Monday, April 1, 2013

Curse of Kah-to-Bey


South African non-actress Maggie Kimberly escapes the clutches of Eddie Powell in Hammer's third Mummy picture. 

MEZZERA, Egypt, 1920: a British archaeological expedition financed by businessman Stanley Preston (John Phillips) - comprising of Sir Basil Walden (Andre Morrell), Preston's son Paul (a stilted David Buck), photographer Harry Newton (Tim Barrett) and psychic linguist Claire de Sangre (Maggie Kimberly) - discover the tomb of Kah-to-Bey, a child prince. Members of the find are soon being murdered by the Mummy of Prem (played by Hammer's regular stuntman and Christopher Lee double Eddie Powell), Kah-to-Bey's devoted servant, who can be revived by reading the words off the Prince's burial shroud.

Following Terence Fisher's magisterial THE MUMMY of 1959 and Michael Carreras' disposable 1964 THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB, THE MUMMY'S SHROUD ("Beware the Beat of the Cloth-wrapped feet!") is a formulaic affair, and the last movie shot at Bray. Written and directed by John Gilling, and scripted by Anthony Hinds, the film starts with a painfully dull and micro-budgeted ancient Egyptian prologue - which includes Dickie Owen, the titular fiend from THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB, as the living Prem - and viewers will also be disappointed by the lack of cleavage, especially as so much is on offer from Kimberly's promotional poses. Unusually for Hammer, the glamour girl role is a character with a narrative function (the somnambulist Claire has the ability to read the "words of death"), but unfortunately Kimberly - who had just appeared in Gilling's secret agent spoof WHERE THE BULLETS FLY - is the worst actress in the Classic Hammer canon.

Studio Canal's Blu-ray/DVD was released in October 2012, containing two standout documentaries: an informative making-of and a touching tribute by Madeline Smith for husband David Buck.

As Jonathan Rigby points out in English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema, a telling sign of the relegated stature of Hammer's Mummy sequels is that stunt men were cast as the monster, following Christopher Lee's barnstorming performance in Fisher's original. The real monster of THE MUMMY'S SHROUD is Preston, expertly portrayed by Phillips as an arrogant coward: quick to enjoy the spoils, even quicker to escape when the curse starts to take hold. Elizabeth Sellars, as his wife Barbara, makes an excellent foil, and it is good to see Michael Ripper in a prolonged role as Preston's long-suffering valet, the myopic Longbarrow. Completing the cast are Catherine Lacey and Roger Delgado's scene-stealing turns as the mother-and-son team whose family have barred the entrance to Kah-to-Bey's tomb for centuries. In fact Lacey's role as fortune-teller Haiti, together with Barbara and Claire, form a trio of female characters with second sight, while the male protagonists are lambs to the slaughter. 

The Mummy itself has always been the slightest of movie monsters. Covered in bandages that barely conceal the decay beneath, and often reduced to stalk-and-slash with a mystical backdrop, the Mummy started life on film as a device for camera trickery; in both Melies' 1899 CLEOPATRA and Walter Booth's 1901 HAUNTED CURIOSITY SHOP, the creature was an object to illustrate the joys of celluloid illusion. Unlike the heralded literary origins of Dracula and Frankenstein, the springboard for the Mummy as a potential movie monster was enhanced by real life: the myths surrounding Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon's 1924 expedition to uncover the tomb of Tutankhamen. In Hammer's fourth and final excursion into this sub-genre - 1971's BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB - the studio side-stepped including the bandaged menace altogether. Yet unlike Universal's arthritic Mummy movies, at least Hammer's ancient terrors were brutal threats.