It is so funny to come back here after so long solely because I wanted to write about the Tom Cruise mummy movie but that’s what I’m doing!!!!
A couple of years ago we decided to get really into Halloween. It feels like a pretty pure holiday: it’s Of My Cultural Heritage (motley anglo-euro peasantry) but, somewhat uniquely amongst that heritage, it doesn’t seem to be rooted in anything particularly evil or settler-colonial (although I’m ready to stand corrected on this, as I have done no research). I like that it’s ancient and pagan but also fun-loving. I like the tiny glimmer of anarchy that’s still present in the concept of trick-or-treating. I like the funny children dressed up as Ninja Turtles. I like scary movies, I like making a jack-o-lantern. And it is the holiday that is the great doorway into autumn, the best season.
So when we moved to Olde New England, the land of Halloween, we decided to really embrace it and go to haunted hay rides and shit. That aspect hasn’t paid off yet and actually I don’t want to do a haunted house because that isn’t a version of Being Scared that I enjoy (I don’t enjoy the jump-scare). But, we have gotten into fall festivals and making cider and trying to make things jolly for the trick-or-treaters, even though starting last year our stupid town has instituted this thing where instead of trick-or-treating everyone just walks down main street and receives promotional candy handed out by businesses. God every time I think “maybe we’re gonna be okay,” my fellow humans do something that makes me feel like the biggest fucking alien. Parents say it’s “safer” than trick-or-treating. LORD ON EARTH
We also have gotten into setting ourselves movie projects for the Halloween season. Last year we watched every John Carpenter movie in chronological order. This year our intention is to watch all the mummy movies. I was just saying, you never see a mummy in a movie anymore, but it seemed like in the 40s it was a big deal. The Universal Horror Cycle and all that (“Universal” meaning the film studio; I am not saying these monsters are “universal” in the sense that all cultures have them!! Hahaha). Then we started wondering what precisely is the nature of the terror the mummy invokes? And what makes some monsters stick around in culture and some fade away? As you no doubt are aware I’m so interested in monster movies because I think they show us our truest grossest fears, just like superhero movies show us our truest grossest fantasy (which is that we actually love fascism and yearn for it).
We started talking about werewolf for example. WHERE DID THE WEREWOLF GO? It was such a standard of 1950s movie culture. And it’s a great monster! Very compelling, scary, full of pathos. Werewolf is obviously about Freudian stuff, the beast within, the fear that actually deep inside you are a ravening wolf/the fear that your neighbors are actually ravening wolves. Sex and murder being poorly tamped down by the flimsy shreds of civilization. Suddenly I had a revelation about what happened to the werewolf in contemporary culture: it turned into the SERIAL KILLER. I think serial killer movies replaced werewolf movies. The beast within! The horror in contemplating the idea that the local baker, the school teacher, your boyfriend, could actually be a psychotic monster and nobody knows it. He goes about his normal life, goes to his job, and then at the full moon he becomes a raving beast of violence and pointless horror. So now we have the serial killer, which is much scarier than the werewolf, so we don’t need the werewolf anymore.
Anyway I don’t need to go into all my thoughts about the various standard monsters of film history and what happened to all of them. Because the point is: MUMMY
Mummy madness has swept the Euro world several times. In the nineteenth century it was an expression of colonialism and Romantic exoticism and there are all these creepy 1840s novels about British archeologists unwrapping hot female mummies and having sex with them (okay I say “all these” but actually I can only think of one. Oh, two. But still). In the 20s everybody got mummy madness because of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. Those are actually the only two examples of historical mummy madness I know about; I wonder if there was one in the 80s that accompanied that traveling Ramses exhibit? Did you go to that? I sure as hell did; my entire town drove to Denver just to see it. I remember looking at the mummy and feeling both disappointed and totally awestruck, an odd and unusual affective combination I have not felt many times in my life, now that I think about it. I wonder if that was where I first started thinking about becoming the half-assed semi-historian I am today?
Maybe Ramses-fever generated those Brendan Frasier 90s mummy movies? Which I have never seen. Actually I’m realizing there are tons of mummy movies and it didn’t really disappear as a monster. But I’m not so sure it has to do with exoticism anymore, exactly, or colonialism, although those are still sort of obvious themes of the mummy trope. I will need to watch a lot more before I have any interesting thoughts (if ever).
