Friday, February 3, 2017

Past Misdeeds: La Mansion de las 7 Momias (1977)

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.

Sophia de la Garza (Maria Cardinal) is having a bad week. Not only has her father just died, but she has inherited quite a bizarre problem. Sophia's father, you see, was the reincarnation of an earlier de la Garza, who was governor of the town of Antigua Guatemala. 17th century de la Garza had made a pact with the devil that not only gave the horned one possession of his own soul but also those of the people he governed (which does not sound like non-heretic Catholic theology to me). Fortunately for them, the governor later repented, and managed to find some sort of loophole in his contract with Satan that leads to him being reincarnated in his male descendants and somehow being able to protect the souls in his care from his former master.

Unfortunately, de la Garza cannot be reincarnated as a woman and has no children beside Sophia. Sophia's only way to keep her father's soul and those of everyone else safe is to take possession of the treasure of the conquistadores that is another part of her inheritance and giving it to the descendants of the former slaves of the town. But before she can actually take possession of the treasure, Sophia has to survive three increasingly strange tests (the best one of which is about catching a rotating and biting skull), somehow fight the seven mummies guarding the treasure, see through the intrigues of three immortal servants of Satan and find out that her boyfriend is a jerk.

Fortunately, Blue Demon (hooray!) and his friend Superzan (boo!) have been invited by said boyfriend jerk to beautiful (at least that's what the film tells us repeatedly) Antigua Guatemala for a vacation, and are in their function as luchadores only too willing and able to help a damsel in distress out by wrestling a few mummies and evil boyfriends. Sophia's case is further helped by a mysterious mute hunchback and the painful comic relief stylings of a creature named Manolino.

As it goes with lucha movies from the late 70s that carry the frightening name of "Agrasanchez" in their credits, I went into La Mansion without expecting much worth seeing. To my delight, the film turned out to be rather more fun than I had expected.

Sure, Superzan is his usual charismaless void, and Manolino an abomination even compared to other cases of odious comic relief characters, about on a level with Bollywood's Johnny Lever, but that's the worst I can say about the film.

Apart from Manolino, there's all plot and no filler - and you could argue that Manolino isn't as much "filler" as part of a conspiracy to drive the viewer insane. Not even the usually unavoidable twenty minutes of ring fighting take place, a truly wondrous thing in a sub-genre in which the same four scenes have lengthened the running time of about ten movies. And really, why would I want to watch Blue wrestle anonymous wrestler number one when I can watch him and Superzan using an evil boyfriend to ram down a bunch of mummies, or a scene in which these heroes very matter-of-factly discuss the business of selling their souls with that most evil servant of the devil - a lawyer?

The film's background story is rather complex and involved - even more than my plot synopsis lets on - piling on so many weird incidental details that it's difficult not to feel charmed by them. There's also an undercurrent of guilt for the genocidal tendencies (which are only explainable by having them working with Satan himself, it seems) of the conquistadores and their descendants that's very atypical for Mexican pulp cinema as I have experienced it.

The plot does of course only work because neither Sophia nor the wrestlers nor Satan himself are all that clever, but I've never confused Blue Demon with Sherlock Holmes, so that's not much of a problem.

Another positive surprise is Rafael Lanuza's direction. Lanuza is also responsible for Superzan y el nino del espacio, one of the worst movies I have ever seen, so I didn't expect him to do any actual directing here. Turns out I was wrong, and while Lanuza provides some of his trademark shoddiness ("high" points: a frigging hand on the camera during parts of a fight scene, and the total confusion between day scenes, night scenes and day-for-night scenes, as if the sun and the moon were randomly teleporting around the sky), he also provides a lot of very comic book looking shots that suggest he did actually think about what he was filming instead of just vaguely pointing the camera into the direction of the actors.

Lanuza also makes good use of the locations in (beautiful, I tell you, beautiful) Antigua Guatemala. Picturesque ruins, a very pretty graveyard and a neat little swamp are much preferable to that field (you probably know which one I mean) half of the Campeones Justicieros films seem to take place in. From time to time, the ruins and some judicious red lighting even manage to look a little creepy, which combined with the usual alright mummy make-up and cute little Satan with his cute little horns turns the film into something close to a comics code approved horror comic on celluloid, with all the good and bad that description entails.

This is also one of those films with Blue - or Senor Demon, as most people in the film call him - in which he is the wise, older luchador to whom young and stupid Superzan looks up to instead of El Santo's sorely tried, and frequently brainwashed or evil-betwinned, side kick. In La Mansion de las 7 Momias, Blue is as much the hero as in his solo films, with pesky Superzan deservedly listed behind the Cardinal, who manages to look rather awesome in some dubious outfits, in the credits. As it should always be.

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