Halloween Havoc!: THE MUMMY’S TOMB (Universal 1942)

Universal followed up THE MUMMY’S HAND with 1942’s THE MUMMY’S TOMB, casting their new horror sensation Lon Chaney Jr. in the role of the undead Kharis. But it didn’t really matter who was under all those bandages, Karloff , Chaney, Tom Tyler, or Lou Costello (okay, maybe not Costello), the part is just a non-entity used to further the plot along, and the new film was almost completely scuttled by a bad performance from Turhan Bey as the latest High Priest of Karnak, Mehemet Bey.

THE MUMMY’S TOMB kicks off with Dick Foran under Jack Pierce’s old age makeup relating the tale of finding Princess Ananka’s tomb thirty years ago to his son John (John Hubbard), John’s fiancé Isobel (Elyse Knox, mother of NCIS star Mark Harmon), and sister Aunt Jane (Mary Gordon ). Or rather, stock footage from the previous film tells the tale, which takes up about 15 minutes of the film’s 61 minute running time, and also serves to show what a better movie THE MUMMY’S HAND was than this lame sequel!

Meanwhile, over in Egypt, it seems Andoheb (George Zucco again) didn’t die in HAND after all, nor did the monster Kharis. Andoheb prepares new priest Mehemet to travel with Kharis to Mapleton, MA and wreak vengeance on Banning and those who dared defile Ananka’s tomb (but why he waited thirty years is beyond me!). Mehemet is set up as a cemetery caretaker, and brews the familiar nine tanna leaves to revive Kharis, sending him out to kill Banning. Wherever Kharis treads, his shadow brings an eerie chill down the spine of whoever he passes, though no one ever sees him, which is odd because he walks so damn slow!

The Sheriff suspects a ‘fiend’ is on the loose in Mapleton, and there is unexplained dust or clay of some type on Banning’s throat. Steve’s old pal Babe Hanson (Wallace Ford, who was Babe Jensen in the original) comes to town, and when Jane Banning is found dead with that same dust on her throat, Babe knows what it is – mold from Kharis’s dead flesh. Meanwhile, Mehemet gets a gander at Isobel, and WHAM! falls instantly in lust (hey, being a High Priest of Karnak is a mighty lonely profession!).

John, being a man of science, is skeptical about Babe’s Mummy theory, and so is the Sheriff, so the formerly jovial Babe (who’s turned into a pretty crusty old dude from his glib younger self) shoots his mouth off to reporters (who’ve swarmed into sleepy Mapleton like a gaggle of CNN newshounds) at the local saloon. Mehemet overhears him, and it’s bye, bye Babe, as Kharis strangles him in an alley. A pice of bandage found at the scene is taken to Prof. Norton (Frank Reicher), who claims there’s “no doubt about it… we’re dealing with the presence of the living dead”. NOW they believe it!

John gets his draft notice (there was a war going on, you know), and has three days to marry Isobel. Mehemet sees them kissing and gets all horned out, so he has Kharis kidnap her, just like Andoheb did to Marta in the previous entry, and straps her to a table in his cemetery HQ, threatening to fill her with tanna fluid and make her immortal. The townsfolk arrive with torches and pitchforks (and more stock footage), and Mehemet is shot, but Kharis escapes with Isobel, dragging her to the Banning mansion for a fiery finale.

Chaney doesn’t get to do much here but kill people, and he always said he hated this role. It’s easy to understand why… there’s virtually no acting involved! Too bad Turhan Bey DID get to act, because he’s terrible. THE MUMMY’S TOMB was directed by Harold Young, a former editor with one distinguished picture on his filmography (1934’s THE SCARLET PIMPERNAL) and not much else. Though The Mummy films were popular with audiences, it was pretty clear Kharis was destined to be a second-stringer in the Universal Horror pantheon, and poor Lon Chaney Jr. would have to endure Pierce’s hours-long Mummy makeup job for two more films.

Halloween Havoc!: THE MAD GHOUL (Universal 1943)

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I’m pressed for time, so no 1000 word essay tonight. Instead, let’s look at one of Universal’s lesser horror films, THE MAD GHOUL. The movie’s a “stand alone”, not connected to any of the studio’s monster series (Frankenstein, etc). I chose it because it stars one of horror’s unsung stars, George Zucco. The bug-eyed British character actor with the smooth delivery plied his trade in A list films (THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME) and Grade-Z clunkers (SCARED TO DEATH). He was the evil high priest Andoheb in three of Universal’s Mummy movies, Professor Moriarty in THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, and played a pivotal role in the monster fest HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Like his contemporary (and frequent costar) Bela Lugosi, Zucco wasn’t picky about where he worked, getting top billing in a string of PRC chillers. In THE MAD GHOUL, Zucco gives his best performance in a gruesome little tale about bringing “death to life”, graverobbery, and murder.

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The plot concerns college instructor Dr. Morris (Zucco) recreating a “poison gas” used by the Mayans to put people in a zombie-like state. The only way to revive them however, is by combining certain herbs with fluids from a fresh heart. His assistant Ted (David Bruce) is exposed to the gas and becomes a fiend. Ted has a girlfriend Isabelle (Evelyn Ankers of course), a singer also loved by Morris. When she confides to Morris she doesn’t love Ted anymore, the doctor thinks she wants him and exposes Ted to the zombie gas to get him out of the way. But it’s not the vain doctor she loves, it’s her pianist Eric (Turhan Bey). But Ted’s zombieism can’t be reversed without fresh hearts,  so Morris and Ted go on a graverobbing and murder spree, as they follow Isabelle on her concert tour.

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The cast also features King Kong’s Robert Armstrong as a hot-shot reporter, Milburn Stone of TV’s GUNSMOKE as a cop, and  tough guy Charles McGraw as his partner. It’s Universal’s most out-there 40s films, with it’s ghastly subject matter well ahead of its time. The director is James Hogan, better known for his Bulldog Drummond and Ellery Queen mysteries. This was Hogan’s first foray into horror, and sadly his last; he died soon after making this one. THE MAD GHOUL doesn’t get much attention from classic horror fans, but it’s well worth seeking out for a creepy B shocker unlike anything else made in its era. So show some love to George Zucco and THE MAD GHOUL, won’t you? And stay away from the zombie gas!