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Old 05-22-2007, 06:26 AM
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Scored: 5
Views: 9,694
Aztec Mummy Collection, The





Reviewer: Jeremy
Review Date: May 22, 2007

Released by: BCI Eclipse
Release date: 12/26/2006
MSRP: $24.98
Region 1, NTSC
Full-frame 1.33:1


inline Image“How far can the human mind fathom the mysteries of the hereafter? No one knows. This film is based on an extraordinary scientific experiment carried out by Dr. Hughes and Tony from the Institute of Hypnotherapy of the University of Los Angeles. Its authenticity is beyond any doubt. The testimony of the persons involved will prove its veracity. Its cinematographic version has reality and fiction intertwined.”

The Story

inline ImageIn The Aztec Mummy, we are introduced to Dr. Eduardo Almada (Ramón Gay), a psychiatrist who has been researching the idea that, using hypnosis, a person can be reverted back to their past life and re-experience what that person experienced while alive. However, his colleagues in the scientific community think his theory is rubbish, and due to the feared danger of mental trauma, Almada is having troubled convincing anybody to undergo the hypnotic procedure. Finally, his fiancée Flor (Rosita Arenas) volunteers to be his subject, and with the help of her father Dr. Sepulveda (Jorge Mondragón) and Almada's assistant Pinacate (Crox Alvarado), they hypnotize her. She reverts to a past life as an Aztec girl named Xochi, who describes being a sacrificial virgin, and how she was put to death by the high priests along with a warrior named Popoca, after it was discovered the two were in love.

inline ImageWith his theory of past lives now validated, Almada realizes that he still has the tough job of proving it to his colleagues. He decides the best way to do it is to recover the sacred, long lost and sought after Aztec breastplate and bracelet, which were buried with Xochi and Popoca. The two items supposedly have writings on them that record the location of the hidden treasure of the Aztecs. Almada, Pinacate, Flor and Dr. Sepulveda all break into an ancient Aztec pyramid and discover a hidden passageway that takes them to the tomb of Xochi. They recover the breastplate, but in their hurry to get out, they forget to grab the bracelet as well. The trouble is that the writing on the breastplate is in code, and is impossible to translate it without having the markings on the bracelet to serve as a key. As a result, Almada, Pinacate and Sepulveda are forced to go back to the tomb several nights later, only to be horrified when, out of the darkness, walks the horrific, mummified Popoca (Ángel Di Stefani). The ancient warrior was awakened when they took the breastplate, which was his duty to protect. The three men manage to fight the mummy off and get away with the bracelet, although they just barely escape with their lives.

inline ImageWith the bracelet, Almada can now finish deciphering the code and locate the Aztec treasure. Unfortunately, his research is soon to be interrupted. Not only is the mummy determined to recover the items, but Almada's research has also attracted the attention of the sinister Dr. Krupp (Luis Aceves Castañeda), a mad scientist who also masquerades as the criminal mastermind known as The Bat, and who is determined to get his hands on the Aztec treasure...

Next in the series, Curse of the Aztec Mummy starts off not long after the events of the first film, which climaxed with the arrest of Dr. Krupp, and the death of Dr. Sepulveda, who blew up Xochi's tomb with him and the mummy inside. But the police are having trouble getting Krupp to crack under interrogation, and it isn't long before the doctor's loyal henchmen, led by the brutish Tierno (Arturo Martinez), manage to break him out of jail. Krupp immediately sets about making plans to get his hands on the Aztec treasure anew. However, this time he will have to contend with “The Angel”, a masked superhero who intends to protect Dr. Alamda and Flor from Krupp's latest evil plan to get his hands on the treasure.

inline ImageThe series wraps up with The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy. Five years have now passed, and Flor and Alamada are now married. Dr. Krupp is still after the treasure, having survived the climax of the last film where Popoca threw him into a pit full of venomous snakes. This time he only has the acid-scarred Tierno left to help him, but the doctor now has a secret weapon that will help him fight the seemingly indestructible Popoca – an atomic powered robot!

