The Shuffling Saga of The Mummy on Screen – article

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The Mummy can, in many respects, hold claim to being the most unloved of the classic movie monsters – if not, then surely the most inconsistently served. The oft-quoted line from Kim Newman, that the issue lies with “no foundation text” upon which to base the creature, certainly carries some weight, though Mummies had certainly been written about in the 19th Century – notable works include Poe’s short story, Some Words With a Mummy (1850), Conan Doyle’s Lot No. 249 (1892), the latter establishing the Mummy as a malevolent predator seeking revenge, as well as touching upon elements also explored in later films, such as the methods of resurrection and the supernatural control of a ‘master’.

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Poe’s tale is rather more barbed, the bandaged cadaver reanimated by electricity and quizzed upon its ancient knowledge (or lack of), a side-swipe at both modernist self-aggrandising and the Egyptomania which had swept through both America and Europe since Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign of 1798-1801. The fascination of the general public in all levels of society lasted throughout the Victorian era, peaking again when Howard Carter uncovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. This obsession didn’t stop with the collection of Egyptian artworks and an influence on fashion and architecture – it was not uncommon in both America and Europe (though England especially) for the upper classes to purchase sarcophagi containing mummified remains at public auctions and then charging interested parties to a literal unveiling at what became known as ‘mummy unwrapping parties’. Though many of these were under the slightly dubious guise of scientific and historical investigations, the evidence of publicity material listing admission prices for children rather suggests a more obvious parallel of the fascination with freak shows, as well as the ever-popular grave robbing and body snatching.

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It is such unbalanced factors which contributed to the Mummy onscreen as such a difficult to pin-down character. Bram Stoker’s 1909 novel, The Jewel of Seven Stars, concentrated on the attempts to resurrect a mummified Egyptian Queen but is full of the author’s own clear obsession with the subject, detailing minute features of objects and environment. Even looking at these three texts, very different perspectives are offered:

  1. The curse
  2. The resurrection (either via electricity, potion or supernatural means)
  3. Love across the ages
  4. The exotic nature and history of Egypt

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Mummy films are somewhat doomed to pick one or more elements of this and then factor in the very nature of a Mummy – a zombie with bandages with a grudge. Most films dealt with this threat as a singular foe, one with pre-determined victims in a relatively limited environment (either in his native Africa/South America or relocated to a museum elsewhere). Fundamentally, it’s not easy the share the fear of the pursued – the regularly featured greedy archaeologist or treasure hunter clearly would not have many rooting for them, the similarly omnipresent character of the innocent damsel being mistaken by old clothy for his bride from B.C. is often equally wretched.

The first documented films concerning Mummies are 1899’s Georges Melies‘ Cleopatra (French: Cléopâtre), also known as Robbing Cleopatra’s Tomb, which, at only two minutes in length, is pretty much the synopsis, action and epilogue all in one. Despite a false alarm in 2005, no copy of the film now exists, a fate shared by another French film, 1909’s The Mummy of the King Rameses (French: La Momie Du Roi). Though literature was raided for ideas in some of these early efforts, in particular 1912’s The Beetle, based on the Rich Marsh 1897 novel of the same name, the general tone was of mystery, over-egged comedy and slushy drama, the long-lost tombs of nobility and monarchy gripping audiences without the need for too much in the way of ravenous corpses.

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1932’s Chandu the Magician just pipped Universal to the post as an Egyptian villain stalked America’s screens with a recognisable actor in the role of the baddy, Bela Lugosi kidnapping all and sundry in a bid to possess a death ray (he later appeared as the hero in the follow-up, 1934’s Return of Chandu). As with so many of Universal’s introductions of classic monsters, many elements of 1932’s The Mummy leeched into films right up to the present day. For first-time viewers, the biggest surprise is the incredibly short screen time of the bandaged one, though the slowly-opening eyes of the revived Mummy is one of the great moments in horror film.

