Monster of the Day #200

Wow, 200 of these. Who’da thought?

Imhotep starred in Universal’s A mummy picture, but Kharis of the B movies series is who we generally think of when we speak of The Mummy; the tanna leaves and all that. Although obviously inferior to the Karloff picture, the Kharis movies remain fun monster stuff. Indeed, the mummy movies are the ones I point to to justify my position in the Universal vs. Hammer debate. Hammer had great movies, but their lame stuff (such as their own later mummy movies) could often be really, really lame. Universal’s junk remains quite fun to watch.

Kharis was first brought to the screen by ex-cowboy star Tom Tyler; Lon Chaney Jr., who Universal was trying to make into a one-man monster factory (with mixed results), played him in the three sequels. Chaney brought little to the part other than a certain inappropriate bulk which suggests a Ben and Jerry’s flavor called Chunky Mummy.

More interesting was the backup players Kharis got. His handlers (who inevitably met a bad fate, occasionally at Kharis’ own bandaged hands) included George Zucco, John Carradine, Turhan Bey and a young Martin Kosleck. Again, that sort of casting indicates why the Kharis movies hold up today.

  • KeithB

    Why is he strangling a Mexican peasant?

  • P Stroud

    Kharis works for INS now, I see.

  • Sandy Petersen

    Kharis is probably one of my favorite monsters of all time. I may be unique on this board in being disappointed when I finally saw the original Karloff Mummy and learned that he’s only a “real” mummy for a brief moment at the start. Hardly a monster at all.

    Though I agree that the cast helps the Universal films a lot I hold up the Hammer end vs. Ken’s Universal. After all, Hammer had pretty awesome casting as well (Michael Gough, Lionel Jeffries, Herbert Lom, Barbara Shelley, Ingrid Pitt, and interesting ideas like Donald Pleasance as William Burke).

    I agree that a bad Hammer film (Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb) was a drag to sit through, and even the lamest Universals are entertaining. On the other hand, Hammer at its best was … well … Hammer at its best. Show me anything in the Universal ouevre as spectacular as the fight between Cushing and Lee at the end of Horror of Dracula or the carnival acts in Vampire Circus.

  • Sandy Petersen

    The Mexican peasant got in the way. He was a groundskeeper or something as I remember. That is another point for Universal – they had no qualms about killing off comic relief characters, a trend which I wish had continued more strongly into modern times.

  • Gamera

    Why is he strangling a Mexican peasant?

    KeithB said this on February 17th, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Maybe he’s filling in for the AZTEC mummy who had the day off…

  • Point(s) taken, Sandy, but excitement isn’t everything. Show me a Hammer film as good as Bride of Frankenstein. And Universal gets cred for creating the monsters to start with, or at least our baseline impression of them. Universal redefined them to some extent, but Universal still did all the heavy lifting.

  • Actually, I believe the fellow as a Cajun (or a gypsey?), since the film took place in the swamps of, I think, Louisiana.

    Comic relief character Babe Johnson getting whacked an as old man was indeed pretty gritty, all things considered.

  • P Stroud

    Sandy speaks sooth. How many times I wished that Jar Jar Binks got”accidentally” decapitated in a freak laser sword accident. Or drowned in a pool of Bantha waste. Just think how great it would be if Adam Sandler got whacked in one of his movies… I’m hoping that the cannibals from “Descent” eat his liver next time out. Yes, he’s a lead but really his actual character is nothing but odious comic relief in his films.

    When Hammer was good it was very very good. But when Hammer was bad it was horrid.

  • David Fullam

    Always loved the interesting continuity. The films play out over decades, but it all looks like the 1940s.

  • Reed

    One of the Universal Mummy pictures (I can’t remember which one) contains one of my favorite movie monster moments. Karis’ handler (Jon Carradine, perhaps?) suddenly starts spouting off about how he loves the lead female and Tanis is going to help him get her. Not only does it come out of left field, the moment has a total, “WTF?” moment.

  • Rock Baker

    I note that Aroura’s plastic kit was of the Chaney Mummy rather than the more hyped Karloff one.

    I’m most fond of Chaney’s last mummy picture (The Mummy’s Curse, I believe), it was just about the only such flick to feature a female mummy. And she had some good scenes, I thought. Her rise from the swamp was nicely done.

    We did the math on these once, working off the idea that The Mummy’s Hand was supposed to take place in the 20s. I think we figured out The Mummy’s Curse took place in the late 80s.

  • Ericb

    It would have been cool to have had a mummy picture take place in a retro-futuristic 1940s version of the 1980s.

  • alex

    Hammer lost something when Anthony Hinds replaced Jimmy Sangster as the main writer of their horror films. Shoving Terence Fisher in the background didn’t help either.

  • sandra

    I read soemwhere that the distinctive ‘Mummy Shuffle’ was because Tom Tyler had arthritic knees ( due to old football injuries) and couldn’t walk fast. Bad Hammer mummy movies aren’t horridi IMO, just boring. A while back, TCM showed several of them back-to-back. The first one, with Lee as the Mummy and Cushing as the hero, was okay, but the others … well, the most interesting bit, to me, wss how they recycled the various props from one to another. For instance, the greenstone amulet that brought the mummy back to life in one movie became the proof of Pharoah-hood in the next. I’ve always admired Hammer’s ability to make a movie that looked like a million dollars on a very tight budget. They could have taught Roger Corman something about squeeaing every penny til it hurts.

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  • Eric Hinkle

    True, but before he got whacked in a later film he killed High Priest Andoheb in the first Kharis movie, courtesy of five .38 rounds to the chest. How often does the comic relief get to blow the villain away in a movie?