BRITISH CULT CLASSICS: The Mummy's Shroud / Blu-Ray Review

The Mummy's Shroud was the last film Hammer made at Bray Studios and it therefore marked the end of a particular era for the company. Producers Anthony Hinds and Anthony Nelson Keys had attempted to maintain the lot at Bray with back-to-back productions but this merely offered a temporary solution to the problems facing Hammer. Bray Studios were now too expensive for Hammer to run during an increasingly desperate period for the British film industry.

The use of Bray had declined since 1964 after the deal with ABPC, Fox and Seven-Arts had required them to shoot their ABPC roster of films at Elstree rather than their home at Bray. In the summer of 1964, the back lot had been cleared and the sets for the four back-to-back productions of Dracula Prince of Darkness, Rasputin the Mad Monk, The Reptile and The Plague of the Zombies, which couldn't be accommodated at Elstree, would be erected. Those exteriors would eventually be revamped for Frankenstein Created Woman and The Mummy's Shroud in 1966.

After the shooting of The Mummy's Shroud, between 10 September and 21 October, Hammer left Bray for the last time in November 1966. As Michael Carreras noted, 'I look back with tremendous nostalgia on what I call our "Bray period". There is no question that having a permanent unit in a permanent house gave the films a uniquely personal quality which we never recaptured once we were out in the bigger world of commercial studios.' (1)

... he did not endear himself to The Mummy's Shroud and considered it his worst effort
The Mummy's Shroud was the third of Hammer's mummy films, this particular sub-genre a legacy of their access to the Universal back catalogue after they struck a rights and distribution agreement with the studio following the success of The Curse of Frankenstein. It also marked the end of their current eleven picture distribution deal with ABPC, who were willing to continue their deal with Hammer but under the proviso that an agreed schedule of films would be shot at Elstree.

The original story for the film came from Anthony Hinds and then director John Gilling, for whom this would be his last film for Hammer, developed the story and produced a shooting script by September 1966. Gilling had a troubled relationship with Hammer and was notoriously difficult to work with but he had already turned out a number of successful films for the studio. However, he did not endear himself to The Mummy's Shroud and considered it his worst effort.

This may have had something to do with the formulaic premise of the mummy film itself, as indicated by Jonathan Rigby and Denis Meikle in the accompanying documentary on this disc and where, as Jasmine Day notes of the classic formula and its repetition of 'the mummy kills those who pillaged the tomb of his beloved princess (or, in Shroud, of a prince in his care)... [and]... Some of the violators ignore warnings about the curse and refuse to believe the dead can revive, so they are slain by the mummy.' (2) Gilling was aware of the limitations of the formula and attempted to add some interesting touches to such standard fare, with some visual flourishes enlivening a rather pedestrian affair.

With a budget of £134,000 Gilling first took cast and crew for a one day location shoot at Wapsey's Wood quarry at Gerrard's Cross to simulate the Egyptian sands of the film's prologue and, beyond the opening titles, the discovery of prince Kah-to-Bey's tomb, guarded by the mummy of Prem. Wapsey's Wood will look familiar to Doctor Who fans as it was later used in the following summer of 1967 as the locations for Telos in The Tomb of the Cybermen, itself a variant of the mummy sub-genre. The streets, alleys and bazaar of Mezzera were all shot on the Bray back lot and various stages housed, among others, the interiors of the tomb, the museum, the hotel and Haiti's lair.

Gilling's crew featured the cream of Hammer talent, including production designer Bernard Robinson, art director Don Mingaye and cinematographer Arthur Grant and the ensemble cast was headed by André Morell, the highly respected film and television actor and no stranger to Hammer from roles in The Camp on Blood Island (1958), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) and The Plague of the Zombies (1966). Joining Morell was David Buck, replacing John Richardson and familiar to television viewers as the narrator/central character Richard Beckett of ABC's Gothic horror anthology series Mystery and Imagination (1966-70).

The ensemble also included: ubiquitous character actor John Phillips; Elizabeth Sellars rounding off her Hammer career at Bray, having starred in their first film made there, Cloudburst (1951); veteran British character actress Catherine Lacey who had worked with Hitchcock, Orson Welles and Michael Powell; newcomer Maggie Kimberley who would appear shortly after in Michael Reeves' Witchfinder General (1968); Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper and, of course, Roger Delgado who had made a career out of scheming foreigners, popping up in The Stranglers of Bombay (1959) and The Terror of the Tongs (1961) for Hammer, and later immortalised in the 1970s as the Master in Doctor Who.

