This past weekend, Universal Pictures launched their proposed and ambitious slate of upcoming monster movies, currently being touted under the banner of the “Dark Universe,” with the Tom Cruise fronted THE MUMMY. And as is the case with me when any franchise comes back, my inner fanboy must go back and revisit every film in the series.
I am, of course, talking about the original MUMMY movies, which began with Boris Karloff portraying the cursed Imhotep in the 1932 film, followed by the 5 sequels, which included Lon Chaney Jr taking over the role of Kharis (the second Mummy) for three of them, and ending with a comedic crossover ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY! (I haven’t gotten to the Brendan Fraser ones yet, because well… while they’re fun, they are not really Universal “Monster” movies to me.)
Being in full Mummy mode, I wanted more! I never felt the subsequent attempts to revitalize this properly, both with the new film or the ’99 trilogy of movies, truly captured the spirit of the originals. When I mentioned this to my friend, Stephen Scarlata, he asked if I’d ever read the script Mick Garris had written in the mid-90’s for a potential reboot. I had not, although I recall several versions of THE MUMMY being mulled over during that period thanks to “The Terror Teletype” in Fangoria magazine. One with Clive Barker at the helm. Another with George Romero set to direct. And Garris had been linked to both as a screenwriter, if my memory served correctly.
Now, to put the following into context, THE MUMMY franchise is similar to the FRIDAY THE 13TH series in that everyone thinks of the bandaged monster when they think of the Mummy. And they remember him being played by the great Boris Karloff! But Karloff’s Imhotep only appeared in the first MUMMY, and only as the mummy in the opening 2 minutes, before appearing in old age make up (by the legendary Jack Pierce) for the rest of the film.
Much like Mrs. Voorhees was the killer in the original FRIDAY THE 13TH, but the hockey masked Jason didn’t take center stage until the third entry, Kharis became the main “Mummy” (complete in bandages the way we remember him) starting with the second film, THE MUMMY’S HAND, and that Mummy continued to return over and over again for the subsequent sequels.
I tracked down a copy of the 1995 Mick Garris script for THE MUMMY and absolutely loved it. It was everything I wanted from a Mummy remake! It opens in Abydos, Egypt back in 1300 B.C. with Imhotep attempting to murder his beloved Ankhesenamun, but the ritual is interrupted and Imhotep is sentenced to be buried alive in an unmarked tomb, forever to be forgotten from history. It then jumps to present day (1995) where an archaeologist named Helen and her crew uncover the secretly buried tomb and bring it back to Los Angeles for display.
As can be expected, Imhotep awakens, and is now in search of three sacred artifacts that went missing in transit, which he needs to complete his sacrifice, this time with Helen who is a doppelganger for Ankhesenamun. Not only that, but he resurrects the terrifying Kharis to do his bidding in this modern ’90s metropolis! So, we get both Mummies in the same story!
The pace of the script moves briskly and is thoroughly entertaining, scary and surprising, right down to the twist ending. It takes great reverence for what came before, and yet also does a good job of updating and setting it in a modern world, which is something no produced version of THE MUMMY in the last 20 years has been able to do. Having Imhotep in a modern setting and reacting to present day Los Angeles while sending out Kharis to scare the hell out of people is a great way to update the material and make it fresh, while still allowing it to feel like what we know and love.
With all that said, I knew very little about this version of THE MUMMY I read, except that it was written by Garris in March of 1995. Was this the Barker version? Or Romero’s? Or was this the one Garris was going to direct, himself? I hopped on the phone with Mick to get context on this particular screenplay and discuss all things THE MUMMY!
Blumhouse.com: The script that I read is dated March 15th, 1995, and is marked as the third draft. Do you remember which version this was?
Mick Garris: That was for me to direct, but really, this was my third draft off of a draft that George Romero had intended to direct himself. A bunch of different people had tried to tackle it. Romero had done (a script) and they were close to a green light, but he had a solid offer, he thought, to make another living dead movie. And they said to him, OK, we’re close, but we’re not there yet. So if you’re going to take that, we’re going to have to change course. So, George reluctantly departed because he thought he had a go project, and after he left it, that project fell apart. It’s incredibly heartbreaking. I didn’t know George that well at that time. I knew of him and respected the hell out of him, and felt odd going into it, but at the time I did jump on board, he had gone on to this other project, so basically, he had done a lot of the early work and put together something really interesting, and they encouraged me to do my take on it. And frankly, I haven’t read it since 1995! In the 22 years that have passed, I don’t remember much of it other than it started somewhat in the same way THE EXORCIST starts. With a historic exploration in a period that then comes forward to the contemporary time. The whole idea of Kharis and Imhotep both being a part of this was really cool. I did a lot of research into Egyptian culture in history that I don’t remember now. (Laughs)
Blumhouse.com: Well, the thing I love about it is [that] the script moves! It’s pretty non-stop in terms of pacing, whereas maybe the original movies didn’t exactly have the best pacing. But also, the reverence to the original MUMMY movies and Egyptian culture is all there. And I love that Imhotep and Kharis are both in it. Was that something you came up with, or was that something in the script George developed?
