In Egypt, 1895, a team of archaeologists are searching for the tomb of Princess Ananka, the High Priestess of the god Karnak. They are John Banning (Peter Cushing), his father Stephen (Felix Aylmer), and his uncle Joseph Whemple (Raymond Huntley). Because of his broken leg, John cannot be there when they open the tomb. An Egyptian named Mehemet Bey (George Pasell) warns them not to enter because of the curse against desecrators of the tomb. They ignore him and discover the sarcophagus of Ananka. Joseph leaves and Stephen finds the Scroll of Life and reads from it. He screams and when the others rush in, they find him in a catatonic state.
Three years later, in England, Stephen Banning comes out of his catatonia at the Engerfield Nursing Home for the Mentally Disordered and sends for his son. He tells him that he inadvertently raised the mummy Kharis (Christopher Lee) from the dead. He had been buried alive for the crime of trying to revive Princess Ananka. He will now hunt down and kill everyone involved in desecrating Ananka’s tomb.
Mehemet Bey, worshipper of Karnak, comes to Engerfield under the name of Mehemet Atkil, intending vengeance against the Bannings. He hires Pat and Mike (Harold Goodwin and Denis Shaw) to bring the sarcophagus of Kharis, but their drunken antics cause the crate to fall into a bog. Mehemet uses the Scroll of Life to raise Kharis from the bog and sends him against Stephen Manning. He kills Joseph Whemple as John witnesses the attack and shoots Kharis, which does not stop him.
Police Inspector Mulrooney (Eddie Byrne) is assigned the case but does not believe John’s story. John notices that his wife Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux) is the spitting image of Princess Ananka. As Mulrooney slowly begins to believe, Mehemet Bey sends Kharis to the Banning home again. When he sees Isobel, he breaks off the attack. Mehemet Bey thinks the job is done and prepares to return to Egypt but is surprised by John’s visit to him.
Afterwards, he leads Kharis in another attack. The mummy knocks out Inspector Mulrooney, finds John and begins to strangle him, but is interrupted again by Isobel. Mehemet orders Kharis to kill Isobel, but he refuses. Mehemet tries to kill her himself, but Kharis kills him. The mummy carries off Isobel, who tells Kharis to put her down. He obeys her and is gunned down and sinks into a swamp with the Scroll of Life.
The film was directed by Terence Fisher, written by Jimmy Sangster, and produced by Michael Carreras and Anthony Nelson. It was called the Mummy but more closely resembled three sequels to that Universal film—The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb, and the Mummy’s Ghost. The scene of Kharis’s tongue being cut out and his death by shotgun were trimmed to be less graphic. A fiberglass copy of the sarcophagus resides in the Perth Museum and Art Gallery. Critics did not like the wordy script and less than chilling horror scenes, but it holds 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. With this film, Hammer Films had an agreement with Universal Pictures to re-do their classic horror films. It was a strong influence on the Pyramids of Mars episode of the fourth Doctor Who.
Christopher Lee’s mummy lurching was influenced by pain in his back, shoulder, knees, and shins. His shoulder was hurt by his attempt to crash through a door that was accidentally locked, and he threw out his back carrying Yvonne Furneaux. Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Felix Aylmer had all appeared together in Hamlet in 1948. The box containing the Scroll of Life was a copy of a box found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. You have to hand it to Christopher Lee: mute and covered in rotting bandages and mud, he has nothing to use but his eyes, and when Kharis sees the perfect image of the woman he died horribly for 4000 years ago, he somehow reveals his broken heart.