Egyptian professor Andoheb travels to the Hill of the Seven Jackals upon being summoned by the High Priest of Karnak, who is old and dying and who Andoheb is to succeed. When he arrives, the priest tells him the story of the death of Princess Ananka thousands of years ago and how the high priest, Kharis, who was in love with her, couldn't bare being without her. Defying the wrath of the gods, Kharis stole a box containing tana leaves, the brewed fluid of which could restore life to the dead, but when he was caught trying to resurrect the princess, he was buried alive for his punishment after his tongue had been cut out. The tana leaves were buried with him in an unmarked grave out in the desert but the other priests of Karnak removed his body and took it, along with the tana leaves, to a hidden cave in the valley. The high priest then tells Andoheb that Kharis has been kept alive throughout the centuries with the fluid of the leaves in order to exact death upon those who would defile Ananka's tomb. During the cycle of the full moon, three leaves must be boiled in order to keep his heart beating, whereas nine leaves will give him the strength to move and kill any intruders. Andoheb is warned that if Kharis drinks the fluid of more than nine leaves, he would become an unstoppable killing machine. Elsewhere, archeologists Steve Banning and Babe Jensen are stuck in Cairo with very little money after the former loses his job at the museum. Steve comes across a broken vase at the local market, which he believes to be a genuine Egyptian relic, and when he buys it and takes it to Dr. Petrie at the museum, they become convinced that the hieroglyphics point the way to Princess Ananka's tomb. Andoheb, who also works at the museum, tries to dissuade them, telling them that the vase is a fake and that past expeditions to the location have never returned, but Steve and Petrie are adamant about it and seek a way to fund an expedition of their own. After some failed attempts, Steve and Babe meet the Great Solvani, an American magician, who offers to put up the money, although his daughter, Marta, thinks the archeologists are conmen after Andoheb tells her so. Still, they venture to the valley, where they uncover Kharis' tomb and find the mummy himself, but there is no sign of Ananka. Little do they know that Andoheb and his assistant have followed them to the valley and plan to resurrect Kharis to kill them all.
There are a couple of other memorable bad guys in the film aside from Kharis. One is the original High Priest of Karnak (Eduardo Ciannelli), whom Andoheb takes over from. Even though he's only in the very beginning of the film, I always remember him because of his menacing voice (the film opens with him invoking a curse on anyone who defiles the temples of the gods), which well suits his telling the story of Kharis to Andoheb and how much tana leaf fluid must be given to him, his old, sickly appearance, down to his shaking arm, and how he refers to the howling jackals outside as "the children of the night" (even this virtually unrelated "sequel" can't shake The Mummy's connection to Dracula). The other one is this initially innocuous beggar (Sig Arno) who Steve and Babe run into at the bazaar but is shown to be quite a suspicious character in the cutaways to him apparently eavesdropping on the two of them when Steve finds the vase. After their meeting with Andoheb at the Cairo Museum, the beggar is revealed to be working as a spy for him, telling him of their discovery of the vase and of their intention to get the Great Solvani to finance the expedition (he also appears to tip someone at the restaurant where they meet Solvani to start a fight with them, although it seems to accomplish nothing). When they do head to the Hill of the Seven Jackals, the beggar continues to aid Andoheb by slipping vials of the tana leaf fluid into their tents and by trying to gun down Steve and Babe near the end, which results in him getting killed.
Kharis is definitely the more popular image of the Mummy than Boris Karloff's Imhotep but that doesn't mean he's the more menacing of the two. While I'm not the biggest fan of his movie, I can say that Imhotep was quite a threat with his considerable hypnotic and psychic powers, as well as his mere presence, which was intimidating; Kharis can't do much more than lumber around on only one good leg and use his one working arm to strangle people. It's obvious that he does have a lot of strength in that arm when he manages to get ahold of someone and, fortunately, unlike the sequels, the few people that he kills here are already cornered in some fashion and have no chance to get away, but it's still hard to take him seriously as a threat when he comes across as so slow and crippled. We're told that he'd really be dangerous if he manages to drink more fluid than that of nine brewed tana leaves, "a monster such as the world has never known" as Andoheb tells Marta and a "soulless demon with a desire to kill and kill" as the first High Priest told him, but what exactly that entails is never made clear. Andoheb hints at one point that more of the fluid would make Kharis' bum leg and arm usable, which I guess means he'd become faster and more agile which would probably tie into the original High Priest's warning of his becoming uncontrollable, as he would no longer be so helpless. Interesting idea, of Kharis bouncing off the walls and dodging bullets like a maniac (not that he'd need to), but it's hard for me to imagine since, one, we never see it in any of these movies, and two, even though bullets go right through him, Kharis is defeated by merely being set on fire. Speaking of the tana leaves, the rules of how much fluid needs to be given to Kharis and when is a bit confusing. The High Priest says that, during the cycle of the full moon, Andoheb must brew three tana leaves each night to keep Kharis' heart beating and nine to allow him to move around and kill intruders, which seems straightforward enough. However, throughout the climactic night of the film when he is resurrected (that's something else, by the way; this 66-minute movie is more than halfway over by the time Kharis starts doing stuff), he drinks from several vials that are said to contain fluid from nine leaves. So, do each of those vials contain nine leaves worth of fluid or is it nine leaves worth of fluid divided among them? I think it would have to be the latter, which probably means that it only takes a little bit of the fluid from nine leaves to get Kharis going to begin with and that he needs smaller, individual amounts to keep going, thus easier to control, but it's pretty shaky when you really think about it, since you wonder if a little bit from nine brewed leaves has enough "juice" to do the job. Moreover, near the end of the film, Andoheb tells Kharis that his ability to move is waning with the setting of the moon. So, he needs the full moon in conjunction with the fluid in order to move? Why not just go with the notion that they need to keep his heart beating during the cycle of the full moon and that they can get him moving whenever the need arises? Does that mean Andoheb would've been shit out of luck if the expedition arrived outside of the cycle of the full moon?
