to duplicate its success as quickly as possible and wanted to do a sequel straight away.  This was something that James Whale resisted repeatedly, and it wasn’t until Universal had unsuccessfully attempted to make a Whale-less sequel that he finally accepted to return on the condition he had total artistic control on the film.  Amazingly Universal agreed to these terms, which to movie fans around the world was a huge blessing because James Whale was one of the most creative men to ever work in cinema, as well as one of the most imaginative.  Because of this “The Bride Of Frankenstein” is a very different film from its predecessor, whilst telling a very similar tale.

The story starts immediately after “Frankenstein” where we see that the monster has survived the attack on him by the enraged townspeople by falling into a flooded cavern below the mill.  Convinced that the monster is in fact dead, everyone returns to their homes with the broken and assumed deceased body of Dr. Frankenstein.  When they return to the doctor’s mansion, it is soon discovered that he is in fact alive, in need of care but alive.  The events of the previous night lie heavy in Frankenstein’s heart and all he wants to do is marry his beloved Elizabeth.  This proves to be a task harder than expected as a former teacher, Dr. Pretorius, unexpectedly knocks on his door.  Pretorius and Frankenstein share a common bond in the fact that both have tried to create life with different results.  It is revealed that while Frankenstein was able to bring dead tissue back to life, Pretorius has been able to artificially create live tissue, thus creating human life.  However he has not been able to come to terms with scale and thus his living creations are the size of miniature dolls.  Pretorius invites Frankenstein in a partnership of sorts where the two can combine their talents to create the ultimate human being.  When Frankenstein refuses to dabble in that world again, Pretorius resorts to blackmailing the doctor into helping him along with the help of Frankenstein’s original monster, in an attempt to create a partner for the creature.

As I mentioned, “The Bride Of Frankenstein” is quite a different film compared to the original and this is immediately felt with the tone of the film.  Whilst “Frankenstein” was first and foremost a horror film, the sequel is not, it is more of a fantasy film with strong doses of comedy throughout.  Make no mistake, this film still has its horrific moments but overall there is a much lighter tone in regards to “The Bride Of Frankenstein”.  The main reason for this is the introduction of the new character of Dr. Pretorius who is played by Ernest Thesiger brilliantly but in a very camp manner.  His character is very eccentric and thus his portrayal of him is rightfully a little over the top.  Thesiger has a classic scene with the monster in a tomb underneath a graveyard where instead of fleeing from the giant creature rather offers him a cigar and a drink.  The highlight of Thesiger’s performance though is his ability to deliver dialogue, he makes everything sound so grand.

Another thing that adds to the lighter tone is the fact that the monster learns to speak in this sequel instead of just moaning and grunting.  During my initial viewing of this film I must admit that I did not respond well to the fact that the monster spoke and I thought it just felt wrong.  Boris Karloff, who reprises his role of the monster, also didn’t agree with the monster talking, but I have to say that I am starting to come around to it now.  In fact the evolution of the monster is needed so “The Bride Of Frankenstein” doesn’t just become a rehash of the original film, but it still takes some time getting used to the monster smoking or drinking with a big smile on his face.  Speaking of Karloff, he is wonderful again in this role, and the fact that the monster speaks does not change this at all.  He makes it all so believable; you feel that this is a man who has only just begun speaking and learning the delights of the world.  The monster is still a tragic figure though and there is so much sadness within, and for me, this is where the heart of the film still exists.  The infamous scenes with the monster and the blind-man becoming friends are just so beautiful to watch and incredibly poignant.  Throughout the two films, this is the only happiness the monster ever knows.  When it does come to the horror of “The Bride Of Frankenstein” it does once again fall on the hands of the monster and even though he has evolved here, he is still as terrifying as ever if pushed into violence. 

