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Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy

This is another film from the far outer orbits of the sci-fi system. It's slender claim to sci-fi comes only near the end, but it's there. Viewed on its own, The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy (RvAM) is more prone to confuse and annoy the average modern viewer. K. Gordon Murray imported this Mexican film and had it dubbed into English, but RvAM was the third in a series of Mexican aztec mummy movies, so it's only natural that audiences would get lost. The basic premise, however, was a familiar one to Mexican audiences. This third installment introduced a sci-fi element of a hybrid human-robot, created by the sinister Dr. Krupp to defeat the mummy.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Much of the back story from the first two films is told in narration over reused footage. Dr. Almada hypnotizes his wife, Flor, to find out that she was once an aztec princess (for whom chastity was required). She and her warrior lover were both sentenced to death. Dr. Almada searched for the golden breastplate worn by the princess as proof of his wife's past life and his own psychiatric brilliance. Trouble was, the undead warrior, Popoca, guards the breastplate. Popoca steals the breastplate back, and kidnaps Flor. She is rescued. A villain named Dr. Krupp wants the breastplate because it is also a treasure map to some vast aztec treasure hoard. All of this is back story. The new story, is that Krupp has assembled a hybrid robot-human from cadavers, mechanisms and some radium for power. With this super-strong robot, he will defeat Popoca, get the breastplate and find the treasure. With that treasure, he plans to finance the construction of an army of robots and rule the world. Krupp uses hypnosis to get Flor to show him where Popoca sleeps. (She has a psychic connection to Popoca via her previous life as the romantic princess, you see.) She leads them to a tomb. In the tomb, the robot and mummy finally do fight, and it's nearly a draw, until Dr. Almada rushes in and shoots the remote control out of Krupp's hands. The mummy takes advantage of the moment and destroys the robot. He also kills Krupp and Bruno. Flor gives the mummy the breastplate with a touching speech about ancestors. The mummy shuffles off. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
RvAM is just so strange, it's hard not to become fascinated. The Krupp character is so over-the-top that he's intriguing to watch. The final battle scene in the last five minutes, is so odd (more like a grade-school pushing match with sparks and smoke) that it's worth the wait.

Cold War Angle
There is no Cold War analogy in RvAM. It's a horror / monster flick with just a dash of Frankenstein.

Program Already in Progress... -- RvAM suffers from being far removed from its roots. Released in America in February of 1959, it was an english dubbing of The Aztec Mummy vs. the Human Robot ('58), which was itself the third installment in a Mexican horror movie sequel series. Much of RvAM rehashes the action of the first two -- The Aztec Mummy ('57) and Curse of the Aztec Mummy ('57). All this rehash takes up the greater portion of RvAM's runtime, so it's easy to get a little lost. Why, for instance, is Dr. Krupp is sometimes referred to as "The Bat," for no apparent reason? This comes from the second movie where he was an arch villain and dressed up in a ski mask and long cape. There is only one very brief glimpse of this costume in RvAM -- a clip which makes no sense in the American version. Since American audiences were not already familiar with the story lines, all the rehash is more confusing than helpful.

Senor Frankenstein -- Of some interest, is Dr. Krupp's repeat of the classic 1931 Frankenstein sub-plot. He steals cadavers and brains. He claims to have discovered how to reanimate dead tissue. His creature will be super strong and indestructible. A more modern 50s twist, is the use of "radium" to do the animating, not electricity, although it is still a dark and stormy night with lots of lightning and electrical equipment around when the creature comes to life. The big difference, is that the creature is more robot than man. With an army of such robots, Krupp planned to rule the world. He just lacked venture capital or a research grant. Hence the ongoing need for all that aztec treasure.

Modern Rustic Robot -- By the late 50s, movie robots had become quite sophisticated. Forbidden Planet's Robby was a hard act to follow. Robby set the bar pretty high. Yet, the titular robot of RvAM turns out to be a rustic throwback to pre-50s "technology." Even the old Republic "water heater" robot looks pretty good compared to Krupp's creation. Low budget in Mexico means really low budget. But, there is a certain nostalgic industrial-baroque charm to Krupp's robot. Something out of Flash Gordon or Video Ranger. Robby was a designer's vision of a robot. Krupp's robo-human was more in sync with what a 6 year old in 1959 might have imagined. Therein lies its charm.

Fight! Fight! -- A quirky sub-genre of movies began in 1943 with Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman. Imagined as a sequel to both Frankenstein and Wolfman movie lines, it began the monster vs monster trope. This was bound to happen eventually. Once the movie universe became sufficiently populated with famous monsters, it was only natural for movie fans to wonder which was scarier, stronger, etc. The monster vs. monster tradition began then, got traction in the 50s, and continues to this day. (Alien vs. Predator, Jason vs. Freddie, et al) RvAM is one of those monster match-ups. It's just one from out in left field.

Bottom line? Watch RvAM knowing that it's chapter three, not a new work. Don't expect it to be especially logical or even consistent. Enjoy the melodramatic villain. Revel a bit in the robo-remake of Frankenstein as a side plot. Don't expect high production values. The very complexity of RvAM is worth experiencing, not for its greatness, but simply for the fun.


Mark B. said...

Watching it now. Moves at a snail's pace but it's strangely fascinating.

Nightowl said...

Yeah, it's a little slow getting going, but there is the climactic battle to look forward to. :-)

Mark B. said...

My heart is going pitty-patter. I'm really getting into this. Is is SO awful it's brilliant.

thingmaker said...

The whole Aztek Mummy saga is available now, all subtitled and everything...
It's really fun. The footage of the discovery of the mummy and it's subsequent rampage was re-used in a number of films, including the infamous Jerry Warren "Attack of the Mayan Mummy" (briefly thrilling me as a child when my friend - we were about 9 or 10 - called me over to his house to see a movie on TV that he mis-read as "Attack of the Many Mummies").
The second film brings in a masked superhero to add to the mummy and masked super-villain.
I think the sixties Mexican monster movies are charming. At best, they are a lot like the Universal horrors of the late '30s on. At worst, they are an absolute hoot. I strongly recommend "El Baron del Terror" (1962) (K. Gordon Murray version "The Brainiac") which is pretty insane... I really only know the original version but, if your taste runs to bad dubbing, you can trust K.Gordon Murray for that.