Monday, November 24, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'The Day the Mummy Returned' (1971)

This two-page spread features original artwork for Ed Wood's "The Day the Mummy Returned."

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

"Mummies" somehow wound up here.
The story: "The Day the Mummy Returned," originally published in A Study of Voyeurism, August/September 1971, Calga Publishers, Inc. In a slightly different form, this material was also included in Ed Wood's 1966 paperback book, Orgy of the Dead (Greenleaf Classic GC 205). In 1970, Ed had Tor Johnson recite this monologue as part of an unreleased single, with Criswell reading "Final Curtain" on the flip side.

Synopsis: From his sarcophagus, a long-deceased Pharaoh senses that a party of explorers -- a young man, an old man, and a young blonde woman -- has violated his tomb and are coming closer to him. For 3000 years, this mummified ruler has been trapped between life and death because a soldier named Rukari had stolen the sacred Seal of the Pharaoh, which the mummy needs to cross the River of the Dead into the Land of the Dead and take his place in the Palace of the Pharaohs. 

The explorers, making their way through the tomb, encounter the skeletal remains of many who were buried along with the Pharaoh, including High Priest Talau, numerous Court Guards, and even Rukari, who was the last to die when the oxygen ran out. The explorers retrieve the Seal of the Pharaoh, knowing its historical significance but unaware of its supernatural power. Eventually, the three tomb raiders reach the sarcophagus and open it. The mummy staggers back to life and easily kills the two men, while the woman faints. Stepping outside of his tomb for the first time in many centuries, the reincarnated Pharaoh is dismayed to see warplanes (which he thinks are metal birds) flying overhead and destroying all the Egyptian landmarks, including the Sphinx. With the Seal of the Pharaoh back in his possession, the mummy contentedly returns to his tomb. He decides to take the screaming blonde along with him to be his Queen for all eternity.

Wood trademarks
  • spooky monologue (cf. this collection's "The Night the Banshee Cried," "I, Warlock," "Dracula Revisited," etc.)
  • point of view of a dead person (cf. "The Night the Banshee Cried"); characters compelled toward coffins (in this case, a sarcophagus)
  • preference for blonde women
  • fondness for soft things (in this case, the heroine's hair)
  • resurrection of the dead (quite literal this time)
  • phrases "the sands of endless time," "the seemingly endless reaches of sand," and "endless ending of all time" (all variations on "the endless reaches of time" from Glen or Glenda? and the Portraits in Terror pilot)
  • warfare (the world seems to be at war when the mummy awakes)
  • emphasis on rotting and decay, particularly the smell (a mainstay throughout this collection)
  • unnatural brides (cf. Bride of the Monster, The Bride and the Beast)
  • those ever-present ellipses
  • passages formatted more like poetry than prose (cf. this collection's "Hellfire," "I, Warlock." "Banshee," etc.)

Excerpt: "The Sphinx is gone... Then another temple... What is this madness of destruction? A greater power than any I had ever witnessed. A sound greater than any sound I have heard before. What are those things? They are not of my world. What is this world to which I have returned? Except for the desert sands there remains nothing left on the face of the earth of my ancient Egypt... only below... in the tomb... is my world."

Ed's likely inspiration.
Reflections: In the pantheon of classic movie monsters, mummies take a backseat only to vampires in Ed Wood's fevered imagination. His oft-recycled monologue "The Day the Mummy Returned" is basically a textual version of one of Universal's classic Mummy films, much closer actually to the 1940s entries in the series (such as The Mummy's Hand, The Mummy's Tomb, The Mummy's Ghost, and The Mummy's Curse) than the 1932 original with Boris Karloff in the title role. That beloved film is surprisingly light on mummy action, unlike the sequels. 

In my mind's eye, I can just imagine the party of explorers in Eddie's story -- the wise old man, the brash young hero, and the pretty ingenue whose talents seem limited to screaming and fainting -- on the big screen. These are Universal Pictures archetypes to be sure. 

What makes Ed's version different is that it is told entirely from the monster's point of view. It's yet another of his rambling, quasi-poetic horror soliloquies. I have to wonder, incidentally, how heavily-accented Tor Johnson ever made his way through lines like "Without my chain of office, my seal which Rukari had stolen, I could not enter into the Kingdom of Rulers where I could spend eternity." Only Ed Wood could have conceived of a Swedish mummy. 

In a real 1940s Universal film, moreover, the mummy would have been defeated or destroyed at the end. He would not have been allowed to triumph completely, as he does here. I think many fans of classic horror secretly root for the so-called "bad guys" to defeat the much-less-charismatic heroes. Besides, the explorers in this story have it coming. What they're doing is just glorified grave-robbing. Give 'em hell, Pharaoh.

As I've said many times before in this series, what separates Ed Wood's stories and films from those of other writers and directors is Eddie's fondness for taking his narratives in bizarre, unexpected directions, often in their very late stages. At about the two-thirds or three-quarters mark in any plot, Ed is apt to make the literary equivalent of an unsignaled left turn. 

So it is with "The Day the Mummy Returned." What we're confronted with here is a fairly simple story of a Pharaoh who is not allowed to rest in peace and who goes on a brief, bloody rampage before finding satisfaction. What makes this story weird is that the mummy awakens to find the world in an almost apocalyptic state of war. Fighter planes soar overhead and destroy everything on the ground, leading the mummy to decide he's better off in the tomb. (Why he isn't worried about that being bombed, too, I don't know.) 

Why Ed Wood decided to include this war material in what is otherwise a straightforward Universal-type horror story, I cannot guess, unless he was again haunted by his own memories of World War II. Bob Blackburn, the man behind this book and the co-heir of Ed Wood's estate, speculates that perhaps the story's war angle was inspired by the real-life conflict between Egypt and Israel dubbed "the Six-Day War" in 1967. I have to also wonder if Ed Wood sympathized with this story's title character and considered himself a relic of another age, cruelly dragged into the modern world and unable to cope with it.

Next: "Into My Grave" (1971)