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The Mummy’s Longevity Is No Curse

It Has Lasted Because It’s a Cinematic Masterpiece

The Mummy is a well-preserved ’90s action horror film, directed by Stephen Sommers and starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo, and Kevin J. O’Connor. It is a loose adaptation of the original 1932 film of the same name. Streaming options are available now via YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes and Cinemax with subscriptions and/or purchases.

Aspiring Egyptologist Evelyn Carnahan (Weisz) keeps getting rejection letters because she doesn’t have enough experience out in the field. However, that all changes when her blunderous older brother Jonathan (Hannah) presents her with an interesting find that contains a map to Hamunaptra. When the map catches fire, Evelyn and Jonathan are equally devastated. That is, until Jonathan reveals he stole the map from American Rick O’Connell (Fraser), and they head off to find Rick in prison, where they make a deal with the warden to save him from hanging for having a “very good time.”

Rick agrees to guide Evelyn and Jonathan to Hamunaptra, where he discovers a former acquaintance of his that he knew from his time in the French Foreign Legion, Beni (O’Connor), is also leading an expedition for a group of Americans. The two expeditions playfully compete against one another, their competitiveness turning territorial as they begin digging. Soon, their simple expeditions turn deadly as they discover things beyond the explorers’ wildest dreams.

Evelyn backed against the wall in horror, Rick holding a gun with his mouth open in a scream, both staring straight ahead at the mummy, whose back is to the picture

Soon both expeditions experience misfortunes, with the Americans losing a few diggers due to an old booby trap and the prison warden dying as a result of flesh-eating scarab beetles he believed to be treasure. The ultimate affliction doesn’t ensue until the Americans discover the Book of the Dead, which Evelyn swipes and reads from, accidentally awakening Imhotep, the mummy.

From then on, the mummy develops an obsession with Evelyn, intending to use her a sacrifice to bring back his lost love. One by one, the mummy goes after the Americans, killing them and using them to give himself flesh once again. Meanwhile, Evelyn is determined to put the mummy back where he belongs as Egypt suffers the ten plagues and the wrath of Imhotep. With help from Rick, Jonathan and a Medjai named Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr), they find a way to defeat him, but it’s not without its obstacles.

Evelyn goes with Imhotep to spare the lives of her friends, but Imhotep goes back on his word. Thankfully, Rick, Jonathan, and Ardeth are still able to escape and head to Hamunaptra to save Evelyn and stop Imhotep. Evelyn reads from the recently found Book of the Living, rendering Imhotep mortal, allowing for Rick to fatally wound him.

Even with this ultimate evil taken out, they’re not yet out of danger. They have to get out of Hamunaptra before it buries them alive. Rick tries to save Beni, despite Beni’s many indiscretions of aiding Imhotep and attempting to kill Rick several times, but he fails to get Beni out in time. Though, Beni unintentionally left behind one good deed, as he’d packed away some of the treasures of Hamunaptra on the camels waiting outside. Evelyn and Rick share a camel, riding off into the sunset, Jonathan accompanying him on another camel after Ardeth has bid them farewell, heading into their version of a “happily ever after.”

Evelyn and Rick staring into each other's eyes lovingly, with the sun setting behind them

There are many things about this film that contribute to its longevity and its impact upon the action-adventure genre, as well as how characters in this genre are portrayed, namely its heroes. It’s easily a 1990s favorite that we love to this very day, and it’s because there are so many appealing aspects applied to the film itself.

Cultural Clashes

There are many methods of humor utilized for The Mummy, the cultural clash angle being one of them. Americans are frequently the butt of the joke because of their unscrupulous mannerisms. For instance, in the scene where their boat to Hamunaptra catches aflame and those on board become engaged in a gunfight against the intruders, Jonathan exasperatedly utters “Americans” while shaking his head as he witnesses them reenacting something akin to the Wild West, enjoying the gunfight and acting like scoundrels, as Evelyn would say.

Not to mention there are a few instances in which Jonathan and Evelyn speak freely about their opinions regarding Americans, then remember Rick’s presence and add as a second thought, “No offense” to which Rick replies, “None taken.” Jonathan and Evelyn are half-English, half-Egyptian and seem to consider themselves a bit more worldly and better mannered (Evelyn more so) than Americans. Rick doesn’t seem to mind, as he is apparently used to the comparison.

