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The Mummy Unwrapped - Part I

The Mummy Unwrapped - Part I

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It's kind of sad when the attraction that's based on a particular motion picture is actually more entertaining than the movie itself. But such is the case with Though you can currently see billboards all over Southern California (as part of the promotion for next week's grand opening of Universal Studios Hollywood's "Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride") talking about revenge & mummies, it may surprise you to learn that mummies aren't really a vengeful lot.

Oh, sure. I know. Over the past 70 years, Hollywood has cranked out hundreds of movies about mummies who rise from the grave to wreak havoc on those who would dare to defile their tombs. But - truth be told, folks - the Egyptians never actually placed curses on the tombs of their dead.

"So where did this whole 'Curse of the Mummy / Revenge of the Mummy' concept come from?," you ask. Well, most folks date this urban legend back in the 1920s, when English archeologist Howard Carter first discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamen. The "Mummy's Curse" rumors seem to haves started when Carter's sponsor - a Lord Carnarvon -- died of what had been called "mysterious circumstances."

Those "circumstances" eventually turned out to be an infected mosquito bite. But you know the British tabloid press, folks. They never let the truth stand in the way of a good story. So they took Lord Carnarvon's really rather undramatic death and used it as the springboard for the whole "Curse of the Mummy" legend. Introducing this admittedly creepy concept into our popular culture.

In this "Mummy's Curse" myth, execs at Universal Studios saw the makings of a movie. Which is why - in 1932 - they engaged the services of "Dracula" cinematographer Karl Freund as well as an actor named William Henry Pratt. With the hope that this pairing might produce some cinematic gold.

What's that? William Henry Pratt's name isn't all that familiar to you. Well, maybe you know this actor better by his stage name: Boris Karloff.

Anyway ... The "Mummy" movie that Freund & Karloff were able to cobble together pretty much set the tone for all "Mummy" movies that followed. The mummified body of Imhotep is brought back to life after an English archaeologist reads a forbidden spell from the scroll of Toth. Taking the mortal form of Ardeth Bey, Imhotep then searches for his lost love Anck Su Namun.

This first Universal Studios' "Mummy" movie is probably best known by cinema fans for a number of things. Most notably the Mummy make-up that was created for this film by Hollywood legend Jack Pierce. Pierce -- who designed the make up for Universal's first two horror classics, "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" - was once again called to work his magic on Boris' memorable mug as production of "The Mummy" initially got underway.

Using a combination of spirit gum, cotton, greasepaint, beauty clay, rice paper, and mud, Pierce was able to transform Karloff into a truly impressive creature. How impressive? So impressive that a magazine of the day went out of its way to recognize Jack's achievement. Making Pierce the very first makeup artist in the industry to receive any real recognition outside of the industry prior to the 1960s.

Film technology buffs also have a soft spot in their hearts for Universal's "Mummy" movie. Not so much for Jack Pierce's spectacular make-up effects. But - rather - because this 1932 Universal Studios release was the one of the first films to successfully make use of traveling (or steady cam) shots.

Director Karl Freund was considered to be very revolutionary with his use of the camera on this production. Decades before the invention of the "steady cam," Freund was able to strap a camera to his chest & move about the set while filming. Which produced many memorable shots for "The Mummy." Years later, Karl went on to create & design the first multi-camera set up for TV's "I Love Lucy." Which went on to become the industry standard. A camera set-up that is used to produce sitcoms to this very day.

Like "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" before it, "The Mummy" proved to be a real monster at the box office. So much so that Universal eventually decided to create a series of sequels based on this 1932 release.

Unfortunately, given that Karloff had grown tired of being swaddled in cotton & spirit gum during the making of the first "Mummy" movie, Boris refused to return & play the role for the 1940 sequel, "The Mummy's Hand."

Lucky for Universal, another noted horror actor - Lon Chaney Jr. (Probably best known today for his portrayal of the Wolfman) - agreed to be wrapped up in cotton to play Imhotep in the next three "Mummy" sequels: 1942's "The Mummy's Tomb," 1944's "The Mummy's Ghost" and 1944's "The Mummy's Curse." ( "The Mummy's Curse" remains a bit of curio among horror fans. Given that it's somewhat infamous for having been shot in just 12 days.)

