Classic horror: Universal’s ‘Mummy’ movies

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It’s hard to imagine how a shambling, vengeance-seeking collection of bones and old cloth ever became a horror film sensation.

And yet: The Mummy.

One of the classic Universal monsters, the Mummy might not have the same level of recognition and shivery admiration as Dracula or Frankenstein or even the Wolf Man, but he’s nevertheless a favorite for some of us, inspiring reboots in recent years and cameoing in movies and cartoons for generations.

Universal’s first entry in the series, “The Mummy,” was released in 1932 and starred Boris Karloff. Made at a time that the world was still fascinated by ancient artifacts discovered – some might say stolen from – ancient Egyptian tombs, the movie was more atmospheric and creepy than monsteriffic.

For me, the best of the Mummy’ moments came with the sequels.

Beginning with the dawn of the 1940s, Universal released four sequels: “The Mummy’s Hand” (1940), “The Mummy’s Tomb” (1942) and “The Mummy’s Ghost’ and “The Mummy’s Curse” (both in 1944).

These movies portrayed the Mummy as a bandage-swathed, limping killer, sympathetic when he’s used by manipulative masters but an inexorable killer – granted, a slowly paced one – that stalks young women who are reincarnated versions of his lost love.

Tom Tyler, who had played Captain Marvel and was best known as a cowboy movie star, played the Mummy, Kharis, in the first sequel. This one was perhaps the creepiest for one of the Mummy’s features: Supernaturally dark eyes visible through gaps in his bandages.

The next three films betray the ever-cheaper budgets Universal was willing to allow for the movies. Each of the four sequels made use of footage from the earlier films, but the practice seemed more standard as the series wore on.

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The three final films in the four-movie sequel series starred Lon Chaney – a star for Universal in “The Wolf Man” following in Tyler’s stuttering footsteps. It was a mark of how quickly Chaney’s star had fallen that he went from playing Universal’s most tortured and likable monster to being unrecognizable as the Mummy.

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One of the oddest elements of the series was the passage of time, which meant that later installments took place in the 1970s – albeit a very 1940s-style 1970s.

The time jump was nearly equaled in “say what?” by the switch in locales from Egypt to the United States, finding the Mummy and his masters turning up in first Massachusetts then Cajun country.

As much as I love “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” there’s something to be said for the comedians’ meeting with the Mummy in 1955 that, for pure and simple thrills and laughs, very nearly beats the A&C classic monsterfest that was originally released in 1948.

jonny quest mummy curse of anubis

As for those cameos: One of my favorite episodes of “Jonny Quest,” the classic 1964 primetime animated adventure series, is “Curse of Anubis,” in which Jonny and the Quest gang go to Egypt when antiquities come up missing and murders are committed. There’s plenty of human villainy, of course, but striding through the mix is a mummy – maybe the Mummy. There’s no doubt the wonderfully atmospheric scenes of the Mummy stalking victims – sights familiar to anyone who had been watching the Universal films in their early TV showings – inspired plenty of goosebumps.

Not bad for a shambling bunch of bones.

… And we’re back. Hopefully.

homersimpsonsimpsoncrazy.com

If you’re a regular reader of this blog (thank you and bless you) you know it’s been pretty quiet of late.

I can’t blame anyone but myself for that, but I will say that my job, as rewarding as it is, has been exceedingly busy in recent months. That hasn’t changed, really, but I’m going to try to post more here even though I’m still writing a lot for my actual work.

Also: I’ll try to post the occasional iPhone photo here, but I’m pretty active on Instagram, where you can find me as, strangely enough, Keith Roysdon. Maybe all run together into one word. Hard to tell.

So I’m going to try to post more here, I’ll probably promo my work more through my pop culture Twitter account @Pop_Roysdon and hopefully we’ll all enjoy it.

Or, if you see that nothing has changed here, you know this post was just overly-optimistic bull.

So here goes nothing! (Maybe literally.)

Me, MeTV and Saturday night

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The weekend nights – Friday and Saturday nights, really – are and always have been special to young people. They were nights of freedom, with the promise of being able to stay up late because the next mornings were not school mornings.