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It is as the reawakened Ardath Bey that Boris Karloff spends most of the film; Jack Pierce’s excellent make-up giving ‘life’ to a cadaverous-featured, be-fezzed Casanova seeking his love whom he believes has been reincarnated. The Egypt of the film is populated by aloof and cultured Westerners working in a land of subservient and befuddled locals, including Horrorpedia favourite, Noble Johnson as ‘The Nubian’ and can be seen as a view of a colonial viewpoint of ‘foreigners and their strange ways’, sometimes quasi-religious, at others playing on the public awareness of the so-called Curse of King Tut’s Tomb, an event only a decade prior. Egypt is still as remote, uncouth and dangerous as the forests of Romania and the invented village of Vasaria – the notion that this place actually exists and that tombs were still being uncovered lending an extra, illicit thrill, modern science at war with religious belief and customs. Bey/Imhotep stalks his beloved in a more stealthy manner than that of Dracula, the quick nip on the neck replaced by a rather more sinister, unspoken threat of capture, death and sex, the latter two being interchangeable. This, of course, remains unspoken but presumably an inevitability, Universal instead charging the film with shots of unbridled romance, both in set-design and, importantly, a specifically-composed score by James Dietrich and Heinz Roemheld, the first for a Universal Horror. This was underpinned by passages from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, another nod to Transylvania.

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Though a success at the box office, it was a full eight years before Universal unleashed a Mummy again, the 1940 film The Mummy’s Hand not being a sequel but rather a reintroduction of the monster. Universal flex their creative muscle here, rather like 1941’s The Wolf Man, their invented lore (the poem of how a man is doomed to turn to beast) it is a given ‘fact’ that a Mummy can be brought back to life and indeed sustained by a potion of ‘tana leaves’. Evidently aware of the lack of an actual Mummy in its 1932 effort, the studio pushed the bandaged monster to the fore, plot and backstory being secondary to getting him on screen and tormenting people. It was a simple enough conceit that it was this Mummy, Kharis who would appear in the film’s sequels, The Mummy’s TombThe Mummy’s Ghost and The Mummy’s Curse, all of which would feature Lon Chaney Jr as the monster, the quality always sinking ever lower but still with Pierce’s sterling work on the costume and make-up, much to Chaney’s chagrin.

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If the lack of genuine horror in the films wasn’t enough, the ever-present comedy or cartoon featuring Mummies again gave the character a persona that was not to be taken seriously. No matter how hard you tried, if you put bandages on a violent, ever-living zombie, there was a danger of farce.

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This can be evidenced with attempts such as the RKO-distributed Wheeler & Woolsey film, Mummy’s Boys (1936), The Three Stooges’ We Want Our Mummy (1939) and Mummy’s Dummies (1948) and on to Abbott and Costello’s encounters in Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955), a threadbare affair in both costume and entertainment – comedy often leaned on the fact Mummy is an un-threatening sounding word with two meanings as well as the opportunity to sing and dance in a manner audiences might expect from Egyptians (or not). Bandage unravelling was a given.

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It would be two other countries which would rescue the Mummy from the filmic doldrums, at least in sparking an audience’s interest. 1957 saw the release of two Mexican films – The Aztec Mummy (Spanish title: La Momia Azteca) and The Curse of the Aztec Mummy (Spanish: La maldición de la momia azteca), neither likely to win awards for outright quality but giving Mummies in new life in a new environment, the ancient Aztec culture and wacky wrestling superhero (in this case El Ángel) marrying easily with the tropes already laid down by the earlier American films. The films offered enough promise for Jerry Warren to recut, dub and add additional scenes for an American audience. The films were a success in both markets and led to two further sequels, The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy (1958) and Wrestling Women vs.The Aztec Mummy (1964).

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Britain’s bandaged offering, inevitably from Hammer, was 1959’s The Mummy. Here, Hammer borrowed heavily from Universal (again, overlooking the studious 1932 film and cutting straight to the monster-driven sequels) but brought out the big guns; Terence Fisher directing and the double-whammy of Lee and Cushing. For all the film’s faults, and there are several, the film finally gives the monster the strength and terror that his complex evolution and background demands.

