A Meditation on the Horror Film Hero – The Mummy

When I began thinking about what types of characters I wanted in A Steampunk Guide to Hunting Monsters, I drew inspiration from classic Horror Films. The book is set in the Victorian Steampunk world, and so I wanted to get as close to Victorian horror tropes as I could. I watched quite a few old horror movies, and I learned quite a bit.

The one thing that really stands out, though, is that the male lead is almost always an intolerable douche.

What is it about these guys that any audience would find attractive? It is this subject which I would like to discuss in this meditation on the Horror Film Hero.

Case in point, the Mummy.

The Mummy (1932)

Boris Karloff as the Mummy
Boris Karloff as the Mummy

The Mummy, in its most tenuous sense, is a horror film. It is about an out-of-this-world make-up job that eerily comes to life behind an archaeologist and then proceeds to go on a romantic comedy style romp (minus the comedy) with a reincarnation of his old-timey lover, by hypnotizing and drugging her.

The Mummy's pick-up lines seem to be ineffective -- at first.
Oh, Mummy, that’s no way to get girls!

The opening scene features Boris Karloff in full Mummy make-up coming to life, which is entirely believable and effective thanks to Mummy Make-up artist Jack Pierce, but after that it’s all down hill.

The Mummy comes to life and kills this guy in the only blatant horror scene in the movie.
The Mummy comes to life and kills this guy in the only blatant horror scene in the movie.

We are treated to scene after scene of a twee and obnoxious British hero played by David Manners and his either comatose or high-as-a-kite girlfriend Zita Johann (who wears a fantastic dress in her first scene, and who speaks soft and low.)

David Manners plays Frank, an archaeologist, also in its most tenuous sense, and a douchey one at that. Let’s make a list of ways he is a terrible leading male character:

  1. ) Living off of his father’s wealth
  2. ) he over-works slave labor
  3. ) while not helping dig himself
  4. ) in order to disrespectfully rob Historical graves
  5. ) using as little science as possible
  6. ) in order to gain fame as an archaeologist and prove to the world that he’s as cool as his father
  7. ) all the while complaining about how bored he is.

And all this is just the first scene in which he appears.

David Manners as Frank, pretending to do science.
David Manners as Frank, pretending to do science. “It’s science stuff, you wouldn’t understand.”

Now, I know this was a different time, and grave robbing in the name of science was all the rage, and was totally a thing people did, but David Manners has absolutely zero interest in the Historical significance of anything he “finds”, claiming that he unwraps the mummy in the name of science. Yeah, cause unwrapping things is totally science stuff.

“I’m doing science so hard right now.” — David Manners, probably

I also know that Hollywood sometimes gives us characters at a low point so we can watch them grow and blossom and change into people that we like. I would like to clarify right now, however, that this is not something that will happen to David Manners during the course of this film.

When Zita Johann collapses under her mummy-induced-high in front of a museum that David Manners is at, he continues to descend further into the depths of ridiculous and unlikable. He takes her home to his Egyptologist father and makes her comfortable on the couch… and maybe the point we’re supposed to latch onto here is that he makes her feel comfortable on the couch, because that’s, like, the only likable thing he does in the whole movie, but it’s kind of grasping at straws at some point.

The ever-comforting couch of Frank Whemple. Taste the comfort.
The ever-comforting couch of Frank Whemple. Taste the comfort.

After Frank listens to her mutter in her mummy-stupor, he exclaims “What Language is That?” You’re a freaking Egyptologist, you ass! It’s Egyptian. His dad needs to explain this to him.

Then, the lady wakes!

He proceeds to tell her that she looks just like the mummy that he “found” earlier. Yes, that’s right. Your hero equates the lovely heroine to an embalmed corpse. “Her head was the same shape as yours!”

“Thanks, Frank. That’s really nice of you to say.”

“And her lips were thin and contorted, and she was scrawny and had large teeth and sunken eyes — just like yours!”

“Oh, I love you so much, Frank!”

"And your skin is dry, and cracking, and your features are sunken and emaciated, and you have no brain, just like a mummy!"
“And her skin was dry, and cracking, and her features were sunken and emaciated, and she had no brain, just like you!”

Next, he confesses that he took her unconscious frame home to his comfy couch (Emphasis on the comfort, see?) instead of to the hospital because he was overcome with passion. (rape-y much, Frank?)

“Do you have to open graves to find girls to fall in love with?” the lady asks, and strangely, that is the whole romantic set up for every romance in this film… so, yes, Zita Johann, yes.

"Am I making you uncomfortable?" "Why, no, Frank. How could I be uncomfortable with your big face three inches from mine while I sit on this immensely comfortable couch?"
“Am I making you uncomfortable?” “Why, no, stranger that I just met. How could I possibly be uncomfortable with your big face three inches from mine while I sit on this immensely comfortable couch?”

So, after a bunch of plot filler, the Mummy shows up and takes mummy-stupor Zita to look into a pool of water for a lengthy flashback (which interestingly is almost exactly the same story told in the opening to the Brendan Fraser Mummy film!) and then kills her dog. So, you can see here that both the Mummy and David Manners are equally great at seduction.

She returns home telling David Manners that she hates how everyone is creeper-stalking her, but, because she seems to be the only one who seems to be aware that they are in a horror film, she reveals that a reincarnated spirit within her is trying to force her own psyche out and steal her body, and he replies “Now that you’ve asked for help, I’ll never leave you alone!”

“Thanks, Frank, that really helps me with both my fear of stalkers AND solves all my supernatural problems at the same time. I sure am glad you were here.”

"Let we three white protestant males decide the fate of this woman, as is our duty!"
“Let we three, rich, white, protestant males decide the fate of this woman, as is our God given duty!”

After attending to her comfort in at least two different ways, in two entirely different scenes, he tries to stop the mummy from returning for her by placing a pendant of Isis, the Egyptian goddess, on her door. A pendant, I might add, which was given to him specifically to stop the mummy from killing him. Now free of this pendant, the mummy tries to kill him. Luckily, the door remains safe throughout the entire scene, thanks to the protection of Isis. I mean, Zita is abducted by the mummy, of course, but the door is safe. Ah, yes, David Manners, that’s what we like to see in heroes — quickness of mind.

But he was a early film beefcake, apparently. Though he never did this much digging in the actual film.
But he was a early film beefcake, apparently. Though he never did this much digging in the actual film.

In the end, because of his stupid mistake, Zita Johann is left completely alone with her reincarnated inner spirit to figure out how to thwart the mummy’s plot. Both she and her inner spirit, who apparently resents being reincarnated at the expense of someone else’s life, decide to pray to mighty Isis to defeat the mummy. Isis obliges, and the day is saved!

Isis is like, "Dude, seriously?"
Isis is like, “Dude, seriously?”

But not until David Manners races onto the scene in order to take credit and fulfill the role of hero. Late-coming, heroine threatening, douche-bag hero.

Who does Zita Johann have to pray to in order to save her from this guy?

"God? Zeus? Jesus? Satan, you owe me one!"
“Buddha! Zeus! God! One of you guys help me! Satan, you owe me!”


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