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Cohen's favorite mummy movies

The director was a fan of the genre before he was asked to helm the third Brendan Fraser 'Mummy' adventure.

August 01, 2008|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Rob Cohen, director of "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," has long had a soft spot in his heart for mummies -- or at least mummy movies. In fact, Cohen, who's directed such hits as "The Fast and the Furious" and "Dragonheart," even produced the cult 1987 comedy horror film "The Monster Squad," which features Michael MacKay as the Mummy.

He's not alone in his affection. Audiences have loved "The Mummy" ever since the great Boris Karloff played the revived ancient Egyptian priest Imhotep in the 1932 classic directed by Karl Freund.

Karloff was the first of many. Lon Chaney Jr. played a mummy called Kharis in a series of low-budget horror films for Universal in the 1940s and even the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello confronted the bandaged one who was played by stuntman Eddie Parker in a 1955 comedy.

The character was quite literally resurrected in 1999's funny, CGI-laden "The Mummy" starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and Arnold Vosloo as the Mummy. The trio reunited with director Stephen Sommers in 2001's "The Mummy Returns." And in the latest installment in the series, "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," Jet Li plays the resurrected mummy of a ruthless ancient Chinese emperor who makes life miserable for Fraser's adventurer Rick.

"When they asked me to do the third one, I was grounded in the subject as a film viewer," Cohen said in a recent interview. "If the Mummy movies have a theme it is the quest for life after death and the idea in Western culture that if you meddle with that -- the natural processes -- bad things are going to happen. Mummy movies hit on something very deep. I consider it sort of the off-page form of Christianity -- the dark side of the idea that 'only through me will you gain eternal life.' "

We asked Cohen to unwrap a list of his favorite mummy movies and explain why they remain objects of his affection:

"The Mummy" (1932); "The Mummy's Ghost" and "The Mummy's Curse" (both 1944)

"You know you had in the roles the two great horror actors ever -- Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney. Most people if they have seen one have seen the Karloff version. For me, I saw these movies when I was 10. [These movies] make you both fascinated and fearful of this place called Egypt."

"Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy" (1955)

"I thought it was so funny as a kid -- all of the jokes that those two guys could generate around a genre that at that point had a lot of mummy movies."

"The Mummy" (1999)

I like what Stephen Sommers did in the first one. It had kind of a campy treatment, but a modern visual effects treatment. A guy in ragged bandages limping around in the dark looking for his Tanis leaves suddenly became a wide-scale visual effects spectacle. I liked that jump.

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susan.king@latimes.com

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