I love The Mummy. In a pinch, I’m pretty sure I could close my eyes, clear my mind and play the entire movie in my head from start to finish. I’ve watched it that many times.
It started when I was 10, when my family all crowded into my grandfather’s apartment to watch the then new-ish movie on VCD. There were murders, dead bodies coming back to life, and a monster that could command sand into a huge version of its own face, big enough to swallow a plane! It was absolutely terrifying. I couldn’t wait to watch it again, and it’s been basically playing on loop, in the background of my life, ever since.
The plot of this 1999 film is pretty straightforward. In ancient times, the high priest Imhotep and the Pharaoh’s mistress Anck-Su-Namun fall in love. When their affair is discovered, they murder the pharaoh. Anck-Su-Namun immediately takes her own life, with the knowledge that Imhotep will bring her back from the dead. However, before he can, he is put to death and buried with a curse: that if anyone should dare release him, he’ll come back as an all-powerful mummy. Fast forward to Egypt in the 1920s, where archaeological digs are all the rage after the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb … you can see where this is going.
The cinematic result is an absolute joy. While technically it is a remake of a 1932 movie of the same name from Karl Freund, the director behind the classic Dracula with Bela Lugosi, The Mummy of 1999 is very much its own thing: comedy and horror and adventure all perfectly balanced.
Brendan Fraser, as rakish American adventurer Rick O’Connell, swings seamlessly from action hero to comic lead. He teams up with librarian and Egypt obsessive Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) and her rash and impulsive brother Jonathan (John Hannah) to discover the lost city of the dead, Hamunaptra, and the riches supposedly contained within. The three of them spend the film getting into supernatural scrapes, fighting baddies both living and dead, and bouncing one-liners off each other comfortably and continuously. Arnold Vosloo plays the titular Mummy as both sinister and tragic without ever undermining the humour of the film.
The older I get, the more I realise that they captured lightning in a bottle with this film and, to almost the same degree, with its sequel The Mummy Returns. It’s tightly written, perfectly cast and as they walk the difficult line between horror and goofy comedy, somehow everyone is tonally on the same page. Never is the rare collision of good luck and skill in The Mummy more apparent than when you encounter the abject failure of the third film in the franchise, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. It has a good concept in theory and most of the core cast are in it, doing their best. And yet, remove Weisz, amplify the role of the annoying son and throw in a couple of yetis (if only I were joking), and the magic is gone. Not even Michelle Yeoh can save it. It’s abominable. Leave it out of the rewatch cycle. Pretend it doesn’t exist.
The thing about seeing the same film so many times starting from the age of 10 is that it has grown up with me. I don’t just love The Mummy for the nostalgia of it all – it’s an objectively good film – but memories of the different times I’ve watched it do run like a golden thread through my life. I’m 10 watching it with my extended family. I’m 14 and it’s playing on the TV of my friend’s living room as she, her mum and I drink milkshakes, and over time, that afternoon comes to live in my mind as a representation of all school summer holidays. I’m 17 and putting the DVD of The Mummy Returns into the player and my father asks what movie it is. I tell him it’s the sequel to The Mummy. “Then shouldn’t it be called …The Daddy?” he replies with a laugh.
The Mummy is the perfect rewatch movie – both for the comfort in its familiarity and in the new details you appreciate on each viewing, even the 100th. Horror gives way to humour. Different jokes become more or less funny. Villains become less black and white. I’m going to be watching this movie for the rest of my life.