Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Mummy's Shroud 1967

"Warning : To Every Creature of Flesh & Blood ! Beware the Beat of Cloth-Wrapped Feet !"

    Hammer's The Mummy's Shroud from 1967 has never been one of the studio's better remembered features (in fact its pretty near the bottom on most peoples list). But what the heck - call me a fool, but I've always liked it and the newish Region 2 blu ray release makes me appreciate it even more. It's certainly not 1st tier Hammer (maybe not even 2nd tier Hammer) as its obliviously hampered by a low budget & the basic story is on the weak side. On the plus side however, thanks to director John Gilling and a crackerjack cast there's is some interesting stuff going on around here. Lets face it, on the surface there's really not a lot you can do with a basic mummy story - tomb gets violated, then said mummy starts plodding around and kills slow moving victims (which is the tact that Universal opted for in its Mummy sequels of the 1940's). That's basically the story here, but with some different stuff thrown into the mix.

    After the initial Mummy movie released in 1959, Hammer would periodical revive the character (always with a different mummy however) - starting with The Curse of The Mummy's Tomb  (1964) then onto 1967's Shroud and ending with the flawed but interesting Blood from The Mummy's Tomb (1971) which featured a very different embodiment of the mummy in the form of well endowed Hammer babe Valerie Leon (which thanks to much reproduced stills in Famous Monsters would forever be ingrained in the minds of young horror fans).
    The Mummy's Shroud opens with the standard mummy movie opening - the prologue introducing his origins in ancient Egypt (here with painful budget restraints and a bunch of balding, pot-bellied English actors badly filling in for Egyptians). It's a shame we start out with this, as the whole thing sorta has the look of a high school play on Egypt and unfortunately starts the movie off awkwardly. The desert scenes throughout all have a low rent look to them -with an obvious rock quarry (with a palm tree stuck in the ground) filling in for Egypt, but thanks to always excellent Hammer art direction courtesy of Dan Mingaye the interior sets all have a bigger budget look to them. Hammer ALWAYS had really great period set designs (the movie takes place in the 1920's) and this was the last movie filmed on Bray Studios familiar sets (with the classic Hammer staircase that's in about every film) that had been their home since 1951.  Plus, Hammer regular Arthur Grant's cinematography is gorgeous and add to the mix an atmospheric score by Dan Banks.

   Gilling (who previously had helmed Hammer's two excellent and well recd. "Cornwall" horror films - 1966's Plague of the Zombies & The Reptile) stages some really effective "mummy kills" -  by using the reflection in glass and liquid to show the attacks. However the thing that really makes this movie work is its cast. Unlike most other Hammer movies Shroud does not feature a strong central lead, but instead fills itself with an amazing bunch of characters & faces with chief among them being Hammer character actor # 1 - the incomparable Michael Ripper.

   John Phillips portrayal of the pompous wealthy industrialist and expedition backer Stanley Preston sometimes veers a little too much into the hammy villain role with his cowardly sliminess making him the obvious target # 1 on the hit list (from the moment we first meet him, you just can't wait for The Mummy to off him). Elizabeth Sellers portrays his long suffering wife Barbara who though always agreeing with him, does most of her acting with her eyes and tone of her voice to let us know what she really thinks of him. Andre Morell (from Plague of the Zombies and Hammer's 1959 Hound of the Baskerville) plays the old professor role and Roger Delgado and Elizabeth Lacy have great fun as the villains. Lacy's role as the fortune teller has an especially evil nastiness to it (complete with her drool and a moustache). It's Michael Ripper however who steals this movie as Longbarrow, Preston's downtrodden assistant.

   Maggie Kimberly plays Claire the expedition's hieroglyphic expert (and sometimes psychic) Claire de Sangre, who in a rare treat for a woman in a Hammer movie actually gets to destroy The Mummy at the climax. In another move, again somewhat unusual for Hammer, all the women here have strong roles while the men are portrayed as somewhat ineffectual. Stuntman Eddie Powell (with a sometimes obvious zipper down his back) lumbers around as the title character and in a pretty cool scene at the end crumbles into dust - leaving just his skull and backbone.

   Surprisingly for Hammer the sex appeal factor is also pretty low here (in fact non-existent), so that's most likely the reason why publicity stills were taken of Maggie Kimberly being menaced by The Mummy while falling out of her negligee (even though nothing even close to this appears in the movie). You gotta hand it to Hammer though, they knew what sold as these are the most frequently reproduced stills from the movie.

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