While it is true that Mexican horror movies of the 1950s and early 1960s are perhaps the last (largely) unexplored area of classic horror cinema, it should immediately be noted that the Aztec Mummy trilogy has nothing at all to do with classic anything—except perhaps classic bad cinema. These films are not at all in the same league as the Abel Salazar productions—though his brother, Alfredo, had a hand in writing these. OK, so all Mexican horror is…well, a little on the goofy side. The Aztec Mummy movies, however, are somewhere in between amusingly screwy and flat-out crazy. All in all, the biggest identifying quality of the film is the difficulty in believing that these movies were written by adults. The feeling is more that they must have been dreamed up by schoolboys over the course of an afternoon or less. Like the better Mexican horrors, they steal wildly from the old Universal films, but whether the folks making them understood what they were copying is open to question.
You may wonder why the first film of the series is being skipped in favor of the back-to-back sequels. Well, that’s pretty simple: There doesn’t appear to be a watchable copy of The Aztec Mummy (1957). The scenes involving the Mummy himself are do dark that it’s almost impossible to tell what’s going on. But it doesn’t really matter because you get to see most of the first film as flashbacks in the sequels. (The third film, in fact, opens with nearly 20 minutes of flashbacks. In short, you’re missing nothing by not seeing the first movie.) Even without the first film, these two films include two doses of the supposed Aztec ceremony (they spent good money on all those peacock feathers and you’re going to see them!) where the Mummy, Popoca (Angelo De Steffani), is condemned to guarding a cheesy-looking breastplate and bracelet for eternity, along with his forbidden sweetie, Xochitl (Rosita Arenas), who is put to death for mousing around with Popoca. (All this is revealed by Xochtil’s current incarnation, Flor, under hypnosis.) This consists of some ear-splitting music, much dancing about and a song so bad I doubt it would have even charted on Aztec hit parade. We do, however, learn — based on the evidence — that the ancient Aztecs appear to have invented dry ice. (There’s educational value, see?) The third film, in fact, opens with nearly 20 minutes of flashbacks. In short, you’re missing nothing by not seeing the first movie — apart from another bout of the Aztec ceremony.
The plots to these movies scarcely bear discussion. The overall story involves mad scientist/super criminal Dr. Krupp (played with hammy glee by Luis Aceves Castañeda) — professionally known as “The Bat” — and his efforts to get his mitts on Popoca’s breastplate and bracelet in order to locate the “treasure of Aztecs.” This — and the translation of the inscriptions — requires the unwilling help of Dr. Eduardo Almada (Ramón Gay), his fiancée, Flor, their assorted family members and the comic relief hanger-on, Pinacate (Crox Alvarado). Kidnappings, hypnosis, death threats, a death chamber full of snakes, and a wonderful jailbreak involving toy machine-guns that clearly don’t fire anything ensue. The second film, The Curse of the Aztec Mummy (1957), throws in a masked wrestler called The Angel, who tools around in a 1954 MG TF — apparently mindless of the potential for an Isadora Duncan demise with his cape fluttering perilously near the wire wheel knock-offs. He turns out to be…well, we’ll leave that to the film’s skillful plotting. Mostly, he just shows up and strikes wrestler poses. The third film only mentions him once in passing. How quickly they forget.
The final film, The Aztec Mummy vs. the Human Robot (1958) is easily the dumbest of the lot, which also means it may just be the most entertaining. Though released the following year, it supposedly takes place five years later — with The Bat up to his old tricks, except now he’s invented a radium-infused robot with a dead guy inside. When I was a kid, I used to spend summers with my grandmother in Concord, NC, and up (or down) the road was a family with a couple of kids I didn’t much like, but who were about my age. One of them had built himself a cardboard robot suit, which memory assures me was more impressive and believable than the one in this movie. In other words, this robot is divinely amusing. Whether or not — even with his deadly radium touch — he’s a match for Popoca remains to be seen. And you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Curse of the Aztec Mummy and The Human Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy Thursday, Jan. 24 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.