ReligionSkepticism

Sunday Monster Series 2: Mummies

MummyLast weekend kicked off what has turned into a new series about monsters. This series will vary in topic and tone, with each week featuring a look at one monster or another with some sort of skeptical viewpoint. I started with a short post about my favorite monsters, vampires, and I’ll continue today with a bit about my most feared monsters, mummies. 

Mummies terrorized me for 30 years. From 1969 to 1999, I was afraid of undead creatures wrapped in rotting linen and dehydrated corpses locked in museum cases. It all started when I was seven years old and Creature Feature played every Saturday night on WNEW, channel 5, in New York.

Each week at eight-thirty, the series opened with a poem intended to get the goose bumps rising on your arms:

Gruesome ghouls and grisly ghosts,
Wretched souls and cursed hosts
Vampires bite and villains creep,
Demons scream and shadows sleep,
Blood runs cold in every man,
Fog rolls in and coffins slam,
Mortals quake and full moon rise,
Creatures haunt and terrorize…

Right from the start, I was excited and afraid, but at the first commercial break, before the monsters appeared, my parents sent me to bed. Nine o’clock was my bedtime anyway, and I don’t remember complaining.

On the week The Mummy aired, my parents were engrossed in the 1932 film and forgot to shoo me off to bed during the commercials. By the time they realized I was still watching, Boris Karlof had risen from his crypt and was terrorizing everyone in an attempt to reunite with his reincarnated lover. They decided they’d better let me stay up ’till the end, so I could see that the good guys won and Imhotep was defeated. But it didn’t really matter. Mummies, that night, became real to me and nothing anyone could tell me would make me less afraid of their rotting hands reaching for me out of a mass of torn and shredded wrappings.

In 1972 I was introduced to another horror film, A Thief in the Night. The movie was shown in Calvary Baptist Church at 324 Jayne Boulevard on Long Island. This time the terror inflicted on me was intentional.
 

 The monsters in this film were non-Christians, led by the anti-christ, who terrorized those who accept Christ after the rapture has taken place. One world government, the mark of the beast, famine, war, the collapse of civil society: Satan rules on earth, destroying everything. The DVD plot synopsis matches what I remember:

Patty [is] a young woman caught up in living for the present with little concern for the future. She meets and marries a young man and her life seems great, until one morning she awakens to find her husband gone and the radio reporting that millions of people have mysteriously disappeared. As dramatic, earth shaking events begin to unfold around her, Patty realizes she is living in the end times spoken of in biblical prophecy.

Larry Norman, a popular 1970s Christian musician often considered the “grandfather of Christian rock,” wrote and performed the haunting theme song, I Wish We’d All Been Ready:

Life was filled with guns and war,
And everyone got trampled on the floor,
I wish we’d all been ready.
Children died, the days grew cold,
A piece of bread could buy a bag of gold,
I wish we’d all been ready,
There’s no time to change your mind,
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind.

This movie didn’t just give me nightmares, it also made me shiver inside my coat when I was in the back yard in winter and I couldn’t hear any other kids playing in the neighborhood; it paralyzed me with fear every time my mother was late coming home from work; it kept me up at night listening to the wind outside my bedroom, wondering when Jesus would come to take his followers away, never sure whether or not I’d be counted as one of the elect. Whenever I found myself alone, the song would replay in my head, and I knew it was too late. I’d been left behind.

My mother told me the mummy was make believe, but she told me that the rapture would be real. When Richard Dawkins talks about religious indoctrination being psychological child abuse, I see 9 year old Donna sitting on the couch in the living room, shivering with fear, wondering if she’s been left behind and her mommy had been taken away from her in the rapture. 

Today’s kids seem much more comfortable watching scary movies than I was, but many Christian parents are paranoid about what their kids see on the screen. The mental anguish inflicted on young children in Sunday school may be unintentional on the part of these parents, but if we can raise awareness about this, perhaps we can spare future children the kind of terrorization that I experienced. Parents should be at least as concerned about what their children learn at church as they are about what they see in the movies and on TV. Even more, because the children are told the Sunday school lessons are true.

