Tales from the Video Store: Me and My “MUMMY”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Christopher La Vigna
Welcome to TALES FROM THE VIDEO STORE, where FANGORIA unspools their experiences in the eerie age of VHS. We’ll traverse our memories as if they were shelves filled with video insanity, and we invite you to join us in revisiting analog nightmares…
Back in their hey day, this writer’s family made the trip to the video store a Friday evening staple, a ritual that at the time was second only to Halloween in its sacredness. Mom and pop would unleash my brother and I upon the aisles, and within minutes, we’d come back with stacks of tapes tucked under our arms; our weekend was set.
This was where a lifelong love of all things horror began. It started with single episode tapes of GOOSEBUMPS and ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?, then slowly lurched into the domain of the Universal Monsters. For those who remember the old universal monster box covers of the 90’s, you’ll recall that they were masterfully macabre works of art. Each one had that stone banner at the top, with the colorful Universal Monsters logo at the center; the rest of the cover consumed by the horrifying visage of whatever abomination the film centered around in the foreground, with a bit of faded scenery in the background. Each one managed to look as though their featured creature was breaking out of an old celluloid frame and ready to come for whomever was foolish enough to pick up the box.
Needless to say, I devoured them. DRACULA, WEREWOLF OF LONDON, and my main man FRANKENSTEIN all left their claw and teeth marks on my impressionable psyche. In particular, both my brother and I have vivid memories of watching all the three of the Gill-Man films, with the denouement of THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US still seared into my memory banks as being one of my first experiences with a tragic ending (“No Gill-Man! Stay out of the water! They took away your gills!”).
But as you can imagine, I soon grew restless. I needed to expand beyond the black-and-white fright flicks. Luckily for yours truly, the Universal Monsters themselves apparently felt the same way. In 1999, the perfect stepping stone came in the form of Stephen Sommer’s remake of THE MUMMY.
I remember seeing the box on the new release shelf and just standing there, completely awestruck by the face of the sentient sandstorm that takes up the lion’s share of the VHS cover, dwarfing both the great pyramids and Brendan Fraser with his little torch. Its giant, empty eyes and ragged gaping maw looked like an image torn straight from the recesses of my nightmares. I grabbed the box and squeezed it tight in my hands. I picked up two or three other titles that night but for the lift of me I couldn’t tell you what they were, all I cared about was the new adventures of Imhotep.
Eventually, the moment of truth came. I popped the tape into the VCR and raced back to the couch to watch it with my mother, who made the uncharacteristic decision to watch a monster movie with me. It wasn’t long before things got went south. The film’s opening sequence, laying out the backstory of the aforementioned high priest of Egypt, treats the viewer to a view of Imhotep’s mummification process. While very tame and and theatrical (with bodies moving in frame just in time to spare our eyes form body parts being cut), the moment in which a cask of clicking, crawling beetles are thrown into the coffin of the newly mummified (and still screaming) Imhotep proved to be too much for my delicate mother to handle. She shrieked like a banshee, paused the tape, and insisted that she could watch no longer. I assured her that I could handle it, noting repeatedly that the film wasn’t rated R, so it couldn’t be that bad. This might have been a moot point since I was only eight at the time, but my mother relented and allowed me to watch the film on my own.
Of course, those who have seen THE MUMMY know that it’s molded more from the Indiana Jones series than the Universal or Hammer studio versions, and at the time, I was a bit disappointed when those credits rolled. Sure, Sommer’s version is a great adventure film with some cool horror elements and a solid blend of practical and digital effects, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun, but at the the time I wasn’t looking for a mere thrill-ride; I was looking for pure terror. Even the sandstorm set piece proved to be nowhere near as frightening as the box art made me believe it would be (though again, it was still very fun and exciting for my elementary school eyes), but I guess that just makes me another member of the “Fooled by a cool box cover” club.
Still, the film holds up for me as an important step in my evolution as a fright fan. Though I wouldn’t get a taste of real modern horror until the early 2000’s, when a chance encounter with Rob Zombie’s HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES on cable shook me to my core. I know that THE MUMMY was essential as a sort of soft step into movies that were more of my time, and if anything, it taught me that my imagination was likely to be scarier than almost anything a filmmaker could show me. At the very least, it was a helluva lot better than VAN HELSING.