Clearly the Americans are shell-shocked by Egypt, and not just because of the mummy. When the boat is attacked and they’re forced to go overboard, one of the Americans declares “This is a messed-up country” before going over the side. They’re out of their element, albeit in the extreme given the movie’s plot. Still, for anyone that’s ever grown accustomed to their own country and then are suddenly culture-shocked by another, the feeling is relatable.

It’s interesting and amusing because in many ways countries have developed stereotypes against one another, and we can see that expressed in the dynamic portrayed in The Mummy. It’s never anything serious and clearly the characters can still work together without too much friction, so it’s merely a point of humor to insert every here and there for entertainment purposes.

Slapstick Humor

The Mummy echoes comedic humor of the past in its implementation of slapstick humor. Rick, Beni, Jonathan, and the prison warden, Gad, are the most prominent examples of slapstick humor at its best in the film. In the film’s beginning, we get a scene from a few years prior to the events of the film where Beni locks Rick out from safety in Hamunaptra and Rick is nearly killed as a result.

Rick pressing a gun into Beni's chest as he looks at him in contempt while they're on the boat in the dark

Rick never forgets this devious act and frequently taunts Beni, threats and otherwise. He tosses Beni off the boat, he throws a chair at him, and the two exchange plenty of witty banter throughout. Rick calls Beni out on his scams and his allegiance with Imhotep, and Beni tries to show up Rick, notably with “Hey O’Connell! It looks to me like I’ve got all the horses!” to which Rick responds, “Hey Beni! Looks to me like you’re on the wrong side of the river!” 

On the other side of the coin, Jonathan’s humor is a range from clumsy to perfectly-timed slapstick. He goes along with the other Egyptians uttering “Imhotep,” looking as though he’s in a trance (albeit to save himself). He runs in to save his sister from her fire-ridden room on the boat, knocking one of the boat’s intruders into the flames instead. He claims to just have “one of those faces” before Rick punches him. He’s certainly got his moments, but a particular favorite moment that’s worthy of honorable mention is during the final moments of the movie when Jonathan struggles to read the inscription out of the Book of the Living, asking Evelyn for help as she’s trying to run away from the mummy of Anck-su-namun, Imhotep’s lover. He takes his time reading through it, oblivious to the battle around him, which makes it all the more comical.

Lastly, the animosity between Rick and the prison warden Gad, who had nearly killed him via hanging in his prison, develops into something of a slapstick-humor-centered relationship as clearly Rick detests the warden (understandably so) and Gad accompanies Rick and Evelyn’s excursion to Hamunaptra uninvited. My personal favorite is when Rick continuously tries hitting the warden with the end of a rope not long after they’ve arrived in Hamunaptra, albeit subtly, and Gad, annoyed, simply moves away.

The elements of slapstick humor provided a special dynamic between the characters, especially the ones mentioned above in particular. In a film with a plot driven by disaster, an insertion of slapstick humor is appreciated to lighten the mood here and there.

Horror With A Twist

When you look closely at the plot, it’s intriguing how one thing inspires another and how it all comes together to be intricately wrapped in a bow. What began as a romance leads to a horror movie.

Imhotep and Anck Su Namun in The Mummy Anck Su Namun is holding a hand over Imhotep's face while Imhotep closes his eyes as they face each other

Imhotep carries on an affair with Anck-su-namun, the mistress of Pharaoh Seti I. While we can certainly romanticize the Romeo and Juliet aspect of their forbidden love, the truth of the matter is that they handle it all wrong by killing the Pharoah upon his discovery of their indiscretions, which leads to their catastrophic demises as Anck-su-namun kills herself (hoping to later be resurrected by Imhotep) and Imhotep suffers the worst Egyptian curse, the Hom Dai, after he is caught by the Medjai, the Pharoah’s bodyguards. Their love affair turned deadly and their tragic endings led to horror, but without their affair, in a way, Rick and Evelyn never would’ve fallen in love.

Rick and Evelyn didn’t exactly experience love at first sight, though there was a bit of a spark. However, it takes the expedition, and the extenuating circumstances of defeating Imhotep, for them to get to know one another and fall for each other. Imhotep didn’t get his happy ending, but his ending did inspire a happy one for Rick and Evelyn to ride off into the sunset, literally.

Romance developing into a horror story, and a romance that develops because of the said horror story is a fascinating way to approach a plot because of its ingenuity. It’s unexpected, it’s fresh, and it’s a brilliant lesson in love.

