There’s a potential joke in the headline. The Mummy is supposed to be the start of a big new mega-franchise, and I’ll be surprised if it leads to as many as eight more installments. But this isn’t about all those planned Dark Universe remakes (which so far include Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Phantom of the Opera, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame). It’s about older movies, chosen as further essential viewing.
I don’t need to tell you to go back and watch the 1932 original version of The Mummy, since I already assigned it in my list of movies to see in anticipation of the releases of 2017. Plus, it’s kind of a given. You can also just follow through with the others — the sequels and remakes and other full reboots (check out our ranking of the Mummies of the whole lot of these films). They’re all better than the latest one.
Instead, here are eight other picks I think are relevant recommendations.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
The new version of The Mummy turns out to have a lot more Henry Jekyll and Eddie Hyde than I expected, so since I hadn’t also assigned any homework to prepare for him/them, now’s the time. The dual-sided character originates in the 1886 novella “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson, and the book has been adapted many times, starting with a lost one-reeler by Otis Turner in 1908. Other shorts from 1912 and 1913 are in the public domain and available to watch online.
As with The Mummy, most early screen versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are worth your time. Paramount’s 1931 feature earned star Fredric March his first Oscar for Best Actor (albeit in a tie). Victor Fleming’s 1941 remake for MGM (there was actually an attempt for it to completely supplant the one a decade prior, as in destroy all copies), while arguably miscast with Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman (not that they’re not always watchable) is significant for its makeup effects.
Then there’s Paramount’s 1920 silent feature, not to be confused with two other adaptations from the same year (including F. W. Murnau’s unauthorized The Head of Janus). Starring John Barrymore in a dual performance so good he didn’t even need much in the way of makeup or camera effects to achieve his transformation from Jekyll to Hyde, this movie is more faithful to Stevenson’s work than most adaptations and features the better, darker ending. But as became the norm for the property, it also features changes originating from Thomas Russell Sullivan’s 1887 stage version, including the addition of a fiancee for Hyde.
This movie, too, is in the public domain, but getting a hard copy rather than watching on YouTube is encouraged.
Mad Monster Party? (1967)
The interesting thing about Jekyll/Hyde in the Dark Universe franchise is he/they weren’t originally a part of the Universal Monsters canon, despite the fact that the 1913 two-reeler was co-directed and produced by Universal founder Carl Laemmle and put out by the then-fledgling Universal Film Manufacturing Company.
Rights to their use went all over Hollywood before the character(s) landed back at the studio for Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, their only other Universal involvement until now.
But while the latest Mummy reboot is the first time Jekyll/Hyde interacts with the other Universal Monsters in a Universal release, he/they did join up with Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, his Bride, the Invisible Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Mummy, and the Wolf Man (many of them renamed knockoffs) in this Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated feature — yeah, it’s by the people who made all your favorite old holiday specials. A legitimate tie to the Universal classics can be found in the voice of Boris Karloff, who plays “Baron Boris von Frankenstein,” whose party the rest attend.
It’s an underrated or at least under-known gem of animation of that style and era, and you can’t go wrong with Phyllis Diller voicing the fake Bride of Frankenstein. Speaking of which, Rankin/Bass also produced a prequel five years later titled Mad Mad Mad Monsters about the wedding of the Monster and his “Mate.” That one isn’t quite as necessary. It’s traditional hand-drawn animation, and nothing special at that, plus while all the same characters are on board, Karloff and Diller are not — instead they have vocal impersonators.
Three Kings (1999)
At the start of The Mummy, Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson are US soldiers on their own in the Iraq desert looking for treasure. If that sounds familiar, you might have heard of David O. Russell’s best movie, Three Kings. George Clooney stars alongside Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg, and Spike Jonze, all soldiers in the US Army who wander off from base at the end of the Gulf War in search of a cache of stolen gold bullion. Also of note in the cast is Wonder Woman‘s Said Taghmaoui as an Iraqi soldier and a very young Alia Shawkat as a little Shi’ite girl.
Not only does Russell manage to make an unlikely plot seem plausible and grounded, but that’s all the situation that’s needed for a terrific and often very funny (post-) war satire. The Mummy is basically Three Kings meets Indiana Jones for a few minutes until its treasure, an Egyptian burial site, is uncovered during a battle against insurgents, then it’s on to whatever other things the movie does (it does many other very different things). But unlike the characters in Three Kings, the military personnel depicted in The Mummy never seem based in any sort of reality, not even within the fantastical world of the Dark Universe.
Reign of Fire (2002)
Another movie with more conviction while still also being a fantastical monster movie, Reign of Fire similarly opens with a construction crew working on the London Underground who accidentally uncover something buried long ago. Instead of a tomb of Crusaders, here it’s the home of a bunch of hibernating dragons. They’re more like the Mummy, though, in that they’re unleashed and go on a killing spree. Unlike the Mummy, they’re not consumed in a quest to bring about pure evil. They instead just kill off most of humanity.
Years later, enough time to go by that there’s no way to show kids the real Star Wars and so it’s acted out live for their entertainment, Christian Bale leads a group of survivors who encounter an American militia headed by Matthew McConaughey. That’s a dream duo no matter what the movie, but they’re dudes teaming up to kill dragons, which is as awesome as anyone could hope for. It’s a shame that The Mummy is what’s expected to start a mega-franchise while this movie actually deserved to be the start of a series. It could have even been a cinematic universe for all I care. Part two would have them fighting trolls or evil mermaids or man-eating unicorns.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
I know I’m not alone in getting an LXG vibe from The Mummy, and yet I’ll admit something: I actually enjoyed the former. Mind you, I had never read Alan Moore’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” comics, so the film adaptation was my introduction to the brilliant idea of teaming up iconic 19th century literary characters as a superhero team. I wanted this movie to work so bad, because it could have been a very cool franchise — still could be: hasn’t there been enough time for a proper reboot? Or would it just look like a Dark Universe wannabe at this point?
