Publication History in film and print
Kharis debuted in the 1940 Universal film The Mummy's Hand, which was a very loose remake of the 1932 film that had starred Boris Karloff. The Mummy's Hand was less of a horror film and more of an adventure film aimed at kids. Whereas Imhotep, the mummy in the 1932 film, only appeared as a mummy in the opening scene (He spends the rest of the film posing as a human) and was depicted as an intelligent villain who could talk and cast spells, Kharis stays a mummy throughout the film and is depicted as a mute, murderous brute who must obey the commands of a high priest, like a zombie. It is from this film that standard depiction of the mummy as a slow-moving monster dragging his feet and strangling his adversaries comes from. Thus, in most parodies which feature a mummy character, it is actually Kharis who is being referenced, and not the more famous Imhotep.
The Mummy's Hand spawned three sequels; The Mummy's Tomb (1942), The Mummy's Ghost (1944) and The Mummy's Curse (1944). The character was also parodied as "Klaris" in the 1952 film Abbott & Costello meet The Mummy, which depicts the mummy's face as bandaged, which has also become common in parodies. In 1959 British studio Hammer made the film The Mummy, which, although it takes it's name form the 1932 film, actually derives most of it's plot elements from the Kharis films, including the name "Kharis" for the mummy, the name "Ananka" for his princess, the heroic Banning family, scenes of the mummy rising from a bog, and a high priest in a fez as the secondary villain. From here, in the remaining 3 films, Kharis is missing his right eye and hand, with a much more pronounced dragging of his leg. This is due to the fire at the end of this film, not after the house fire in The Mummy's Tomb as mentioned elsewhere.
Actors to portray Kharis include Tom Tyler (The Mummy's Hand):
Lon Chaney Jr (Tomb, Ghost and Curse):
Eddie Parker (Abbott & Costello meet The Mummy):
and Christopher Lee in the 1959 The Mummy, whose portrayal is generally considered the best:
The Mummy's Hand was adapted in comics form by Joe Orlando for Warren in the second issue of Monster World, and reprinted several times. The 1959 film was adapted in the magazines House of Hammer and Hammer Halls of Horror.
Character biography (Film)
Millennia ago in Ancient Egypt, in a place known as the "Hills of the Seven Jackals", Kharis was a high priest of Karnak who loved the Princess Ananka (It is unknown whether she was aware or not of his feelings, there is some evidence that she did not). When Ananka died, Kharis was grief stricken and tried to bring her back to life by reading from the scroll of Thoth, but was caught by guards and sentenced to be buried alive for necromancy. Afraid that his curses would anger the gods, the Pharaoh's men cut out his tongue. However, followers of Kharis made sure that he never really died, and would periodically resurrect him using a fluid made from Tana leaves, so that he could guard his princess should the need arise.
The Mummy's Hand (1940)
In the year 1940, the cult of Karnak was dying, and the last of the great priests, also dying, appointed a man named Andoheb to be his successor, and revealed to him the secrets of how to resurrect and control Kharis. Andoheb resurrected Kharis to destroy an archaeological expedition led by ne'er do well Steve Banning and his friend "Babe" Jensen, both of whom considered Andoheb to be a friend. The expedition was financed by a stage magician named Solvani and his daughter Marta. Andoheb had a servant of his place the life-giving Tana leaf fluid in the tents of the expedition members, so that Kharis would seek it out and kill them one by one. Andoheb planned to use the Tana leaf fluid on himself to become immortal, and struck by Marta's resemblance to Ananka, planned to make her immortal as well and then force her to marry him. His plans were foiled by Steve, who dumped the fluid all over the temple floor, and Babe shot Andoheb, apparently killing him. Kharis, attempting to drink the spilled Tana fluid but unable to because he had no tongue, was apparently killed by a fire from an overturned brazier.
The Mummy's Tomb (1942)
Decades later in the year 1970, Steve Banning was now an elderly man living in New England with an adult son named John, and had been married happily married to Marta until she had passed away. Unfortunately for him, Andoheb had also survived, but was living in a state of constant agony because of his bullet wounds. Believing himself to be on the brink of death, Andoheb sent his greatest student, Mehemet Bey to New England with Kharis in tow to get his revenge. Kharis killed both Steve Banning and Babe Jensen (Who was now calling himself "Hansen") before being hunted down by a mob and burned alive by a vengeful John Banning.
The Mummy's Ghost (1944)
Now truly dying, Andoheb sent his pupil Youseff Bey to retrieve the body of Kharis. Youseff Bey discovered that a local college girl named Amina was the reincarnation of Ananka, and reverted her to Ananka's form using magic, planning to take her as his bride, but Kharis, who had tolerated Yousseff Bey's abuse but could not bear to see his beloved wed to another man, killed Bey and tried to escape with Ananka. However, another mob attacked them and they were swallowed up by a nearby bog. By this film, Chaney was pretty much wearing a mask to simulate the mummy's face.
The Mummy's Curse (1944)
The gods declared that Kharis and Ananka had suffered enough and should be re-united. When a drainage of the local swamp unearthed the bodies of Kharis and Ananka, they both fell in-between a power struggle between two members of the Karnak cult; Ragheb and Zandabb. This time Kahris seemingly died because his spirit was ready to pass on.
The Mummy (1959):
This film uses elements of the first 3 Universal Kharis films, as well as the 1932 film. The setting is changed to Victorian England. Here Stephen Banning is already an elderly man with a son when he finds the tomb, and is quickly written out so that John can be the hero. The evil high priest is named Mehemet Bey, but is clearly patterned after Andoheb. Kharis's origin is unchanged, except that here he does not need to rely on Tana fluid and is much more powerful. He is forced into a bog by John. He also listens to the woman who he believes to be the reincarnation of Ananka.
Kharis appears in the second issue of Monster World, in an adaptation of The Mummy's Hand by Joe Orlando. It is an extremely truncated adaptation, and Kharis's name is misspelt "Kaharis" and Ananka's name is spelt as "Anunka". All of the panels are directly traced from stills of the film that had appeared in Famous Monsters of Filmland. This was reprinted in the seventeenth issue of Creepy as filler.
The magazine Hammer Halls of Horror ran an adaptation of the 1959 film in their 22nd issue.
Powers and weaknesses
Kharis is extremely strong and can seemingly resist bullets, fire and water damage. He walks very slowly because all of his limbs are dead, and he only can walk by drinking the Tana potion. The more he drinks of it, the more powerful he is. If he drinks too much, he supposedly becomes too powerful for even a priest to control, although this never happens in the films, and when he does turn on the priests, it is out of loyalty to Ananka. He is most powerful if the Tana fluid is brewed on a full moon. He also has no tongue, which makes drinking the fluid difficult. After the events of the Mummy's Hand, and not Tomb as some believe, he only has his left eye due to fire damage from the lighted urn, and his right hand was destroyed as well; this is the Kharis most fans remember. The gimmick of Kharis only rising during the full moon is also played down in the film sequels.