I grew up watching “Sammy Terry” on WISH-TV 4 on Friday nights – a double-feature of classic and/or cheesy movies beginning at 11 p.m. – and “Science Fiction Theater,” a double-feature of more SF-oriented – as opposed to horror – movies without a host that aired on WISH on Saturday nights.

Of course, despite the enduring memories of Sammy Terry on Fridays, Saturdays have always had an edge is airing great old horror and science fiction. The legendary “Mystery Science Theater 3000″ ended its run on the then-Sci-FI Channel on Saturdays (I still miss that viewing experience so much) and “Commander USA’s Groovie Movies” aired on USA Network in the latter half of the 1980s.

Considering I’m in the demographic for MeTV, it’s not a surprise that the channel, which specializes in airing classic TV of the 1950s-1980s, is one that I’m always checking out. And it’s not surprising that MeTV has me – and a loyal fanbase – hooked for its Super Sci-Fi Saturday Nights programming block.

MeTV’s Saturday night line-up has varied a bit over the past couple of years but has only grown more solid recently with its selection of TV shows and, as its crown jewel, the selection of classic horror films hosted by longtime Chicago horror host Svengoolie.

I’ve written about Svengoolie here before, but I’ll note for the record that the show, written, hosted and almost totally performed by Rich Koz, is perhaps the most entertaining geek-oriented two hours on TV right now.

That’s because of how much TV has changed in the past two decades.

With a proliferation of channels – and channels devoted to geek-friendly fare that include (now) SyFy – it seemed like a safe bet that lots of classic TV shows would be available to fill our days and late-nights.

(And yes, I know that virtually anything that airs on TV these days is available on disc, streaming or online. But I like a well-curated TV lineup.)

But any dreams I might have had of being able to see classic sci-fi or horror movies on these 24-7 channels were dashed when I saw what the channels actually chose to air: Tons of “reality” programming and hour after hour of reruns of network shows like “CSI.”

MeTV, which began airing in Chicago in 2005 and went national in 2010, appealed to Baby Boomers and others of nostalgic mindset by airing classic sitcoms and dramas.

The channel’s Saturday night lineup doubles down that appeal by programming for the growing geek base.

The night starts strong with episodes of “The Adventures of Superman,” the 1950s George Reeves series that hasn’t been widely seen in recent decades. That’s followed by the 1960s “Batman” series, the 1970s “Wonder Woman” series, “Star Trek,” “Svengoolie,” “Lost in Space” and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.”

I’ve never been a big fan of the last two, Irwin Allen kids’ shows from the 1960s, but they’re good fare for insomniacs who haven’t been lulled into peaceful sleep by Svengoolie’s airing of some classic Universal monster movie.

And while “Wonder Woman” never met a villain she couldn’t subdue by throwing him into a swimming pool – just watch a few episodes; you’ll see what I mean – the Lynda Carter series plays nicely along with the campy “Batman” series and the crime-busting noir “Superman” show.

MeTV’s whole lineup is comfort food for those of a certain age, of course. Its Saturday night lineup is comfort food for geeks of a certain age.

‘Age of Ultron’ and our Marvel movie future

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It’s probably an understatement that most of us geeks are looking forward to when “Avengers: Age of Ultron” opens in May.

There are a lot of comic-book movies coming – with more likely to be announced by Marvel in a mysterious event set for Tuesday – featuring Marvel, DC and other favorites.

But “Age of Ultron” is the one that everybody’s thinking about right now, in part because the teaser trailer was released this week and tens of millions of people have watched it.

I would guess that a few million of those people who watched the trailer were doing more than marvel – no pun intended – at the menace in James Spaders’ Ultron voice or the glimpses at Iron Man’s Hulkbuster armor.

The little hints at the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are beyond tantalizing.

We’ve been watching so closely, in recent Marvel movie credits scenes, for clues to what would happen with villain Ultron in the third “Avengers” movie.

Then Marvel didn’t dispute reports that the third “Captain America” movie would feature, alongside Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and would likely follow at least some of the comic book “Civil War” storyline, which pit two groups of heroes, led by government skeptic Steve Rogers and government control freak Tony Stark, into a battle that would eventually lead to Rogers’ death and replacement, for a time, with Bucky Barnes.

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It all seems likely and seems to fit with Marvel’s ambitious plans.