The Unexpected Heroine And The Flawed Hero

Evelyn doesn’t strike the audience as the type ready to take on the wrath of a mummy or to go into battle guns blazing. She’s a librarian in Cairo that’s intelligent and beautiful, but she is certainly too well-mannered to be considered scrappy or otherwise tough. She proves audiences and most of her peers in the film wrong, however, when she undertakes the responsibility of locating the book that contains the incantation needed to ultimately defeat Imhotep. She’s scared but portrays utmost bravery, especially when she willingly accompanies Imhotep back to Hamunaptra at the risk of being sacrificed to save Rick and the others.

In her own words, Evelyn declares “Look, I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a gun-fighter, Mr. O’Connell, but I am proud of what I am.” When Rick asks her what that is, she responds, “I…am a librarian.” She may be intoxicated at the time but she strikes a root of truth in saying these things. She may not fit in like the rest, but her desire for knowledge and her appetite for discovery are what make her an adventurer in her own way. Her sense of responsibility further drives her to do the right thing despite the mortal danger. Evelyn was ahead of her time, ready to prove herself and conducting whatever means necessary to accomplish her goals. She didn’t back down and she could hold her own. Not to mention she was always confident in herself and in her abilities, which seemed to impress Rick. She was painted as a heroine all along, even if it wasn’t one you’d necessarily expect. It just goes to show you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

Evelyn looking to her left leaning away from a ladder to put a book away with shelves of books in the background and to the left of the picture

Rick, meanwhile, is a hero but he’s not the perfect hero. Meaning, he makes his own mistakes and tends to think ahead without considering all possible options. He initially believes that after he’s shot Imhotep, the threat is annihilated. He wanted to get out of Cairo, but Evelyn refuses, and he ends up staying to help her. Retreating without answers, or taking off at all, is not something you’d expect a hero to do. Especially one that used to be a member of the French Foreign Legion. Rick doesn’t take too many things seriously, and while that does make for a character that provides plenty of humor, it also proves that heroes are human, too. They’re not perfect, but what makes them heroes is the fact that they try at all, regardless of how scared they may be or whatever threat may befall them.

Scoring The Desert And Special Effects

Jerry Goldsmith’s score is impressive. It gives off a desert vibe, making it exotic and foreign. “The Crypt” is one of my personal favorite tracks because right off the bat you can tell that something sinister lies inside the crypt and that whatever it is will hardly be pleasant. It’s something antique and forbidden, meant to inflict harm.

Some tracks are creepier, like “Imhotep.” You can hear voices in the background and it sounds spooky, almost like the track itself is luring the audience into the impending danger. Meanwhile, “The Caravan” also features echoing voices in the background. The difference is that these voices sound like they’re more in awe and looking forward to something rather than spooked or otherwise introducing a mystery.

The special effects are memorable, particularly on Imhotep. As he awakens and begins to regenerate by killing off the members of the American expedition one by one, we literally see him in bits and pieces as he starts putting himself back together. The special effects also allow for us to be just as grossed out as Evelyn as she’s wakened by Imhotep kissing her and his mouth decomposing as he does so, until Rick bursts in with a cat to break up the worst kiss of Evelyn’s life.

Whether it’s special effects, mystery, romance, adventure, plot twists, slapstick humor, cultural clashes or a plethora of other elements that can be found in The Mummy for audiences to enjoy 21 years later, it’s universally appealing and has different things for audiences to love for years to come.


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Written by Kacie Lillejord

Kacie is a freelance writer versed in various forms. She loves pop culture, screenwriting, novels, and poetry. She has previously written for The Daily Wildcat, Harness Magazine, Cultured Vultures, and Screen Rant, with 25YL being her newest writing venture.

2 Comments

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  1. The movie holds up as I remember it. Watched the first two with my 9 year old (with my 7 year old occasionally checking in). Glad I could share it with my daughters. I’m being a bit nostalgic as my husband and I took a trip to Universal (way before the girls were born) and I loved the experience of riding the Mummy Rollercoaster, sitting in the front seat. A horror fan….the Tom Cruise version is forgettable, but I hope they keep the ‘Monster Universe’ them alive in other movies.This one is a big campy, but I think Brendan Fraser really makes it his own….a Raiders look but it’s own uniqueness and fun.

  2. Really good article. The Mummy is indeed a magnificent adventure movie, and my favourite movie of all time. Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz were great!

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