Horror Is Universal: “The Mummy’s Curse” (1944)

We finally did it, folks. We’ve reached the end. We’re free. Free from the curse of Kharis and his lame-ass movies. Of course, Kharis couldn’t let us go without one last ordeal to suffer through.

After the batshit nonsense of The Mummy’s Ghost, I was a little optimistic about this film. I still didn’t think a Mummy film in the Kharis continuity could be good, but I knew they could at least be entertaining in a stupid way. So I approached The Mummy’s Curse with cautious optimism, expecting something bad but hoping for something below average. I cannot say that my faith was rewarded. But at the same time, I cannot say the ideas in this film are completely without merit.

The Plot: Twenty-five years after Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr) and Princess Ananka (Virginia Christine) were last seen, the people of a small Louisiana town still tell stories about the killer mummy hiding in the local swamp. Their fear of the legend is so great that when government agent Pat Walsh (Addison Richards) is put in charge of a project to drain the swamp, he faces hostility from the local workers. Walsh’s job doesn’t get any easier when Dr. James Halsey (Dennis Moore) and Dr. Ilzor Zandaab (Peter Coe), two representatives of a prestigious museum, show up intending to excavate the swamp and retrieve the mummies. Nothing good can come of this, and nothing does: dead bodies soon start popping up all over town as Kharis is revived by Dr. Zandaab, who is secretly yet another High Priest sent to find the mummies. But this time, Kharis is not the only living mummy running amok: Ananka herself has mysteriously risen from the dead as well. Can Dr. Halsey and his allies save the princess and stop Kharis once and for all?

The amount of background/behind-the-scenes info I can provide on this movie would barely fill up a Post-It note, I think. The director was Leslie Goodwins, who had a long film career and was twice nominated for the Oscar for Best Short Subject (the 1930s equivalent of Best Live-Action Short Film). The screenwriter was Bernard Schubert, who wrote several other films but nothing remembered today. We don’t have any familiar names in the cast either, outside of Lon Chaney Jr. Peter Coe and Kay Harding, the actors billed right below Chaney Jr on the film poster, don’t even have Wikipedia articles. So what do we know about our newcomers? Dennis Moore mainly starred in Western serials. Virginia Christine’s career was more varied and interesting: her screen credits include side parts in movies like The Killers, High Noon, The Spirit of St. Louis, Judgment at Nuremberg, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In the 60s and 70s, she became best known as a spokeswoman for Folgers Coffee. She had to have been more appealing than the commercial with those creepy siblings, at least. Personally, I’m out here wondering where John Carradine has gotten off to during this. Was he not asked to be in this movie since he was in the last one, or could Universal just not get him? If you’re making a low-budget horror movie in this period and you can’t get John Carradine, that doesn’t bode well for you.

Within the first few minutes of The Mummy’s Curse, several things happen that set me on edge immediately. The first thing is that we open with a random musical number featuring side character doing ridiculous…I think they’re supposed to be Cajun accents? I have no idea. The second red flag is confirmation of something that we have known for a while: in the Kharis series of Mummy films, the continuity of time and space is well and truly dead. It’s been dragged kicking and screaming into a back alley and silenced with a shotgun blast to the face. The town that we’re in in still supposed to be Mapleton, but Mapleton was in New England, and this is definitely Louisiana now. And this movie is clearly set in the present day (i.e. 1944), yet it takes place 25 years after the last movie, which was also released and set in 1944. And that movie was set 30-35 years after The Mummy’s Hand, which was made and set in 1940. Are you starting to see the problem? These dumb movies simultaneously take place over five decades and four years. Even the Wikipedia article for this movie mocks it in this regard:

The action of this film, which continues the story of Kharis and his beloved Princess Ananka, is supposed to take place in the same swampy location that was the setting of The Mummy’s Ghost. But while the earlier movie was explicitly set in rural Massachusetts, this film strongly implies that the swamp is in Louisiana, with references to Cajuns and bayous. Furthermore, if one follows the continuity of the “Kharis” series, this film would have to take place in the late 1990s.

Wikipedia article for The Mummy’s Curse

Wikipedia also humorously notes that the film “received moderate to poor reviews with criticism aimed at the use of stock footage and the confusion of the location of the story as New England is not known for its swamp areas.” Because the idea of swamps in New England is definitely the biggest problem here. I want to talk about the stock footage for a second, because that’s another early red flag in this movie. The story of Kharis and Ananka is old news by now, but we still have to recap it for some reason. This time, the recap relies heavily on footage from The Mummy’s Hand (which in turn reuses a lot of footage from the original film). The sequence goes on just long enough to make you worried that we’re in another Mummy’s Tomb situation where a sizable chunk of this hour-long movie is wasted on a clip show. But this is the only part of the film that’s heavy on the stock footage, and it comes to an end pretty quickly.