This time, the actor who had to endure Jack Pierce's painstaking makeup application was one who had no association with horror films: Tom Tyler, who was typically a western actor (given that he never played a monster or appeared in a horror film ever again, I think we can deduce that once was enough for him). Like Imhotep's completely mummified appearance at the beginning of the original film, as well as Pierce propensity for using "out of the kit" makeup techniques, it's possible that Tyler had to endure the same arduous process of being completely wrapped up in dusty bandages and having cotton glued to his face with spirit gum and clay put into his hair that Boris Karloff did, only for the entire filming. The result is a pretty cool-looking mummy, I must say, but I'm sure it was miserable to be in, although Tyler got a break from Pierce's facial makeup in distant shots, where he wore a simple rubber mask. Also, to make Kharis look creepier in the close-ups of his face, they blacked out Tyler's eyes and his mouth to give the impression of there nothing there but black voids. However, the technique isn't always successful, as there are many times, especially near the end, where you can see through the effect (they reuse the same shot, even though the background doesn't match the specific scene), and I think it would have been freakier if they'd kept Tyler's eyes the way they were (if you watch the film's theatrical trailer, you can still them and they're quite wild-looking).
I'm kind of cheating when I lump The Mummy in as a franchise with these four Kharis movies because, if you haven't figured it out already, The Mummy's Hand is more of a soft remake of that film than a sequel, particularly in the case of Kharis' backstory. Not only is it told to Andoheb by the High Priest in a manner very similar to how Imhotep showed Helen Grosvenor their past lives, right down to the pool of water the images appear in, and is almost exactly the same, save for the tana leaves substituting for the Scroll of Thoth, but they even went as far as to use footage from that flashback sequence, splicing in close-ups of Tom Tyler as the pre-mummified Kharis and new footage of his face being wrapped up where Boris Karloff was originally seen. In fact, I've heard that one of the deciding factors in casting Tyler as Kharis was that he looked enough like a younger version of Karloff to where they could get away with it (I don't see much of a resemblance myself but maybe you'll think otherwise). Really, the only reason why I grouped all of these films together is because they're often seen as one series, especially since they were all made as Universal, and to make it less complicated.
Its more famous predecessor isn't the only movie this film "borrows" from. While most of the film's sets and locations are average-looking, restaurant and hotel interiors, offices for the Cairo Museum (the establishing shot and location caption are also taken from The Mummy), and bazaars built on the Universal backlot, which also had a desert-like section they used for the Hill of the Seven Jackals and the surrounding area, the one truly remarkable piece of art direction is the enormous interior temple which also serves as Princess Ananka's tomb and where the climax takes place. If you think this place looks too much to be from a low-budget B-movie, you'd be right; it's actually taken from Green Hell, the next-to-last movie James Whale directed before retiring in 1941. That movie had been an expensive commercial failure for Universal and so, the studio decided to save money by using the set again for a much cheaper movie, which paid off as this film did quite well at the box-office. It's definitely a spectacular-looking set, both on the outside and the inside, especially the latter when you see it in a big wide-shot, with that enormous centerpiece idol with the two jackal-like heads sticking out, and, in spite of the fact that it was originally built to represent an Inca temple, manages to give this otherwise small movie a feeling of scale, which is more than can be said for the films that followed it (they don't even take place in Egypt!)
One of the major drawbacks of The Mummy's Hand is that, while it has interesting characters and a fairly fast pace that speeds through its short running time, it doesn't have much else. As I mentioned earlier, Kharis is not even resurrected until about 42 minutes in and even then, the scenes where he kills people aren't much to write home about, as all he's doing is choking people to death and those scenes certainly aren't intense or scary. And again, a slow, shambling mummy doesn't inspire much fear or excitement even when he's chasing or attacking someone. But, monsters aren't everything and a film can certainly get around a lackluster monster with a spooky atmosphere and tone... too bad this film doesn't have that. Obviously, since this was made on a B-level budget and schedule and meant to be nothing more than a fast-paced programmer, the filmmakers weren't interested in creating any kind of mood, as the very ordinarily shot, mood-less nighttime scenes at the Hill of the Seven Jackals show.
The climax itself is pretty pedestrian. Steve finds the secret passage leading from Kharis' tomb to the temple and attempts to untie Marta from the sacrificial slab Andoheb had tied her to, when Kharis appears, having walked through the passage himself. Marta tells Steve that he's after the tana leaf fluid, a vial of which Steve found in the tomb, and he smashes the vial on the floor, prompting Kharis to go after the vat of it that Andoheb had prepared to make himself and Marta immortal. Steve attempts to stop Kharis by shooting at him and when that doesn't even slow him down, he gets between the mummy and the vat while continuing to fire. Kharis grabs him by the neck and easily tosses him aside. Steve gets back and tries to hold Kharis back but gets tossed aside again, into an urn that his body weight smashes. Babe runs in through the entrance and sees Kharis grab the vat and raise it to his mouth, preparing to drink. He shoots it out of his hands and it spills across the floor, but the desperate mummy actually gets down and tries to lick it up. Steve, seeing his chance, smashes a torch over Kharis, setting him afire and defeating him.
The film's music is another borrowed element, although hardly unprecedented, as Universal often took to recycling music throughout their films during this period. Specifically, Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner's music for Son of Frankenstein is used, as it would be in many films around this time, especially the theme for the main titles (which becomes something of a leitmotif for the High Priests of Karnak), and the menacing and climactic music. The music fits the film well in the spots that it's used but, since it's not original, there's not much point in going into it since I've talked about it in other reviews.