Sunday, September 6, 2009

La Momia Azteca (1957)

aka The Aztec Mummy

Dr. Almada (Ramon Gay), a Mexican Doctor of SCIENCE(!), presents a group of his jaded peers with his theories about the use of hypnosis to help people to remember their previous lifes.

Surprisingly, his public thinks this preposterous, especially when Almada has to admit that he has never tried to actually hypnotize someone to find out if his theory holds. You see, the "remember a former life" part makes the procedure mortally dangerous for the present life, and Alamada, not being a mad scientist, really does not want to let anyone get hurt in any way.

He can't resist when his fiancee Flor (Rosa Arenas) offers herself as a willing test subject, though, and soon listens to a rather interesting story. Flor once was a temple virgin - and therefore born to be sacrificed - named Xochi. Alas, the forbidden love between her and the warrior Popoca (Angel Di Stefani) destroyed her chance for a real nice sacrificial death. Instead, the priesthood kills them both in a (long and boring) punishing sacrificial ceremony.

That'll teach 'em.

Listening in to Almada's experiment through a window is the delightfully dressed masked science villain the Bat, known and feared (or so a voice over explains) for grafting animal parts onto other animals (will that get important later on? Umm, no).

But the Bat isn't going to be a problem in the short run. Much more important for Almada is that he now knows that his theory is true, but he still can't prove it. Unless...he breaks into the secret temple in the ruins of Tenochtitlan whose position he now knows thanks to Flor's memories and grabs something called The Aztec Breastplate. How this is supposed to prove his theory, I don't know, but I'm no doctor of SCIENCE(!) myself.

For some reason, this breastplate is also the key to the lost treasure of the Aztec Empire, which explains the interest of the Bat in the whole thing - at least somewhat.

Of course, poking around in the hidden temple and absconding with an artifact as Alamada does brings the curse of the gods upon him, or rather the mummified remains of Popoca, shambling, shambling ever onward.

La Momia Azteca is one of the classics of the Mexican horror wave, and very typical of it in the way it takes elements of the Universal horror films of the 30s (in this case of the mummy films), mixes them with pulpy serial business like the Bat and transfers them into contemporary Mexico.

Unfortunately, I wouldn't say that the film does this all that well. Even for a film of its time, La Momia Azteca suffers from some terrible pacing problems. Two thirds of the film are already over when the mummy finally appears, and those two thirds aren't exactly filled with thrills. Instead, director Rafael Portillo treats us to many a scene of bad science, odious comic relief in the form of a "cowardly and superstitious" student (Crox Alvarado) and Almada's little brother's tendency to hide and follow the Doctor around.

And don't get me started on the Bat, a criminal scientific mastermind who never does much criminal or scientific and is dispatched in what must be one of the least entertaining ways in film history - he just gets arrested without much of a fuzz. I don't have the slightest clue why he's in the film at all.

It's not all bad, though. The actors are playing their cliché roles with a certain gusto, especially Rosa Arenas nails the all important hysterical tone needed for the reincarnated lover of a mummy perfectly. But, most importantly, every scene where the mummy itself appears is golden, from the perfect 50s monster movie score to the pleasantly desiccated monster design. It's just too bad that there's so little mummy in this mummy film.

Mostly, La Momia Azteca feels like a dry-run for the beauties of lucha cinema, already merrily mixing classic horror with the pulpy and the gothic, but still missing the all-important ingredient of the masked, crime-fightin, monster-catching wrestler.

Well, that or a script that makes better use of the elements it already contains.


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