The Mummy represented Boris Karloff's second horror starring role after his overnight success in Frankenstein. Brought back to life after nearly 3,700 years, Egyptian high priest Imhotep wreaks havoc upon the members of the British field exposition that disturbed his tomb (shades of the King Tut curse).
While disguised as a contemporary Egyptologist, he falls in love with Zita Johann, whom he recognizes as the latest incarnation of a priestess who died nearly 40 centures earlier. Spiriting Zita away to the tomb, he relates the story of how he had dared to enter her ancestor's sacred burial crypt, hoping to restore her to life.
Caught in the act, he was embalmed alive and his tongue was cut out for his act of sacrilege. Now that he has returned, he intends to slay Zita, so that they will be reunited for all time in the Hereafter. Despite its melodramatic trappings, The Mummy is essentially a love story, poetically related by ace cinematographer and first-time director Karl Freund.
Jack Pierce's justly celebrated makeup skills offers us two Karloffs: the wizened Egyptologist and the flaking, rotting mummy, who though only seen for a few seconds remains in the memory long after the film's final image has faded. Best line: It went for a little walk.
The Mummy was followed by four stock footage-laden sequels, none of which approached the power and poignancy of the original.