Haven’t sat down with a good ol’ Universal monster movie in quite a while, and that’s a shame since they were the primary catalyst for making me the horror fan I am today. Imagine your humble narrator as a wide-eyed moppet in footy pajamas staring in wonder at another episode of some regional spook show like Creature Features or House of Fear, my shaky hand seeking the comfort of the popcorn bowl in a profound darkness lighted only by a small black-and-white TV set. Or better yet, don’t.
Yes, the Mummy is a slow-moving, clumsy bugger usually manipulated by some dude in a fez to deliver him hot chicks in nightgowns, but not many monsters have such a formidable (and underutilized) mythology behind them. You know, Egypt, hieroglyphics, sarcophagi, curses, tombs, and the like? It’s a wealth of sinister and exotic pageantry, and I for one will never tire of an ambulatory roll of bandages hunting down a bunch of foolhardy archaeologists.
The Mummy’s Hand isn’t the first entry in the series (that would be 1932 version of The Mummy with Boris Karloff) but it’s a fine jumping-off point to get acquainted with the whole premise. Brawny archaeologist Steve Banning (Dick Foran—not much of an actor, I’m afraid) and his comedy sidekick Babe Jensen (Wallace Ford) launch an expedition to find the tomb of Princess Ananka, and instead stumble upon Kharis (Tom Tyler) a 3,000-year-old living mummy who serves the latest in a long line of high priests (George Zucco, who would return to the role two more times in The Mummy’s Tomb and The Mummy’s Ghost).
Interlopers are strangled, a tasty dame (Peggy Moran) is carried away by the lovesick Kharis, and the high priest gets gunned down by the comedy sidekick. It’s a lot of movie packed into a short running time, and even with some unlikely set dressing decisions (I spied a dragon motif affixed to the temple of Amon-Ra. Were ancient Egyptians into dragons? Don’t think so, but I could be wrong) and inexplicable mood swings (e.g., Babe Jensen sits around the campfire with his magician pal, the Great Solvani, trying to learn a corny parlor trick about 10 minutes after they discover a murdered comrade in the forbidden tomb), but it’s fast-paced entertainment with an eerie menace that stands the test of time. Do yourself a favor.