The Hammer Studios film The Mummy, directed by Terence Fisher and starring Peter Cushing as John Banning and Christopher Lee as Kharis, the living Mummy, was released in the U.K. in 1959, so it probably came to Houghton-Hancock Michigan in 1960, when I was seven. Back in 60 I went to see some other film, but it was a preview of The Mummy that I remember.
When I was a child, my mom would read to my brother and me; I heard all 14 of L. Frank Baums Oz books that way, and many other classics. While I expect it wasnt her intention, shed introduced me to the frisson of horror through those nightly readings. James Whitcomb Rileys The Goblinsll Get You (the poem that introduced Little Orphan Annie to literature) had me seeing goblins sneaking into my bedroom window for weeks. A pirate story (Treasure Island?) had pirates raising the window and thrusting their booted feet inside as their faces with knives carried in their teeth leered through the glass. And I remember a truly unsettling fairy tale in which a girl lost her head and had to walk around with an upended bucket for a head until the equally creepy happy ending, in which she got a dolls head to attach to her neck. Then there was the time-probably a bit farther into the 60s-when my dad, in a playful mood, peered in at me through various downstairs windows of our house while covering his lower face with his arm. Im sure that part of me knew it was Dad being silly, not the boogey-man. But part of me gave in to delicious fear.
Those experiences notwithstanding, my proper introduction to horror as a genre was the Hammer Mummys preview. It showed scenes of a gigantic human figure, covered entirely in bandages that were sometimes white, sometimes black, walking around alive. The Mummy broke into a window and strangled a man. The Mummy had a spear thrust right through him and kept moving. The Mummy rose out of a swamp, and carried a woman back into the swamp.
That night I had a dream set in our house. My dad was a lawyer and former history professor, my mom an English teacher turned Intermediate Superintendent of Schools, and they had the sort of house youd expect two scholars to have: big and full of crannies. (Ive written a ghost story, In the Attic, about that Houghton house and the similar Hancock house we moved to in 61. The story can be found in Tales of the Unanticipated #9, 1991.) The Houghton house had an outer living room for guests and an inner living room for the family. In my dream, my dad and I were standing in the outer living room as my dad explained to me that for a while we would be keeping a mummy in the inner room. (Normal enough, it seems to me now, for a scholar-dad to bring a mummy home. Many scholars do.) He explained to me that when the light in the inner living room was turned off, due to an optical illusion, the Mummy would appear to move. But I need not worry myself, Dad assured me; it was just an illusion. (At this remove Im impressed at the sophistication of this dream-idea. As a seven year old, I was no slouch.)
My dad left the house at this point but, assured of my safety by his explanation, I looked with fascination into the darkened inner room, where the Mummy did indeed appear to move, and not just move, but dance. For some time I watched, fascinated, as he appeared to dance all about the room with that special blend of lithe jerkiness peculiar to animated mummies.
Without the slightest warning, the Mummy leapt through the doorway and clacked his teeth at me.
I awoke instantly.
After that, the most vivid dream of my life, I wasnt in a hurry to make further acquaintance with monsters. There was the occasional Twilight Zone episode, the occasional creepy comic book villain. I looked into the Classics Illustrated adaptation of Mary Shelleys Frankenstein, and was disturbed, but did not yet consider myself a part of Monster Culture, nor even realize that such a culture existed.
But the seeds had been sown by my Mummy preview, and my Mummy dream. In September of 1963 I saw an ad in a comic book for the Aurora Classic Monster Models line, the ad featuring their new addition, the Mummy. Days later I bought that Mummy model. I remember there was a Mummy biography inside, which ended with a caution that Now the Mummys circle is widening. He had wiped out all despoilers of his tomb, and all their relatives. Where would he turn next? Perhaps to you, dear child.
At that point I was well and truly hooked. Heed my sorry example, Gentle Reader, and escape!
Or read my article in the next issue of MonsterZine, He Went for a Little Walk: The Mummy in Fact, Folklore, Fiction, and Film. Same tomb-time, same strangle-station.