Lumbering around in George Partleton's mummy costume, his authentic design based on exhibits in the Egyptian Rooms of the British Museum, was stunt man Eddie Powell who had doubled in bandages for Christopher Lee back in 1959's The Mummy. Filming his murderous rampage was not without its problems. A sequence where the mummy murders photographer Harry Newton (Tim Barrett) and has acid thrown on it caused Powell some discomfort when the fumes from the smoke effects penetrated the mask he was wearing and almost asphyxiated him.

Special effects were handled by Les Bowie and his assistant Ian Scoones who built a section of the museum's floor and set in Bowie's Slough studio to enable Scoones to use his own arms to create the effects for the mummy's demise, as it crushes its own body and crumbles into dust at the climax of the film. Scoones later recalled, 'We completely reconstructed the set from Bray which we put on a rostrum so we could work underneath it. The disintegration of the mummy was something we worked for weeks to perfect - we tried everything from acid to poppadoms to get the right effect. In the end we used Fuller's Earth mixed with paint dust on a wax head.' (3)

The BBFC offered little resistance to the film when Hammer submitted it for certification. They simply requested that a number of black and white reels that they had seen be resubmitted in colour to reassess Newton's murder, potentially request a cut to the scene and to look more closely at the mummy's disintegration at the end of the film. It was passed for X certificate on 27 March 1967 and opened as part of a double bill on the ABC cinema circuit with Terence Fisher's Frankenstein Created Woman on 18 June 1967.
'Archaeologists are portrayed as staid, incapable of comprehending the wonder of what they uncover'
The Mummy's Shroud begins with a rather long and drawn out eight minute narrated flashback to relate the escape, into the desert, of young prince Kah-to-Bey and his Chief Slave Prem from a palace coup. The prince dies and Prem buries him beneath the shroud of the film's title. Despite Hammer's best intentions, the low budget does not hide their overstretched ambitions to mount an epic fight to the death, between the Pharaoh and those who wish wrest power from him, on some very confined sets with a handful of extras. Clearly an attempt to recapture the flashbacks to ancient Egypt that featured in Terence Fisher's The Mummy, it holds the film up unnecessarily.

In 1920, an archaeological party, headed by Sir Basil Walden (Morell) and including language expert Claire de Sangre (Kimberley), fellow archaeologist Paul Preston (Buck) and photographer Harry Newton (Barrett) stumble upon the resting place of Kah-to-Bey after a violent sandstorm. A guardian of the tomb, Hasmid (Delgado) warns them of the tomb's curse but he is ignored and, despite Walden's injury from a snake bite, he and his team open the tomb after they are joined by a rescue party led by Paul's father, Stanley Preston (Phillips) and his much put-upon aid, Longbarrow (Ripper).

When Kah-to-Bey's remains are discovered, Claire refuses to interpret the inscriptions on the sacred shroud, afraid of the power they may unleash. When the remains of Kah-to-Bey and the shroud are reunited with the mummy of Prem, now housed in the museum, Hasmid and his clairvoyant mother Haiti use the shroud to awaken Prem and carry out the murders of those who desecrated the tomb.

After the slightly underwhelming opening, the film relocates to the Egyptian city of Mezzera and with events confined mainly to the interiors mounted at Bray. Bernard Robinson's production design miracles transform the rather cramped sets and, for the site of much of the film's claustrophobic colonial return of the repressed, he goes for a plethora of marble in the hotel and its rooms. The Restoration Room at the museum is his attempt to emulate the Egyptian Rooms of the British Museum. All are the environs of the professional and the masculine - blustering capitalist Stanley Preston, the press snapping at his heels and the local police led by Inspector Barrani (Richard Warner). Contrast these with the interior of Haiti's lair, luridly lit and decorated with masses of bric-à-brac.

One of the key themes in Hammer's horror cycle is the slow attrition and devaluation of the professional male figure, a theme I touched upon in my review of The Curse of Frankenstein. Many of the mummy films feature archaeologists being punished for their imperialist hubris and rational paternalism. The Mummy's Shroud illustrates this in some interesting ways and director John Gilling uses his visual flair to underline it. Four male professionals - Sir Basil Walden, Stanley Preston, Harry Newton and Longbarrow - fail to see what is under their noses, to understand the nature of the curse. 'Archaeologists are portrayed as staid, incapable of comprehending the wonder of what they uncover... they cannot see that the world is enchanted' and this failure of perception is used by Gilling to symbolise their rationalism in contrast to the supernatural power of the ancient curse. (4)

Walden, presumably poisoned by snake venom, collapses in the museum, his point of view seen as blurred and out of focus before his blackout. Later, at Haiti's house he is still in a state of delirium, reflected in a crystal ball before the mummy murders him. Harry Newton, searching for clues to the meaning of the sacred shroud using the rational and realist representations of photography, sees the approaching mummy reflected in a tray of developing fluid and then is blinded by acid and burnt to death.

