As if to justify foisting another so-what entry in its nouveau Mummy franchise, Universal bestows the executive treatment on this 1932 creepshow classic that did for the Egyptian undead what Dracula did for thick-accented bloodsuckers. Once the bandaged creature is awakened, the movie’s backhanded slap to British colonialism morphs into a standoff between Boris Karloff’s malevolent Im-Ho-Tep and Dr. Muller (played by Dracula’s Edward Van Sloan) over Zita Johann’s reincarnated princess. But director Karl Freund—a former cinematographer who, coincidentally, shot Dracula—opts for an Art Deco elegance over the usual supergothic set design, which distinguishes The Mummy’s sandblasted spookiness from other graveyard tales of the macabre. And the German filmmaker’s mastery of minimalist scare tactics arguably makes this a superior film to Tod Browning’s vampiric touchstone; the scene in which Karloff’s dormant corpse slowly shuffles back to life is a textbook example of “Universal Horror” at its suggestive peak.
Like the 2006 “legacy” editions for Frankenstein and Dracula, this reissue includes the invaluable 1998 documentary on the studio’s fertile scary-movie period, narrated by Kenneth Branagh. The rest of this two-disc set’s extras tend to counteract each other: A chummy commentary with film historian Bob Burns and friends competes with a bone-dry secondary track from scholar Paul M. Jensen, while the making-of featurette Mummy Dearest (yuk, yuk) is almost negated by an odious marketing tie-in for the upcoming Tomb of the Dragon Emperor blockbuster. The crown jewel, however, is an overdue tribute to Jack Pierce, the makeup artist who literally created the legendary Famous Monsters of Filmland stable. Without Pierce’s talented touch, The Mummy would have been nothing but dust in the wind.—