The Mummy's Shroud
Whilst it's not one of the most memorable entries in the Hammer catalogue, The Mummy's Shroud - far from a bad film by any means - is notable in Hammer history for marking the closure of some significant elements of the epochal film company's story. For starters, this film would be the last to feature Elizabeth Sellars, who, incidentally, performs with conviction and grace in this picture. This is perhaps the least notable of the elements in question, especially since Sellars had only appeared in one other Hammer picture, though it carries greater gravity when you consider that Sellars' other Hammer role was in Cloudburst, which just happened to be Hammer's first feature at the famous Bray Studios.
The Mummy's Shroud would also be the final film to be made at these studios, the location which, though rather cramped, had served Hammer so well over 16 years as they had exerted such enormous influence over the horror genre. During this genre-defining period, Hammer had taken the most successful of Universal's horror output from the thirties and used these as loose blueprints for their own brand of British-baked horror, with the most prominent of these arriving in the menacing figures of Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Mummy.
By the time The Mummy's Shroud arrived in 1967, Hammer had already unleashed the Egyptian terror onto audiences twice. The first of these arrived in the form of the extremely successful The Mummy, in 1959, and had leveraged the golden touch of the gentlemanly duo, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. It was another five years until Hammer resurrected the lumbering, ancient giant in The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb, though without the charm of Cushing and Lee, and with directorial duties moving from Terence Fisher to Michael Carreras, the film didn't deliver such an effective slice of Egyptian-themed terror.
Despite the diluted impact of the second Mummy film, Hammer didn't wait so long to revisit the mythological theme once again, and in 1967 The Mummy's Shroud came to cinema screens, with directorial responsibility being granted to the safe hands of John Gilling, who had created Hammer's influential, brave, and to this day, criminally underrated zombie entry, The Plague of the Zombies. Gilling's relationship with the upper echelons of the Hammer production team had long been strained, and it's perhaps no surprise that this film is also notable for marking the point at which Gilling and Hammer would, alas, part company for good.
After the film's release, it became no secret that Gilling regarded The Mummy's Shroud as something of an embarrassment, and at a casual glance, it does appear to be something of a straightforward potboiler, with the core story constituting little more than a flimsy framework to justify a series of early stalk n' slash murders at the hands of an ancient Egyptian bandage-constrained cadaver. Of course, many of the most successful and enjoyable horror products (including much of Hammer's own catalogue) use just such a framework as a foundation for a series of shocks and exhilarating set pieces. Yet whilst it's clear that Gilling's heart isn't beating within this film as it was in many of his other works, such as the energy and creativity he showcases in The Plague of the Zombies, it's selling the film some way short to suggest that it is without artistic merit, or without meaningful commentary.
If there is any embarrassment to be had, it's perhaps during the over-long prologue in ancient Egypt, which runs rather like a trailer for a low budget epic, and seems to perform almost no real function for the film which follows it. However, once the picture leaps forward to the modern day, it soon gathers momentum, and though there is a section later in the film where the momentum seems to falter momentarily, it is once again righted swiftly, and the exciting conclusion is particularly well done, especially in terms of the painstaking special effects.
The film also makes some quiet commentary on the historical habits of many of our forebears, righteously marching into other countries hunting for valuable relics with scant regard for the local cultures, and virtually no recognition of the rightful ownership of the relics in question. Gilling and Anthony Hinds adapt their script to leverage comedy out of this arrogant attitude, and the effective laughs are played out in delightful fashion with the relationship between Stanley Preston (John Phillips) and his downtrodden and servile assistant, Longbarrow (Michael Ripper). Both actors perform brilliantly, shaping characters which play off of each other wonderfully, with Phillips caricaturing an arrogant British expedition financier who misses no opportunity to exploit, exaggerate, or fabricate stories entirely, and Ripper playing the fawning Longbarrow who should elicit disdain from the audience but actually wrings out some sympathy, as Phillips treats him with disregard throughout.
Being an ensemble piece, there isn't a strict lead to follow, though during the early stages it would seem that the distinctive Hammer gentleman Andre Morell is going to form the nucleus of the story. Morell, of course, puts in a typically committed and convincing shift, but his performance is matched not only by the aforementioned Phillips and Ripper, but also by David Buck, playing a member of the archaeological team (and the son of Stanley Preston). Special mentions also need to be made about Roger Delgado, who plays the vengeful Hasmid, and Catherine Lacey, who is genuinely sinister in a role that she attacks with wonderful zeal as the fortune teller Haiti, and together they whip the later parts of the film up into a real frenzy as the Mummy exacts his lumbering revenge upon those who have violated the sacred tomb.
In terms of the other female roles in The Mummy's Shroud, we have an interesting disparity. Elizabeth Sellars plays an unusual role in a Hammer horror picture; she is a female character who is wise, insightful, and is not relegated to a functional role as an attractive but ultimately vacuous character. Sellars plays Barbara Preston, the wife of the shallow and greedy Stanley, and her strength, dignity, and moral fortitude prove a real breath of fresh air in a role which she appears to play with relish. Maggie Kimberley also has the opportunity to shine as the intelligent and confident linguist Claire de Sangre, but whilst she is unquestionably a striking screen presence, her delivery is often wooden and cold, and the promotional shots of the film exposing substantial parts of her cleavage leads one to a rather depressing conclusion about the use of women in many of Hammer's pictures of the period.
A final mention should go to Eddie Powell, who plays the enormous, intimidating Mummy with suitable vigour, and under Gilling's assured direction, the creature remains one of Hammer's most memorable screen images.
All things considered, Hammer's ensemble piece is certainly no masterpiece, but if you're new to this more modest instalment in the Hammer back catalogue, you should ignore the harsher of the critics, as this is an enjoyable little trip into a not quite convincing Egypt, which delivers laughs (intended and otherwise), comments, and effective shocks.
