Thursday, October 28, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 28: The Mummy

Real World Origin:
Film, The Mummy (1932)

In-Universe Description:
The ancient Egyptians had been making mummies thousands of years before anyone ever thought to make a monster out of one. Although the writings on Egyptian tombs often claimed that those who violated their sanctity would suffer some form of curse, the curse never took the form of the vengeful resurrection of a tomb's inhabitant.

Along came 1932's The Mummy in which the mummified body of the Egyptian priest Imhotep (who had been buried alive for trying to use the Scroll of Thoth to raise his lover, Princess Ankh-es-en-amon, from the dead) is resurrected when a unknowing archaeologist reads a spell from the very same scroll. Imhotep spends the rest of the movie trying to make the movie's heroine (who appears to be the reincarnation of the princess) his bride. Although the movie does feature a mummy (Boris Karloff), Karloff spends only a few minutes as a recognizable mummy. For most of the movie he disguises himself as a decidedly ancient-looking Egyptian priest. However, it's Karloff's few minutes in mummy wrappings that are the most famous moments of the film.

Universal Studios learned its lesson for the 1940s series of mummy movies (The Mummy's Hand, The Mummy's Tomb, The Mummy's Ghost, and The Mummy's Curse). These feature the mummy Kharis, whose backstory is nearly identical to that of Imhotep. This time, however, rather than ridding himself of the bandages and acting as the priest himself, Kharis remains in his wrappings and is controlled by the latest in a long line of Egyptian high priests. The priests use Kharis to protect the tomb of his dead lover, Princess Ananka. Rather than a scroll bringing him to life, Kharis is reanimated by a tea made from brewed tana leaves.

A new version of The Mummy was made in 1999. This version mixed the two approaches by showing Imhotep's mummy as a gruesome corpse that gradually restores himself by consuming those that desecrated his tomb. In response to criticism that the 1930s and '40s mummies posed a minor threat, being both slow and tending to kill their victims by simple strangulation, this version of Imhotep is given a host of supernatural powers.

It should be noted that there was a real Imhotep, although he was very different from his depiction in the various Mummy movies. Imhotp was a highly respected architect, physician, and counselor to King Djoser during the Egyptian Old Kingdom. His influence was so great and long-lasting that later Egyptians worshiped Imhotep as a god.

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