Longbarrow breaks his spectacles and can only see the blurred figure of the mummy before it murders him. Preston is strangled from behind, never seeing his assailant. There is also a symmetry when Walden and Preston's heads are seen to be visibly crushed and, later, the mummy Prem will crush his own own when the curse is lifted and he is freed from protecting his long dead young prince Kah-to-Bey.

The female figures of the film are ranged against this. All are Cassandra symbols and are prophetic seers of one kind or another. There is Haiti, gazing into her crystal ball and predicting death, Claire who has an uncanny knowledge of the power of the sacred shroud and Elizabeth Sellars as Barbara, Preston's wife, who spends much of the film in a state of doomed expectation.

It is interesting to note the same symmetry in how Haiti works together with her son Hasmid to wreak revenge and how Paul Preston eventually trusts Claire to say the words of power that will lift the curse and 'it is women's warnings that convince Paul to abandon the conventional logic that is impotent in the face of the supernatural.' (5)

This also suggests a relationship to the very beginning of the film, when the Pharaoh watches his wife die after childbirth and perhaps witnesses the loss of female intuition and power that would have prevented his ignorance of the forthcoming coup. There are also constant reminders of blindness and sight in the film, be it the sandstorm that suddenly clears to reveal Kah-to-Bey's location, the press intrusion and photography that trigger's Preston's search in the desert for his son Paul or Harry Newton's role as a photographer at the uncovering of Kah-to-Bey's remains. When all these aspects and themes of the film are married to Gilling's visual flare, The Mummy's Shroud briefly attains some of the symbolic thrills of his earlier work on The Plague of the Zombies.

Gilling's style surfaces most effectively in the murder sequences, using unusual angles to denote threat, high contrast between light and dark or a single primary colour, focus and wide angle lenses to skew perception. Beyond the cliches of action adventure, he also has a preponderance to place faces and objects very close to the lens in the foreground, often partially obfuscating the view, closing off or emphasising vision. It's also symbolised in the big close ups of Prem's eyes, caked in centuries of dust and wrappings, slowly opening as he is sent out on his murderous quest. It all adds to the creeping sense of claustrophobia that the film quietly generates.

Unfortunately, there isn't enough of his visual stamp on the film and a string of very wordy scenes are only intermittently punctuated by these exotic visuals and the pace of the film suffers. However, Gilling's film is also blessed by some sensational performances. The team of Catherine Lacey and Roger Delgado positively crackles with life when on the screen. Lacey is astonishing as the wizened, wide-eyed and toothless Haiti auguring the worst for the archaeological stiff upper lips. Delgado doesn't get a lot to do but relishes his moments on screen, his expressive face and eyes speaking more volumes than his dialogue ever could.

Morell is always good value for money but when his character Sir Basil is murdered half way through the film his dependable presence is greatly missed. John Phillips is excellent as the infuriatingly selfish and pompous Stanley Preston. He is the perfect foil for Michael Ripper's scene stealing performance as Longbarrow. Probably one of Ripper's best ever outings for Hammer, it's a precisely measured expression of Longbarrow's constantly undermined and bullied little man. He's one of the few characters that the viewer can have any sympathy for.

Of the young leads, David Buck is suitably clean cut as the boyish hero Paul Preston and is most effective when Paul gets to tear a strip off his father. Maggie Kimberley's performance as Claire is a constant cause for speculation as her line readings are often rather odd and distant and its difficult to grasp whether this is a deliberate ploy to emphasise her repressed psychic abilities or whether she's just not very good in the role.

After the four murders, the film suddenly picks up some pace and the conclusion, with the mummy wrecking the museum in its quest to kill Paul and Claire is rather good. The police chief Inspector Barrani, who has singularly failed to solve any of the crimes in the film, finishes off Hasmid as the mummy trashes the place and nearly strangles Paul to death. Gilling even manages to generate sympathy and dignity for Prem as he crushes himself to pieces when Claire recites the words on the sacred shroud.

