Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Famous Monsters: The Mummy

In 1932, The mummy was the third of the classic Universal monsters to appear, following Dracula and Frankenstein who had debuted the previous year. It was probably Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 that raised the public profile of mummies--particularly Egyptian mummies--enough to get a film made based on the concept. Universal’s run of mummy movies was followed by a Hammer franchise in the fifties, and a post-Indiana Jones re-imagining in 1999 kicked off another series at Universal.

Like Frankenstein, mummies don’t usually get to be sexy...Well, except Valerie Leon as Princess Tera in Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb:

But the above photo illustrates one of the interesting things about movie mummies. At some point in the story, they tend to regain a less dessicated form and don’t really look like a mummy anymore. The other take frequently seen is to have the mummy be some mute automaton doing the evil bidding of some wicked priest--in other words a classic (pre-brain-eating) zombie.

Maybe this is the big problem with mummies. They're either essentially what gaming would call liches, or they’re zombies. It’s really only a roll of bandages and Egyptian bling that make them stand out.  Shamble, moan, strangle.  Repeat.

I suppose some difference can be discerned in their origins. Liches are boot-strapping undead; they’re generally self-created, and so have to be evil individuals of esoteric knowledge. Classic zombies are either living people (and so not undead at all), or they have something unfortunate (and undeserved) done to them after death by an evil individual of esoteric knowledge. Mummies are either being punished (in most of the mummy films), or honored or accidentally created (like real life).

And of course, they need not be Egyptian. Mummies come from all over, and some of these other mummies have made it into fiction. The Aztec mummy got its on film series, which includes a fight with a robot.

Not psychotronic enough for you? Well South of the Border, they don’t stop at just Aztec mummies. They've got a whole museum full of natural occurring mummies in Guanajuato. In film, these guys wind up fighting superhero luchadores on more than one occasion. Again, the differentiation between them and zombies is largely semantic. Still, Guanajuato’s peculiar mummies can be good game fodder, even without the masked wrestlers.

No reason mummies should have be from historic eras. Howard’s titular mummy from the modern adventure yarn Skull-Face, is Kathulos, an undead sorcerer from Atlantis.  Now he's a mummy who doesn't just shamble and moan.


Unknown said...

Which brings up an interesting question relating to one of your passing comments... will there be luchadores in the lands south of the City? The idea of beefy masked men battling gun-totting goons and brain-eating undead seems very appropriate. :)

Trey said...

I've thought about it, though luchadores are a bit past the target era. Of course, it would be a fairly minor anachronism considering what shows up in traditional fantasy settings.

Gothridge Manor said...

Shamble. Moan. Strangle. Repeat. Love it. Mummies do get the short end of the monster stick in some ways. I think part of it is we rarely get to see their backstory or creation story. Except in the more recent films like "the Mummy".

Unknown said...

"Like Frankenstein, mummies don’t usually get to be sexy..."

Yeah, dessication and flaking skin just don't sell sexy much do they?