I stopped being afraid of the rapture long before I stopped believing in it, because I became confident that I would not be left behind, but it was when I no longer believed in heaven and hell, God, or the devil, that the basis of the fear evaporated competely. It wasn’t until 1999, however, when I saw the half-comedy version of The Mummy that I stopped being afraid of these shrouded creatures. Obviously I knew they could cause me no harm long before that, but I was unable to rid myself of the irrational fear until the computer-enhanced versions of Imhotep and his minions somehow gave me the ability to laugh at myself and at the monsters. 

Neither the mummy’s curse nor the threat of the rapture keep me up at night any more. But these fims instilled in me an enduring love for B movies and a deep respect for the power of stories.


And, damn, Daylight Atheism beat me to zombies! But I’ll be back to that topic soon, too.

 

 

writerdd

Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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37 Comments

  1. I really hope you are older than this post makes you sound. Because if you aren’t I am really old. And Creature Feature must have been on the air forever. I used to love the Saturday afternoon Creature Feature Double Feature that I would watch at my grandparents house on the weekends I would spend with them. Whenever I watch an old B horror movie I feel like I’m 7 years old again in their spare room on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I remember all of the terrible old movies Jesse James vs. Frankenstein’s daughter, Billy the Kid vs Dracula was one of my favorite double features. One that scared the absolute hell out of me was one I never saw and can’t even remember the name of. The commercial for it showed a little kid, I think a girl, in an English garden. She is walking along the path and looks scared, then the voice over starts, “What happens when you wake up from a nightmare and realize you were never asleep?” And then a big black iron gate slams shut. Scared me pissless. As far as the rapture I didn’t even hear about that until I was 17 and well on my way to being an on the ceiling atheist. By then basically all religion was silly and I just kept my mouth shut to keep from having to put up with a lot of hell. I didn’t realize that the “Left Behind” series was based on a 1970’s movie. It sounds just like the movie synopsis you gave.

  2. Night Gallery made me feel that terror was for “real” – not just good special effects, but the real thing, in my own house and even during daytime.

    Shouldn’t this thread be titled “Mummies for Dummies”?

  3. Good, now I don’t feel so old. This is why I miss local control of broadcasting and low power UHF stations. You used to see really weird, eclectic things now it is much more homogonized. No more Creature Feature Double Feature, instead it is Blade 3 for the 500th time. No more late late movie. No more early farm report. It just feels like the same thing over and over again.

  4. Relating to what parents allow their children to see, a while back while visiting my sister their children were watching VegieTales (a cartoonish version of bible stories with vegetables as the stars) to teach them good morals. I only watched part but a couple of vegetables went to a city and told the guard up on the wall that god wanted them to have the city. I had to think what would my sister or any normal person do if confronted by someone telling them to turn over their home because god said so. I left the room but envisioned all sorts of visions of heathen tomatonites being squashed because of the wrath of god. Or perhaps god would send a plague of aphids.

  5. To put an avatar (picture) by your name, go to gravatar.com. Set up an account there using the same email you use on skepchick and upload the picture you want to use and it will (magically) appear on your posts here.

  6. Creature Double Feature is a highlight of my childhood. Love the old monsters. Still miss Vincent and Boris.

    I also remember A Thief in the Night. I think that was the first in a trilogy. I vaguely remember seeing all three of them at church. I think they’ve been remade by the same production company that makes the Left Behind movies.

  7. Wow, does this post bring back memories! I remember Creature Features very well. I was never frightened of them, tho. The first film I ever saw that actually scared me silly was The Exorcist. It’s odd that someone who was never religious and has never believed in all the biblical schlock would be so horrified by a little girl spewing pea soup. I think it was because, for its time, the Exorcist was radically gross and explicit. I had never seen anything like it.

    My favorite movies in that era (1965-1975) tho were movies like the Time Machine with Rod Taylor, First Men in the Moon, and Robinson Crusoe on Mars. I also loved Forbidden Planet with Leslie Nielson. I have all these on DVD now and can go back in time to enjoy them again any time I want. Modern technology is a wonderful thing.
    I think modern science fiction and horror movies are pretty good too. I love the incredible FX as much as anyone, but they just don’t seem to have the heart of the older movies. I haven’t figured out why exactly. Even though I know this isn’t exactly on topic, I would love to hear people’s opinions about why the older movies seem so much better, even watching them today with jaded eyes.

