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The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy

The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy(1958)

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teaser The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy (1958)

When American insomniacs were treated to the late night TV likes of Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy (1958), they could never have suspected that what they were seeing was not merely a single serving of Mexican movie madness but the third chapter of a trilogy. Mexican popular cinema experienced a Gothic renaissance in the late Fifties concurrent with similar revivals in Great Britain and Italy; with the success of Fernando Mndez's The Vampire (1957) came a flood of evocative Spanish language spookshows focused on such time-honored monsters as vampires, werewolves and witches, as well as the occasional local bogey. Yet unlike the restless La Llorona (lachrymose star of Rafael Baledn Curse of the Crying Woman [1963]), the Aztec Mummy had no true currency in Mexican history, and shared a truer bloodline with Universal's The Mummy (1933) and its sequels. Director Rafael Portillo's three Aztec Mummy pictures turn on the machinations of a megalomaniac known as The Bat (Luis Aceves Castaeda) to steal priceless Aztec artifacts guarded by the cursed and deathless Popoca (ngel Di Stefani), with the battle plan this time being the deployment of an automaton (Adolfo Rojas) impervious to Popoca's blows. As had the Universal mummy sequels, Robot vs The Aztec Mummy recycles footage from the first two series entries (The Aztec Mummy and Curse of the Aztec Mummy, both released in 1957) and was, for its inherent ridiculousness and other things it did not know were funny, given the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 treatment in 1989.

By Richard Harland Smith

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teaser The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy (1958)

The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy is the title given to the 1958 Mexican production La momia azteca contra el robot humano when it was dubbed in English and released to TV by American International Television. The movie is the third of three films produced about the Aztec Mummy, and thanks to the bizarre decision to take up almost 25 minutes of the film's running time with flashback sequences made up of scenes from the first two movies, it is also a summation of the entire trilogy. On paper, The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy holds much promise as an action-packed top howler of the "so bad it's good" school of cinema, since it contains the obvious mummy and robot scenes as well as a mad scientist, Aztec sacrifice, hypnotism, a pit of rattlesnakes, graveyards, an electrically-charged laboratory, and plenty of fisticuffs. Unfortunately, the brief running time of 65 minutes drags due to poor production values, bad pacing, and the incredibly awkward flashback structure imposed on this would-be monster thriller.

The movie opens in documentary style, complete with stock footage and breathless narration worthy of Ed Wood. Over stock shots of Mayan temples and ruins, we are told "this film is based on an extraordinary scientific experiment carried out by Dr. Hughes and Tuny from the Institute of hypnotherapy at the University of Los Angeles. There is no doubt as to its authenticity. Testimony of people participating in the experiment sworn to by Notary Public preclude the possibility of any fraud. This picture is a combination of factual data mixed with fiction."

We are introduced to Dr. Eduardo Almada (Ramon Gay), who entertains two colleagues in his home and tells them of events that occurred five years previously. In the flashback, Dr. Almada is shouted down when lecturing at a conference about his theories of hypnotic regression. Almada's then-fiance, Flor (Rosita Arenas), allows herself to be hypnotized and Almada discovers that in a past life she was Xochi, an Aztec princess in love with the warrior Popoca (Angel Di Stefani). High Priests capture the two after they attempt to flee together; Xochi is sacrificed and Popoca is buried alive and tasked to protect a golden breastplate and bracelet buried with Xochi. Evil scientist Dr. Krupp (Luis Aceves Castaneda), who is also known as "The Bat," matches wits with Dr. Almada, Flor, and Almada's assistant Pinacate (Crox Alvarado) in his attempts to secure the breastplate and bracelet from the burial tomb. Together, the two artifacts hold the key to a great Aztec treasure. Standing in the way of both groups is the protector of the artifacts, the mummified Popoca, the Aztec Mummy. Nearly 45 minutes of running time elapse before The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy finishes recapping the plots of the first two movies in the series, and Dr. Krupp launches into his "plan B" for defeating the Mummy: he reveals a "human robot" he has built and with which he intends to recover the ancient Aztec artifacts.

