For Reel

The Mummy (1932)
October 30, 2016, 5:15 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Karl Freund
3.5 Stars
the-mummyIn writing about The Mummy, film historian William K. Everson remarked that the film was the closest that Hollywood came to achieving a poetry in the horror genre. Much of this quality could be attributed to the film’s visual style—director Karl Freund again (as he did as the cinematographer of Dracula) establishes a distinct sense of place, and only one year later his camera has regained some of the fluidity that was lost in the clunky early sound years. When Boris Karloff’s mummy first wakes up as the Scroll of Thoth is read, Freund spends an excruciating amount of time on the monster’s eyes opening and the slow movement of his arms. Although Imhotep will become a more intelligent, cultured villain in a similar vein as Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, this early scene imagines the mummy as a lurching terror, and Freund renders the scene all the more horrifying by leaving nearly all of it off screen (a hand grabbing the scroll and bandages trailing behind the walking corpse is all we see after the initial close-up). If Freund’s lighting, pacing, and camerawork creates a visual poetry that Everson could have been alluding to, it is the film’s love story that elevates it in that regard—a centuries-long love affair is Imhotep’s motivation, and when he nearly kills Zita Johann, it is clear that it isn’t the action of a monster but a horribly disturbed, tragic romantic.

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