The Mummy’s Curse (1944) *
Generally speaking, it doesn’t augur well for a film’s quality when the movie in question is a sequel to another one made earlier the same year. The ultimate example of this phenomenon has got to be the transition from King Kong to The Son of Kong, not so much because the sequel is notably bad (although it is), but because the drop-off in quality is so staggeringly precipitous. I mean, we’re talking about one of the finest monster movies ever made being followed up just nine months later with a sequel to which obviously only the bare minimum of thought, effort, and money had been devoted. The Mummy’s Curse is just as visibly thrown together from whatever half-formed, discarded ideas were left over from the production of the preceding films, but at least here the comedown from its predecessors isn’t so extreme. The Mummy’s Ghost, after all, was a pretty sorry piece of work in its own right (albeit a somewhat entertaining one). Whatever its shortcomings, though, The Mummy’s Ghost at least clearly had a script. To all appearances, the makers of The Mummy’s Curse just made shit up as they went along.
As those of you who saw that previous film may recall, our last episode ended with Kharis the Mummy (Lon Chaney Jr.) sinking into a bog outside Mapleton, Massachusetts, while trying to abscond with the reincarnated Princess Anankha (played this time by Virginia Christine, of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Billy the Kid vs. Dracula). So, had The Mummy’s Curse not been a Universal B-movie from the 40’s, it might have come as something of a surprise to see that the action has been moved to the Louisiana bayou, where a construction engineer by the name of Pat Walsh (Addison Richards, from The Walking Dead and The Mad Ghoul) is attempting to drain part of the nearest swamp in the name of progress. His workers, however, are becoming increasingly uneasy on the job. It seems they all know that 25 years before, a living mummy wandered off into the swamp with a neighborhood girl, and they have considered the place haunted ever since. (By the way, note that the 25-year time lag between the two films would set the action here in 1969— a point that seems to have been entirely lost on the filmmakers, whose take on everything that could be expected to change with the passing of time is as 1944 as it gets!) Walsh thinks it’s all bullshit, of course, even after a pair of archaeologists from the Scripps Museum arrive and start telling the same story. The scientists— Dr. James Halsey (The Frozen Ghost’s Dennis Moore) and Dr. Ilzor Zandaab (Peter Coe of House of Frankenstein)— want to take advantage of Walsh’s drainage project to search for the long-lost mummies of Kharis and Anankha; Walsh thinks they’re a couple of typically full-of-shit eggheads, and wants them to stay the hell out of his way.
But just days after the scientists’ arrival, something happens that seems to corroborate both the local legend and the thinking behind Halsey and Zandaab’s expedition. One of Walsh’s workers turns up dead at the bottom of a freshly bulldozed pit with a knife in his back, only a few feet away from a man-shaped depression in the mud. Not only would that depression have to have been made by someone far larger than the slain worker, a curious trail of footprints, suggestive of someone dragging one of his feet, leads away from the depression, out of the pit, and off into the surrounding marsh. Halsey and Zandaab instantly reach the obvious conclusion that the worker uncovered Kharis with his bulldozer, and was then killed by someone who didn’t want the discovery to come to light. The mummy must have then risen up— perhaps reanimated by whomever it was that wielded the knife— and trudged off into the bayou.
What Halsey doesn’t realize is that Zandaab has a rather more complete understanding of the situation than he does, for Zandaab (big surprise— he’s the only guy in the movie with a fez) is the current high priest of Arkan. The worker was murdered by Zandaab’s sidekick Ragheb (Martin Kosleck, from The Flesh Eaters and She-Wolf of London), who is working undercover as one of Walsh’s men. The Egyptians’ mission, as always, is the recovery of Anankha’s mummy, and, again as always, Kharis is to be on hand to do all the heavy lifting. What even Zandaab doesn’t know, however, is that elsewhere in the swamp, Anankha herself has returned to life!
The resurrected princess wanders through the bayou until she encounters Walsh’s foreman, who takes her into town to stay at the inn run by a Cajun woman who calls herself Aunt Berthe (Ann Codee, from War of the Worlds). Anankha isn’t there long, however, before Kharis sniffs her out and comes to collect her. The princess is able to escape (why she would want to is never addressed) only because of the time it takes Kharis to strangle Berthe to death. She then blunders her way over to Walsh’s camp, where she is taken in by Walsh’s niece Betty (Jackie Lou Harding [aka Kay Harding] of Weird Woman) and staff physician Dr. Cooper (Holmes Herbert, from the 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Mark of the Vampire). Anankha becomes Halsey’s assistant after she reveals her intimate knowledge of ancient Egypt (she professes to be unable to remember how she acquired her specialized learning), and all goes well for a little while. But Kharis inevitably tracks her down again, and this time he succeeds in capturing her, even after taking time out to kill Dr. Cooper. Meanwhile, Ragheb has kidnapped Betty Walsh, and hauled her off to the abandoned church he and Zandaab have been using as their base of operations. Before you know it, it’s big-shit party time at Zandaab’s secret hideout, as mummies, priests, archaeologists, and engineers all duke it out in an ill-executed free-for-all that leaves the good guys predictably triumphant, Halsey and Betty inexplicably coupled, and Kharis and Anankha buried beneath tons of fallen rubble. And before you ask, yeah— Ragheb’s desire to immortalize himself and Betty with the brew of the tanna leaves was the catalyst for the whole stupid business.
The Mummy’s Curse was the last mummy flick Universal would make until the completely abominable Abbot and Costello Meet the Mummy in 1955, and was the studio’s last serious mummy movie for 55 years! It’s pretty obvious why, too. Not only is the script a complete mess, not only are all the characters unidimensional stereotypes, not only is it clear from every second of his screen time that Lon Chaney Jr. was sick to death of playing Kharis, The Mummy’s Curse somehow manages to be dull even with a running time that just barely makes it to the one-hour mark! The amazing thing is that this is true even though the pacing is by no means slow. The problem, I think, is that the sheer randomness of the events that comprise the movie’s so-called story prevents the film from ever developing even such modest momentum as the previous entry in the series. When the connection between events is so tenuous as it is here, it’s incredibly difficult to keep hold of the storyline from one scene to the next. All in all, I’d say Universal would have been better served had they simply stopped with The Mummy’s Ghost. But some people, alas, just don’t know when to quit.