Monday, May 28, 2012

Curse of the Aztec Mummy

                                                Director: Rafael Portillo
 Starring: Ramon Gay, Rosa Arenas, Crox Alvarado (aka El Angel), Luis Acevis Castenada


Aside from El Santo, there is probably no more iconic a character in Mexican pop cinema than the Aztec Mummy (named 'Popoca'). Though drawing part of it's influence from the Universal Mummy movies of the '40s, the Spanish variation offers more genuine atmosphere and a less romanticized version of the legend. Unlike Kharis from the U.S. version, Popaca was not given eternal life in the hopes of reanimating an Egyptian Princess. Rather he is charged with protecting a breastplate that holds the secret to uncovering a long lost treasure. The more striking difference however lies in the Aztec Mummy's appearance. Unlike Universal's interpretation which usually portrays Kharis bandaged from head to toe, gimpy arm and feet dragging, Popoca is more mobile (though still a bit on the slow side) and dressed in ceremonial gear, making him appear more as an ancient zombified warrior. The face and head offer the mosr eyebrow raising difference. Rather than the expected wrinkled, subdued face with one bad eye and hair matted (glued) down, our Aztec avenger has wild hair and a skull-like visage. This was likely patterened after the actual Mummies of Guanaguato exibit (and later used in a lucha film series of the same name). The resulting appearance is imminantly more satisfying (to me, anyway).

Curse of the Aztec Mummy was the middle film in a trilogy, all released in 1957 (and likely shot back to back to back, by the looks of them). The crux of the story in all three entries was a running battle between opposing scientists, the good Dr. Almada who wishes to prove his theory of reincarnation (or something along that line) and the evil Dr. Krupp who is out to steal the treasure. In this respect, Popoca ultimately becomes the hero of the series as he is the only one who proves able to stop Krupp. Sadly, our too cool looking mummy appears for only roughly fifteen minutes during each of the three pics hour long running time. Each time, he basically shows up at the very end to foil Krupp's plans. It's a shame the filmmakers weren't creative enough to incorporate him into the episodic stories a little better. For this second film, we are "treated" to faux Lucha Libre, El Angel. Similar to Neutron (star of several entertaining faux Lucha films), El Angel is not a true wrestler, but merely an actor posing as one for this film. And it must be said that this is easily the worst and most worthless masked superhero (cough!) in the history of cinema. Despite his initial heroic entrance and apparent strength, time after time we see El Angel get thoroughly trounced by Krupp's cronies (they of the '40's American gangster variety). The sight of a masked hero continually getting beaten to a pulp by a few thugs is really disconcerting. But that's not the worst part, oh no! After being tied and lowered into a snake pit. our 'hero' (cough!!) radios for help from... Dr. Almada's young nephew! Yes, El Angel risks a young boy's well being so that he may be rescued. I kid you not. And then they're BOTH captured! Nice work, Angel... Then follows the most unthinkable indignity of all; once tied, our 'hero' (cough!!!) is unmasked! Of course, the gimmick is that he is revealed to be a family friend who was considered a coward and donned the mask to redeem himself. Me thinks it didn't work out so well. All that's left now is for Popoca to awaken and lay an Aztecian smackdown on Krupp and his stereotypical gangsters (causing one of his men to get a facefull of acid in the process).

Curse of the Aztec Mummy (like the other two in the series) will not appeal to everyone. It's low budget and ultimate lack of mummy action may prove offputting to some. But for couch potatoes looking for something different and amusing to watch (preferably sometime after midnight), it should do the trick.

Incidentally, the third film in the trilogy was Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy. This one featured Krupp creating a freaky 'bot (with a reanimated dead human inside!) to battle our semi-heroic  Popoka. That film was riffed by Mystery Science Theater 3000.

                                                                   ** / ****

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