Morbidly Beautiful

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Modern filmmakers may struggle to effectively resurrect Universal’s classic movie monsters, but 1999’s “The Mummy” remains the gold standard.

The Mummy

An ages-old curse, a forbidden love punished and buried in the sands of Egypt. Unimaginable terror has been awoken accidentally. Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) and Jonathan Carnahan (John Hannah) certainly have their work cut out for them. Evelyn (Evie) awoke the mummy, and now they need the help of her boss and Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser), a former soldier, and Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr), a medjai. They must stop Imhotep’s (Arnold Vosloo) evil from being unleashed in the world.

I first saw 1999’s The Mummy (written and directed by Stephen Sommers) when I was five years old. It spawned a lifelong interest in Egypt for me. I knew a ridiculous amount about mummies, and the fiction of a mysterious, buried city filled with treasure set my imagination afire.

Is the history always accurate? No. Imhotep was a real person and not a high priest to Seti, and Thebes wasn’t in view of the pyramids. However, the movie is wildly fun, making me forgive its inaccuracy.

This film has something for everyone: a heroic adventure, an Egyptian mystery, and a romantic comedy with horror elements. As a young romantic, I loved the idea of Imhotep and Anucksunamen’s forbidden love. 

The Mummy was theatrically released on May 7, 1999.

Editor’s Notes:

Development took years, with multiple screenplays and directors attached. In 1997, Sommers successfully pitched his version of a more adventurous and romantic take on the source material — a decision that paid off in dividends.

Due to political instability in Egypt, filming took place largely in Morocco (along with the UK). It was a grueling shoot. To avoid dehydration in the scorching heat of the Sahara, the production’s medical team created a drink that the cast and crew had to consume every two hours. Sandstorms were daily inconveniences, and wildlife was a major problem, with many crew members having to be airlifted to medical care after being bitten or stung.

Brendan Fraser nearly died during a scene where his character is hanged.

The production had the official support of the Royal Moroccan Army, and the cast members had kidnapping insurance taken out on them.

Industrial Light & Magic provided many of the visual effects, blending live-action footage and computer-generated imagery to create the titular monster. The filmmakers reportedly spent $15 million of the $80 million budget on special effects alone. Elaborate set designs were constructed. Jerry Goldsmith provided the stirring orchestral score.

Today, the movie is considered a classic in the adventure genre, generating much retrospective praise for Brendan Fraser’s portrayal of Rick O’Connell.

With its blend of heart, humor, and horror, it was a pivotal blockbuster of the nineties and has maintained enduring appeal for the past twenty-five years. 

At the time of its release, however, critics were torn on the modern adaptation of the 1932 film of the same name. Some praised the film’s entertainment value, calling it a crowd-pleaser. Most agreed the effects were solid, especially the title creature, and the acting was strong. Others criticized the writing, the overstuffed plot, tonal inconsistencies, and derivative nature. 

Interestingly, test audiences reacted poorly to the film’s title, which conjured up negative impressions of an old horror film. Enthusiasm for the film was low, but Universal took out a television spot for the Super Bowl (reportedly costing $1.6 million) that immediately reversed the discussion of the film’s prospects.

Ultimately, the film was a huge commercial success.

The Mummy was the number-one film in the United States and Canada on its opening weekend, grossing $43 million in 3,210 theaters. Its weekend take was the highest non-holiday May opening and ninth-biggest opening of all time. It would eventually gross over $416 million worldwide. 

The film’s success spawned two direct sequels: The Mummy Returns (2001) and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008). It also led to spinoffs such as an animated series and the prequel The Scorpion King (2002), which generated its own sequels. 

Every aspect of the film is permanently engrained in my memory — even if I had not rewatched it a million times.

The Mummy

Other genre mummy movies from this same era are not as enticing. The Mummy was different because it streamlined the storylines with a simple love story gone wrong and an epic and thrilling adventure. 

One of the many things I love about the film is that it straddles many genres without feeling forced. Crossing easily into horror territory, new fears were unlocked: mummifications, being buried alive, eaten slowly, and being cursed to high heaven.

The film also famously triggered many people’s bi-awakening; everyone here is extraordinarily beautiful, and it’s just a pitch-perfect cast.

Brendan Fraser is a perfect action himbo feminist who happily lets the brilliant Evie lead them with her fumbling, loveable doof of a brother who’s the comedic relief. We have Benny, the betrayer; Ardeth Bay (another warrior-protector); and Imhotep, a villain bound by his forbidden love and, ultimately, cursed by it.

Imhotep is the quintessential villain: a man wronged but ready to make the world pay if he has to.

He is frightening, and Arnold Vosloo has been a crush of mine from day one.

Something I enjoy about Rick and Evie’s romantic dynamic is the initial enemies-to-lovers trope. Still, she reconsiders when he gets a haircut and a shower, which is endlessly funny. She’s a teacher, and he’s a fighter; he listens, learns, and protects her, and she does the same with her knowledge.

Evie is fighting the misogyny of academia, a sadly timeless experience with a fellow Egyptologist chauvinistically asking, “What does a woman know?” Evie’s sultry goddess glow-up is where Rick truly sees her for the first time, and he promptly gives her a gift that’s perfect for her.

The only drawback I can see is that the CGI isn’t amazing, though it was cutting-edge at the time. It’s not terrible by any means, just a little dated by today’s standards. However, it’s not enough to dampen the enjoyment of watching this timeless classic. 

If you haven’t seen it, or if it’s been a while, this is a still-valuable relic of the 90s that is well worth unearthing twenty-five years later. 

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