Halloween Havoc!: THE MUMMY’S CURSE (Universal 1944)

Okay, how the hell did Kharis and Ananka get from Mapleton, Massachusetts to the Bayous of Louisiana? That question is never answered in THE MUMMY’S CURSE, though I suppose it doesn’t really matter. The Mummy series needed an injection of something, and despite the unexplained change of scenery, this last entry is better than the previous two.

The Federal government is determined to drain the local swamp (how’s THAT for a switch!) down in Cajun Country, when two representatives of the Scripps Museum, Drs. Jim Halsey (Dennis Moore) and Ilzor Zandaab (Peter Coe ) arrive, sent to retrieve the two mummies lost there in our last episode (even though the swamp was in Mapleton then!). Project leader Pat Walsh (Addison Richards) protests, but there’s nothing he can do about it. One of the workers is found murdered, and the rest of the superstitious lot suspect Kharis has returned (“The devil’s on the loose and he’s dancing with The Mummy!”). Unbeknownst to all, Ilzor is actually a High Priest of Arkham, who with his flunky Ragheb (Martin Kosleck ) has arrived to return Kharis and Ananka to Egypt (as Ilzor explains to Ragheb in some stock footage flashbacks from the 1932 and 1940 films).

Kharis is already hidden in an abandoned monetary, but bulldozers unearth Ananka (or is it Amina?) from the clay (in a ghoulish-looking scene). Once she gets cleaned up, we discover she’s…

…Mrs. Olsen from all those 1960’s-70’s Folgers Coffee commercials!

Actually, she’s actress Virginia Christine , with no memory of who she really is or “what I’m doing here” (small wonder, since she’s a long way from Mapleton!). Worker Cajun Joe finds her wandering around muttering “Kharis, Kharis”, and takes her to Tante Berthe’s Café to recuperate. Ragheb sees this and Kharis is sent to bring her to the monastery, killing Tante Berthe in the process. Ananka escapes, and is found on the side of the road by Jim and Betty Walsh (Kay Harding), Pat’s niece/secretary (and how do you “drain the swamp” yet still hire your secretary through nepotism? But I digress…). The mystery woman seems to know a lot about ancient Egyptian history though, but Kharis is sent out again to capture her, killing a doctor this time. She runs, and a search party is sent out, as Cajun Joe gets killed (another gruesome scene), and Kharis recaptures his Princess, In a plot twist, this time it’s flunky Ragheb who succumbs to the temptations of the flesh, as he lures Betty up to the monastery for nefarious reasons. Ilzor calls him on his crap, resulting in a literal stab in the back by Ragheb, and an atmospheric climactic scene where Kharis serves traitorous Ragheb his just desserts, Ananka returns to her mummified state, and the forces of good are triumphant once again.

Though the “Cajun” accents are horrible and the change of setting never explained, THE MUMMY’S CURSE is a satisfying finale to the saga of Kharis and Ananka. Director Leslie Goodwins, primarily associated with comedies (shorts with Edgar Kennedy and Leon Errol, the Lupe Velez/Mexican Spitfire films, sitcoms like MY FAVORITE MARTIAN and GILLIGAN’S ISLAND), ratchets up the horror quotient a few notches, and although many Mummy movie fans don’t hold THE MUMMY’S CURSE in high regard, I’d place it right behind THE MUMMY’S HAND as best of the series. Maybe that’s not saying much, since  the series isn’t really all that great to begin with, but it’s something!

Halloween Havoc!: HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (Universal 1944)

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Frankenstein’s Monster! The Wolf Man! Dracula! The Mad Doctor! The Hunchback! And just about every classic horror film trope you can think of! They’re all here in Universal’s “Monster Rally” HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN! Throwing everything scary they could think of at you but a kitchen sink full of spiders, Universal decided if one monster was good, five is better. Boris Karloff as mad Dr.Neimann leads the parade of horror all-stars that includes Lon Chaney Jr (The Wolf Man), John Carradine (Dracula), Lionel Atwill (Inspector Arnz), and George Zucco  (Professor Lampini).

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The movie is laid out like a serial, with the chapters kept moving swiftly along by director Erle C. Kenton. Neimann and his hunchbacked assistant Daniel escape from prison and come across Professor Lampini’s traveling Chamber of Horrors. Lampini claims to have the skeletal remains of the original Count Dracula, and he and Neimann discuss vampire lore. When Lampini refuses to take the pair to Reigleburg, Daniel kills him and his driver. Neimann’s on two missions: one to find the secret diary of Dr. Frankenstein, and the other to exact revenge on the men who imprisoned him. Hussman is the burgomeister of Reigleburg, and when Neimann sees him, he inadvertently pulls the stake from Dracula’s remains. The Count returns to life, and strikes a bargain with Neimann. Dracula (using the alias Baron Latos) offer a ride in his coach to Hussman, grandson Karl, and Karl’s wife Rita. After killing the old burgomeister, Dracula kidnaps Rita. Karl calls Inspector Arnz and his men, and they hunt the vampire down. Dracula is destroyed when he can’t make it to his coffin before sunrise, but Neimann and Daniel escape and move on to the town of Frankenstein.

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They stop at a gypsy camp where Daniel is enamored by the beautiful dancing gypsy Ilonka. She’s beaten by her man, and Daniel nearly kills him. Neimann reluctantly lets her go with them as they search the grounds of Castle Frankenstein. Discovering a “glacial ice cavern”, they find both Frankenstein’s notebook and the frozen remains of The Monster and The Wolf Man. Thawing them out, the group head for Vasaria and Neimann’s old lab.

Neimann and Daniel abduct Strauss and Ullman, the last two men responsible for Neimann’s sentence. The doctor announces his plan to put The Wolf Man’s brain in Strauss’s body and Ullman’s in the Monster. Things get hectic as Larry Talbot keeps changing back and forth into the Wolf Man, Ilonka falls in love with Larry, Daniel gets jealous, and the Monster is revived. The final striggle finds the Monster dragging Neimann to his doom in the quicksand laden marshes.

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J. Carrol Naish steals the acting honors from the horror vets as Daniel. Naish was a superb character actor who was nominated for Oscars twice (SAHARA, A MEDAL FOR BENNY). He played ethnic parts well: Italian, Arab, even Chinese, but was an Irishman from New York himself. Naish’s last film was also with Chaney, DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN (1971). Elena Verdugo, Anne Gwynne, Glenn Strange, Peter Coe, Sig Ruman, and Phillip Van Zandt also appear in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Hans J. Salter’s music score is one of the best in horror pics, and George Robinson’s moody camerawork sets the spooky tone. Two more sequels were made, HOUSE OF DRACULA and ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN,then the Universal Monsters were seen no more. Giant bugs and outer space aliens took their place, until Universal released their monstrous backlog of movies to television in the late 50s, where they found a new audience of mostly kids eager to be scared by the old boogeymen. The Monster Boom was back on, and soon there was “Famous Monsters” magazine and TV horror hosts from coast to coast and Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett singing The Monster Mash. The Universal Horrors are still going strong today, thanks to DVDs and TCM and readers like you, still interested in watching them and reading about them. Thus ends a month-long series of “Halloween Havoc!” Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch some horror films!