A rather good movie, I think.
CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB has always received the short end of the critical stick and I've never figured out why. Like all the Hammer films of the 60s, this is a Victorian Penny Dreadful Melodrama with exotic characters, loads of atmosphere, and some great monster moments. It doesn't have the rich thematic underpinnings that Terence Fisher brought to his Penny Dreadful Melodramas, I agree, but it's not a bad movie.
Mummy movies are, for the most part, difficult to pull off. In fact, most of them have weird, crazy flaws that a true fan is compelled to overlook. Fisher's version of THE MUMMY has a terrific cast and is visually satisfying, even though the Sangster script seems a patchwork of story devices and romantic ideas. Fisher always had a keen stylistic eye and usually undercut whatever gaps of logic he faced in a narrative with an exciting and economic storytelling method. He keeps things moving forward with an astonishing speed (that never seems rushed), while the viewer remains occupied moment by moment, at least, during the show.
Michael Carreras is not as gifted a director, that's certain, but his work here evokes some of Fisher's storytelling style. The mummy scenes, themselves, are like privileged moments worth the wait. These moments are conceived with intelligence and performed with a kind of serious, mythic grace. Note the moment when the mummy breaks through Sir Giles' door. Edited in a stately rhythm, back and forth, we see the mummy advance and Sir Giles react first with astonishment, then with a gun. The sound of firing punctuates the way we see the mummy steadily advancing. When all the bullets are spent, the mummy grabs Sir Giles around the throat, lays him across the desk, and crushes his skull with a heavy Egyptian statue. As the mummy methodically beats the man's brains out, the music fades and we hear only the blunt, dead thud, thud, thud, and an eerie, rasping breath. The violence of the scene is powerful, but not explicit. Killing Sir Giles, the mummy's face is close enough to us so that we can actually here the dead creature breathing through its dry and dusty wrappings. This is a great sequence, as good as any found in all of Hammer.
The Fred Clark character has always struck me as being a rather interesting creation. On the one hand, he's a crass showman, but on the other he's like a big kid who is having a great deal of fun. And his fun is not entirely selfish. The whole notion of sharing the mummy with the world is something he really believes in. Am always disarmed by his death scene. First of all, he has that bit with the streetwalker where, for no other reason but kindness, he gives her some money and says, "get a good night's sleep." A moment later, when he's face to face with the living mummy, he looks at the creature with wide eyed wonder. When it registers what it is he's seeing, a smile crosses his lips. He's not afraid, he's delighted. His last moments on earth are no doubt filled with carny delight!
Most reviewers seem to think Seth Holt's BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB is the great Hammer mummy movie. This, too, astounds me. I find that one ponderous, confusing, ugly to look at, and badly acted. Have watched it a few times, trying, as I may, to understand its appeal. For my money it doesn't come near CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB.