The Mummy & Frankenstein and The Mother From Hell – Blu-Ray Review

These are two different Hammer movies made in different eras – The Mummy from the tail end of the 1950s, and Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell from 1974. The first is the far superior film. It was directed by Terence Fisher, Hammer’s premiere director at that time. Fisher also did their Dracula, Curse of Frankenstein and probably the best Hammer film, The Devil Rides Out.

When Hammer went into making horror films, it gleefully redid for the most part the Universal Monsters, but due to copyright issues, with its own very different takes on those creatures. The Mummy has the usual setup, with a team of late 19th century archaeologists in Egypt led by John Banning (Peter Cushing), which includes Banning’s father and uncle. They discover a tomb, and read from the Scroll of Life, which is the Egyptian Book of the Dead), with dangerous consequences that result in the team members being killed off one by one. One of the team ends up catatonic, and then the action shifts to the UK, where there is a spate of mysterious murders.

It’s a perfectly decent mummy movie, but I probably like the Universal one better, and probably prefer the 1999 The Mummy over any of them, since it has more of an Indiana Jones vibe. This one definitely took a lot of elements from the sequels to Universal’s original film more than from the 1932 film with Boris Karloff itself.

Christopher Lee plays the Mummy and Kharis, the mummified Pharoah who comes back from the dead (which derived from The Mummy’s Hand, a 1940 sequel.) Obviously, Lee and Cushing are great actors for this kind of thing, although Lee’s Mummy is rather like his Frankenstein’s Monster. It’s definitely one of the better Hammer movies. It’s well-designed, and shot by Jack Asher. The creature is pretty cool, more graphic and charred, in keeping with Hammer’s forte of being a bit more graphic. The revenge story on the archaeologists is also good. If you’re choosing between these two, go with this one.

Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell was also directed by Fisher, and was his last movie as a director as well as the last film in Hammer’s Frankenstein “saga.” This series started with The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, with Frankenstein Created Woman probably the highlight. It comes at the very tail end of Hammer’s final run of horror movies in the 1970s. They’ve definitely run out of steam, and it’s pretty bad.

The monster is ridiculous, looking more like a Bigfoot than Frankenstein’s Monster. It’s pretty derivative: Baron Victor von Frankenstein (Peter Cushing again) makes a monster. He is assisted by a young man, there is a sexy woman, the monster runs away, and they have to hunt it down and kill it. It’s also set in a mental hospital where Dr. Frankenstein is working as a surgeon, which gives it a slightly different direction.

The ape-like Monster is played by David Prowse (who later played Darth Vader, but had been a more typical Frankenstein’s Monster in The Horror of Frankenstein—and in Casino Royale!) Prowse had the honour of playing the Monster in more than one Hammer film.

Cushing is reliable as always, but everyone else is pretty bland. It was shot at Elstree Studios, but sat on the shelf for two years before being released. It sometimes went out as a double bill with Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter. Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell was not well-received at the time, but has gained some fans since as it marks the end of Fisher’s career as well as the end of that era of Hammer horror.

Hammer tried to move out of the genre in the late ‘70s but the effort fell flat, especially with its remake of The Lady Vanishes with Elliot Gould and Cybill Shepherd (that was the last Hammer release for 29 years.) They’re now trying to get back in, essentially as a “name brand” in horror.

There are some extras from Second Sight, of course—both have new commentary tracks (The Mummy’s is from film academic Kelly Robinson, while Kat Ellinger provides the commentary for Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell), and The Mummy has an archive commentary from Marcus Hearn and Johnathan Rigby. Also with The Mummy are an appreciation from David Huckvale and four featurettes (The Music of The Mummy, Unwrapping the Mummy, The House of Horror: Memories of Bray, and The Hammer Rep Company), plus an original promo reel and stills gallery. It comes packaged with a soft-cover book featuring new essays by Kat Ellinger, Lindsay Hallam and Kevin Lyons, plus production stills and five collectors’ art cards.

In addition to the new commentary already mentioned, Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell has an archive audio commentary by Shane Briant, Madeline Smith and Marcus Hearn; an appreciation from Huckvale; a stills gallery and three featurettes: The Music of Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell, Taking Over the Asylum, and Charming Evil: Terence Fisher at Hammer. It is packaged with a similar soft-cover book and art cards.

★★★

Ian Schultz

Buy The Mummy

Buy Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell

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