We might know more Tuesday. In the meantime, we can continue to puzzle over the “Age of Ultron” trailer and what we’ll see when the movie opens in May.

Today in Halloween: Skulls under glass

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Have you noticed how much skull stuff there is out there this year?

These guys remind me of the invaders from “Mars Attacks.”

Chelsea Cain returns with ‘One Kick’

one kick chelsea cain

Starting a new series can be a tricky thing for an author. Will readers follow you to another series, especially one that’s very different from the old familiar one?

Chelsea Cain needn’t worry. Since 2007, she’s been writing a series of twisty and twisted thrillers about Portland cop Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell, the serial killer who seduced and nearly killed Archie. Cain’s books are grim and fun at the same time, throwing great characters like young newspaper reporter Susan Ward into the horrific dance between Sheridan and Lowell to lighten the tone occasionally.

Cain is trying something very different with “One Kick,” a new books that kicks off a new series following Kit “Kick” Lannigan, a 21-year-old with a horrifying past. As a child, she was kidnapped by a stranger who held her in captivity for five years, molesting her and making her the star of many child pornography movies that live on a decade after she was rescued from Mel, her captor.

As a 21-year-old, Kick is training her body and gathering weapons for … something. She doesn’t know quite what, but she goes into high alert every time a child turns up missing.

Finally, after the disappearance of a young boy named Adam, Kick is approached by Bishop, a frustratingly smug and enigmatic man, apparently independently wealthy, who recruits her to help him find Adam and other missing children.

With the life of Kick’s brother threatened by a predator from their childhood – and Kick’s life and sanity in the balance – Kick goes to work, an emotionally frayed but lethal avenging angel, striking out to save children from the same fate that befell her.

Cain’s readers will find some familiar elements in “One Kick,” including an annoying mother and some unhealthy relationships. And there are some queasy moments of visceral gore.

But “One Kick” and Kick Lannigan are very different animals from Archie or Gretchen or Susan. As personal as Gretchen’s assault was to Archie, there’s nothing as horrible, as cruel, as the toll that child exploitation takes on its victims. It’s to Cain’s credit that her story adequately conveys this weight at the same time it turns the characters and situations into fodder for a gripping crime novel.

Today in Halloween: Hello there!

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Regular readers of the blog know I love Halloween and like to share items old and new.

Above, first time I’ve seen this piece of decor.

My thought: Sure, everybody likes it when it’s for Halloween!

‘Wrinkle in Time’ deserves another look

a wrinkle in time

I think I’m going to have to re-read “A Wrinkle in Time.” Seriously, this time.

Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 story, about young siblings and a friend who journey through space and time to rescue their scientist father, was a favorite of mine when I was a kid.

I was a little romantic, you see, and the book’s earnest tone and loving characters appealed to me.

I read one or two of L’Engle’s sequels but the first book really stuck with me.

And then I tried to read it again a year or two ago.

I couldn’t get through it. I couldn’t even get very far into it.

I grew up on a steady diet of science fiction and I still love some Young Adult books, especially “The Hunger Games” trilogy.

But re-reading “A Wrinkle in Time” almost made me swoon from all the saccharine dialogue and heartfelt feelings.

I’ll try reading it again because I want to experience this favorite story again before the movie comes out.

Yes, apparently Jennifer Lee, who wrote and co-directed “Frozen,” wants to write a screenplay for a long-planned movie version of “A Wrinkle in Time.”

I haven’t seen “Frozen” but it seems like Lee is the right person to add some bite to “Wrinkle.”

So I’ll try it again and see if anything can re-ignite my love for this old story.

Classic TV: ‘Superman on Earth’

the adventures of superman

It’s hard to overstate just what an impact “The Adventures of Superman” had on America in the 1950s.

Kids were comic-book crazy back then and comics had sold millions of copies a year for more than a decade. Superman was one of the most popular and when the DC Comics superhero hit TV, a generations-long love affair with the Man of Steel became as solid as steel bars, breakable only by Superman himself.

A great deal of the credit for the impact of the series goes to “Superman on Earth,” a lean and sturdy telling of Superman’s origin directed by veteran helmer Tommy Carr. The series – which started in black and white, as befits a show that revolved around gangsters, hoods and other film noir staples more than science fiction – sparked millions of Superman toys, Halloween costumes and, eventually, more movies and TV shows over the course of six seasons beginning in the fall of 1952.

