Monday, November 8, 2010

THE AZTEC MUMMY COLLECTION

THE AZTEC MUMMY COLLECTION: THE AZTEC MUMMY (1957), CURSE OF THE AZTEC MUMMY (1957), ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1958)

Director: Rafael Portillo

BCI Eclipse

With its roots planted firmly in Mexican history and culture, the “Aztec Mummy” was very unlike the traditional Egyptian mummies that moviegoers had been used to. The three entries in this series were made back-to-back in the late 1950s, all directed by Rafael Portillo and featuring the same cast and characters. The two latter films were later dubbed into English by K. Gordon Murray and released straight to U.S. TV by American International, while the first one was never dubbed into English in its entirety — scenes from it where bastardized for Jerry Warren’s ATTACK OF THE MAYAN MUMMY and FACE OF THE SCREAMING WEREWOLF. BCI now presents the “Aztec Mummy” trilogy as a three-disc collection, unveiling both original and English-dubbed versions of the films.




In “La Momia Azteca” (THE AZTEC MUMMY), Dr. Eduardo Almada (Ramón Gay) performs hypnotic regression on his fiancée, Flora (Rosa Arenas), and it is learned that she had a past life as an Aztec princess, put to death because of her love of a warrior. She was buried along with her lover, who was mummified and cursed to remain alive, protecting her as well as a bracelet and breastplate which reveal where some valuable gold treasure rests. When Flora awakens from her hypnosis, she is able to lead Dr. Almada, along with his cowardly assistant Pinacate (Crox Alvarado) and her father (Jorge Mondragón) to the princess’s ancient resting place. The breastplate and bracelet are retrieved, but the warrior known as Popoca (Italian-born Ángel Di Stefani) now walks the earth again as a vengeful mummy. Meanwhile, a masked villain known as “The Bat,” who is actually the mad Dr. Krupp (Luis Aceves Castañeda) in disguise, is also intent on finding the treasure with the aid of his unscrupulous thugs.




In “La Maldición de la momia azteca” (CURSE OF THE AZTEC MUMMY), Dr. Krupp, aka “The Bat,” escapes from the vehicle escorting him to prison, taking up again with his gang in his continuing attempt to acquire the ancient Aztec treasure. Krupp and company kidnap Dr. Almada’s fiancée Flora and his daughter. Performing hypnosis on Flora, Krupp is able to track down the breastplate and bracelet, but in turn revives the angry mummy Popoca, and the bad guys barely escape with their lives. Dr. Almada is lured to Krupp’s hideout to save his loves ones, but is blackmailed into translating the symbols on the two stolen artifacts. Angel, a self-proclaimed silver-masked and costumed super avenger (whose identity is revealed later on) communicates with Dr. Almada’s little bro, and crashes in to Krupp’s place, only to find himself dangling above a deadly snake pit. The mummy eventually smashes through the door as well, angry as ever, and searching for the belongings that are rightfully his.




In the third entry, “La Momia azteca contra el robot humano” (THE ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY), Dr. Almada fears that Krupp/The Bat is up to his old tricks again since he escaped the snake pit in which he was plunged into by the mummy. This time out, Krupp has devised an ingenious way to overthrow the seemingly unstoppable undead Popoca. He creates a clunky, ridiculous-looking robot (a man in a garbage metal suit with a see-through window helmet, complete with flashing light bulbs sticking out of it) which eventually does battle with Popoca, now sleeping in the crypt of a local cemetery.




The “Aztec Mummy” films are surely not the best that Mexican fantasy cinema has to offer (the titular monster is never given enough screen time), but they still can be enjoyable in a juvenile, brainless way. They certainly are economical; CURSE utilizes footage from the first film (for flashback purposes), and ROBOT does the same with footage from both. All are in the style of a 1940s Hollywood serial (though not nearly as well-paced) and get more wacky and tacky as they go along. While the first film is played fairly straight, the second has the addition of the Angel character (who wears a mask almost identical to Santo’s), and the third is just fodder for laughs with one of the worst-looking robots ever committed to celluloid. Luis Aceves Castañeda’s Krupp/The Bat (he sort of resembles Orson Welles) is definitely a villain right out of an old cliffhanger, and you’ll need an electric carving knife to cut the ham before the third film is done.




BCI presents all three black and white, full frame films on three different discs; THE AZTEC MUMMY is in its original Spanish language version, while the other two can be played in their original versions, with the U.S. dubbed editions on the flip side. The only low point in terms of quality is with the rarely seen AZTEC MUMMY. The transfer is watchable, but is often soft and dark and black levels are not well defined. The Spanish audio is a bit muffled and scratchy. The other two films look quite crisp and well defined in their Spanish incarnations, and the U.S. versions on the flip side (the AIP television versions were only ever presented in 16mm to begin with) look almost as good, on par with the Something Weird/Image transfers for DOCTOR OF DOOM/WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY. The audio on the Spanish editions of these two are stronger than their American counterparts which display some background hiss. There are optional English subtitles for all the Spanish language versions.




Each disc comes in its own separate slimcase, featuring original Mexican poster and lobby card art. THE AZTEC MUMMY disc includes a still gallery of poster art and photos from all three films, and there’s an attractive booklet inside featuring excellent liner notes by David Wilt. Wilt not only discusses the Aztec Mummy trilogy, but the numerous other mummy-themed films produced in Mexico over the years. (George R. Reis)

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