In 1957 Mexican producers Pedro and Guillermo Calderon hit upon the idea of filming three movies back-to-back-to-back at C.L.A.S.A. Studios, but releasing them as three separate films to the cinemas over the next two years; an instant Trilogy. For their subject matter they turned to adventure and horror, introducing the idea of an ancient revived Aztec Mummy; the basic back-story is clearly borrowed from the Universal classic The Mummy (1932), starring Boris Karloff. Other aspects of the Mexican trilogy are inspired by such films as Frankenstein (1931), and by various 1930s serials from Republic Studios and Universal.

The crew of the trilogy (director Rafael Portillo and cinematographer Enrique Wallace) do precious little with the material, however; the lighting is drab and bright when it should be moody and evocative. Other technical aspects of the trilogy falter as well; the Aztec Mummy itself is poorly conceived and executed. The makeup is suitably aged-looking, but badly designed, and straight ahead views of the face bring to mind Alfred E. Neuman of Mad Magazine fame. The literal translation of the original title would be The Aztec Mummy vs. the Human Robot and the mechanism in the film is indeed continually described as a "human robot." This terminology allowed for the robot suit to have a simple cutaway in the head for the stunt actor wearing the suit to peer through. The film's credits include the full-screen notice "Robot Manufactured by Viana & Co. S.A." which certainly sounds official.

The first film of the trilogy, La momia azteca (1957) was never dubbed for release in English-speaking countries, although schlock filmmaker Jerry Warren (Teenage Zombies [1959]) later used a few minutes of footage from it to pad out two of his 1964 edit-jobs, Attack of the Mayan Mummy and Face of the Screaming Werewolf. (The latter film was primarily made up of footage from another Mexican horror film, La casa del terror [1960]). The second part of the trilogy, La maldicion de la momia azteca (also 1957) was acquired by K. Gordon Murray and dubbed and released as The Curse of the Aztec Mummy.

Producer Murray specialized in the distribution of English-dubbed versions of foreign children's films, and was responsible for such bizarre matinee fodder as the 1960 release Santa Claus (from the 1959 Mexican production of the same name) and the 1963 film Little Red Riding Hood (from La caperucita roja [1960]). For La momia azteca contra el robot humano, Murray produced the dubbing at Soundlab Inc. in Coral Gables, Florida. Murray did not tamper with the original editing, but the dialogue translation (directed by Manuel San Fernando) is fairly free-wheeling.

In his review of the Aztec Mummy trilogy on DVD for Video Watchdog, Tim Lucas wrote of The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy that "the nature of this film is such that one can easily dispense with the accumulative tedium of the first two pictures and get all their highlights here." There were some intriguing subplots from the second film (La maldicion de la momia azteca), however, that were not included in the flashback sequences of the third. Dr. Krupp, for example, was much more visible in his caped persona as "The Bat" and Dr. Almada's bi-spectacled sidekick Pinacate had his own alter-ego as the daring masked avenger, The Angel. Such Santo-inspired scenes would have introduced yet another colorful element - the masked Mexican wrestler - to the already crowded mlange, but on the other hand, it couldn't have added much more to the incomprehensibility of the plot and to the messiness of the final film.

Producer: Guillermo Calderon S.
Director: Rafael Portillo
Screenplay: Guillermo Calderon S.; Alfredo Salazar (screenplay and story)
Cinematography: Enrique Wallace
Art Direction: Javier Torres Torija
Music: Antonio Diaz Conde
Aztec Choreography: Stella Inda
Film Editing: Jorge Bustos, Jose Li-ho, J.R. Remy
Cast: Ramon Gay (Dr. Eduardo Almada), Rosita Arenas (Flor Almada/Xochi), Crox Alvarado (Pinacate), Luis Aceves Castaneda (Dr. Krupp), Jorge Mondragon (Dr. Sepulveda), Arturo Martnez (Tierno), Emma Roldan (Maria, the housekeeper), Julien de Meriche (Comandante)
BW-65m.

by John M. Miller

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