Friday, September 7, 2012


"Here was a triumph of movie makeup, as great as any attained by the immortal Lon Chaney." - James Bowles

Originally released on 22 DECEMBER 1932, Universal Pictures' THE MUMMY will mark its 80th anniversary this year. With a story that was too similar to the previous year's DRACULA to miss, it nevertheless created quite a stir with its realistic portrayal of a 3,000-year-old mummy come back to life.

Even though the actual mummy was shown in only a few shots (the rest of the time it was masquerading as the present-day Ardath-Bey) the image has remained indelible, and has since become one of the handful of iconic horror monsters of the films.

The person responsible for the look of the mummy was, of course, Jack Pierce. Audiences were barely getting over the shock of his make-up creation depicting the Frankenstein monster when Pierce's crumbling mummy hit the silver screen.

Only a couple of months after its theatrical release, the very popular newsstand magazine, MODERN MECHANIX published in its February 1933 issue an article entitled, Makeup Secrets of Movie Horror Pictures by James Bowles. While it mentions the subject in a general sense, the bulk of the article discusses Jack Pierce's creation of his mummy make-up.

The article tells that Pierce referred to 35 books on Egyptian history in search of information that would help him to create his make-up of Boris Karloff. He spent a month testing materials that would best be used to convey the age of the character, but would also be as feasible as possible to apply on a daily basis during the shooting of the film. As shown in the article, the face make-up ended up being a basic, four-step process:

1. An application of special gum (most probably spirit gum).
2. Applying a plaster of glue and cotton to the skin.
3. A second layer of gum is brushed on more cotton to preserve wrinkling of the skin.
4. Grease paint applied as necessary for lighting and camera.

"Wrapping Karloff," Pierce explained, "was the hardest job I faced in twenty years in the motion picture business. Cooking the cloth gave it the appearance of cloth that had rotted under the earth, but it had become so fragile that sometimes it fell apart in my hands." The article goes on to explain the rest of the step-by-step process of Pierce turning horror star Karloff into a living mummy.

Few contemporary references explain the art of classic horror makeup so thoroughly as do this article in MODERN MECHANIX. For this reason, it can certainly be considered a treasured artifiact from the vintage days of Universal monster movies.

1 comment:

Urban Wild said...

Cool article. The Mummy--still one of my very faves!


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