While I mention that the film has a comedic tone, I don’t suggest this film is a comedy, just that it does have some funny and odd moments in it.  An example of an odd moment is when we get to witness the results of Dr. Pretorius’ experiments.  The sight of these miniature people encased in glass is just so bizarre, and to be truthful I still do not know if I love or hate the scene.  It shows just how big an imagination James Whale had and in this regard I love it, but it is also so silly with the king climbing out of his jar to go after the queen that I sometimes react against this moment.  Either way, the scene is certainly unique for a film made in 1935.  In terms of real “comedy”, Whale has once again enlisted the help of his friend Una O’Connor to play the Frankenstein’s shrieking maid.  Similar to her role and performance in “The Invisible Man”, I once again hated her here; she just isn’t funny and worse she is so irritating.  Amazingly though I tolerated her more here than in the previous film.

In my previous reviews I have mentioned that James Whale is a genius at giving a character a great entrance and he has done it again numerous times in “The Bride Of Frankenstein”.  The first is his brilliant entrance he gives to Karloff as the monster, this time covered in water appearing from out of nowhere underneath the burnt mill.  The fact that the monster isn’t in the best of moods during the scene adds to moment.  Another great entrance is the first sighting of Dr. Pretorius as he visits the Frankenstein house.  When Minnie (the shrieking maid) opens the door ajar his face is completely in shadow, we can see a silhouette, but as the door slowly opens the shadow starts to disappear bringing his face into view.  This moment is so great that I am almost sure that William Friedkin gave homage to this scene in “The Exorcist” the first time we meet Father Merrin.  The other entrance that has to be mentioned is that of the “bride” herself.  Initially Whale duplicates shots from his original “Frankenstein” as this new monster comes to life, but when we get our full reveal of her, it is almost shot in a romantic way.  Fran Waxman’s score is particularly good during this classic moment (in fact the score is great throughout).

I guess since I have mentioned her, it is finally time to talk about the bride.  What I found amazing about “The Bride Of Frankenstein” when I watched it the first time was just how little screen time the titular bride has in the film.  She is onscreen no more than five minutes and yet she is so memorable and has become an icon of horror even though she never does a horrific thing to anyone at all.  Elsa Lanchester will forever be synonymous with this role and yet had only minutes to make an impact in the role.  She does so brilliantly and immediately when she shows utter disdain and fear towards the monster, her supposed mate, during their first meeting.  She wants nothing to do with him and isn’t afraid to show it.  Lanchester does the most amazing hissing noise towards the end of the film which she said she came up with after studying and witnessing swans of all things.  Whilst Lanchester is only onscreen briefly as the bride, she also plays another role in the film’s opening scenes in the role of author Mary Shelley.  In this unique prologue to the film, Shelly talks about how her story did not end with the monster dying in the mill and it is her telling of the rest of her story that is “The Bride Of Frankenstein”.  This is another one of those moments that on initial viewing I struggled with but now thoroughly enjoy.  In terms of performance, Lanchester is so different here playing a rich socialite that it is hard to believe that it is her playing the role of the bride too.

As usual I cannot talk about these films without acknowledging the genius of Jack Pierce’s make-up effects and design.  As good as Elsa Lanchester is in the role of the bride there is no doubt that she wouldn’t have been as impactful without Pierce’s amazing design work on the bride.  The crazy hairstyle with the white stripe through it is another of his designs that has found its way into modern pop culture.  Everyone knows the look even if they do not know where it is from.  She is just a stunningly beautiful and perfectly created creature, much like her male counterpart.  Again the make-up Pierce has performed on Boris Karloff in the role of the monster is outstanding and what I like about it is its evolution.  This time around the monster has the battle scars of the previous film, like the burn on his face or the cuts on his arms, it is beautifully intricate detail.  Jack Pierce certainly was a genius in his field.

Overall, there is just so much to praise about “The Bride Of Frankenstein”, it is a truly great film, it is just I do not connect to it as greatly as the original “Frankenstein”.  There are long stretches in this film that both Frankenstein and his monster are vacant, but the scenes that they do appear in are the film’s best.  In fact the scenes of the monster wandering aimlessly in the forest have a beautiful fairytale quality to them that I am attracted to.  It is well known now that my cinematic tastes bend towards the dark, so the lighter tone of this film isn’t as powerful for me.  However I could never say that “The Bride Of Frankenstein” is nothing short of brilliant, it is complex, full of subtext, poetic and has one of the greatest characters in horror cinema in it, so it is still highly recommended.

