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We open in Egypt (where else?), at a British excavation site. A mummy of high priest Imhotep (Boris Karloff) has been found and with it the scroll of Thoth, a key to bring back the dead. After one foolhardy assistant reads the scroll, the mummy comes alive, then proceeds to snatch the scroll and shamble away leaving the assistant a mess of mad laughter.
Cut to ten years later, a mysterious man named Ardeth Bey assists archelogists in uncovering the tomb of Princess Anck-es-en-Amon. However, he doesn't do this out of kindness, as he has plans of his own...
The film was semi-remade in 1940 (The Mummys Hand, which itself spawned several sequels), 1959 (The Mummy, a Hammer production featuring Christopher Lee as the title creature, based more on the 1940 film than the 1932 original) and 1999 (The Mummy 1999).
This film has the examples of:
- Ancient Egypt: Featured comparatively briefly in Imhotep's vision of the past.
- Ancient Tomb: Princess Anck-es-en-Amon's tomb, but we never get to see inside it.
- Buried Alive: Imhotep's punishment for the sacrilege of trying to bring the dead back to life.
- Evil Sorcerer: Imhotep.
- Eye Awaken: When Whemple's assistant starts reading the translation of the scroll of Thoth, Imhotep opens his eyes slowly.
- Fainting: After failing to get inside the museum, Helen faints.
- Go Mad From the Revelation: Whemple's assistant doesn't take it well when he sees Imhotep's shambling corpse.
"He went for a little walk! You should have seen his face! HAHAHAHA!"
- Hates Being Touched: Imhotep.
- Have a Gay Old Time: When the archeologists are discussing what Imhotep could have done to be punished like he was, one of them suggests "Maybe he got too gay with the vestal virgins in the temple.
- Have We Met?: Imhotep says this to Helen when they meet, as he wants to know if she remembers anything from her past lives.
- Living Statue: A statue guarding the scroll of Thoth comes alive to show its displeasure of Imhotep stealing it in the past.
- Mummy: Unlike the Mummies that appeared in the other Mummy films, Imhotep only appears as the archetypal shambling, bandaged corpse for a few minutes, and spends the rest of the film looking perfectly human.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: Imhotep attempts to do this to Frank.
- No Immortal Inertia: Imhotep decays into a pile of bones when Anck-es-en-Amon defeats him.
- Protective Charm: The amulet of Isis, which protects its wearer from Imhotep's powers.
- Reincarnation: Helen is the reincarnation of Princess Anck-es-en-Amon.
- Reincarnation Romance: Of a sort. Imhotep seeks out Helen as she is the reincarnation of Princess Anck-es-en-Amon, but plans to kill her and make her into another mummy.
- Soft Glass: The glass containers of the museum are made of it.