  8. Two things scared the crap out of me – those damn monkeys on the Wizard of Oz and (I think it was) Frankenstein’s Return when I was probably 6 or 7. I also remember worrying about the Rapture (my mother was a Missionary Baptist, pretty hardcore fundamentalist). I am glad I don’t have to worry about that anymore!

  9. Funny that I never was afraid of the rapture, even though I was raised southern Baptist. I cried a lot during my deconversion, however, because I kept thinking that I might end up in hell. Once, at sunday school I asked “If a person is nice enough, and does good their whole life, will they go to hell if they don’t accept Christ? Like what if they never even heard of Christ before?” The answer I was given is that they would definitely go to hell, and that’s why Christians have to spread the word. Since that time, I went from worried (did I believe enough??) to eventually terrified, and toward the end of my time as a Christian, I felt very much alone. I was 13.

    Speaking of B movies and mummies, ever seen Bubba Hotep, with Bruce Campbell, you know, from the Evil Dead movies? I loved that one! Those scenes where you could hear what Elvis was thinking to himself (which was most of the movie) were priceless!

  10. Did anyone ever see The Rapture with Mimi Rogers and David Duchovny? That movie actually gave my girlfriend nightmares. I just thought it was interesting because, even when the actual rapture comes at the end, she is still so angry at God that she refuses to forgive him and so can’t get in to heaven.
    … I fear from now on, the little girl in the movie will remind me of “… 9 year old Donna sitting on the couch in the living room, shivering with fear…” What a horribly sad image! :(

    The Exorcist is still probably the movie that scared me most. Like Denver7M, I wasn’t religious and so never believed in satanic possession. And it’s about some little girl who really never even leaves her bed! But I always find my fists clenched while watching it.

    As for Mummies, I say meh. They never got to me. They never seemed real or close enough to me like ghosts or zombies or vampires.

  11. I’m sort of with Mark Twain: “Heaven for climate, Hell for company.” If most Christian denominations are right about who goes where, I’ll take Hell, thanks very much.

  12. Mummies never really bothered me when young, and tended to fall under the range of “Popcorn monster”. Why? Doctor Who.

    One of the old Tom Baker era shows from the 70’s had an episode (Pyramids of Mars) where killer mummies were running around. Eventually the Doctor captures one, unwraps it, and it turns out to be a robot wrapped up in linen bindings, and later disguises himself as a mummy by using the wrappings. So from then on “mummy=robot” or “mummy=dressed up person” which were not as scary.

    It was pretty much the same with other ‘supernatural monsters’ when growing up. Ghosts, vamps, werewolves, zombies, Frankies monster, etc held no real fear for little me when I had Doctor Who, Macgyver, the Shadowchasers and the old animated Scooby Doo stripping away the bedsheets, fake blood, fur and linen wraps to reveal the person (or robot) underneath. :)

  13. I must say, that the entire computer enhanced mummy-laden film of 1999 could never compare to the sheer horror of Karloff’s mummy when he simply opened his eyes!

    Seconded. Boris was one of the greats. He once caused a woman to faint just walking across the studio parking lot while they were filming Frankenstein.

  14. @Rystefn:

    I remember an old movie in which Vincent Price commented that “…Nowadays, it’s all about gore and shock. Back in the old days, the monsters simply came as themselves….”

    Not an exact quote, of course, but I liked it.

    Ah, Karloff…Lugosi…Cushing…Lee…Chaney…. They just don’t make ’em like that anymore.

  15. @Rav

    Unfortunately, even they suffered Hollywood syndrome and became little more than ‘junk food for the brain’ with endless sequels. rather than ‘classic horror’.

