Monday, 15 September 2008

The Aztec Mummy (1957)

The Aztec Mummy (La Momia azteca), released in 1957, was the first of a fairly extensive series of Aztec mummy movies. While it’s fairly cheesy compared to some of the Mexican gothic horror classics, and is certainly not the equal of movies like The Black Pit of Dr M, The Curse of the Crying Woman and The Witch’s Mirror, it is at least more original. It does represent a genuine attempt to create a distinctively Mexican horror film.

Dr Almada has become convinced that hypnosis can unlock memories of our past lives. all he needs is someone willing to offer themselves as an experimental subject and he is sure his theory will be triumphantly vindicated. His girlfriend rather unwisely volunteers herself for this role. She is regressed to a past life, as a young woman destined from birth to be a virgin sacrifice to an Aztec god. Unfortunately she has fallen in love with a young Aztec warrior, and when their love is discovered he is punished by being buried alive and damned for all eternity. As a result the pyramid temple and the tomb associated with this sad tale is under a perpetual curse.

Being a horror movie scientist, Dr Almada naturally ignores all the warnings he receives abut tampering with Aztec curses. You just can’t tell these scientists anything. To complicate matters, Dr Almada’s house is being staked out by the gang led by the mysterious masked diabolical criminal mastermind known only as The Bat. They’re not interested in his scientific work, but they do see a chance to get their hands on a fabulous buried Aztec treasure.

While it bears some superficial resemblance to the Universal classic The Mummy, this is actually a very different sort of movie. The Aztec practice of human sacrifice makes the Aztec mummy far more sinister and purely monstrous than Boris Karloff’s rather sympathetic Egyptian mummy.

At around this time there were many in Mexico who, for political reasons, wanted to idealise the Aztec past as part of a process of forging a distinctive Mexican national identity. The movie’s sceptical attitude towards the glories of Aztec civilisation would have given it considerable resonance for a contemporary Mexican audience. There’s also the theme of modernism in conflict with traditionalism, which adds an interesting additional layer to the film.

It’s one of three films included in BCI’s Aztec Mummy Collection. While the image quality isn’t up to the standards maintained by Casa Negra in their Mexican horror DVD releases, it’s perfectly acceptable and the movie appears to be complete and uncut. It is cheesy, but it has some nice ideas as well. And it’s certainly fun.

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