“He has the power to move…and KILL!” Anthony Nield has reviewed the R2 release of minor Hammer horror The Mummy’s Shroud.
“Are you suggesting these murders have something to do with the tomb?”
As the above quote emphasises, The Mummy’s Shroud offers its audience fairly familiar pleasures. Set in 1920s Cairo, the film follows an exhibition, led by Sir Basil Walden (Andre Morrell) and funded by the venal Stanley Preston (John Phillips), to discover the tomb of Kah-to-Bey. As narrator Peter Cushing describes in the pre-credits backstory, Kah-to-Bey was the sole survivor of a massacre, yet perished in the desert. He was then buried in the desert by his keeper, whose mummy happens to be kept in Preston’s museum…
The Mummy’s Shroud has gained a certain historical status as it was the final Hammer film to be made at their Bray studios, yet is also dismissed as one of the studios weaker elements. Certainly, the film doesn’t hold its own against, say, The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula or The Devil Rides Out, and yet that isn’t to say it doesn’t offer its own simple pleasures.
The most notable flaw is the lack of an on-screen presence from Hammer regulars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (interestingly, his role as narrator goes uncredited). Michael Ripper, who often popped up in supporting roles, does offer some entertainment in the minor role of Preston’s faithful servant Longbarrow; a wonderfully snivelling creation who somewhat atones for the missing star power. Elsewhere, the cast is largely populated by a group of earnest types who can’t help but seem a little one-dimensional. Of course, they are simply mummy-fodder, though one would expect them to offer a little more character than the main villain.
And yet this highlights another of The Mummy’s Shroud’s main problems, namely that the mummy is neither scary enough nor presents any character. Of course, the greatest mummies on-screen have been played by great actors such as Boris Karloff or, indeed, Christopher Lee (in Hammer’s first take on the tale, 1959’s The Mummy), or as in Stephen Sommers’ 1999 approach made suitable use of CGI to at least attempt something more than a man in a few rags. Made in pre-CGI 1966, The Mummy’s Shroud makes do with Eddie Powell, who at least makes up for his problems in the character department by possessing an imposing height.
Thankfully, writer/director John Gilling has added some extra villains to the mix. John Phillips, in particular, takes to the part of Preston with aplomb, essaying a man who would willingly sentence his son to death if is wasn’t for his wife, and yet is equally willing to do a runner if the going gets a little tough. He also brings the kind of gravity and determination to the role that either Cushing or Lee could do in their sleep, which certainly makes up for the lack of character displayed from rest of the main cast (with the exception of Michael Ripper, of course).
In a more minor role, there is some fine support from Catherine Lacey as a cackling clairvoyant. Whilst the part doesn’t exactly demand much (cackling, staring into a glass ball, more cackling), the actress still appears to be enjoying herself with the limited material – yet, as with Phillips, she also plays it remarkably straight.
This faith in the film is also present in John Gilling’s direction. During his years at Hammer the director contributed to some of the studio’s more ridiculous efforts, such as The Gorgon, The Reptile and The Plague of the Zombies, and yet dealt with them in exactly the same way as his military potboiler The Brigand of Kandahar, namely with an utterly straight-face, and each of them was all the better for it. Sadly, The Mummy’s Shroud doesn’t quite have the same level of invention as any of these titles, but this refusal to resort to farce certainly allows it to provide its minor pleasures.
Sadly lacking the World of Hammer episode titled ‘Mummies, Werewolves & The Living Dead’ extra that was present on Anchor Bay’s R1 release, and indeed any special features of any kind, The Mummy’s Shroud does offer some consolation in its presentation. Retaining the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and presenting it anamorphically, the picture is simply stunning considering the film’s age. Indeed, a picture this sharp and almost entirely damage free is usually reserved for more prestige classics of the era rather than minor Hammer works, and for this we should be eternally grateful. Soundwise, the original mono is offered (spread over the front two speakers) and remains as sharp of the picture throughout.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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