Egyptian Mummies in Kirk Hammett’s Horror Film Collection

In mid July, the It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection opened at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum. Featuring original film posters from the 1920s to 1970s, the exhibition not only celebrates the creativity and popularity of many of the films on displays, but also takes a look at the collector, Kirk Hammett, himself. The Nile Scribes visited It’s Alive! looking for Egypt’s appearance in several posters from classic Hollywood films.

Also read about Egyptian mummies in nineteenth-century fiction

The Kirk Hammett Collection

Kirk Hammett is well-known as the lead guitarist of the band Metallica but what is perhaps lesser-known is that he has collected horror and sci-fi film memorabilia since the age of six. His collection consists mainly of horror and sci-fi film posters from the early to mid twentieth century, but also includes some costumes and other memorabilia. The exhibition also devotes a section to his life not only as a musician, but as a collector. Originally put together for display by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, the town’s notoriety as the centre of the Salem Witch trials of the seventeenth century was a perfect setting for such an exhibition.

Boris Karloff was at first hesitant to accept the role in The Black Cat (1934), though his exquisite suit may have played a role in convincing him of this role (Photo: Nile Scribes)
Boris Karloff was at first hesitant to accept the role in The Black Cat (1934), though this exquisite suit may have played a role in convincing him to take the role (Photo: Nile Scribes)

Aside from dozens of beautiful posters, the exhibition also features several film props as well as other paraphernalia. Boris Karloff, who is famous for his hand in fostering enthusiasm for the genre at its creation, is modelled in a life-size silicone figure wearing an exquisite suit used in the 1934 film The Black Cat. Karloff’s face is instantly familiar to those who have seen him as Imhotep in The Mummy.

Toward the end of the exhibition, many of Kirk Hammett’s customised guitars are displayed on one wall. The instruments were designed by Kirk Hammett to emphasise different early horror films. One particular guitar features the 1932 cult-classic The Mummy and the famous face of Boris Karloff in makeup. Along the fretboard runs an inlaid inscription in mother of pearl that says snw iqr snwt iqrt (“excellent brothers, excellent sisters”).

One of Kirk Hammett's customised guitars features designs from the 1932 cult-classic The Mummy and also has a hieroglyphic inscription running along the fretboard (Photo: Nile Scribes)
One of Kirk Hammett’s customised guitars features images from the 1932 cult-classic The Mummy and a hieroglyphic inscription on the fretboard (Photo: Nile Scribes)

Egypt-Inspired Films Featured in the Exhibition

Egypt also features prominently in the exhibition with the centrality of the mummy genre among the horror and sci-fi posters. Below, we introduce you to the films in the exhibition – be careful: there may be spoilers!

The famous 1932 poster of the cult-classic The Mummy hangs at the centre with Boris Karloff in the role of the Egyptian high priest Imhotep (on the far right the Swedish version of the poster). To the right hangs the poster of The Mummy's Tomb (1942) featuring Lon Chaney as the mummy Kharis (Photo: Nile Scribes)
The famous 1932 poster of the cult-classic The Mummy hangs in the centre with Boris Karloff in the role of the Egyptian high priest Imhotep – on the far right hangs the Swedish version of the poster (Photo: Nile Scribes)

The Mummy (1932)

Directed by Karl Freund and starring Boris Karloff and Zita Johann

Karloff plays an ancient Egyptian high priest named Imhotep in this cult-classic that sparked generations of mummy films. Imhotep is buried alive for his transgression of attempting to bring his lover, Ankhesenamun, back to life. In the early 1920s then (the film clearly derives inspiration from the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun), an archaeological team unearths his mummy and later on brings him unintentionally back to life. Years later, the resurrected Imhotep, now living as Ardeth Bay, meets Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), who strongly resembles Imhotep’s lover Ankhesenamun. Planning to reincarnate his lover by killing Grosvenor, mummifying, then resurrecting her, Bay sets out to capture Grosvenor. Look below for examples of lobby cards of still scenes from the film. They were produced to be displayed in movie theatres showing the film.

The Ghoul (1933)

Directed by T. Hayes Hunter and starring Boris Karloff, Cedric Hardwicke, and Ernest Thesiger

While the mummy-genre would go on to produce several popular, high-grossing films in the decades to come, The Ghoul plays off this genre but offers a different take. With Boris Karloff (yet again in an Egypt-themed horror film!) starring as eclectic Egyptologist Henry Morlant, the film revolves around a mythical jewel which is purchased by Morlant from a shady antiquities dealer.

A hand emerges from this stylised Egyptian coffin shown upside down in the 1933 poster of the film The Ghoul (Photo: Nile Scribes)

The jewel supposedly grants the beholder eternal life and for Morlant, who is suffering from a terminal disease, this jewel is of great importance. Instructing his servant to bury the jewel along with him upon his death, the servant agrees to fulfill Morlant’s wishes when it comes to burial, but keeps the jewel for himself. Eventually, sensing the loss of his jewel, Morlant reawakens and chases those who stole from him – did you not see this coming?

Lon Chaney takes over as the mummy Kharis in this sequel to the Mummy's Hand (1940) (Photo: Nile Scribes)
Lon Chaney takes over as the mummy Kharis in this sequel to The Mummy’s Hand (1940) (Photo: Nile Scribes)

The Mummy’s Tomb (1942)

Directed by Harold Young and starring Lon Chaney, Dick Foran, and John Hubbard

The Mummy’s Tomb is the first of three subsequent sequels to the 1940 film The Mummy’s Hand. Some erroneously believed the original film to be based on The Mummy (1932) from a decade earlier, though it did not follow the earlier’s plot line or feature the same characters. Dick Foran, who played the archaeologist Steve Banning in the first instalment, returned in the same role and Lon Chaney took over as the mummy Kharis from Tom Tyler. The film, taking place this time more in the United States than Egypt, continues the plot from the original and the repercussions from disturbing the tomb of the princess Anankha and hurting the mummy of Kharis. Mehemet Bey, played by the Egyptian actor Turhan Bey, takes over the role of high-priest in charge of the mummy Kharis and sends the mummy after Banning and his colleagues for their role in these aforementioned events.


Further Reading

  1. Adam Wallis. “Metallica’s Kirk Hammett talks ROM horror exhibit with Alan Cross.” Interview published on Global News on July 9, 2019 at https://globalnews.ca/news/5456878/kirk-hammett-alan-cross-interview/