In his original appearance, Imhotep was portrayed by Boris Karloff as a priest of Ancient Egypt who is mummified by an unnamed pharaoh as punishment for attempting to resurrect his lover, Princess Ankh-es-en-amon. Imhotep is accidentally revived when an archaeological expedition discovers his mummy and one of the archaeologists unknowingly reads an ancient life-giving spell.
Imhotep escapes from the archaeologists and assumes the identity of Ardath Bey, a modern Egyptian. In this form he helps the archaeologists find the tomb of Ankh-es-en-amon. When Bey meets a woman, Helen Grosvenor, who bears a striking resemblance to the Ankh-es-en-amon, he realizes that she is a reincarnation of the princess, and attempts to mummify Grosvenor and make her his bride. In the end Grosvenor, recalling her past life, appeals to the goddess Isis who causes Imhotep to be dissolved.