The high-tech remake of the Boris Karloff classic starring Brendan Fraser may be Universal's only hope this summer

The Mummy (1999 movie)

What’s the sound of living human flesh being sliced from the bone? Is it a quick, sharp slashing noise? Or a long squishy meaty one?

This is the question under discussion inside the Alfred Hitchcock Building on the Universal lot, where last-minute effects are being wrapped around The Mummy, the studio’s $80 million remake of the old Boris Karloff homage to droopy bandages and bad posture. We won’t give away too many details about the scene currently being tweaked in the F/X screening room — except to say it involves Brendan Fraser, a hunting knife, and a killer scarab that scurries beneath the skin of its victims like a bug under a rug — but it is worth noting that its sound effects are still under construction just two weeks before the picture’s release.

”It’s too fleshy,” complains writer-director Stephen Sommers. ”It sounds too gross. We’ve got to tone it down.”

”But isn’t that what you want?” an engineer asks. ”Don’t you want the audience to be grossed out?”

”Too fleshy,” Sommers explains. ”This isn’t a horror movie. It can’t be too gross. It’s more like Lawrence of Arabia or Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s an adventure. A love story. A sweeping desert epic!”

Actually, The Mummy may be more than all that — it could be the film that finally revives Universal from its own somnambulant slump. In recent times, the studio has been suffering under a curse that makes the gauzy guy’s problems look like a mild case of athlete’s foot, with a list of flops so long — Virus, Primary Colors, Meet Joe Black, Psycho, and EDtv, to name a few — it could fill a Hollywood edition of the Book of the Dead.

There have been some signs of Life lately (the Eddie Murphy-Martin Lawrence comedy opened No. 1 at the box office last month), as well as a major booster shot last winter from Patch Adams‘ $133.8 million grosses. And Universal does have a promising lineup on the way, starting this month with Julia Roberts in Notting Hill. But if audiences buy The Mummy‘s curious concoction of camp, horror, and action, it might be the film that consolidates the studio’s long-overdue comeback.

Sommers’ summer offering — in which Fraser plays a wisecracking Foreign Legion soldier chasing an ancient cadaver around the desert in 1920s Egypt — is also a major test for the studio’s new president of production, 38-year-old Stacey Snider, who took over after Universal almost lost the farm with Babe: Pig in the City (last winter’s reported $100 million sequel that made only $18.3 million). And of course, Hollywood will be keeping its eye on the film’s 30-year-old star as well, waiting to see whether the likable doofus who swung around the screen in a loincloth in George of the Jungle can fill as many seats as a fully dressed action hero.

The Mummy (1999 movie)
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