Friday, January 22, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Las Momias De Guanajuato (1972)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.
Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Of course, everybody knows about the famous mummies of Guanajuato. What fewer people know is that a small room next to said world-famous mummies houses a bunch of different mummies whose hands and faces seem to be the only mummified parts of their bodies. The rest of their bodies looks rather wrestler-like. That's no wonder, as the diminutive tourist guide Pinguino (Jorge Pinguino) explains. You see, the largest of these mummies is a certain Satan (Manuel Leal) who once made a pact with the other Satan to become invincible in the ring. It didn't turn out too well for him, as the Santo of 1871 (El Santo, obviously) did win his title from him. It is said that after a hundred years have passed, Satan (the wrestler, not the pitchfork guy) will return to take his vengeance on Santo (and every other masked wrestler available). Who the other semi-mummified guys are, we never learn.

Poor Pinguino witnesses the revival of Satan, and does the obvious and best thing - he tries to get a hold of his wrestler friends Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras and convince them to get rid of the mummy threat. However Pinguino is, even with the help of Lina (Elsa Cardenas), nightclub singer and fiancée of Mil Mascaras, unable to convince the increasingly sceptical luchadores of a single word he says.

That is something that will come and bite our wrestling heroes in the muscular asses when Satan, sometimes assisted by his henchmummies, starts a nightly killing spree. The evil one even goes so far as to ambush the exceedingly ambushable Blue and steal his mask and his pants to make the hapless man the police's main suspect in the killings.

Since the mummies also turn out to be unwrestleable, it does not look good for our heroes. Until a Santo ex machina arrives, that is. Afterwards, they're just not looking good and Santo finds his place next to Superman in the annals of dickishness
Las Momias De Guanajuato is the first in a short, increasingly cheap series of films which put luchadores who aren't El Santo against their natural enemy - the mummy. The first one in this case is really the best, thanks to the fact that while Santo might just be doing an extended cameo, good old Blue and fab and fashionable Mil Mascaras are much too loveable to be second choice (and further mummy films would steep as low as to feature Superzan).

It's just too bad that nobody seems to have told this to the script writers, and so Mil and Blue are mostly stumbling through their own adventure with a nearly comical ineptness (they don't even win a single fight outside the ring), while heroically keeping their game faces on. The masks were probably a godsend in this case.

Still, if one can ignore the indignity of Blue Demon losing his pants (and really, if you want to watch lucha films from this era, "indignity" shouldn't even be in your dictionary), Guanajuato has a lot of fun things to recommend it. Blue and Mil are in good form and are losing their fights in fun enough ways - well, ignoring the various times when Blue gets knocked out from behind.

There's just about a quarter of an hour of actual filler, consisting of some light touristy bits and two musical numbers and so little comical relief that blinking really means missing this time around. That's next to nothing in lucha time and should be absolutely no problem for anyone seeking out a film like this. Even better, the rest of the film is surprisingly fast-paced with nary a scene that does not contain some interesting view into the private life of our masked hero friends or some mummeriffic dastardly deed.

The two ringside fighting sequences (the second of the two a quasi dream sequence in which Satan relives his traumatic defeat at the hands of the old Santo) are some of the more dynamic you'll get to see in lucha films, with an audience that seems to be honestly enthusiastic and directed with exciting and fresh ideas like different camera angles and honest to god fast editing.

Even the organ heavy easy listening music has a strange and uncommon whiff of having been chosen with a discerning ear, that is to say, it does from time to time show an actual connection with the things happening on screen, something like a minor triumph if you ask me.

It's perfectly reasonable to praise the film's director Federico Curiel for the high entertainment value of the proceedings. Curiel directed more lucha and Mexican pulpy horror films in his life than most people have seen, among them personal favourites of mine like the Nostradamus series, La Venganza de las mujeres vampiro or Los campeones justicieros. Of course, he's also responsible for Ssuperzam el invencible, one of the more terrible crimes against humanity committed by cinema. Still, what I wanted to say before I started to list film titles and gaze into the abyss that is Ssuperzam is that Curiel was perfectly able to make an exciting piece of pop/pulp cinema as long as he got at least a little money and something that could be called a film script in the broader sense.

With luck, Curiel would even remember some of the things about the use of shadow in horror sequences he must have learned while making black and white films and apply them to his colour work to give some scenes an actual sense of mood and style. More often, there is an uncontrolled, dynamic feel to Curiel's work that is of course a product of the need to shoot his films fast and on the cheap for producers who couldn't care less about quality.

But this friction between actual talent (that does not need to be high-minded or even consciously interested in producing anything of quality, mind you) and pure greed is often where the fun happens in pop & pulp cinema.

And Las Momias De Guanajuato is a lot of fun.

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