31 May 2010

La Momia Azteca & Friends

Mexico - 1957
Director -Rafael Portillo
BCI Entertainment, 2008, DVD
Run Time -1 hour, 20 minutes

These movies have been popping up on my radar for at least fifteen years, probably longer. If my memory serves, they have never really been favorably compared to U.S. films of the same time or genre. Because of that I always remained reluctant to see for myself, assuming the prejudicial conclusions of U.S. writers were "true" rather than simply opinions. I let someone else make up my mind for me, thinking I would be disappointed and/or bored.

To fall back on an old aphorism, my tastes have matured, and these days I can better appreciate the subtle differences that contextually flavor old films.  Hence, when I spotted this set for 6 dollars brand new, I snatched it up instantly. The box itself is pretty sorely lacking in the design department, but once you open it up and see the three amazing slim DVD cases, it's worth it just for the art. The cases are clear and have the poster on the front (top and below) and the one sheet on the inside under the disc (right). A great deal of my movie lust is built upon an appreciation for packaging (hence all the box scans), and despite a general lack of special features, this DVD set has it in spades.

La Maldicion de la Momia Azteca (Curse of the Aztec Mummy)
Mexico - 1957
Director - Rafael Portillo
Run Time - 1 hour, 5 minutes

The first film was pretty slow, just like U.S. monster movies at the time, but the audio and picture quality in this case was pretty bad too, mostly the outcome of a bad source I suspect, but the sequel has both a higher production value and better reproduction on the DVD.
In Maldicion I detected a number of elements of the Mexican social climate of the 1950's, particularly the philosophy of Jose Vascocelos. The Mexican national identity was envisioned as one of "mestizaje," the mixing of races which Vasconcelos posited was the "La Raza Cosmica," (The Cosmic Race) an ideal people which incorporated all the best elements of the Mexican people from indigenous to Spanish.

The primary antagonist of the Momia Azteca films is "El Murcielago," or The Bat, whose true identity is that of Dr. Krupp, a man who was disbarred from practicing medicine for conducting inhuman hybridization experiments on animals and people. His medical practices, and even his name (Krupp munitions) reflect a heavy prejudice against the German and European conceptions of eugenics in which darker races could "pollute" whiter races. In Mexico as I mentioned, the Cosmic Race was closer to perfection because it incorporated all the best elements of all races in the nation. In La Momia Azteca this is clearly the case, as the protagonists are Mexican scientists with a healthy respect for modernity ("objective scientific inquiry") and indigenous culture (the mummy). They are true liberals in the classic sense.

Mexico - 1958
Director - Rafael Portillo
Run Time - 1 hour, 5 minutes

In La Momia Azteca Contra El Robot Humano we get the lengthy recap footage that is typical of cut-budget horror sequels. Of course, here, La Momia is pushed even further toward symbolism when he must directly confront Dr. Krupp and his diabolical creation El Robot Humano. It doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to assume that the mummy has become something of a symbol of Mexican identity, while Krupp's robot has become the embodiment of foreign imperialism. The robot after all was created explicitly to rob the mummy of its riches.
But I still find it important to occasionally remind myself that these broad social ideas were probably not present in films because the director or writer was sitting there thinking, "Lets make the bad guy an amoral European to contrast the earthy practicality of out nationalist Mexican hero." But they were making their movies at a time when these ideas of national character were stirring in the popular consciousness. After all, it was roughly around this time that the ruins of the Templo Mayor were first being "discovered" beneath modern Ciudad Mexico.

So, considering all of this, La Momia bears a much closer resemblance to Godzilla than to any Universal Monster because he becomes symbolic of his homeland, and hence the "monster hero". I'm giving nothing away by pointing out that, like Godzilla, La Momia actually wins in the end, defeating Krupp and El Robot and returning, treasures in hand to his tomb with the cheers of the audience, and the blessings of our Mexican scientists to send him on his way.

After almost two decades I finally got to see La Momia Azteca in action, and the timing couldn't have been better. Old Popoca damn near looks like he's smiling.


Jose Cruz said...

I've always been interested in seeing these films. I have a taste for cheesy monster mashes. It was also enlightening to hear your hypothesis behind La Momia being a national symbol. And to think these movies were nothing more than a bunch of creatures duking it out! Nice write up.

The Goodkind said...

Thanks Mr. Monster. The Momia movies are worth seeing, even if just once, I recommend it. My analysis is probably heightened by the fact that I've been studying Mexican history for the last three months straight, Whether or not I'm "right" is irrelevant, it's just my interpretation of the evidence.