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Kharis[pronunciation?] is a fictional character featured in Universal Studios's Mummy series in the 1940s following their original 1932 film The Mummy, which starred Boris Karloff as a different mummy character, Imhotep, though their backstories are practically identical. Universal's Mummy films were inspired by worldwide interest in Egyptian archeology during the first half of the twentieth century.
In the first Kharis film, The Mummy's Hand (1940), the character was played by Western-film actor Tom Tyler, while the three subsequent films, The Mummy's Tomb (1942), The Mummy's Ghost (1944), and The Mummy's Curse (also 1944), starred Lon Chaney, Jr. in the role. Although the iconic image of the mummy's face is usually Karloff's, the Kharis films are responsible for the enduring stereotype of the lumbering, foot-dragging monster, as Karloff's bandaged creation is seen only briefly while Kharis is a major on-screen character in all four follow-up films. The Kharis movies also introduce the notion of tana leaves as integral to the mummy's survival.
The Mummy's Hand introduces Kharis in a series of flashbacks that are pulled from the original 1932 film except for inserts with Tyler replacing shots in which Karloff would have been conspicuous. The original film's ancient-Egypt scenes tell the story of Imhotep, who is punished for attempting to resurrect a dead lover, while in the Kharis films the identities and details of this story are simply changed to describe a similar but alternate scenario. For this reason the Kharis films are not sequels to the original, as occasionally misperceived.
The make-up for Kharis was designed by Universal's resident monster expert Jack Pierce. While Tyler's features can be discerned easily under the make-up (as could Karloff's), Chaney is unrecognizable, due to the use of a mask rather than customized make-up over the course of the series (Pierce had earlier fashioned a mask for Tyler to wear for certain long shots in The Mummy's Hand, and the difference between the mask and the painstaking original makeup is fairly easy to spot on film). While in The Wolf Man Chaney played the starring role both in and out of makeup, Tyler was shown as the human Kharis in Chaney's Mummy films during flashback scenes, a somewhat demoralizing budgetary measure that showed Chaney's importance to be mainly that of his famous name.
- Denis Gifford, Monsters of the Movies, p.67 (Carousel Books, 1977).