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Here, Lee towers over the other characters both literally and metaphorically, emerging from a swamp in a scene which should be considered as iconic as any in Hammer’s canon. No longer a shuffling bag of bones, the Mummy here is athletic and merciless, with the strength and stature of Frankenstein’s Monster with the eternal threat of Dracula.

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Two of the sequels misfired quite badly, 1964’s Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb and 1971’s Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb yet both have the odd moment of inspiration (the latter’s scenes involving voluptuous Valerie Leon in particular!) but running out of things for the Mummy to do. On the other hand, Hammer’s The Mummy’s Shroud (1967) is instantly forgettable.

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Interestingly, Egypt’s own attempt at filming its own national monster feasted liberally on Abbott and Costello romping, the result being 1953’s Harem Alek (literally ‘shame on you’, retitled as Ismail Yassin Meets Frankenstein). Shrieking and gurning abound in a very close relation to the American comedians in their meeting of Frankenstein, the mummy in question being much nearer to the bolted creature.

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One of the oddest appearances for a mummy was a narrator – voiced distinctively by Valentine Dyall – for Antony Balch’s 1969 British low budget anthology film Tales of the Bizarre. A healthy dose of dark humour, plus copious nudity from both sexes, has ensured that there is still a cult following for this eccentric entry.

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Grabbing the monster by the scruff of the neck was Spain’s Paul Naschy, never one to tip-toe around a subject. 1973’s Vengeance of the Mummy (Spanish: La vengance de la momia) is gory, lurid and enormous fun, the hacking and head-crushing monster being completely self-governing and with the added bonus of an alluring assistant, played by Helga Liné, though sadly her rumoured nude scenes have yet to surface. Naschy played the Mummy once more, in the all-star monster fest of 1988’s Howl of the Devil.

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The Mummy often appeared as part of an ensemble of monsters, giving the film-maker an answer as to what to do with it – from singing puppet mayhem of Mad Monster Party? and 1972’s animated semi-prequel Mad Mad Mad Monsters to encounters with Scooby Doo and rock band KISS, the monster remained an also-ran and supporting character. Though managing to get on screen in Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad (1987), missing out on the action in comedy horror anthology The Monster Club (1981) suggests his standing in the pantheon of monsters was less than stellar.

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The Awakening (1980) was a latter-day attempt at filming Stoker’s novel – though managing to visually capture a sense of antiquity and some pleasing shots of Egypt, it lacks fire and threat and once again a classic monster is reduced to dreary, slow-paced banality.

On the other side of the coin was Frank Agrama’s 1981 brutal guts and gusto Dawn of the Mummy, which sees the restless ones reanimated by the hot lights of a fashion shoot. This at least forgives lots of manic running around and a conflict between the modern day and the ancient, gloves off and with little regards to sense or history. The title alone should lead the audience to expect a more zombie-based event and though frequently silly and frayed, largely due to the low budget, it does at least give the sub-genre a shot in the arm.

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Later films perhaps tried too hard – 1982’s Time Walker pitched the Mummy as actually being an alien in stasis; 1983’s baffling and boring Scarab throwing Gods, Nazis and scientists into the mix but only ending up with a mess; Fred Olen Ray’s breast-led 1986 effort, The Tomb. None came very close to succeeding in any sense.

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The 1990’s was possibly the most desperate time for Mummies worldwide – whether it was the schlock of Charles Band (The Creeps, 1997), the critically-mauled 1998 film Bram Stoker’s Legend of the Mummy or Russell Mulcahy’s flying Mummy of Talos the Mummy (1998), the monster suffered more than most at the hands of those trying to use new technology at the expense of plot and character to succeed.