After that, Imhotep kind of laid low for a while. Sure, he popped up in Abbott & Costello's last horror-themed comedy, "Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy," in the late 1950s. And -- in the 1960s -- the character stomped through a couple of horror films created by Hammer Studios in the U.K.

But after that ... Imhotep seems to have just sat out the 1970s. Emerging only in 1987 - along with Dracula, the Wolf man, Frankenstein's monster and the Creature From the Black Lagoon - to appear in the under-appreciated "Monster Squad." While this film is unintentionally funny in certain sections, the sequences featuring the Mummy are among "Monster Squad" 's most memorable scenes.

In 1997, Universal's "Mummy" character popped up in a most unusual place: your local post office. The U.S. Postal Service - working on conjunction with Universal Studios - created a series of commemorative stamps that feature likenesses of Universal's classic monsters. Which proved to be quite popular with the public.

That same year, Universal's classic monsters got their very own maze at the Hollywood theme park's annual "Halloween Horror Nights" celebration. That maze is remembered quite fondly by horror buffs. Given that - just like the films that inspired it - the maze was done entirely in black & white.

It wasn't until 1999 that noted director Stephen Sommers arrived on the scene & put Imhotep's career back on the fast track. Before 1999, Sommers was probably best known for the work that he'd done on three features for Walt Disney Studios: 1993's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," (Which starred a pre-Hobbit Elijah Wood), 1994's "The Jungle Book" and well as Stephen's first foray into horror, 1998's "Deep Rising."

It was "Deep Rising" that actually brought Sommers to Universal's attention. This film (which actually didn't do all that well at the box office) liberally mixed laughs and scares as the movie hurtles toward its climax.

Based on what he did with the undersea creature in "Deep Rising," Universal execs saw Sommers as the man who could perhaps successfully revive the studio's now faded Classic Monsters franchise. A set of characters that had been basically gathering dust since the late 1940s. Sommers accepted Universal's offer, then chose "The Mummy" to be the first classic horror character that Stephen would try to breath new life into.

And - as all your horror fans already know -- Imhotep came screaming back to life in this 1999 Universal Studios release. A big budget remake which took the very best elements of the studio's "Mummy" movies of the 30's and 40's & then juiced them up for moviegoers of today. That movie (Which grossed $155 million during its domestic release) was embraced by film fans of all ages. Many critics said that Sommer's "Mummy" movie was a film that expertly blended humor, scares, and thrilling action. Which resulted in a film that was very much in the style of George Lucas & Steven Spielberg's "Indiana Jones" series.

But what impressed many "Mummy" fans even more was how faithful Sommers had been to his source material. If you're paying particularly close attention, you may notice that there are several parallels between Steve's 1999 special effects extravaganza and Karl Freund's 1932 horror classic.

" In both films, the "Mummy" character is named Imhotep.
" In both films, the title character is mummified for unspeakable crimes.
" In both films, the Mummy is on a mission to reunite with their long lost loves.

This May 1999 release - which starred Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weiss, and Arnold Vosloo - proved to be so popular that Universal asked Sommers to serve up a sequel. Which Stephen did in May of 2001, "The Mummy Returns." While - which this motion picture is generally acknowledged as being not quite as good as the original - "the Mummy Returns" racked up some very impressive returns at the box office. Grossing $202 million during its domestic release alone.

Many of the reviews that were written about "The Mummy Returns" compared this Universal Pictures' release to a thrill ride. Which - as you might imagine - gave the folks at Universal Creative (I.E. The folks who actually created all the rides, shows and attraction for the Universal theme parks) an idea.

Given that Sommer's "Mummy" movies had done such a great job of reviving Universal's Classic Monsters franchise, Universal Creative wondered: Could Stephen's characters also work their magic on Universal's theme parks. Which hadn't ever had a successful horror-themed thrill ride ...

NEXT TIME: As the countdown continues for the unwrapping of Universal Studios Hollywood's "Mummy" ride, Rick talk about the origins of "The Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride" as well as the key differences between the Hollywood & Orlando versions of the same attraction.

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