With Tom Cruise’s Mummy reboot now in theatres lets take a look at where it all began, back in 1932 with Boris Karloff.
With Karloff’s rise in 1931 with Frankenstein, Universal was trying to find a way to extend that success. With the discovery of King Tut-Ankh-Amen in 1923 the story of the Pharaoh was fresh in people’s minds, so Universal tried to tie in the real world exploration to give the story a contemporary context. Many ideas were pitched, including one that would eventually become The Mummy.
Universal started strong with writer John L. Balderston. Before joining Hollywood, Balderston was a writer for the New York World newspaper, and as such had the opportunity to witness the opening of King Tut’s tomb, and was one of the first journalists to learn of the “curse” that haunted it.
In the film, an expedition team comes across the tomb of Prince Im-Ho-Tep, who was buried alive for sacrilege, also buried with him was the scroll of Thoth which could bring the dead back to life. One night an expedition member accidentally reads aloud the scroll and brings Im-Ho-Tep back to life. Ten years later disguised as Ardeth Bey, he attempts to reunite with his lost love, the reincarnation of Ankh-Es-En-Amon.
Boris Karloff’s make-up for Im-Ho-Tep was intense, clocking in at 8 hours in the chair. The make-up was beautifully applied by Jack Pierce the genius behind Universal’s classic films like Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man. The make-up included gluing layers of cotton and spirit gum onto Karloff’s face. Karloff was then painted with greasepaint, which was shadowed with eyebrow pencil. His hair was then plastered with clay and he was wrapped in treated gauze. To finish everything off he was baked under a heat lamp so it would flake. There were so many layers that Karloff was unable to speak. For Ardeth Bey (The form taken by Im-Ho-Tep) Karloff wore a much thinner version of the cotton and spirit gum application that only took 4 hours.
The completed film opened to success at the box office and great reviews, so Universal took this success and built upon it with a reimagining in The Mummy’s Hand in 1940. This then brought subsequent sequels The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost, The Mummy’s Curse and following in Frankenstein’s footprints Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy.
The Mummy’s legacy has continued to grow with a re-envisioning in 1959, and reboot in 1999 with Brendan Fraser. As a part of Universal’s classic horror re-boot, The Mummy is the first to be re-told. Will the unfortunate reviews of Tom Cruise’s Mummy movie haunt the new “Dark Universe”? Or was this just an unfortunate opening film? Time will tell.