Decades before Hollywood producers realized that they could save time and money by shooting film series like The Lord of the Rings and the last two entries in The Matrix back-to-back, a Mexican producer named Pedro Calderón discovered the same trick, and his brother and fellow filmmaker Guillermo decided to use it while producing the Aztec mummy series in 1957. The films were shot back-to-back, using the same sets, giving the films an aesthetic consistency that is missing from many other film series.

inline ImageLike any good trilogy, the Aztec mummy films are best enjoyed when viewed in close succession. However, to get the maximum effect, viewers will be wise to stick to the original Spanish language versions. The Aztec Mummy was never truly dubbed into English, but it did get some exposure when Jerry Warren (a hack filmmaker if there ever was one) featured chunks of footage from it in his atrocious production called Attack of the Mayan Mummy. But the coherence of the other two films is also muddied by the seemingly careless English dubbing. The American versions were both produced by the legendary film importer K. Gordon Murray. Unlike Jerry Warren, Murray didn't re-edit the movies themselves, yet both still feature a noticeable lack of continuity between them because of the dubbing. In the English language version of Curse of the Aztec Mummy, Dr. Eduardo Almada becomes “Dr. Edward Almadan”. Henchman Tierno is re-named “Lilac” (!) and Pinacate becomes “Pincote”. In Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy, Almada becomes “Dr. Armada”, Pinacate is simply “Pincate”, and Tierno becomes the much less effeminate “Bruno”. In addition, not all the same voice actors who are heard in the English version of the first sequel are heard in the second. The most noticeable is Dr. Krupp, who was clearly dubbed by two different actors (the man who voices him in the final film is more appropriate to the demands of Krupp's over the top villainy).

inline ImageThe problem with the series is that only the first film is capable of standing on its own. In terms of style and content, The Aztec Mummy is the most traditional of the two. It bears a strong resemblance to the American horror films of the 1940's, and is fairly straightforward in plot: scientist makes a discovery, ignores warnings of doom, and a monster attacks and wreaks havoc. Although Popoca the mummy is given relatively little screen time, his initial, on-screen revelation is suspenseful and expertly handled, at least by the standards of Mexican horror films. The movie builds to a reasonably satisfying climax, though its hour and twenty minute running time often drags. The only element to the film which does not make sense when taken by itself is the introduction of Dr. Krupp. When viewed out of context with its sequels, Krupp's presence in The Aztec Mummy seems largely gratuitous, as he doesn't really have much importance to the plot. It is only when the plots of the two sequels are taken into account that Krupp's role in the original begins to make sense.

inline ImageThings start to go downhill with Curse of the Aztec Mummy, which is the least satisfying entry in the series. Its running time is very short (only about an hour), and it relies on the use of footage from the first film to remind viewers of what happened to whom and when. The plot itself would be straightforward, except for the seemingly random introduction of the masked superhero dubbed “The Angel”, who turns out to be just Pinacate in a costume. No explanation is given as to why we don't see this side of his character in The Aztec Mummy (the first movie characterizes Pinacate as a coward, which turns out to just be a cover for his crime fighting activities), and since that cover is blown by the end of the film, “The Angel” doesn't show up in Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy either. Pinacate's alter ego was presumably modeled after El Santo and the other masked Mexican wrestlers who were beginning to be popular movies stars by this point.

The other problem with Curse of the Aztec Mummy is that it features so little of the mummy himself. Popoca only appears in two scenes, and essentially functions as a deus ex machina, descending on Krupp's laboratory at the end to slaughter the badguys and save the heroes from imminent death at the hands of Krupp's henchmen.

inline ImageThe series finale, The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy, is both better and worse than its predecessor. At first glance, it appears to be the cheapest and shoddiest of the three. The robot that Dr. Krupp creates is one of the most ludicrous screen creations I have ever seen, surpassed only by the even cheaper robot named “Torg” that appears in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. But primarily, the last film in the series looks and feels cheap because of how much footage it uses from the previous two films. Almost a third of the movie's brief running time consists of footage from the first two films. Although a viewer has the right to feel cheated by this, it does nonetheless have one positive effect. The scenes that it lifts from the first two are the some of the best scenes in both movies, allowing us to see all the highlights of the films without sitting through them. It also means that The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy gives Popoca the most screen time of any of the three films.

Overall, the Aztec mummy films are disappointing relics of Mexican cinema, though they still have some minor entertainment value for viewers today. They were cheap movies designed to be made and released quickly for an easy profit, and they have done little to withstand the test of time.

Image Quality

inline ImageThis release marks the American home video debut of The Aztec Mummy, which never received a legitimate theatrical or video release in the United States (bootleg tapes would occasionally pop up during the VHS era, but they were always without subtitles and attracted little attention). Overall the image quality is quite disappointing, but the rarity of the title makes it tolerable viewing nonetheless. Everything is either too dark or too washed out. The image has a fuzzy, out-of-focus quality to it. Print damage isn't too much of an issue, but there are numerous distortions and defects on the transfer that indicate this was probably struck from an old tape master of some type.