The debut episode hews surprisingly closely to the Superman mythos as they’d been created and fleshed out in the comics and radio show.

superman on earth jor-el rocket

The story opens on Krypton, as scientist Jor-El tries to tell the Kryptonian ruling council about the eminent destruction of the planet. They scoff at his forecast as well as his plan to build rocketships to transport the population to the planet Earth.

Before Jor-El can complete a rocket to take him, Lara and baby Kal-El to Earth, Krypton begins to tear itself apart. Jor-El and Lara wrap little Kal in a blanket and place him in the rocket.

in these first 10 minutes or so, the show plays like a “Flash Gordon”-style space opera – complete with, legend says, “Flash Gordon” leftover costumes.

After the rocket gets to Earth, it’s the heartfelt but hokey Smallville portion of the story, with Eben and Sarah Kent finding the rocket from Krypton and deciding to keep the baby. Flash forward to Clark at age 12, asking Ma why he’s different from the other boys. Then flash forward to Clark’s 25th “birthday” and Pa’s heart attack. As is familiar from so many iterations of the story, Clark decides to leave Smallville and go to Metropolis.

There’s a funny shot of George Reeves as Clark, “walking” down the sidewalks of Metropolis, putting on glasses as a disguise and deciding to become a reporter because newspapers were where the action is and Superman would know immediately when trouble broke out.

One of the strengths of the series was that Clark was a sharp guy who leveraged his powers as Superman in his everyday life. After gruff Daily Planet editor Perry White brushes him off – even after Clark shows initiative by entering his office through the window, 28 floors up – Clark hears Lois tell Perry about a man hanging from a dirigible out at the airport. Clark bargains with Perry: If he can get the man’s exclusive story, he’ll get a reporter job.

Superman shows up, rescues the man – played by Dabbs Greer, later memorable as the minister in “Little House on the Prairie,” and gets his story – frustrating Lois and winning the job.

The show wraps up with a customary joke by Clark – “Maybe I’m Superman” he taunts Lois – and bang, in less than a half hour, the show has introduced America to the the world’s greatest superhero.

‘Longmire’ canceled; book series hits new peak

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I’ve got good news and bad news.

Despite its status as A&E’s top-rated drama series, “Longmire” has been canceled by the cable channel.

We heard a variety of explanations given when the news broke a few days ago. A&E didn’t value the older-than-the-most-coveted-demographic age of the audience. A&E didn’t own the series and thus made less money from it.

TV is a totally screwed up industry.

So with the finish of the third season still fresh and the possibility that the series might continue on another channel or even online, we’ll mourn “Longmire” and hope for more adventures of the crusty Wyoming sheriff and his posse.

Longmire Season 2

“Longmire” the TV series had a great cast and average-to-above-average stories that settled into author Craig Johnson’s characters and settings more as the series progressed.

But the series never topped Johnson’s stories. And I don’t think I’ve ready any 10th book in a series that felt as assured as “Any Other Name,” Johnson’s latest Longmire novel.

Sure, Robert B. Parker’s Spencer series and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books are dependably, consistently fun. And maybe Johnson just hit a high point with “Any Other Name.” But the book series feels like it’s gotten a second wind, so compelling and accomplished does “Any Other Name” feel.

Johnson can’t go too far wrong when he focuses on Walt Longmire, of course. Select members of his supporting cast bring a lot to the stories, and he includes three of them here: Walt’s longtime best friend, Henry Standing Bear; Vic Moretti, Walt’s chief deputy and sometime paramour, and Lucian Connally, Walt’s predecessor as sheriff.

Lucian asks Walt’s help in finding out why his old friend, a cop in another county, killed himself. Before long, they determine that the cop’s death was caught up in a scheme involving missing women and human trafficking.

Johnson’s writing is so heartfelt but so wry, so funny but so hard-nosed, that it didn’t seem likely that he could top his previous books.

But I really think he did with “Any Other Name.” The story has the quirky charm of all of the author’s previous modern-day westerns with a clear and concise mystery.

And it feels like Johnson had a hell of a time writing “Any Other Name.” I just hope he had as good a time writing it as I had reading it.

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