Anyway we’ve now watched the original Boris Karloff mummy and then the third mummy movie (we accidentally skipped the second)–apparently after the Karloff mummy in 1932 they made roughly seventeen thousand mummy movies across the 40s, all starring Lon Chaney’s SON, which seems depressing (for him). All of them have between a 10%-15% on rotten tomatoes and they have increasingly unintentionally hilarious titles, the reading aloud of which suddenly showed me what that one Mr. Show joke is about. They are all called like “THE MUMMY’S HAND” “THE RETURN OF THE MUMMY’S HAND” “THE RETURN OF THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S HAND” “THE RETURN OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB, WHERE HIS HAND WAS EARLIER,” every single one has a poster on which a mummy carries a swooning babe in his arms while men point and shout, and all of them are, judging by the one we have watched so far, totally hilarious. The one we just watched opens on an old archeologist sitting in his comfortable New England home regaling his family with stories of his exploits in Egypt. He’s smoking a pipe and everyone is wearing fancy clothes and drinking tea, just sitting down of an evening for one of father’s great stories. He starts telling his tale and the movie keeps awkwardly cutting back and forth in flashback, and the story is the most insane thing you can imagine, it’s like “well, that’s when the mummy opened his eyes! Well you can imagine how startled we were when he strangled Henry, by jove,” and then his sister laughs rudely and LITERALLY SAYS “oh Charles stop boring everyone with your long stories” and just affectively and narratively it makes NO sense, the story he is telling is the furthest possible thing from “boring,” it’s about a fucking 5,000 year old mummy coming to life and murdering his partner, like, no ma’am, this isn’t just some musty-old anecdote I’m zoning out during. But everyone is acting like it’s sort of a normal after-dinner thing to have happen. “Wow wasn’t dad’s story wild?” “yes it’s wonderful to think of all the adventures he’s had, I almost can’t believe it! See you tomorrow.” The way he tells the story is so conversational and so bizarre. “Well we lost the mummy that day, it’s certainly odd to think that he’s still out there somewhere, walking around murdering people. Well, goodnight dear”
Anyway lets cut to the chase, last night we watched the 2017 Tom Cruise mummy movie that was an enormous, enormous flop but that had a truly great trailer that we accidentally saw two years ago and have talked about ever since.
TOM CRUISE MUMMY was supposed to inaugurate Universal’s version of the Marvel movie franchise—it was the first entry in what was to become a reboot of the Universal horror sequence from the 30s-40s, and they had already slated out the upcoming movies and who would play which monster: Frankenstein (Javier Bardem–apparently they actually MADE this movie (Bride of Frankenstein), then shelved it when Tom Cruise Mummy was such a flop!!! Don’t you think Bardem would be SUCH a good Creature, omg Universal RELEASE THE BARDEM FRANKENSTEIN), Invisible Man (Johnny Depp, probably only because he looks just like Claude Rains, which is annoying (Gary: “Depp does NOT have the voice for that role”)), Dracula (I forget who was going to play him), Wolf Man (I also forget), Jekyll and Hyde (Russell Crowe), and mummy (sort of Tom Cruise). Oh and that fish guy I guess. Swamp Man? I don’t know those movies. The guy who looks like the dinosaur who kills Newman in Jurassic Park. Anyway can you imagine this rebooted Universal Universe? Where like Frankenstein’s Creature and Fish Man team up with Dracula to fight ISIS or something??? This is literally what they were trying to do. God I am SOBBING about this never happening. And it’s ALL TOM CRUISE’S FAULT!!!!!
So anyway it was a big deal and Universal was all smug about it—they even created an alternate Universal logo that shows before the movie: DARK UNIVERSE, like it’s going to be this whole “universal universe” akin to the Marvel universe (keep in mind, while I am very interested in the original Universal horror cycle, I am not interested in these contempo Marvel movies so this is just what I have gathered from living in culture and maybe seeing Iron Man once a thousand years ago). Anyway it’s so awkward to watch because it does all this Marvel-style ham-fisted signaling, like “wink wink, this is the cool headquarters of the secret international monster-hunting club that is going to be at the heart of this upcoming franchise of films! Here’s the conference table where the Mummy and Invisible Man will have their humorous planning sessions”
So basically the movie opens with some comical hijinks in war-torn Iraq where Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson are soldiers who loot treasure from the towns they help destroy. This is played solely for laughs. Then they uncover an Egyptian tomb (“an Egyptian tomb! We’re in the ‘Persian’ Gulf, Tom Cruise, didn’t you notice? Do you understand the significance of this discovery” and he’s like “BORING”). Down in the tomb the real archeologist who is also the love interest is narrating everything she sees, and it’s so bonkers, it’s a pool of mercury with all these pulleys and chains holding something down in it (“this isn’t a tomb……………………………….ITS A PRISON”) and then Tom Cruise is just like “huh” and shoots his gun at this 5,000 year old pulley and makes the whole works explode and anyway it pulls up a mummy in a sarcophagus. Tom Cruise looks at the golden eyes of the sarcophagus and is suddenly hit with a vision of ancient Egypt and the sexy mummy lady (whose origin story we saw at the beginning of the film) kisses him and calls him her chosen one and says thank you for rescuing me. And he’s like “whoa”
then they take the sarcophagus on an airplane and then a flock of crows destroys the airplane and there is a genuinely SPECTACULAR plane crash scene (this was the trailer we saw that so inspired us 2 years ago) where Tom Cruise and Love Interest are falling up and sideways as the plane rolls and it’s so amazing, we kept yelling AWESOME during it, I wish the whole movie had just been that. Later there is almost as good a scene involving Tom Cruise falling out of a rolling ambulance that then flies over his head. “WHAT A STUNT”–Gary
Anyway Tom Cruise DIES.