    It didn’t take long for “Frankenstien vs Wolfman vs Dracula vs Mummy” to start turning up, and even if it was just one genre you still had “The son of the ghost of the bride of (insert monster here)” popping up. Which pretty much shows the film industry doesn’t learn from history – today we have mindless crap like “Alien vs Predator vs Terminator vs…”

    In their efforts to squeeze the last bit of cash out of the actors/films they not only flogged a dead horse – they flogged it to death, stripped even last bit of flesh from the skeleton, reanimated the skeleton, flogged _that_ to death, and then sold of the bones as ‘authentic props’ from the films.

  16. In my Seventh Day Adventist uprbing the subject of the rapture never
    really came up. Strangely enough, and I’m a little embarassed to admit it, it was the song “In the Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics that made mortality real. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I was sheltered, it’s just that I could convince myself that Freddy and Jason weren’t real, but that song was real. I cried myself to sleep for a week terrified that I wasn’t good enough to get into heaven. I was able to talk myself off the ledge but that song still gets to me.

  17. Loved Creature Feature as a kid when it was to cold or wet to go outside. My sister was more into Dark Shadows. After becoming Christian in high school in the 70’s I was introduced to “The Late Great Planet Earth” by Hal Lindsey which was nothing more than Christian Morning After boogey man propaganda. He was promising the rapture and end of days really really soon over thirty years ago. I suppose not soon enough for him to make millions on the Left Behind books.

  18. I was brought up Catholic, but the catechism teachers never tried to scare us with Hell and Damnation stories. We were more into the Jesus-Loves-Children-And-Puppies routine. But when they told me god is always watching us, I was kind of perved out. God watches me…even when I POOP?! Ewwwww!

  19. I must say, writerdd, I’m really looking forward to reading your book, if the writing is as good as it usually is here.

    Mummies: fascinated me more than werewolves (vampires were pretty far down on the totem pole, at least when I was a kid). And I did enjoy the 1999 release. (And its sequel. And the Scorpion King.)

    But yeah. Karloff’s the king, although I appreciated his roles in the later RKO Val lewton films more.

  20. If anyone’s interested, one of Karloff’s best performances was in a movie called Targets, in which he essentially plays himself; And ex-classic-horror film actor who suddenly has to help stop a serial-killer-sniper.

    –Not that Karloff ever had to help stop a serial-killing-sniper. just that by the time he made that movie, he was an ex-boogie man.

  21. philistereo:
    Yeah, it’s too bad he doesn’t comment while watching – can you imagine, you’re doin’ your thing in the bathroom when, all of a sudden, a voice from above: “Wow, that’s a really big one!” or “I made the whole world in 6 days, look what you’ve done in 5 minutes!”

  22. Lots of good points … having grown up with tales of families jumping up and down on the front lawn and calling it “Rapture Practice”, I fully identify with the combined excitement and fear that this doctrine can instill in a young mind. (Just as a side note, my parents were NEVER that weird about it, but it was still definitely a featured principle in my church years.)

    Wow … now here’s a song I haven’t thought of in a while:

    10 and 9, 8 and 7, 6 and 5 and 4
    Call upon the Savior while you may
    3 and 2, coming through the clouds in bright array,
    The countdown’s getting lower every day!

    That’s the plus side. The negative side is waking up at 10 p.m. when your parents have gone for an evening walk (that was OK in rural 1970’s America), and thinking that you’re not only going to hell, but you’re going to have to live with the horrible Andersons next door since your parents are gone.

  23. Also, a note on that particular Veggie Tales video. At the end, they do take the city, with no blood but plenty of spilled blue Slushie (the weapon of choice). But as the camera pans back during the closing song, you see that not only the wall has fallen, but the city as well — after all this talk of a land flowing with milk and honey, the Israelite Veggies are dancing around on nothing but bare, dusty rock.

    I’ve always wondered if there was just a touch of directorial commentary going on there.

  24. 10 and 9, 8 and 7, 6 and 5 and 4
    Call upon the Savior while you may
    3 and 2, coming through the clouds in bright array,
    The countdown’s getting lower every day!

    Wow, that was one of my favorite songs to sing in opening excersises from Sunday School. It had a rocket blasting off on the front cover. I am not sure what the Rapture and the space program had in common, but I was convinced that the Rapture must be as cool as blasting in space. What a schmuck.

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