4 Stars.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


In anticipation of Halloween and in celebration of the recent blu-ray release of the classic and iconic “Universal Monsters” series, I have decided to review each title individually in chronological order, and the latest review of the series is for “The Invisible Man” that was directed by James Whale and premiered on 13 November, 1933.

Did I mention that James Whale was a genius?  Seriously what he accomplishes here with “The Invisible Man” is nothing short of sensational.  He is able to communicate to the audience the horror of a being who is invisible to their eyes, but not only that, he makes the film exciting, genuinely terrifying and even funny, whilst treating the subject with the utmost respect and seriousness.  Whale has once again produced a masterpiece of horror with “The Invisible Man” and you may be surprised at just how dark and grim the story becomes as it goes along.

The story of “The Invisible Man” is a simple one and is quite similar to Whale’s earlier horror film “Frankenstein” in as much as it is about a scientist, Jack Griffin, out on his own trying to perfect his personal experiments in invisibility.  Testing on himself Jack finally succeeds however he has no way to bring himself back to visible flesh and blood.  Worse still, one of the drugs used in his achieving invisibility causes the mind to go insane.  Whilst trying to find an antidote, the madness envelopes Jack as he suddenly realizes just how much power an invisible man could have in this world and he starts to exploit his situation and begins a reign of terror.  Can anything bring this once mild mannered man back before it is too late?

“The Invisible Man” has the potential to be a very silly story if not handled at all correctly and the trap of turning the film into a comedy is ripe, however Whale has resisted this temptation and has handled the tone of this film in such a serious manner bringing out quite a dark and nasty story indeed.  That is not to say that there is no comedy in the film because there is, but it usually comes from the way Jack torments his victims with his invisibility, because let’s face it, Jack has a seriously disturbed mind.  The image of the woman being chased by a pair of pants is an absolute classic.  

The greatest asset “The Invisible Man” has is the casting of Claude Rains in the titular role, but what makes it all the more amazing is that with the exception of the final scene of the film, Rains is not visible on screen for the majority of the movie.  When he is onscreen he is covered in bandages, so he is unrecognizable, so his entire performance is basically a voice-based one and anyone who knows Claude Rains knows that this is not going to be a problem for him.  His voice is an amazingly distinct one, but it is the aggressive inflections that he puts into his voice that makes it such an amazing performance.  The subtle changes in his voice indicate where he is of mind for that scene, and can often change mid-scene, but it is amazing at just how terrifying he can make this character just through his voice.  I honestly believe that no one could have played the role of Jack Griffin better than Rains back in 1933.  Granted, I am a big Claude Rains fan, but this is not the origin of my hyperbolic statements, he is just really that good.

For a film about an invisible man wrecking havoc, you could predict that there was going to be a lot of special effects in the film and with a film this old, you would expect them to date significantly.  While that is true of a few (the aforementioned pants chasing the girl is a good example), the majority of the effects hold up brilliantly and I was left wondering how they were done so efficiently.  I can only imagine how special these effects were back in 1933 when the film premiered.  Things such as chairs, bikes, clothes moving all on their own are impressive, but when Griffin begins to get violent they become even more special, like when the police officer is murdered with a wooden stool (quite a shocking scene, I might add).  The genius of Whale is that he knows how to shoot these effects to get the best out of them without revealing how they were done.

I mentioned that this was a dark film, and visually this proves to be true too.  At least with the scenes featuring Rains as Griffin, Whale has gone with a dark and heavy shadowed look especially in the tavern Griffin is staying in.  When the peripheral characters take center stage, the shadows disperse and the film lightens.  I mentioned in my “Frankenstein” review how Whale knows how to give a character an entrance and this is true again here.  Just check out Rains’ entrance at the tavern, his face bandaged up complete with a prosthetic nose and dark glasses, covered in the snow that had been falling outside.  It is at once impressive and so chilling.  While the camera moves considerably less than it did in “Frankenstein” (no doubt due to the special effects), Whale still always choices the perfect camera angle to tell his story.  Again, I was stunned and impressed by his frame compositions.  Just like in “Frankenstein” Whale performs another dolly shot that tracks between two sets passing through the decorated border of each.  While the shot here is still impressive (especially for its time), I must admit I preferred the one in “Frankenstein” more as I thought it was more effective dramatically, here it was almost like Whale was showing off.