Mick Garris: I’m pretty sure that was George’s idea. I would love to take credit for it, but I’m pretty sure that was something that George had come up with in his story. The idea of pacing is important. I once made a joke and Stephen King used it in one of his books, where the Mummy is the least scary of the Universal Monsters because it’s like, “uh oh, here comes the Mummy! I better walk a little faster!” You take that out of the equation and give it propulsion and movement, that was kind of my self-assigned job, to make a Mummy movie that moved! I’m glad that you felt that as you read the script because that was one of the top things I wanted to make sure of.
Blumhouse.com: Just to give a little context, where were you in your career at this point? Because you started out as a writer, and by the mid-’90s, you had already directed a few films, so you were well on your way to being a feature director, but you were also writing different versions of THE MUMMY for the studio. Were you still doing “writer for hire” gigs while pursuing projects to direct?
Mick Garris: Well, I was doing both. I had already done SLEEPWALKERS, and I had already done THE STAND in ’94. I had done my TALES FROM THE CRYPT by ’95. So, this was an opportunity to write a studio movie, because I’d been in television. I was established as a director, but not as a feature director. The deal was for me to write and direct this movie. It had been budgeted out. It was a $15 million dollar movie. But, Sid Sheinberg kind of lost his job as the head of Universal; as the head of production and president. They gave him a golden parachute. He had a company called The Bubble Company that he formed. They gave him a list of properties that he could take with him, and one that he chose was THE MUMMY. And so, it was him that decided that they wanted to do “RAIDERS OF THE LOST MUMMY” instead of a horror movie. Turn it into a big budget Steven Spielberg action-style movie rather than the modestly budgeted horror film it was intended to be.
Blumhouse.com: Was that the end of your involvement after Sid left Universal?
Mick Garris: I think Stephen Sommers pitched the version that became the 1999 movie to The Bubble Company, and because Sheinberg could take his choice and move forward, even though he was no longer the head of the studio, his company was closely connected there, he chose to take that route. Financially, it was not a mistake for them because it was a big hit! It wasn’t the kind of MUMMY I wanted to see, but obviously I was in the minority.
Blumhouse.com: Until I stumbled upon this script, I hadn’t realized that you got to play with one of the classic Universal Monsters! Did you ever tackle any of the other horror icons?
Mick Garris: Well, Norman Bates, of course, for PSYCHO IV. Freddy Krueger on the FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES TV show, but as far as the classic monsters, THE MUMMY was the only one. Of all of those, to me THE MUMMY is the least frightening, but because of that, it also meant this was a blank slate to build upon. No matter what I did, I wasn’t going to bring dishonor to it. In the Karloff movie, The Mummy himself is only in it for 30 seconds? So, there was a lot of flexibility on where it could go, but you had to pay homage to it and yet make a modern horror film. I’m sure that was Romero’s intent too, but we’ve never talked about THE MUMMY together. Obviously, he wanted to do something contemporary and genuinely frightening, so those were my marching orders as well. Earlier, I did two different versions of THE MUMMY completely unrelated. They (Universal Pictures) wanted to make Clive Barker’s THE MUMMY. Clive had a story I adapted. It was very Clive. It was very twisted. It was set in Beverly Hills and it had a lot of really twisted sexuality in it. That was a total blast to write! Clive came up with the story idea and outline, but I wrote the screenplay for him to direct. But once again, all dead laid plans for Gods and Monsters.
Blumhouse.com: I think my favorite MUMMY related thing is actually the “Mummy Daddy” episode of AMAZING STORIES, which I know you worked on! (And you can watch right here!)
Mick Garris: I love that one too, and I worked on it as story editor! It was originally titled Mummy Dearest, but nobody wanted to think of it as a parody on MOMMIE DEAREST, so it was the director, Bill Dear, who came up with that title, and who did a really great rewrite himself and directed the hell out of that episode.
Blumhouse.com: Although I’ve cited that episode as my favorite AMAZING STORIES, a lot of people have countered me by claiming “Mirror Mirror” is the best one, which coincidentally, you wrote and Martin Scorsese directed! Hey, I love both!
Mick Garris: Well, I love all of them. I wrote or co-wrote 10 of them, so it was a pretty high batting average there!
Blumhouse.com: Looking back, what are your feelings on your 1995 script for THE MUMMY? How close did it come to being a reality?
Mick Garris: I have very fond memories of that script. We were very close to making it. I even went to British Columbia to location scout for it, in particular for places that could fill in for both Egypt and British Columbia.
Blumhouse.com: Well, for what it’s worth, had your MUMMY been made, we’d be talking about a much more interesting and faithful “Dark Universe” of movies right now! Thanks for sharing!