Only in 2002 with Don Coscarelli’s film Bubba Ho-Tep did The Mummy make a meaningful return, pleasing both fans of Bruce Campbell and too-cool-for-school scouts for cults as they happen, as well as horror fans desperate to see their bandaged hero as a tangible threat.

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When Hollywood finally decided to throw some money at a reborn franchise, there was to be disappointment – the Indiana Jones-type action of 1999’s The Mummy, as well as its 2001 sequel and Scorpion King spin-offs, were an exercise in CGI and tame thrills. Speakers were blown, images were rendered but whatever fun audiences had, omitted the scare factor.

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Meanwhile, Universal are relaunching their entire world of monsters, beginning with The Mummy in 2017 but in an action-orientated mode…

Daz Lawrence, HORRORPEDIA

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Mummy Filmography: 

1899 – Cleopatra

1900 – The Mummy (France)

1901 – The Haunted Curiosity Shop (US)

1909 – The Mummy of the King Rameses (aka La momie du roi, France)

1911 – The Mummy (UK)

1912 – The Mummy

1912 – The Vengeance of Egypt (France)

1912 – The Mummy and the Cowpuncher

1913 – The Egyptian Mummy – comedy short

1914 – Naidra, The Dream Worker

1914 – The Necklace of Rameses

1914 – Through the Centuries – short comedy

1914 – The Egyptian Mummy

1914 – The Egyptian Princess

1914 – The Mummy

1915 – The Avenging Hand

1915 – The Dust of Egypt

1915 – When the Mummy Cried for Help

1915 – Too Much Elixir of Life

1916 – Elixir of Life – comedy short

1916 – The Missing Mummy – comedy short

1917 – The Undying Flame

1917 – The Eyes of the Mummy

1918 – Mercy, the Mummy Mumbled – comedy short

1919 – The Beetle

1921 – The Lure of Egypt

1923 – The Mummy

1923 – King Tut-Ankh-Amen’s Eighth Wife

1926 – Mummy Love

1926 – Made For Love

1932 – Chandu the Magician

1932 – The Mummy

1933 – The Ghoul

1934 – The Return of Chandu

1936 – Kalkoot

1936 – Mummy’s Boys

1938 – We Want Our Mummy

1940 – The Mummy’s Hand

1942 – Superman ‘The Mummy’s Tomb’ (animated short)

1943 – The Mummy Strikes

1944 – The Mummy’s Ghost

1944 – A Night of Magic

1945 – The Mummy’s Curse

1948 – Mummy’s Dummies

1949 – G Men vs. the Black Dragon

1949 – The Mummy’s Foot

1953 – The Mummy’s Revenge (Spain)

1953 – Haram Alek (Egypt)

1954 – Sherlock Holmes ‘The Laughing Mummy’ (UK TV episode)

1955 – Abbot and Costello Meet the Mummy

1957 – Curse of the Aztec Mummy (Mexico/USA)

1957 – Castle of the Monsters

1957 – Curse of the Pharaohs

1957 – Pharoah’s Curse

1957 – Robot versus the Aztec Mummy (aka “La momia azteca contra el robot humano, Mexico)

1958 – El Castillo de los Monstruos

El Castillo de los Monstruos 1958 Mexico mummy

1958 – Dos Fantasmas y una Muehacha (Mexico)

1958 – House of Terror (aka “Face of the Screaming Werewolf,”  Mexico/USA)

1958 – The Man and the Monster (Mexico)

1959 – The Mummy

1960 – Rock n Roll Wrestling Woman vs the Aztec Mummy

1962 – I Was a Teenage Mummy

1963 – Attack of the Mayan Mummy aka The Mummy Strikes

1964 – Kiss Me Quick! aka Dr. Breedlove

1964 – Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb

1965 – Mummy’s Dummies

1965 – Orgy of the Dead

Orgy of the Dead 1965 Criswell Fawn Silver Wolf Man Mummy

1966 – Death Curse of Tartu

1966 – Carry On Screaming!

1966 – Mad Monster Party?