There are a lot of things in LXG to make you cringe and groan, and if you’re some critics to make you harp on Venetian geographical inaccuracies. But there’s also a lot of things to enjoy, including Sean Connery as Alan Quatermain, the role that made him retire out of apparent embarrassment for choosing this instead of The Lord of the Rings. Also Mina Harker (Peta Wilson) vs. Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend). The CG for Jason Flemyng as Mr. Hyde is not the best, though nothing here is as bad as the monster mash of Van Helsing a year later. And people give that a pass?
Into Eternity: A Film for the Future (2010)
Why are movie characters so stupid? Why would someone just stick their head into an alien egg as it’s opening up before them (Alien: Covenant)? Why would an archaeologist be so clumsy with a fragile antiquity, curse inside or not (Suicide Squad)? And why would a military operation or an archaeologist disregard all literal warning signs about the danger of a meticulously entombed ancient Egyptian prisoner without a thought as they do in The Mummy? Sure, science and history and treasure and whatever, but leave that alone if it says leave it alone.
The whole idea of that dig and that outcome reminded me of this sci-fi-ish documentary from Michael Madsen (not that one) focused on the Onkalo repository in Finland, where tons and tons of nuclear waste is being stored deep underground and locked away without a key. This waste is very dangerous and the hope is that nobody will find or at least not mess with the stores for 100,000 years. But like an ancient mummy tomb assumed to just be an overprotected treasure trove, Onkalo has to worry that people, or aliens, or whatever’s around in the meantime doesn’t dig it up. To inhabitants of Earth in the distant future, our language will look like hieroglyphics or something even less decipherable.
Madsen’s film has an eerie and apocalyptic tone, as he and scientists speculate and wonder about the centuries and millennia ahead and whether Onkalo is doing it right. There aren’t a lot of issue films where the problem isn’t for modern mankind but for some other kind later on. Into Eternity is a unique film that still surprisingly hasn’t garnered at least a cult audience. Madsen also made another speculative, more qualifiable sci-fi doc called The Visit: An Alien Encounter, which looks at the plans and possibilities of what will happen if/when aliens arrive.
Watch it on Vimeo On Demand here.
Shattered Heritage (2014)
If there’s any sort of commentary on real-world current events in The Mummy, it’s an address of how conflicts and warring groups in the Middle East are carelessly-to-intentionally-destructive when it comes to the history and antiquities and relics and cultural legacy of that cradle of civilization. There’s a claim in The Mummy that the Iraqi insurgents will purposely destroy any ancient artifacts, and so there’s a need for US military intervention — though maybe not of the thieving kind — and quick archaeological discovery, study, and protection.
The best film to report on the irreversible damage done during and since the Iraq War (admittedly the first place I’d heard about it) is the Oscar-nominated 2007 documentary feature No End in Sight, but its address of the cultural tragedy of bombed-out libraries and museums holding original records and other historical and artistic items is still pretty brief. The film has many things to cover. Al Jazeera’s medium-length doc Shattered Heritage, on the other hand, is completely focused on that one issue.
It concentrates on the US and its allies’ fault, both for our damage done during our bombings and invasion and also for our responsibility for failing to protect the National Library and Archives and the National Museum of Iraq. There are numerous factors at blame, but the important and unfortunate thing, in the end, is that it happened and the whole world suffered great losses.
Watch it free on the Al Jazeera site here.
Burying the Ex (2014)
Because of the Jake Johnson comic relief apparitions in The Mummy, I was going to include An American Werewolf in London on this list, but apparently the homage to or ripoff of that classic John Landis horror comedy is an obvious one for most of you already. If you haven’t seen it, yes, by all means, it’s highly recommended. But for an under-seen and underrated alternative, I offer up this recent Joe Dante horror comedy instead. There’s no obnoxious undead spirit best friend, just an obnoxious undead zombie girlfriend.
In both movies the paranormal hanger-on seems unwanted, though in The Mummy there’s absolutely no reason for it. In Burying the Ex, it’s the premise. Anton Yelchin (RIP) is a horror fan who plans on dumping his needy yet domineering girlfriend (Ashley Greene), but then she gets hit by a bus and dies. And returns, and the guy wants even less to do with her now. He’s moved onto a new girl (Alexandra Daddario), and like in The Mummy there’s a kind of love triangle between unwanted undead creature, male hero, and non-dead female love interest.
There is also another undead buddy role in the movie, more reminiscent of the end of Shaun of the Dead than An American Werewolf in London, which is kind of a spoiler but Burying the Ex isn’t the sort movie that can be ruined by any plot reveals. It’s a movie to watch for the tone, and while not the most successful of Dante’s ’50s horror-inspired works, true classic horror fans should appreciate it. Also Yelchin is a delightful lead in this kind of movie, just as he is in another light horror movie, Odd Thomas (directed by Stephen Sommers, who made the last Mummy reboot and its sequel, as well as Van Helsing). Daddario is surprisingly funny and charming, too.