Monday, October 26, 2009

The Mummy

This is the scroll of Thoth
Herein are set down the magic words
by which Isis raised Osiris
from the dead.

Oh! Amon-Ra — oh! God of Gods —
Death is but the doorway to new life —
We live today —
we shall live again —
in many forms shall we return —
Oh, mighty one.

So begins my favorite movie, The Mummy, made in 1932 and starring Boris Karloff and Zita Johann.

Why is this old black-and-white film my favorite? Long before I "discovered" there was a place called Tibet, I was fascinated by the art and culture of ancient Egypt. The Mummy is set entirely in Egypt, and its plot themes—a love that lasts for centuries, reincarnation, the occult sciences, good versus evil, the power of the old gods—are themes to which I have always resonated strongly.

What's not to like about a visually stunning film that opens at an archeological dig and introduces us to an honest-to-goodness scary monster, then understates the horror and invites us to use our imaginations to supply some of the chills?

The opening sequence is one of the two best openers I've ever seen in a horror film (the other being the graveyard sequence in Night of the Living Dead). An archeologist and a master of the occult sciences realize they have unearthed a weird mummy and discovered a box containing the Scroll of Thoth, with the spell that enabled Isis to raise Osiris from the dead; they make the mistake of leaving a curious assistant alone with the box. Bramwell Fletcher, who played the assistant, should have won an Oscar for his rendering of the line, "He went for a little should have seen his face!"

There are more great lines throughout. "I regret I am too occupied to accept invitations." "Had to! Science, you know!" "No man has ever suffered for woman as you have suffered for me." And more.

I've had Universal's Legacy collection of Mummy movies for a while, but tonight was the first time I'd watched some of the bonus material, in which film historians and children of some of the people involved with the film talk about the making of the movie and the personalities involved.

Out of all the actors, it's Zita Johann who fascinates me the most. Evidently she was a student of the occult who prayed before her performances. She was a well-known Broadway stage actress who disliked Hollywood, but she certainly made a great film when she made The Mummy. I would love to know more about her spiritual path, and her body of work, but couldn't find any evidence of a biography other than some meager information on the internet.

In a kind of cosmic coincidence, the introduction to the supplemental movie material was filmed at a theater where my husband used to work as a projectionist—the Vista, on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. He had some great things to say about working there late at night, with spooky shadows being cast by passing cars. Wasn't the Vista rumored to be haunted? Perhaps he'll post a comment and clue us in.


  1. This post delights me because this same movie was recently referenced in the show Bones, about a forensic anthropologist who helps the FBI solve crimes by testing the victims' remains. The latest episode involved an 18th Dynasty royal mummy, the film, and the title character's enthusiasm for the movie, which inspired her to become a forensic anthropologist. (Her FBI partner calls her "Bones" because bones are her specialty.)

    I should also say that while this is my first comment, I've been reading your blog with enjoyment for a while now. I'm also a Tibetan Buddhist, living in Maryland and involved with TMC and the Medicine Buddha Sangha.

  2. Thanks for your comment! Maryland TMC--Drikung Kagyu, Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche? I adore him, he's been here several times and I think he's a marvelous teacher, and marvelous person.

    I have been very curious about "Bones" but unfortunately we don't get that channel. I did anthropology as an undergrad, so I have a strong feeling I'd like it. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. The Vista theater was indeed believed by some to be haunted. There were several apartments above the theater, and some of the residents, as well as some theater employees, reported seeing the ghost of a man wandering the hallway. The theater owner at that time even called in an "exorcist" to rid the premises of that spirit.

    I never saw this so-called ghost, even tho I had ample opportunity to do so while working there alone in the wee hours of the night, then exiting via that hallway.

    I sometimes wondered if it might have been the ghost of Ed Wood, Jr., as I have read that he once had an office in that block of buildings. It was my first visit to the Vista that I saw Wood's film, "Glen Or Glenda?" for the first time, and that was the night I was hired there.

    You mention reincarnation. Altho it's not quite been 30 years since I worked there, it seems like 30 lifetimes ago.