Aside from Rains the rest of the cast have little to do sadly and aren’t really stretched dramatically either.  The usual James Whale love triangle appears once again, but doesn’t really go anywhere.  The girl in question is none other than Gloria Stuart who modern cinema fans know as the old lady, Rose, in James Cameron’s “Titanic”.  Obviously here she is in her prime playing Griffin’s fiancée Flora, and she really was quite stunningly gorgeous.  That said, she has little to do other than look pretty and try and convince Griffin to return home, but I do not mind this so much because “The Invisible Man” really is Griffin’s story alone.  The other prominent member of the cast that needs to be mentioned is William Harrigan who plays the cowardly Dr. Kemp, Griffin’s partner and the third part of the love triangle, and I thought he was great.  He really does scared and cowardly well.  It was obvious that no woman would go for a sniveling man like Kemp here.

There is one thing keeping “The Invisible Man” from being a 5-Star masterpiece and that is the terrible performance of Una O’Connor, the wife of the innkeeper.  She is horrible and her constant shrieking and screaming is like nails on a chalkboard for me.  She is so over-the-top and incredibly annoying, I cannot stand any of her scenes (beware because she is also in “The Bride Of Frankenstein”).  I understand that she is brought into the film as a spot of comedy relief but for mine she fails terribly and almost ruins this amazing film.

As I mentioned earlier the tone of this film is very dark and the number of people that Griffin ultimately murders is over one hundred.  It is amazing that just a couple of years earlier in “Dracula”, Universal dared not to show the effects of the vampire’s fangs and here in “The Invisible Man” there is so much on-screen carnage.  I was seriously shocked by a lot of these deaths and Griffins sadistic nature as a whole.  The murder of a police officer and the destruction of a train full of innocent people were totally unexpected and shocking, and yet is one of the reasons I love this film so much.  The finale of the film, although it isn’t as poignant as that of “Frankenstein”, I found incredibly sad too. 

Overall, Whale has done it again and created yet another masterpiece with his take on H.G. Wells' “The Invisible Man”.  I love this movie so much and can watch it repeatedly without it ever getting old.  Although unseen throughout the film, Claude Rains is sensational as Jack Griffin, the titular invisible man, his voice so powerful and terrifying.  Everything I love about this film, the look, the actors, Whale’s sublime direction, its dark nature.  If it wasn’t for the terrible Una O’Connor in a prominent role I would have given “The Invisible Man” a perfect score, however I still consider the film a (very slightly) flawed masterpiece.

4.5 Stars.


In anticipation of Halloween and in celebration of the recent blu-ray release of the classic and iconic “Universal Monsters” series, I have decided to review each title individually in chronological order, and the latest review of the series is for “The Mummy” that was directed by Karl Freund and premiered on 22 December, 1932.

Graduating from cinematographer to director for this latest installment of the “Universal Monsters” films was none other than Karl Freund (who was cinematographer on Browning’s “Dracula”).  Although Freund directed only a handful of pictures he was quite adept in the job as is evidenced very early on in “The Mummy”.

The opening of “The Mummy” is set in 1921 when an archeological expedition in Egypt comes across the buried and mummified remains of an ancient Prince named Im-ho-tep.  After initial examination of his tomb and the corpse himself, head archeologist of the dig Sir Joseph Wemple and his friend Dr. Muller come to the conclusion that the prince was buried in disgrace and in fact whilst still alive.  Buried alongside Im-ho-tep was a mysterious scroll which when read out aloud has the ability to bring the dead back to life.  Believing it to be all superstition, Wemple’s assistant reads the scroll and sure enough, the mummy awakens steals the scroll and walks outside to freedom.  The assistant unable to believe what he has just witnessed goes mad with insanity.  From here the film cuts ahead to the modern days of 1932 where we find Joseph’s son, Frank, leading his own expedition in Egypt with no luck.  Just as they are packing up, a mysterious local man named Ardath Bay approaches the men with information on where they should dig to find the missing tomb of a lost Egyptian princess.  Bay’s information proves correct and the princess’s body is indeed found, however this princess also turns out to be Im-ho-tep’s long lost love, and Ardath Bay is none other than Im-ho-tep himself and with the scroll in his possession, he attempts to restore her back to life.  The only problem is that this resurrection would come at the cost of the life of Helen, a beautiful young girl who is Frank’s fiancé but also the reincarnation of the Egyptian princess.

