Presenting the fifth, on-going installment of the Niche's R.L. Stine series reviews, here's 'The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb'. (WARNING: spoilers ahead)
Getting in touch with their Egyptian roots, Gabe Hassad and his folks are visiting the land of his grandparents (who emigratted to Michigan, earning some brownie points from myself) during Christmas vacation. A vacation not entirely for pleasure, however. The Hassads operate a refridgeration company with the hope of garnering some business. Mildly ironic, since Gabe complains about his parched throat as they stop by the Great Pyramid of Giza for some sightseeing. As it so happens, Gabe's Uncle Ben is currently head of an excavation crew working inside the pyramid. When an unexpected business meeting comes up, Gabe is given the option of either going with his folks to Alexandria or staying in al-Jizah under the care of his cool archaeologist uncle. Tough choice. In a heartbeat, Gabe chooses to stay. The only catch is that his boastful and competitive cousin Sari is also visiting. Attending boarding school in the States, she has taken advantage of the holiday break to see Uncle Ben, her father.
After Gabe's parents leave to catch their flight, he starts to grow paranoid as the time passes in the quiet hotel room. A small, mummified hand that Gabe had bought from a garage sale, a "Summoner" according to the seller, helps to pacify his nerves. Then, as if playing on his private fears, a shadowy figure slowly staggers into the room: a mummy. However, it's when Gabe recognizes the eyes beneath the wrappings that he regains his wits. It's none other than Uncle Ben, who, as Gabe describes, has a pension for pranks. Sari follows in shortly afterward when Uncle Ben has been found out, having a laugh with her father at Gabe's expense. This rivalry between Gabe and Sari constantly surfaces during the story. But Gabe is soon in good spirits again as they have dinner together, discussing Uncle Ben's latest findings. Discovering an unmarked passage beneath the Great Pyramid, Ben hopes to uncover the hidden burial chamber of Pharaoh Khufu.
The next day, Ben guides the children through the underground maze of stone tunnels, instructing the two to remain close. As they walk, Gabe's uncle teases him a little about curses. Warned by one of the workers, the team had apparently violated an ancient decree, thereby activating some sort of curse. As Gabe is introduced to the excavation crew, we meet Achmed, a man from the university (which university is never specified) who keeps making claims of the curse. Requesting to observe the dig, Achmed rarely speaks with the exception of his curse-related rants. Normally we would dismiss this character as a superstitious local. However, his unsettling stares lead one to suspect something more sinister at hand with Achmed, and rightly so.
After some expected antics from the children, namely exploring the tunnels unsupervised and incurring Uncle Ben's ire, Gabe and Sari run into Achmed the following day. Again unsupervised, the kids came to the Cairo Museum together without Ben's knowledge. Achmed claims that he was sent to fetch them, but when they drive in a direction heading away from the hotel the children realize that they're being kidnapped. Fortunately, Cairo traffic is slow and congested, allowing the children to jump out of the moving car without injuring themselves. Disoriented at first, Gabe and Sari manage to lose Achmed and find their way back to the hotel with some local help. Ben returns to the hotel room where the children were waiting, anxiously telling him of what has happened.
Normally in this situation any sensible adult would go to the authorities, but not so here. Instead, Uncle Ben is too occupied with getting to the bottom of this alleged curse, which has, in the meantime, resulted in hospitalizing two of his workers. At first he's inclined to simply leave the children alone in the hotel room. But after some begging from Gabe and Sari, he decides as an afterthought that it's better to take them along, back to the pyramid. Back to the pyramid. And just the three of them, on top of it. So, after getting split up in the tunnels and finding one another again in a mysterious, mummy-filled chamber, who should appear but Achmed. As it turns out, this happens to be "the sacred Preparation Chamber of the Priestess Khala", which they have violated. (It didn't help matters that Sari was playing in Khala's sarcophagus earlier, either.) A descendant of the priestess, Achmed has taken the hereditary charge of disposing of such intruders, according to her ancient wishes. Live mummification seems to be the preferred method.
Uncle Ben, proving his ineptitude again, tries to reason with Achmed, "as scientist to scientist". Achmed makes his rebuttal by royally cracking Ben over the head with a torch, knocking him unconscious. (You can't win in an argument against a zealot.) Sealing him inside a mummy case, Achmed forces the children to share one together and likewise seals them inside. In the meantime, a tar pit has been ignited in preparation for the mummification process. As Gabe and Sari await their horrendous demise, Ben redeems himself, slightly, by escaping his own case and freeing the children from there's. It happens that many mummy cases have escape hatches, meant for the soul of the corpse to leave. Funny how that little detail slipped Achmed's mind. Regardless, Achmed is no longer present for the time being, so they take the opportunity to leave.
The Hassads near the pyramid entrance, only to be cut off by Achmed and herded back into the chamber at knifepoint. Moving them towards the tar pit, he means to have the family fall into it, one by one. Then, without any thought, Gabe whips out the "Summoner" mummy hand. Bewildered, Achmed cries, "The hand of the Priestess!" along with words in an intelligible tongue. Adding to Achmed's horror, as well as the Hassads, the mummies within the chamber begin to rise. Nearing, Achmed defensively sets one aflame with a torch, but to no avail. The horde of undead shamble towards the tar pit, carrying Achmed above them in their bandaged arms. Together they hold him over the tar, but, after Gabe opens his eyes, sees Achmed flee as the mummies remain by the pit. Then, next thing we know, the mummies are positioned exactly where they were before, as if it had all been imagined.
Back at the hotel room, things wrap up rather uneventfully. (And yes, pun definitely intended.) Sari is grateful to Gabe for saving their lives, finally giving him the one-up over her, while Uncle Ben is fascinated by the mummy hand. "Better not play with it," says Ben, adding, "We must treat it carefully." Then, completely disregarding his uncle, Gabe takes the hand and mockingly calls upon the ancient spirits, to come alive again and to him. As if answering the summon, there's a loud knock at the door. But after the early fake out with Uncle Ben it's easy to predict that it's actually Gabe's parents, not mummies, before they are revealed. At least they didn't dress up in wrappings.
After 'Say Cheese and Die!' went belly up, I was relieved to find that 'The Curse of the Mummy' was much improved. Stine even went so far as to take his characters out of the atypical suburban neighborhood and into more exotic settings. It did, however, get a little redundant toward the end. Kids plea, "No! You can't do this!" Achmed argues, "It is the will of Khala!" -- This goes on back and forth for a while. The dialogue explains the curse and Achmed's motives, but still, those two lines get repeated or rephrased quite a bit. That aside, 'The Curse of the Mummy' was a pretty decent read. The mummy hand was a nice touch. I give it four out of five Goosebumps Gs.
On a side note, Gabe briefly mentions having a pet cocker spaniel back home. If I'm not mistaken, every Goosebumps book so far has had one it it. I find it curious, is all.
- "Man behind the Curtain" Drew
- Well, here's yours truly. The name's Drew, in case you were wondering. The Niche is my personal site, while the comic-in-progress is a partnered effort with Don, a lifelong friend of mine. We collaborate on the stories, but my partner's the writer in the outfit while I am the illustrator. This is currently little more than a side project, but we hope to make something of it.