For the most part, this is a Mummy film on autopilot. You can guess nearly every plot point before it happens. You don’t really like or dislike the characters, because they have no personalities. Dr. Halsey is the good guy because he’s white and has a pith helmet. Dr. Zandaab is evil because he wears a fez (please don’t repeat that out of context). The random white woman is going to be the hero’s love interest because why else would she be here. The rest of the characters are an endless procession of cannon fodder for the mummy. A few of them just randomly show up in places they shouldn’t be, with barely an introduction, just so Kharis can immediately kill them. This movie is a culmination of everything we have witnessed in this series so far, in that it feels like it was made out of leftover pieces. I’m mainly talking about the script here, but some of the locations in the film seem like they were chosen based on which backlot sets the studio wasn’t currently using. One of the locations in town looks and feels like a repurposed Old West saloon, for example. And then there’s the old abandoned monastery on a hill in the middle of a swamp, which looks like a reused castle or dungeon set. That location is the spot for one of the most unintentionally funny scenes in the movie. Zandaab and his minion/Igor equivalent have just resurrected Kharis with the nine-leaf tana brew, as is the custom. Suddenly this random guy shows up out of nowhere, calls himself the “self-appointed keeper of the monastery” or something and tells the villains to get their freaky shit out of his house. I want to stress that we have never seen this character before this moment. Nor do we see him after, because Kharis just kills him instantly.

But despite all this mess, The Mummy’s Curse does have one genuinely interesting idea to offer up. It actually lets Princess Ananka have a bigger role in the story — not as a reincarnation, but as herself.

First off, the scene where she first appears is the only one that manages to be somewhat unsettling. A woman completely covered in mud crawls out of the swamp with agonizing slowness, then proceeds to stumble around alone in broad daylight, all while some creepy music plays. It also looks like the filmmakers might have been playing with the speed of the film a little bit to make Ananka’s movements appear more unnatural. It’s a striking image that ejects some excitement into the proceedings: where is this going to go? Up to this point, the princess who is the target of the Mummy’s affection has always been a side character at best and a plot device at worst. The closest we get to actually having her participate in the plot is at the end of the original film. Having her appear now opens up several new possibilities. Will the living protagonists have to deal with two mummies causing death and destruction while trying to find each other? Or will Ananka be opposed to Kharis and possibly end up fighting him?

Sadly, the film doesn’t really do anything interesting with Ananka once she shows up. She has no memories whatsoever, making her a blank slate in terms of personality as well. We see her start to acclimate to the modern world and develop an interest in archaeology when she becomes Dr. Halsey’s assistant, and that’s a fun idea, but it doesn’t last long. Ultimately, Ananka ends up just like all the other women in these Mummy films: a helpless object who is terrified of Kharis but doesn’t fully understand why.

Ananka is eventually captured by Kharis, of course, and we head back into paint-by-numbers territory for the final stretch. The only real surprise is that the High Priest character in this movie does not end up trying to steal a woman, though he does still get killed over a woman: Zandaab is offed by his own henchman when he tries to prevent said henchman from harassing a female side character. Ananka is injected with the tanis leaf brew and changes back into a mummy with zero fanfare, Kharis gets a wall dropped on him, and Dr. Halsey ends up with the niece of the guy he was butting heads with earlier despite having almost no interaction with her. I neglected to mention her because that’s how insignificant of a character she is.

But really, everyone is insignificant in this movie. The movie itself is insignificant. It’s not the worst film in the Mummy series, nor is it even the most boring. But like The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Ghost, it’s clear that no one involved with this production cared about what they were making. The result is a movie that’s difficult to care about at all, let alone talk about at length. I could talk about the actors’ performances or the quality of the effects and makeup (or lack thereof), but I would end up just repeating what I’ve said about the other movies. It’s a crime to waste Lon Chaney Jr on this stupid character, and the rest of the cast is barely noteworthy as well. The mummy makeup hasn’t changed much, though it looks like Kharis’s face is just a rubber mask in some shots.

And that’s pretty much it! I have nothing original to say about this dumb movie! It has one or two good ideas that it sort of hints at, but overall, it feels like a clip show without the clips. Everything here is something we’ve seen done before in this series. It’s a weak, lifeless conclusion to a set of films that has almost always been weak and lifeless. The real mummy’s curse here is that The Mummy never got a sequel that was actually good.

Final Rating

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

The end of the Classic Era is not quite upon us yet, but it’s getting closer. Our next film on the list is another crossover. Let’s cross our fingers and hope it comes out right this time.

UP NEXT: House of Dracula (1945)

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