Like all of these films in the “Universal Monsters” series, “The Mummy” has a particularly strong opening.  The scenes set in 1921 are rich with atmosphere and dread as the mummy is mistakenly brought back to life.  The most impressive thing about this segment of the film though is Jack Pierce’s amazing make-up job on the mummy.  It is so realistic with aged and withered bandages and Boris Karloff’s time degenerated face.  Apparently it took a minimum of eight hours to get the make-up on and was very uncomfortable for Karloff to wear, and considering how little screen time this incarnation of the mummy gets, it is very impressive that they went the extra yard for it.  Again, like his design for Frankenstein’s monster, I do not think that Pierce’s work here on the mummy has been bettered, even with today’s advent in technology.  That is something that CGI just cannot replicate properly and that is real textures, a feeling that this man has been buried for thousands of years.

As I mentioned, Boris Karloff is in the titular role of the mummy Im-ho-tep, and thankfully this isn’t a retread of his Frankenstein performance.  He plays the character with suaveness and a gentlemanly presence.  He does not immediately come across as dangerous with his smooth way of talking and his old style manners, however if someone gets in the way of his ultimate goal, he has no problem dispatching of that person.  Similar to Dracula, Im-ho-tep is able to hypnotize his prey and he does so, particularly with poor Helen who, when under the mummy’s power, has no recollection of what she has been made to do.  Freund uses the same technique he did on “Dracula”, although improving it dramatically, of shinning a small light into Karloff’s eyes to represent his hypnotic stare.

The regular crop of actors who seem to appear in these “Universal Monsters” films do so again and all are fine in their roles.  Edward Van Sloan plays his usual type role with Dr. Muller and does so with charm and flare, and David Manners shows up again playing essentially the same role he did in “Dracula” with Frank.  I feel sorry for poor Manners because he always comes across as a sap and so weak willed, but I guess he is fine in the role.  Zita Johann plays the requisite female of the film, Helen, and I must admit I thought she was really great.  She had sassiness and was always pleasant to watch on screen.  She also had some great dialogue early on in the film which she delivered effortlessly and so naturally.  I also thought Arthur Byron impressed as the doomed Joseph Wemple, terrified by the consequences of what he was doing but due to his scientific brain was still attracted by the curiosity of it all.

As Karl Freund was coming from a cinematography background, “The Mummy” was always going to look good and it does not disappoint in this regard.  The earlier scenes that I mentioned set in 1921 are just stellar, but the whole film has a rich and stylized look to it all.  As usual, Freund uses shadows and the darkness brilliantly, especially during a scene set in a museum, but I also thought he handled the special effect shots really well.  For its time, the scenes of Im-ho-tep viewing what was happening via a magical pool of water looked really impressive.  I must admit though from a story point of view, I was surprised by how dark the film was particularly when the mummy attacked, which must have been confronting during its time of release.  Interestingly Karl Freund went on to direct another horror film of note in the 1930’s which just may be the most bizarre and insane film of the whole period, 1935’s “Mad Love” starring genius actor Peter Lorre (if you have not seen this film, do so immediately, you will not be disappointed).

At the end of the day, “The Mummy” has been very well made in all departments and it is probably to this day still the definitive “Mummy” film.  While the film is definitely a horror film, the motives for Im-ho-tep’s crimes all have to do with love, and while this is indeed an interesting notion, I do not believe that the love story of the film is handled anywhere near as well as the horror aspects.  Still this is what I think most audiences of “The Mummy” would be looking for anyway, and in this regard I do not think they will be disappointed.

4 Stars.