If anyone considered The Mummy's Shroud as a diminishing of Hammer's creative energy and ambition, they were silenced later the same year (1967) as the studio released the thrilling Quatermass and the Pit. As seems so frequently the case with the Hammer story, these two seemingly unlinked productions would share an unusual coincidence; the Quatermass and the Pit BBC television series upon which the Hammer film was based had starred Andre Morell and Michael Ripper, both of whom starred in The Mummy's Shroud.
I was rather impressed with the quality of Studiocanal's release of John Gilling's superb 1966 zombie outing (and Hammer's solitary zombie instalment), The Plague of the Zombies, and it's therefore little surprise that they perform similarly good work with Gilling's final partnership with Hammer here. The release arrives on a double disc presentation, meaning you have the option to play the film on both Blu-ray and DVD format, which is especially useful if you are perhaps yet to invest in the high definition format, or if you don't always have unfettered access to the Blu-ray player(s) in the household. The Blu-ray is encoded for region B players, and the DVD arrives for region 2, so those outside of these areas may be disappointed if a multi-region unit is not an option.
Thankfully, there should be little controversy with the aspect ratio used here, as the film is presented in the native aspect ratio of 1.66:1, and with 1080p resolution and a careful transfer, the film looks particularly good. There's a little noise at the very opening, and there is no attempt to hide a natural level of grain here, with the result being an honest and largely consistent reproduction that looks neither over-processed nor neglected. The accuracy is strong throughout, with faces in particular showing much detail, and the film belies its vintage. Colours are also solid and confident, although whilst the consistency is largely very good, there are a couple of isolated moments where colour fluctuates very briefly. These moments are extremely short lived and barely distract the viewer from the overall presentation. Expect lots of oranges, deep yellows, and browns, thanks to the sandy landscapes and considerable tans of the characters, and whilst the strength of these colours are inevitable thanks to the way in which Hammer presented their characters, the muddy oranges of their faces can sometimes feel somewhat overbearing and a little unnatural.
The transfer seems to really shine, ironically, when the film depicts the underground cave sections in semi-darkness. The solidity of the blacks is excellent, and whilst you might expect the image to become degraded or confused in these scenes, this is where the presentation is at its strongest. Nevertheless, the entire presentation is very good, and any real criticisms relate more to Hammer's choice of character make-up rather than issues with this strong transfer.
There are English subtitles for the hard of hearing, which are sensibly sized and positioned well.
As with many of the Hammer releases, you should expect quite a harsh audio delivery with a heavy quotient of middle tones. The LPCM mono soundtrack is certainly clear enough with the levels kept in check, but a modern sound system will present the dramatic music with quite a hard sound which may prove a little overbearing at higher volumes. Again, this is no fault of the transfer, which ensures a clean and consistent aural aspect to the film, and when bass notes are required, the sounds are certainly deep enough bearing in mind the period at which the sound was recorded. All in all, this is a good aural delivery which doesn't let down the accompanying visuals.
The selection of extras here doesn't quite match some of the other high definition Hammer releases in terms of volume, but this modest little collection is well received while it lasts, and it's certainly a case of quality over quantity.
The main attraction here is a new 20 minute documentary, The Beat Goes On: The Making of The Mummy's Shroud, which features intelligent and engaging conversation from a number of respected commentators, including a certified Egyptology expert, who also seems extremely well versed with the Hammer film in question. The endlessly intelligent and engaging Jonathan Rigby also provides his knowledge and views on the film, and David Huckvale comments on the musical score, talking us through some of the construction of the music and playing elements of it on his piano whilst scenes from the film are played underneath his notes. This is a surprisingly absorbing part of the documentary and reminds us of Hammer's commitment to providing strong and considered musical accompaniments to their horror outings.
Remembering David Buck is an extremely personal and very touching five and a half minute segment featuring Madeline Buck recounting her memories of her time with David Buck, one of the stars of The Mummy's Shroud, and certainly one of the best performers in the film. Madeline remarks upon David's sense of humour - something which didn't always present itself in his film roles - and she also notes his intelligence, as a Cambridge graduate.
David Buck died in 1989 after battling a brain tumour, and this is a touching, sad, and thoughtful piece which manages to be intimate yet dignified during the few minutes of Madeline's words.
A Stills Gallery rotates through just over six minutes of images, including promotional material, stills from the film, behind the scenes snaps, and some items that look like stills from the film but are clearly staged promotional shots. The images rotate over an audio soundtrack from the film.
A collection of Hammer Trailers lasting almost a quarter of an hour proves surprisingly enjoyable, although it should be noted that over-revealing trailers are not a modern phenomenon, as some of the trailers here (The Reptile, in particular) are ridiculous in their desire to show all of the shocks and most thrilling moments of the film. Restraint please, trailer makers!
The The Mummy's Shroud trailers are especially compelling as an untreated and a restored trailer are shown back to back, giving us perhaps our strongest sensation yet of how solid this transfer really is. The Rasputin: The Mad Monk trailer is hilarious; not because of the film itself, but because of the 'Rasputin beard' being offered to viewers of the film. Three versions of Terence Fisher's superb The Devil Rides Out are included and are a real treat, although UK viewers may initially be confused by the presented title ofThe Devil's Bride, which was thus adjusted lest the American audience thought it pertained to some sort of Western!
An audio commentary would have transformed this collection of extras into something more special, but whilst the extras here are of unquestionably high quality, you can't help but feel that the reduced volume of extras makes the release feel a little undercooked.
A very respectable transfer of what is an underrated Hammer picture means that Studiocanal have served fans well with this release, and it's only the slightly light quotient of extras which causes any real disappointment.