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Remembering a time when movies were movies and monsters were monsters

By Fred Dickey

San Diego Union-Tribune

Sept. 11, 2017

Bela Lugosi portrays the evil Count Dracula in the 1931 movie classic. (AP Photo) (Associated Press)

Not long ago, I was told of a new “Mummy” movie release starring Tom Cruise. To me, that’s a sign of how far culture has fallen. A horror flick featuring an evil Tom Cruise would be like the werewolf guy turning into a Chihuahua.

Who would spill popcorn in fright at Tom Cruise? He has a choir-boy face and is a full head shorter than the average mummy--C’mon, Tom (chuckle, chuckle). You gonna strangle me? Get outta here!

Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, Jr., now there you had some monsters of respect. Lon was Lou Gehrig to Boris’ Babe Ruth. Then, you had your Bela Lugosi. He’d scare his wife just looking over the breakfast toast.

I studied up on this new “Mummy” on Wikipedia, the sloppy researcher’s bible. My curiosity did not rise to a $15 ticket.

I read that the movie also has characters named Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Excuse me, but weren’t those names already taken?

But here’s the killer, as we say: the evil mummy is a princess by the name of “Ahmanet,” unless I’ve confused the name with a vodka I saw advertised.

A mummy who’s an Egyptian princess? Uh-uh. Cleopatra wrapped in a sheet? Elizabeth Taylor? Ain’t happenin’. I can see Liz between sheets, but that was a different movie.

There was a day when horror movies made you proud of Hollywood (or at least the San Fernando Valley). For example, “Attack of the Crab Monsters,” which is not to be confused with the Navy training video of the same name.

You wanta mummy? I’ll give you one for the ages, which, technically, applies to all mummies, but you know what I’m sayin’.

For the real thing, return with me to the golden age of horror.


Welcome to when I was a kid and you probably weren’t even. I’m 10 years old. I got my 50-cent piece in my pocket which I keep patting to make sure it’s still there. I’m going to the Egyptian Theater (yes, that was the name) in DeKalb, Illinois.

New Levi’s, new Keds...ohhh, yeah! Like I heard mom say once, I’m steppin’ out.

If I can sneak in with the older kids, I’ll have enough for popcorn, a box of Dots, and a small Coke. (Jujubes are the in-candy, but I find they stick to the teeth. I stand alone before the Dots display and ignore the stares.)

I’m in the front row, ready for action. I put everything down just right: Popcorn between knees, Dots in hand, Coke on floor between feet. The movie starts. It’s “The Mummy’s Revenge,” or something neat like that.

It’s an old movie with thin white lines running vertically through watery-gray film. So what? You don’t put the Mummy in Technicolor. He does his best work in black and white.

We begin. It’s night, of course, and the hero and his girl are necking in a car out behind the museum where they keep the mummies. Our mummy goes by Karman, or Karma or something like that. The sound system is crackling. There. It’s Karnak.

An old guy with a white beard reads the scribbling on the huge box that’s holding Karnak. The writing looks like birds and boats, but the guy can read it. He says Karnak did some bad stuff way back when, and it got him put in the box. He old guy opens it anyway.

Karnak gets all irritated because they broke some spell and woke him up after 2,000 years. All that time in a box, he shoulda been grateful. I would be. He never says anything, but what’s he got to talk about--baseball?--what with spending all that time all bandaged up and in a box and all?

Karnak is egged on by a weird-talking sneaky guy in a little round hat with a tassel. It’s not clear how he figures in.

Anyway, so after Karnak kills the guy who turns him loose, which the guy should’ve figured might happen anyway, he gets outside, and right away he sees the hero and the blonde necking in this convertible. Oh-oh.

Then he starts--one arm is outstretched, his hand is open, fingers spread, hungry to kill again--I drip my Coke on my new Levi’s--He’s slowly, slowwwwly dragging a stiff leg along. For sure, he’s gonna get them!

My thinking is he wants to kill the guy so he can have the girl all to himself. I don’t know why, he can’t kiss her with his mouth bandaged over.

Dragging behind him is a loose end of bandage that’s coming off his leg, like the tape came loose. Old tape, I guess. His muscles are stiff; you gotta understand, he’s been 2,000 years cooped up in a sarcophagus, which I heard someone say is an old name for a big coffin.

At this point, I’m watching the guy in the car make out, and I’m a little curious. Jimmy Boyd told me stuff that he heard from Richie Johnson. I asked mom if it was true, and she got mad. Said she was gonna call Richie’s mom.

But then I see the mummy getting closer, creeping, dragging that bum leg, reaching out...and the guy and girl are still going at it. They don’t know from nothing. They only worry about cops, because cops get upset about stuff like that. Cops you can hear coming.

Oh, no! The mummy is right there! I’m thinking--Look behind you! Start the car! Get out of there, you idiot! C’mon!

I’m all alone in the front row. But I’m not gonna move back ‘cause other guys would see me.

Finally, this moron decides to start the car and leave...Oh! No! No! The car won’t start! The mummy is almost to the trunk and still they don’t look back.

Finally. Thank God! The starter grinds alive and they drive away just in the nick of time, as we used to say. The closest call I’ve ever seen.

Karnak makes up for it by strangling a lot of people, especially guys in suits and skinny mustaches. At the end, he sinks slowly into quicksand and disappears.

Hah! See how you like 2,000 years down there, Karnak.

But, the real danger begins when I get outside the theater. It’s dark, and I’m faced with five blocks to get home. Only a couple of street lights. Made to order for a monster, I’m thinking. I look around--nobody. That’s good and that’s bad.

I’m not too worried about the Mummy. I’m the third fastest kid in fifth grade, and he’s really slow. I won’t be caught necking like that guy in the movie. However, there’s a full moon, and everybody knows what that means.

I pick up a rock, just in case. I keep looking back. That’s how they sneak up on you. The worst part of the run home is past the Catholic church. If I was gonna grab a kid, I’d hide behind one of those statues. I save some speed for that stretch. Good thing I got the new Keds.

Made it!...This time.


In a few years I graduated to puberty and Doris Day. Oh, yeah! Uh-HUH!

Doris would’ve been charmed to know how often I drifted off to sleep sighing her name. And speaking of sheets, which I did earlier, that Doris could certainly rustle mine.

I’ve read that Doris is 95 and living near Monterey. It’d be nice to meet her, but it wouldn’t be the same.

For either of us.

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