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The Mummy

Universal Monsters
by yo go re

Observation: the only difference between a mummy and a zombie is socio-economic standing.

Universal Studios had lost $2.2 million in 1930 ($35.7 million in 2022 dollars), which is why they started making horror movies: just like today, they're cheap to produce, and tend to bring back a high return on investment; the Conjuring series may be garbage based on a pair of fraudsters, but the latest one made back five times its budget despite coming out in the middle of a pandemic, so there's definitely cash to be made in the genre. At any rate, 1931 saw them release both Dracula (in February) and Frankenstein (in November), which were of course massive hits, so they kept the train rolling in 1932 with The Mummy. Mummy stories had been popular in print for a century, but Universal brought the idea to movies.

That said, it wasn't until 1940's The Mummy's Hand that what we think of as "mummy" tropes got codified: always wrapped in bandages, shambling around, trying to get at those who desecrated his tomb... none of that was in the original Mummy. In fact, Boris Karloff (who was even creepier in this role than he had been as Frankenstein) was only "The Mummy" for about five minutes: he gets disentombed, woken up, then just wanders off and disappears for a decade before coming back passing as human.

Those were an impactful few minutes, though, becaue the mummified version of the character is far, far more iconic than the (nearly) human version, so that's what every licensee makes. Ths figure's sculpt is credited to Kyle Windrix and Alex Heinke who had the unenviable task of creating a body wrapped entirely in bandages. That may sound simple enough, but how closely do they need to stick to the movie's appearance? Will fans complain if every little line isn't in exactly the right position? How do you know when you've done enough? To our eyes, the wraps look great, and that's what really matters.

Trevor Grove handled the facial sculpts, because of course he did. The figure includes three heads, and two of them are nearly identical: the first has the eyes closed, and the second has the eyes open. But it's such a small change, you almost can't notice it. There's a rumor a dummy was used for the scenes of the mummy "sleeping" in his sarcophagus, with Karloff only appearing when the mummy awakes; the "proof" of this claim is that the nostrils appear to not be hollow in close-ups. Which, okay, they do appear so, but they appear 100% exactly the same way when he opens his eyes, and we know that's not a dummy. Myth busted!

The third head appears to be something invented for this set: it has the eyes open, but also the mouth, revealing a dark red tongue inside. We definitely don't ever see the Mummy yelling or yawning! Another persistent rumor is that, since we only see the reinvigorated mummy reach his hand in from off-screen, then see his bandages being dragged out the door, that Karloff didn't do those things, either - another myth, because there are promotional photos showing him in full make-up doing those things from alternate angles. Still no yelling, though. They even went to the trouble of making this from a few separate pieces so the colors wouldn't all blend together

As with all their Universal Monsters figures, NECA is doing both color and black and white versions of the Mummy. And as with all versions of the Mummy, the difference between the two is negligible at best. He's not a colorful character. Even with a slight tan tint, his skin is nearly the same color as his bandages and hair. And his golden ring doesn't even stand out very well on this figure. Conjoined paint twins Jon Wardell and Geoffrey Trapp did design a really cool feature, though: Imhotep's eyes have red sclera and gold irises, making them look inhuman and frightening. Amazing choice! Other companies in the past have made his skin substantially darker, almost green, based on movie theater lobby cards of the era, but NECA knew that wasn't correct to the actual film.

When reviewing Diamond Select Toys' Mummy, some utter idiot said "it's not like a figure with real joints in its arms would have been able to adequately achieve [an 'arms crossed over the chest'] pose." What a moron! NECA's toy can absolutely cross its arms over its chest, thanks to the double-swivel/hinge elbows and something new: bicep swivels that are cut through the arm at a slight angle rather than perfectly perpendicular. Is it as perfectly seamless as a toy that was specificaly sculpted in that pose? No, but it looks great for something that can also achieve other poses. The rest of the articulation is the normal stuff: head, neck, wrists, chest, waist, hips, thighs, knees, and ankles. Why does he get a chest when the Wolf Man didn't?

The Mummy includes two alternate hands, but they're both rights, and both gesturing, but one has the index finger arched up higher? That's... kind of pointless? There are two loose bandage strips that you can drape on the figure - NECA's stock photos show one hanging around his neck, but in the movie they loop around his wrists and are slung up over his shoulders. You know, helping hold the corpse's arms in place; think "ancient Egyptian straitjacket." you could also trail them off his ankles, like when he was leaving to find his way in the world. Both are the same mold, but they look different enough if they're facing opposite directions.

There's also an "Egyptian chest," an important item from the film. It's a grey box with gold detail and pretend hieroglyphics on the lid that (according to Dr. Muller's Sir Joseph Whemple's translation) say "Death. Eternal punishment for anyone who opens this casket. In the name of Amon-Ra, the king of the gods." Yeah, crack that right open! When you crack that right open, you'll find the Scroll of Toth, which contains the magic words by which Isis raised Osiris from the dead. Several companies have made versions of the scroll, and no two of them really look alike. NECA's is mostly screen-accurate; how can we tell? Because as user Odin82 of the Replica Prop Forum pieced together thanks to lockdown boredom, the prop in the film was a copy of the Papyrus of Hunefer, which you can look at online. The text on the left side goes too far, and there's a missing piece of art (Osiris sitting in judgement) on the right, meaning the text starts right next to Thoth recording the results of Hunefer's cardiac weigh-in and Horus introducing him to... well, no one, now. A wall of text. Why the change, NECA?

NECA's Mummy isn't a visually flashy toy, but it is a lot of fun, and has some great little flourishes that raise it above the average. It's definitely the best Boris Karloff Mummy action figure there's been, even edging out DST's. But considering how little time Karloff spent looking like this, hopefully NECA will make an Ardath Bey for this line. Now that would be new territory!

-- 06/26/22

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