All the classic Universal Mummy movies, ranked

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May 16, 2017

Universal is re-releasing its Legacy Collections for each of their classic monsters on Blu-ray. Some of these movies are seeing an HD release in the U.S. for the first time.

With monster movies seemingly on the rise, this feels like the right time to take a look at these collections and tell you how each of them fares, movie to movie.

And where better to begin than with The Mummy? Universal's The Mummy Legacy Collection includes six Mummy movies. Unlike many of the other Legacy Collection, each one of these films (save the original The Mummy) is available only in this set. Which is great.

Of course, most of these movies are only about an hour long. That's less great.

Be that as it may, there are a few gems in this set, some you may have never seen before. So, here it is: a list of all six Universal Mummy movies ranked from worst to best.

The Mummy's Tomb (1942)

When your movie is only an hour long, it's probably not an awesome sign if its first ten minutes are solid recap. That's right. The Mummy's Tomb opens with almost entirely recycled footage from The Mummy's Hand for what is ostensibly one sixth of the film.

There are a lot of weird aspects to The Mummy's Tomb. For instance, it takes place 30 years after the previous film, The Mummy's Hand, and two of the actors from that film return in old age makeup. But, also, since many people did not appreciate the lighter tone for The Mummy's Hand, neither character behaves remotely as they did in the previous film.

Thirty years later also would suggest the film is set in what would have been the future: about 1970. And yet no attempts are made to dress the cast or sets in a way that looks anything but distinctly 1940s.

These are all details. What's frustrating is that the movie doesn't even make much sense. It's just a straight revenge story, but it feels the whole way through as though the mummy, Kharis, and his handler, Mehemet Bey, could be discovered and stopped at any time. It's not as though everyone wasn't already aware that a mummy does really exist.

Basically, this movie has only two things going for it: the first appearance of Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis the mummy and that Mehemet Bey was played by an actual, flesh and blood, non-white human. Hey, the '40s were all about black and brown face, so that's not a small fete. Otherwise, though, this one-hour movie drags so long it may as well be two hours.

The Mummy's Curse (1944)

Here we go again. This is the last of the in-continuity Universal Mummy movies and yet, despite it coming out the same year as the previous film, The Mummy's Ghost, and despite ending on a cliffhanger, somehow The Mummy's Curse is set 15 years later. So, to keep score, we are now supposed to be in the '80s ... and yet everything still looks solidly 1940s.

That being said, The Mummy's Curse is worlds better than The Mummy's Tomb, finally featuring the story of a woman mummy, Princess Ananka. This is a much more emotionally rich affair.

In addition, there's an attempt at community happening. The picture is set in "Cajun Country" and, despite the absolutely horrific accents, there's a vibe that everyone drinks together and knows each other. I would say most of the better Mummy movies from Universal tend to be the ones where the characters have a camaraderie so that, when someone dies, there's actual weight to it.

There's also something of a doomed romance story happening with Kharis and Ananka. Better than Twilight? Sure, why not. Throw that quote on the back of a disc sometime. All in all, not bad, but not good either.

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

Okay, look. I didn't decide what goes on these discs. Yes, this is solidly a parody. Heck, the mummy's name is "Klaris." You get it? You ... you get it?

Here's my only real criticism: this is the end of Bud and Lou's career and, absolute respect to them both, it shows. The energy isn't quite as strong as it was and you can tell they're kind of getting a little bored of running away from goofy monsters.

That being said, an Abbott and Costello movie is still an Abbott and Costello movie. If you like watching two knuckleheads accidentally find themselves in the middle of circumstances far too complicated for them to understand only to somehow blunder through and wind up victorious? Hey, I got just the movie for you. Also, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy is an hour and twenty minutes, aka sorta kinda an actual movie length. Plus, there's a full-fledged plot that's easy to follow. How can you lose?

The Mummy's Hand (1940)

Imagine, if you will, someone combining the more serious drama of the Universal Mummy movies with the Abbott and Costello one. That's The Mummy's Hand. And, honestly, so long as you are okay with a lighthearted romp, this is in some ways the best movie in the whole set.

The Mummy's Hand is a kind of a reset after the original Mummy movie. This is where the Mummy is first referred to as Kharis and it's also the first where the image of the shambling mummy really shows up. All the iconic things people associate with a mummy movie are from this film. I would even venture to say that the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies are sort of a blending of this and the Karloff original (plus an action movie, obviously).

The Mummy's Hand is equal parts funny and intriguing. The two buddies, Steve and Babe, are just so goofy. It's great. At one point, there's an investigation towards figuring out where the Hill of the Seven Jackals is and Babe says, "Yeah, let's find the hill of the seven jackasses." That's the kind of motion picture this is. I give this one an enthusiastic one-and-a-half thumbs up. Which is painful to do because my thumbs don't bend halfway.

Also, I would say that this is the best Kharis ever looks, which is surprising since Tom Tyler, who is not as well-revered as Chaney or Karloff, was behind the bandages in this adventure.

The Mummy's Ghost (1944)

This is, without a doubt, the best of the Kharis Mummy movies and about half of the reason is John Carradine (even though he is in brown face). This is probably the one and only time the bad guy in charge of Kharis is truly compelling, mostly because Carradine has one of the most commanding voices in the history of the motion picture.

But also this is kind of the Empire Strikes Back of Universal Mummy movies in that a lot of messed-up stuff goes down and there's a super-depressing ending. I think this is the only time it feels like there are real stakes in these movies. You actually feel for Kharis, you kind of empathize with Carradine's Yousef Bey and poor Amina Mansori, who may or may not be the reincarnated Princess Ananka, gets the absolute worst of it.

The Mummy's Ghost is a perfect blending of love and revenge, which is basically what Mummy movies are all about. It's some of Lon Chaney's best work as Kharis, too.

The Mummy (1932)

I mean, okay, how else was this supposed to go, y'all? One of these movies stars Boris Karloff and the others don't. So ... ?

Okay, okay. What makes the original The Mummy so noteworthy isn't just Karloff but the fact that it's totally different from all the other movies. The Mummy barely shambles at all. Honestly, this is really just Boris Karloff staring at people in a way that is so menacing and so sad and I want to hug him or run away or both? It's just one of the best performances in any horror movie ever.

Everything about The Mummy is moody and atmospheric. I don't even know what else to say. It might be my favorite Universal Monster movie, period.