|Boris Karloff as the mummified Imhotep in The Mummy (1932)
|Imhotep reanimates in the 1999 version of The Mummy
|Carter examining Tutankhamun's remains (1922)
Some members of Carter’s team suffered what were considered untimely or mysterious deaths. Lord Carnarvon was the first, having died from an infected mosquito bite. Just before this happened, a letter was published in a magazine that quoted an obscure book, stating that "dire punishment" follows any breach of a sealed tomb. The letter was largely ignored until Carnarvon’s death, and then the media went nuts, exaggerating the story with reports that a curse had been found in the Tutankhamun’s tomb. While untrue, more weird stuff happened, such as the home of Carter’s friend, Sir Bruce Ingham, twice burning down. The theory was that the fires were the result of Ingham having had a paperweight made of a mummified hand recovered from the tomb. An unfortunate personal tragedy, yes, but the reality is that only eight of the 58-team members died unusual deaths after opening Tutankhamun’s tomb.
|Boris Karloff as Imhotep (1932)
The reality of mummification was that it was designed to prepare the mortal body for the afterlife—not reanimation in this world. Additionally, it was an understandable extension of natural mummification that ancient Egyptians observed from the dessert conditions of their environment. They just built on it, adding tradition, custom and ceremony around it. In some cases there were curses, which were used to scare off grave robbers and tomb raiders seeking riches. Although, those curse really don’t distinguish thieves from archaeology. Still, curses didn’t involve mummies reanimating and stalking those who violated their resting place.
The realities of Egyptian culture aside, the use of mummies in the horror genre have wrapped the brand in a supernatural veneer, and preserved its ghoulish equity. Mummies are part of the pre-zombie, pre-slasher horror triad. Triggered by full moons, they rule the night with vampires and werewolves, challenging our courage and resolve when alone, sitting in front of a flickering screen, hearing the floorboards creak, and catching a faint, moldy scent in the room.
Originally published 2016, revised in 2017