A minor entry in the Hammer canon but not without some flashes of excitement, The Mummy's Shroud represents the end of an era for Hammer, an experience which actor Michael Ripper summed up as 'when I finished my final day on that film, I must admit I was upset. To leave Bray and that period of Hammer behind was a sad moment indeed.' (6)

(1) Michael Carreras interview, Fangoria, Issue 61.
(2) Jasmine Day, Mummy's Curse - Mummy-mania in the English Speaking World
(3) The Mummy's Shroud, Hammer Horror, Issue 3, May 1995
(4) Jasmine Day, Mummy's Curse - Mummy-mania in the English Speaking World
(5) Ibid 
(6) Derek Pykett, Michael Ripper Unmasked

About the transfer
Another clean and spotless high definition transfer for this third release from StudioCanal. The results of this restoration aren't quite as eye popping as the work carried out on The Devil Rides Out and Rasputin the Mad Monk but it's pretty close and there is plenty here to enjoy.

Colour is perhaps not as lustrous as the previous transfers but rises to the occasion in many scenes, particularly when we get to the murder sequences and the interiors of fortune teller Haiti's room. Here, oranges and reds really resonate. Flesh tones can also tend towards orange and brown, which isn't surprising with many Caucasian actors sporting tans or blacked up for their roles in the Egyptian setting.

Arthur Grant's colour schemes are lit with a predominance for browns, yellows, blues and greys punctuated by highlights of green, red and white. Detail is good and often quite excellent. The film revels in close ups of faces and there's a lot of sweat, heavy lines, wide eyes and the drooling Catherine Lacey on offer. You'll also enjoy the finer patterns of period decor (Bernard Robinson goes for lots of marbling on walls and columns) and costumes, particularly the suits and uniforms, and the mummy itself looks rather fine, particularly its bandaged arms.

There's a healthy presence of grain that ensures an appropriate film-like texture and contrast is deep and layered throughout much of the presentation although the contrast in the murder of photographer Harry Newton, bathed in red light, isn't quite as deep as the rest of the film. Overall, quite a delightful and very pleasing presentation.

Special features
The Beat Goes On: The Making of The Mummy's Shroud (22:00)
Denis Meikle explains Hammer's exploitation of the Universal back catalogue and how they developed the 'mummy film' franchise. John Johnston, of The Egypt Exploration Society, compares the narrative of The Mummy's Shroud with past mummy films, including Hammer's The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb, their use of  Egyptian mythology and the film's connection with the discovery, by Howard Carter and the Earl of Carnarvon, of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922. Jonathan Rigby notes that director John Gilling, limited by the premise made an attempt to pep up this ensemble piece with some stylish murder sequences while Meikle covers Gilling's long but turbulent history with Hammer. They all examine the casting of the film, Michael Ripper's moment in the limelight as the 'downtrodden little man' and Johnston highlights the combination of Roger Delgado and Catherine Lacey in the film. David Huckvale also returns to analyse Don Banks's score. This may amount to something of an apologia for what is perhaps a minor entry in the Hammer canon, one that Gilling himself had no love for, but it is none the less an engaging featurette.
Remembering David Buck (5:37)
A moving little tribute to actor David Buck from his widow Madeline Smith, an actor familiar to Hammer fans for her roles in Taste the Blood of Dracula, The Vampire Lovers and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. She recalls how they eventually met after working on Granada's Crown Court in 1974 and recognised him from his work on the Mystery and Imagination series. She offers that he was a funny, talented, intellectual man and regrets that, because of her fears about repeating the failure of her parents' marriage, she didn't marry him until, tragically, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and was left with six months to live.   
Stills gallery (6:09)
Comprehensive selection of posters, ad art, colour lobby cards, black and white and colour stills, some Hammer glamour shots of Maggie Kimberley, various portraits and behind the scenes images, including Eddie Powell drinking 'his daily pinta', still in costume as the mummy, for a Milk Marketing Board campaign.
Hammer trailers (14:46)
If you've been wondering where all the trailers have gone from these releases then there's a whole bunch to get your teeth into here. The Mummy's Shroud US trailer, in both restored and unrestored states, is present; as is an unrestored double bill US trailer for Rasputin the Mad Monk (where's my free beard?) and The Reptile, and finally The Devil's Bride (the US retitling of The Devil Rides Out) is represented with a TV spot and an unrestored and restored trailer.

The Mummy's Shroud
A Hammer Film Production 1967
Seven Arts - Fox - Warner Pathe
StudioCanal Blu-Ray and DVD Double Play / OPTBD2474 / Cert: PG / Released 22 October 2012
BD: Region B 1080p AVC / PAL / Feature Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 / 90 minutes / English / LPCM Mono 2.0 Audio
DVD: Region 2 / 87 minutes / PAL / Feature Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 / English / Mono 2.0 Audio

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