The plot seems to be consciously rehashing elements of the Bela Lugosi Dracula (1931) that had been a huge hit the previous year and for which The Mummys director Karl Freund was the cinematographer. The influence is noticeable in the plot involving the courtly foreign villain with hypnotic powers, his possession of the heroines mind, the image of Isis being used to hold back the mummy instead of a crucifix, and most notably in the casting of David Manners and Edward Van Sloan who filled near-identical roles in Dracula (as Jonathan Harker and Van Helsing respectively). One gets the impression that after the successes of Dracula and the Karloff Frankenstein, Universal were seeking to create more of the same and came up with a thinly disguised version of Dracula that played on the fascination with Egyptian mummies and the stories of a reputed curse after Howard Carters party opened the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.
While dated in some areas, The Mummy still holds up well today. The surprise to be found here, especially in comparison to the slowly shuffling caricature that the Mummy became in the sequels, is that The Mummy works as a slower and much more psychological film. There is little in the way of shocks and visceral impact. Instead it is a film with an atmosphere of slowly accumulating mood. A constant menace of Egyptian esotericism looms in the background. Boris Karloff, using the dull, grating tombstone voice that he perfected in the Frankenstein sequels, is at his most cadaverous. Director Karl Freund, a former cinematographer, frames Karloffs sinisterly glowing eyes in somewhat overwrought closeups, to add a palpable aura of evil. The scene with the mummy slowly opening its eyes at the very start is a classic. One scene with Karloff chanting over the scroll in a flickering, candle-lit museum is genuinely eerie. The scenes with Zita Johann fighting against Karloffs distant mesmeric influence, using all manner of persuasion in trying to get people to let her out of bed are excellent.
There are the odd minus points. Sometimes Karl Freund lacks interest in scenes and abruptly curtails them. There is a certain silliness at times in the images of Zita Johann parading about in traditional Egyptian head-dress and ridiculous curled bangs or David Manners rambling about falling in love with corpses. There are some odd vagueries to the plot, which cannot decide what type of role it wants Zita Johann to play throughout she seems to waver between a social sophisticate, a seductive vampishness and the end scenes where she is reduced to a typical 1930s open-tonsilled wallflower in distress.
Director Karl Freund was a cinematographer in his native Germany and fled to the US after the Nazis came to power. In Germany, Freund had worked on classics like Fritz Langs The Spiders (1919), The Golem (1920), F.W. Murnaus The Last Laugh (1924) and Langs Metropolis (1927). In the US, Freund had made barely a handful of films as cinematographer, including Dracula, before being snapped up to make his directorial debut with The Mummy. Freund would only go on to make a half-dozen other films the most notable among these being the demented possessed hands/mad surgeon film Mad Love (1935). He later returned to cinematography, working on American classics like Camille (1936), The Good Earth (1937), Green Hell (1940), Pride and Prejudice (1940) and A Guy Named Joe (1943).
Universals Mummy sequels are: The Mummys Hand (1940), The Mummys Tomb (1942), The Mummys Ghost (1944), The Mummys Curse (1944) and Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955). In all but the last of these, the mummy is referred to as Kharis instead of Im-ho-tep. In The Mummys Hand, the role was played by stuntman Tom Tyler and was taken up in the subsequent sequels by Lon Chaney Jr, until the overtly comedic Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy where it was played by stuntman Edwin Packer and renamed Klaris. There were two remakes in Hammers The Mummy (1959) with Christopher Lee as the mummy, which essentially wrote its own story unrelated to this; and Stephen Sommers The Mummy (1999) with Arnold Vosloo as the mummy, which reconstructs the basics as a high adventure and has the mummy accompanied by an arsenal of CGI effects. The latter also produced two sequels with The Mummy Returns (2001) and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008). The Mummy has also made appearances in monster bashes like Mad Monster Party? (1967), Transylvania 6-5000 (1985) and The Monster Squad (1987). One intriguing project was the 60-minute film Kreating Karloff (2006), a mix of documentary and biopic where actor Connor Trimmis restages scenes from Frankenstein and The Mummy with he playing Boris Karloff and takes us behind the making of either film.