1966 – The Mummy’s Ghost (short)

1967 – Get Smart ‘The Mummy’ (TV episode)

1967 – The Mummy’s Shroud

1967 – Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea “The Mummy” (TV episode)

1968 – El Santo and Blue Demon vs. the Monster (Mexico)

1969 – The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? “Scooby-Doo and A Mummy, Too” (TV episode)

1969 – Secrets of Sex aka Tales of the Bizarre

1970 – Santo in the Vengeance of the Mummy (aka Santo En La Venganza de la Momia, Mexico)

1970 – Dracula vs. Frankenstein” (aka ‘Assignment Terror, Italy/Spain/Germany)

1970 – The Mummies of Guanajuato (Mexico)

1971 – Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb

1971 – Santo and the Vengeance of the Mummy (Mexico)

1972 – El Castillo de las Momias de Gaunajuato (Mexico)

1972 – Lips of Blood

1972 – Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters

1972 – The New Scooby-Doo Movies “Sandy Duncan’s Jekyll and Hyde” (features The Mummy)

1972 – Dr Phibes Rises Again

1972 – El Robo de las Momias de Guanajuato

1973 – Love Brides of the Blood Mummy

Las Momias de San Angel aka Terror en San Angel (Mexico)

1973 – Vengeance of the Mummy (La vengance de la momia, Spain)

1973 – The Cat Creature

1973  – Chabelo y Pepito vs. los Monstruos (Mexico)

1973 – Son of Dracula

1974 – Voodoo Black Exorcist

1975 – Demon and the Mummy (US TV Movie). A compilation of two episodes from the TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Demon in Lace and Legacy of Terror

1975 – Doctor Who ‘Pyramids of Mars’ (TV episodes)

 La Mansion de las 7 Momias (Mexico)

1978 – KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park

1980 – Fade to Black

1980 – The Awakening

1980 – Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo “Mummy’s the Word” (TV episode)

1981 – Dawn of the Mummy

1981 – The National Mummy (aka La Momia Nacional, Jose Larraz, Spain)

1981 – Sphinx

1982 – The Secret of the Mummy (Ivan Cardoso, Brazil)

1982 – Time Walker

1982 – Scarab

1983 – The New Scooby and Scrappy Doo Show “Where’s Scooby Doo?’

1984 – The New Scooby Doo Mysteries “Scooby’s Peep-Hole Pandemonium” (Maid Mummy)

1985 – Dear Mummy (Hong Kong)

1985 – Transylvania 6-5000 (US/Yugoslavia)

1986 – The Tomb

Amazing Stories ‘Mummy, Daddy’ (TV episode)

1987 – Night of the Living Duck (US animated short)

1987 – The Monster Squad

1988 – Howl of the Devil

1988 – Saturday the 14th Strikes Back

1988 – Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School

1988 – Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf

1988 – Waxwork

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1989 – Encounters of the Spooky Kind 2 (Hong Kong)

1990 – I’m Dangerous Tonight (US TVM)

1990 – Tales from the Darkside: The Movie “Lot 249”

1990 – I’m Dangerous Tonight

1992 – I was a Teenage Mummy

1992 – Nightmare Asylum

1992 Franky and his Pals

1992 – Bloodstone: Subspecies II

1992 – I Was a Teenage Mummy

1993 – Bloodlust: Subspecies III (US/Romania)

1993 – The Mummy Lives

1993 – The Mummy A.D. 1993

1993 – The Mummy’s Dungeon

1993 – The Nightmare Before Christmas

1994 – Stargate

1995 – Goosebumps ‘Return of the Mummy’ + ‘TV Mummy’ (TV episodes)

1995 – Monster Mash

1996 – Bone Chillers ‘Mummy Dearest’ (TV episode)

1996 – Bordello of Blood

1996 – Le Siege del l’Ame (France)

1996 – The Mummy (Pakistan)

1996 – Birth of a Wizard (Japan)

1996 – La Momie Mi-mots” (aka “Mummy Mommy, France)