He dies at the end of Act I! Like, immediately! He dies in the plane crash! After heroically giving the only parachute to Love Interest and shoving her out. He wakes up inside a body bag in the morgue, with a tag on his toe. And he’s like “weird.” And Love Interest comes in to identify the body and is like “weird!!!!” And then they go to a bar and do shots and she’s like “I just don’t understand how you survived that crazy plane crash” and he comically shrugs in that Tom Cruise way where it’s like “whaddya expect.” Oh Jake Johnson is a comical zombie at this point who only Tom Cruise can see, he got bit by a scarab beetle. He’s kind of like Clarence, in It’s A Wonderful Life, but a hideous zombie. Kind of a great role for Johnson, really.
But the point is that within the first 30 minutes of the movie, Tom Cruise FUCKING DIES, and when he wakes up, it turns out that he is the REINCARNATION OF SETH, THE EGYPTIAN GOD OF DEATH. This is true, a real film a human person wrote.
So this movie is about Tom Cruise becoming an ancient Egyptian god. That is the “superhero” concept Universal was pitching with this film. It’s way, way too intense for what’s supposed to be kind of an adventure romp a la Iron Man. I do not find “The Egyptian God of the Underworld” to be a compelling “superhero” character, frankly. Just gimme a normal mummy, or Batman or something! Jesus.
So then he’s just struggling against his evil Seth-side for the rest of the film. He gets taken to the cool headquarters of the international monster-hunting club, which is run by Russell Crowe, who is Jekyll and Hyde. Crowe delivers some incoherent monologues about evil and saving humanity and fighting against evil and stuff (sidenote: it’s honestly so offensive to me that “Mr. Hyde” is always played working class, while Dr. Jekyll is posh. Crowe here does like a cockney accent when he turns into Hyde, the evil guy. “Poor people can’t control their animal urges lol”). He mentions sacrificing Tom Cruise but it’s unclear what this would accomplish. They have the sexy lady mummy (who (before getting her life force back by sucking it out of various people) briefly was a very cool CGI zombie type thing lurking around in the ancient cathedrals of Great Britain sucking the faces off of various bobbies who come upon her like “oy! who goes th—AAHHHHHH”) chained up and are pumping mercury into her veins because it’s the only way to keep her power contained. She talks to Tom Cruise telepathically and to Love Interest in normal English (“your language is simple”), basically saying that she is going to kill every person on the earth. Love Interest is like “oh no” but maybe is also jealous because mummy lady is clearly putting out some pretty intense mystical sex vibes at Tom Cruise, who after all is her 5,000 year old ordained life partner. Then they run away and all the windows in London turn into sand and it looks pretty cool honestly. They go down into the tunnel and have to fight hundreds of zombie skeletons of Crusade Knights (don’t ask) and anyway Love Interest dies, and because he is the God of Death Tom Cruise brings her back to life and then is like “I must find a cure, I know not what I am” and goes and rides horses out into Egypt and the signaling for a sequel is SO over-the-top.
Oh I forgot to mention that the flashbacks to ancient Egypt are SO bad, they look like low-budget perfume ads from the 90s. They look like a Depeche Mode video. It is like somebody had a $100 gift card to the prom dress store at the mall and that’s where they got the costumes.
In conclusion it was really great and I loved it. I think next we are going to watch all the Brendan Frasier mummies, which I did not see when they came out. But I mean, so far one thing we have learned is that mummy is actually not a very compelling monster, and you kind of have to go through weird narrative contortions to make it interesting–for example, in the Boris Karloff original, he’s only a mummy for like 5 minutes! Then he becomes just a regular guy, walking around going to the British Museum and attending dinner parties. Because what can you really do with a regular mummy? Proper mummy is really just a zombie in bandages and there’s only one of them, and there’s only so much tension you can generate with it, as evidenced by the Lon Chaney Jr. one we watched, where it becomes harder and harder for the film to explain why the townspeople can’t catch the mummy, who basically just shambles extremely slowly down Main Street over and over and manages to murder people who just stand there staring at him and going “it’s the mummy!” So I guess all the sexy lady mummy stuff and Tom Cruise being an Egyptian god maybe come out of this basic narrative problem? I’m not sure. I’m really not sure what could lead somebody to write the plot of the film we just watched.
We were talking about the Marvel franchise and how disgusting it is and Gary at one point very sincerely burst out with “I can’t believe that Robert Downey Jr. took all that amazing charisma that God gave him, and just loaned it out to the stupidest shit on earth, and now we’re stuck with it forever” and I thought it was sweet how genuinely aggrieved he was by RDJ wasting the beautiful gift the Lord gave him freely at birth
I canned 42 quarts of tomatoes and learned how to make pasta
my book came out
the mailman thinks Franklin’s name is “Kevin”
I got my first mammogram
finally got some Adirondack chairs
Midsommar was so good, who knew it would be among other things a critique of academic anthropology?? I loved it so much
we painted our kitchen purple
Gary works at a bookstore
I finally bought an extremely fancy cordless vacuum after thinking about it for two years and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made and now I truly am #livinforty