The Legend of Kharis

Tom Tyler as Kharis in Universal's 1940
production of
The Mummy's Hand.

    Universal Studios kicked off its new mummy series in 1940 with The Mummy's Hand. The film begins with the arrival of Professor Andoheb (George Zucco) at the ruins of the temple of Karnak on the Hill of the Seven Jackals. Andoheb meets with the aging High Priest (Eduardo Cianelli) who asks him to look into the mysteriously swirling waters of a magical pool. As the two men stare into the mystical depths, the centuries separating us from ancient Egypt vanish, and we see the events of over three thousand years ago. Cianelli begins to narrate the legend of Kharis:
"Come closer. Look deep into the Waters of Khar...Behold! Over three thousand years ago, the Princess Ananka died and was buried with all the ceremony due her exalted station. Ananka's father, King Amenophis, bade her a last farewell. And thus, the Princess Ananka was placed in her tomb.
"Kharis, a Prince of the Royal House who loved Ananka, looked on in grief. His devotion was so great that he refused to believe that she was lost to him forever.
"Kharis broke into the altar room of Isis to steal the secret of eternal life from its hiding place. With that, he knew that he could bring Ananka back to life. Daring the anger of the ancient gods, he stole the forbidden tana leaves...."
In the mists of the pool, we see the spectacle of Kharis taking the sacred tana leaves from a chest hidden in a statue in the temple of Isis. He enters the tomb of Ananka with his stolen prize, but guards rush in before he can use the leaves to reanimate his lover. Kharis is arrested and taken before the Pharaoh.
"For the sin he had committed," the old High Priest continues, "Kharis was condemned to be buried alive, but first they cut out his tongue so the ears of the gods would not be assailed by his unholy curses. The sinful Kharis was buried alone in a remote place. With him was also buried a great quantity of the forbidden tana leaves. Then the slaves were killed so they could not tell of what had taken place. Later, the priests removed Kharis from his unholy grave into a cave on the other side of this mountain.
"Thus, none but the Priests of Karnak know Kharis' mastabah. For over three thousand years Kharis has remained there in his cave, on the other side of this mountain, and he waits to bring death to whoever tries to defile Ananka's tomb...for Kharis never really died!"
Professor Andoheb murmurs in amazement: " still alive?"
The High Priest points toward a statue. "In the idol of Isis you will find a copper box. Open it!"
Andoheb obediently removes the box from the base of the idol and pries open its ornate lid to reveal a quantity of dried, crumbling leaves. "Tana leaves!" he gasps in wonder.
"Bring three of them," the High Priest orders. "Three of the leaves will make enough of the fluid to keep Kharis' heart beating. Once each night, during the cycle of the full moon, you will dissolve three tana leaves and give the fluid to Kharis."
Outside, in the starry Egyptian night, the jackals begin to howl mournfully. "You hear?" the ancient Priest asks. "Children of the night! They howl about the Hill of the Seven Jackals, but Kharis must be fed. Should unbelievers seek to desecrate the tomb of Ananka, you will use nine leaves each night. Thus, you will enable him to bring vengeance on the heads of those who try to enter. But never, for any reason, must you brew more than nine leaves at one time. Should Kharis obtain a large amount of the fluid, he would become an uncontrollable monster--a soulless demon with the desire to kill...and kill."
"I understand, master," says Andoheb. The old Priest removes a medallion from his neck with unsteady hands and motions for the younger man to come near.
"Put this about your neck. Time to wear the medallion of the High Priest. Now, swear by the ancient gods of Egypt that you will not betray your trust."
As Andoheb swears to protect the secret of Kharis and Ananka, the older Priest visibly weakens. "Oh mighty gods of Egypt, you have successor...May you...find him...worthy." He collapses before Andoheb and dies peacefully, having safely passed the three thousand year old burden of the Priests of Karnak onto a new generation.

    First featured in The Mummy's Hand, this legend was retold, with differing degrees of completeness, in Universal's three subsequent mummy films, being related in its entirety (complete with flashback sequence) in The Mummy's Curse (1944), the final film of the series. Most of the legend and flashback scenes were taken from Universal's earlier film, The Mummy (1932) which starred Boris Karloff in the title role. However, there are some important differences. Karloff's Imhotep had used the magical Scroll of Thoth in his attempt to reanimate his dead lover, whereas Kharis employs tana leaves. The addition of these leaves brings the Kharis series in line with several other Universal classics which also employ plants possessed of special powers (e.g. the monocaine producing plant from The Invisible Man; the maraphasa lupina lumina from Werewolf of London; and Wolf's Bane from The Wolf Man and Dracula.) Also, Kharis remained bandaged and had his tongue cut out, a fate that Karloff's talkative and socially active mummy was spared! According to Ron Chaney, grandson of Lon Chaney, Jr., the mute nature of Kharis bothered his grandfather even more than the make-up did when he played Kharis three consecutive times for Universal. Like most actors, Lon preferred speaking roles!
The whole set-up for the telling of this legend in The Mummy's Hand may ring a distant, familiar bell for some movie buffs: a younger man travels a great distance to meet a much older priest in an exotic temple and receive initiation from him. Viewers of this opening sequence will find a definite echo of the scene in which Ronald Colman finally meets Sam Jaffee, the High Lama of Shangri-la, in the 1937 version of The Lost Horizon. This film also seems to have inspired the chilling sequence in The Mummy's Ghost in which Amina Mansori (Ramsay Ames) rapidly ages into a withered mummy as Kharis drags her into the swamp.


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