A: Attack of the Aztec Mummy (1957)

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attack_of_aztec_mummy_poster_01I spent much of my younger days in South Texas – we’re talking almost all the 60s and a couple of years into the 70s. There was a heavy Mexican flavor to life down there, even moreso than the rest of Texas. A lot of my school chums were Hispanic, my first great love in life was a Latina named Dolores. It’s therefore odd to me that I didn’t learn Español or more about the culture through sheer osmosis. What did pass before my lily-white eyeballs on the local TV channels was pretty interesting, but was mainly limited to running Neutron movies in an afternoon slot.

Though I remembered seeing ads for the K. Gordon Murray imports like Santa Claus, I never got the chance to subject myself to any of them. They never seemed to come to the Rialto, and I suspect if any of them ever came to town, they were at the “other” movie theater, the one that seem to continually show movies starring Cantinflas. The ads were all in the great metropolis of Corpus Christi, which seemed to get all the good stuff, like all-night horror movie marathons at drive-ins. I gazed at those ads in youthful wonder, and one of the titles struck me as being probably the greatest title ever: The Robot vs the Aztec Mummy. My brain assembled out of whole cloth the most incredible monster movie ever.

That amazingly-titled movie, I would discover many years later, was actually the third movie in a trilogy, and when I finally watched it, I would discover that it was not as amazing as its title, but was still pretty delirious in its own way, and it serves as a primer for Mexican genre cinema. But we’re here to examine the first movie of the trilogy, La momia azteca, or as it is known in these parts, Attack of the Aztec Mummy.

Dr. Almada (Ramón Gay) a specialist in nervous disorders (I have to assume), is addressing a congress of scientists about reliving past lives through hypnosis, which means he read The Search for Bridey Murphy in an airport at some point. Trouble is, he is presenting this with absolutely no evidence, having put no one under hypnosis, simply going on hearsay because he is a horrible scientist. On top of that, none of the other scientists at the meeting will allow him to hypnotize them because, we are told, it is too dangerous! Scientists are such wusses.

imagesBefore Fox News can hire Almada as a science consultant. his fiancee, Flor (Rosa Arenas) volunteers to undergo the regression therapy. Almada hypnotizes her, and she is attended by her father Dr. Sepulveda (Jorge Mondragon), and Almada’s cowardly assistant, Pinacate (Crox Alvarado), with all the solemnity and tools of a surgical team. I remember seeing a stage hypnotist at the Laff Stop back in the 80s. He had none of this safety equipment or medical professionals so he must have been a raving psychopath, endangering us all like that.

ANYWAY. It turns out Flor is the reincarnation of Xochitl, an Aztec maiden chosen at birth as the consort of the god Unpronounceable. Popoca (Angel di Stefani), a large warrior, loves her and begs her to run away with him before she can be sacrificed to Unpronounceable. Their lovemaking is interrupted, Popoca is given a potion that will drive him mad, and he is cursed to watch over Xochitl’s corpse and the sacrificial golden breastplate and armband she wears forever. After a big song and dance (directors love creating musical numbers for ancient civilizations. Ever notice that?), Xochitl is sacrificed, and Almada proves what a dreadful scientist he is by letting her relive the sacrifice. Good thing he has a crack surgical team with him.

Almada is smart enough to realize his needed evidence is in reach, and uses Flor’s newfound memories to locate the sealed sacrificial chamber in a nearby Aztec pyramid, where Xochitl’s skeleton remains, until now undisturbed. Almada lifts the breastplate and skedaddles, unaware that the shroud in the corner is starting to move.

Now all of this seems pretty much standard Universal (and later Hammer) mummy boilerplate, right? well, it only seems that way because I haven’t told you about The Bat yet.

The Bat is a master criminal that Exposition Radio tells us about at the movie’s opening (after the obligatory narration that tells us this is based on a true story). The Bat heads up an organization of criminals, and does things like vivisection and sewing stuff onto animals that don’t belong. The radio then informs us “Society is duly alarmed.” The Bat is always lurking about, black clothes, black cape, black fedora, black wrestling mask, looking very much like he wandered in from a 1940s serial. He frightens Pinacate several times during the nighttime visit to the pyramid, making him think he’s seen a ghost.

aztec-mummyAlmada presents the breastplate to a group of scientists, proving his theory and basically going, “Nyah nyah.” The scientists are properly impressed, but then they start going on about mummy curses and the Higher Power of God. These are terrible scientists. Almada wants to translate the markings on the breastplate, which seems to point the way to some cache of Aztec gold (which is the reason The Bat and his underlings want it). However, Almada needs the armband to complete the analysis, so it’s back to the pyramid.

In the chamber, Dr. Sepulveda notices the shroud in the corner and asks, “Where’s the mummy?” At this point, the three men hear something shuffling in the dark…

Whatever you may think of the rest of the movie, with its costumed villains and superstitious scientists, this scene, where the Aztec Mummy sloooooowly shuffles into the light, is really good horror movie stuff.

Then the men try to hold the Mummy off with their flashlights and he starts going “Raaar!” like the Frankenstein Monster and we’re back to monster basics.

Though the men make their escape and think they’ve sealed Popoca in the chamber, the determined Mummy gets out and retrieves the breastplate, and notices Flor, the spitting image of his old flame, and takes her along, too. Everybody chases the Mummy back to Mummy Central, where Popoca is preparing to sacrifice Flor all over again, but Sepulveda holds the Mummy off with a crucifix (!) until everyone gets clear, then he tosses a stick of dynamite into a nearby fire.

aztec-mummy-2The crucifix has been explained to me as a symbol representing the higher power of God and goodness in the universe, not strictly a symbol of Christ’s execution. I’ll buy that, but harder to swallow is why The Bat is simply caught by the cops on the way to the pyramid, a fairly ignominious end for a super villain.

Except! This is the first movie in a trilogy, remember! The Bat will escape! The Aztec Mummy is a lot tougher than elderly scientists and TNT! Pinacate is really a masked hero called The Angel! The Bat probably has a robot hanging around somewhere!

I told you these movies were more delirious than you suspected!

Like any good time bomb, The Aztec Mummy also managed to make me delirious in a different way several weeks after I had seen it. During the (to date) last Crapfest, Host Dave showed the El Santo movie El Vampiro y El Sexo/Sex and the Vampire, and after about thirty minutes of deja vu, I realized I was watching an unannounced remake of The Aztec Mummy, substituting Dracula for the Mummy, and adding several cups of feminine nudity into the mix.

But back to our black-and-white, non-salacious subject: I found this on YouTube, and it is a nice explanation and exploration of these movies. It’s slickly produced and has the feel of a supplement from a DVD. Anybody know the source?

Buy La Momia Azteca on Amazon