The other two films are each given their own disc, with the original Mexican versions on one side, and the K. Gordon Murray versions on the other.

The Spanish version of Curse of the Aztec Mummy looks surprisingly good. The black and white image is of good contrast, with mostly clean whites and deep blacks. There is a reasonably good level of detail, and there's not too much print damage.

The English language version is much inferior. It looks like it was taken from 16mm, and is rather grainy and dark looking. The image is less detailed and less sharp than in the Spanish version and there is a little bit more print damage. The only advantage it has over the Spanish version is that BCI's transfer of the original cut features two scenes which, for no apparent reason, abruptly turn very dark, to the point that it's not easy to see what's going on. The two scenes in question are the only ones in the movie which feature Popoca, including the climax, making it rather frustrating viewing. The English version doesn't have this issue. To get an idea of the differences, check out these screen captures:

inline Image inline Image inline Image

Spanish version


inline Image inline Image inline Image

English version


The Spanish language version of Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy probably looks the best of the five transfers on this release, with a nicely detailed image, minimal print damage and a very well balanced black and white image. It looks far nicer than the English version, which is grainier, darker and was taken from film elements that were rather beaten up.


inline Image inline Image inline Image

Spanish version


inline Image inline Image inline Image

English version


Sound

The Spanish 2.0 Mono soundtrack for The Aztec Mummy sounds flat and muffled, with shrill music and lots of hissing and popping in the background.

The Mono soundtracks for the English and Spanish version of Curse of the Aztec Mummy both have different strengths and weaknesses. The English version has less background noise, but sounds rather flat and compressed. The Spanish version features a crisper rendition of sound effects and dialog, but has some rather noticeable hissing and popping in the background.

The Spanish Mono soundtrack for Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy has less background noise when compared to Curse of the Aztec Mummy, but it is also less crisp and features slightly duller reproduction of music and sound effects. But it is much better than the English soundtrack, which features lots of hissing and popping, and mediocre reproduction of dialog and sound effects.

The Spanish-language versions all three films feature optional English subtitles, and there are some annoying inconsistencies in those subtitles. Whoever translated the dialog for Curse of the Aztec Mummy seems to have gotten it in their head that Popoca is female (perhaps it was the long hair), and so the mummy is repeatedly referred to as a “she”. The subtitle track for Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy corrects this, but somehow Tierno has been renamed “Tender”, even though, by listening to the dialog, one realizes that the actors are still saying “Tierno”.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageThis release is pretty light on extras, but it does include some excellent liner notes by David Wilt, which provides an interesting overview of mummies in Mexican horror cinema, and gives some much appreciated info on the background of those who made the Aztec mummy films.

There is also a very brief still gallery that is found on the disc for The Aztec Mummy.

Final Thoughts

The Aztec Mummy and its sequels are certainly not the best that Mexican horror has to offer, but a viewer could still do worse.

Overall, this box set is a lot like my job as an overnight hotel front desk agent - it may not be perfect, but it's the best I can hope for. The main advantage of this release is that it finally unveils the first film as it was originally seen, albeit with compromised audio/visual quality. Curse of the Aztec Mummy and The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy look better than ever in their original Spanish versions, and it's nice having their K. Gordon Murray counterparts, even if they look much less pristine.

Although this set might not be as definitive as the Mexi-horror special editions currently being released by CasaNegra, it is worth a glance for those interested in the movies.

Rating

.
The Aztec Mummy

Movie – C
Image Quality – D+
Sound - C-

Curse of the Aztec Mummy

Movie – D+

Spanish version
Image Quality – B-
Sound – B-

English version
Image Quality – C
Sound – B-

The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy

Movie – D+

Spanish version
Image Quality – B
Sound – C+

English version
Image Quality – C-
Sound – C-

Supplements – C




Technical Info.
  • Running Time – The Aztec Mummy - 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Running Time – Curse of the Aztec Mummy - 1 hour 3 minutes
  • Running Time - The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy - 1 hour 4 minutes
  • B&W
  • Chapter Stops
  • Spanish 2.0 Mono
  • English 2.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 3 Discs

Supplements
  • Still galleries
  • Filmographies

Other Pictures

 


Last edited by Jeremy; 10-02-2008 at 06:05 AM..
 

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Old 05-23-2007, 05:03 AM
Moderator
Fantastic review, my friend. You've given me a window into a trilogy I never knew existed, and one that I am now anxious to explore. Tierno going from "Lilac" to "Bruno" from film to film alone is crazy enough for me to want to witness every crazy minute. That and the awesome robot screen capture.
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