1996 – The Seat of the Soul” (aka “Le siege del Time, Canada)

1997 – The Creeps

1997 – Bram Stoker’s The Mummy aka Bram Stoker’s Legend of the Mummy

1997 – Buffy and the Inca Mummy (TV episode)

1997 – Mummy’s Alive

1997 – Under Wraps (Disney TV Movie)

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1997 – 1998 – Mummies Alive! (animated series)

1998 – Legend of the Mummy

1998 – Mummies Alive! The Legend Begins (animated feature)

1998 – The Eternal aka Trance

1998 – Talos the Mummy aka Tale of the Mummy

1999 – Ancient Evil: Scream of the Mummy

1999 – Ancient Desires

1999 – Bram Stoker’s Legend of the Mummy 2

1999 – The Mummy

1999 – The Mummy (documentary narrated by Christopher Lee)

Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed (documentary)

1999 – The All-New Adventures of Laurel & Hardy ‘For the Love of Mummy’

The All-New Adventures of Laurel and Hardy For the Love of Mummy

2000 – Curse of the Mummy

2000 – Lust in the Mummy’s Tomb

2000 – The Mummy Theme Park (Italy)

2001 – Mummy Raiders

2001 – The Mummy Returns

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2001 – The Mummy: Secrets of the Medjai (animated series)

2002 – Bubba Ho-Tep

2002 – Lust in the Mummy’s Tomb

2002 – Mummy Raider

2002 – The Scorpion King

2003 – Mummie (Italian short)

2003 – The Mummy’s Kiss

2003 – Scooby-Doo! Where’s My Mummy? “Mummy Scares Best”

2003 – What’s New, Scooby-Dooo?

2004 – Attack of the Virgin Mummies

La maldicion de la momia – short from Argentina

2004 – The Tomb (Italy)

2005 – Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (TV episode)

2005 – The Kung Fu Mummy

2005 – Legion of the Dead

2005 – The Fallen Ones

2006 – Monster Night

2006 – Seven Mummies

2006 – The Mummy’s Kiss 2: Second Dynasty

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2006 – The University of Illinois vs. a Mummy

2007 – Mil Mascaras vs. the Aztec Mummy

2007 – Mummy Maniac

2008 – Day of the Mummy (short)

2008 – Mummies…

2008  – The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

2008 – My Mummy aka My Mummy: The Tomb Is a Drag Without Her

2008 – Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior

2009 – Cry of the Mummy (comedy short)

2010 – Creature Feature (adult video features a mummy)

2010 – The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec

2010 – Pink Panther and Pals ‘And Not a Drop to Pink’ (TV episode)

2011 – Monster Brawl

2012 – Hotel Transylvania

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2012 – Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption

Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H (animated series features N’Kantu the Living Mummy)

2013 – Isis Rising: Curse of the Lady Mummy

2014 – American Mummy

2014 – Day of the Mummy

2014 – Doctor Who “Mummy on the Orient Express” (TV episode)

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2014 – Dummie the Mummy

2014 – Frankenstein vs. the Mummy

2014 – Mummy Dance! – music video by Characula

2014 – Mummy, I’m a Zombie

2014 – The Mummy Resurrected

2014- Scorpion King 4 – Quest for Power

Frankenstein vs. The Mummy 2015

2015 – Frankenstein vs. The Mummy

2015 – Hotel Transylvania 2

2016 – Evil Exhumed

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2017 – The Mummy (Universal)

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Offline reading:

The Mummy in Fact, Fiction and Film by Susan D. Cowie, Tom Johnson, McFarland, 2002

The Mummy Unwrapped: Scenes Left on Universal’s Cutting Room Floor by Thomas M. Feramosco, McFarland, 2007

The Mummy’s Curse: Mummymania in the English-speaking World by Jasmine Day, Taylor & Francis, 2006

The Mummy’s Curse: The True History of a Dark Fantasy by Roger Luckhurst, Oxford University Press, 2012

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