THE ROBOT VS.
THE AZTEC MUMMY
(1965), B/W, 65 minutes
Distributed by Trans-International Films
Presented by Young America Productions
Produced by K. Gordon Murray
Directed by Manuel San Fernando
Editing: J.R. Remy
Sound Editor: Charles Gaunce
Production Manager: Thomas Finucane
This film opens with a bang, of sorts: credits roll over odd graphics of a screaming mummy against a hieroglyphic-ridden wall, as dreary, creepy, sadly generic music plays.
Over haunting shots of Aztec temple ruins, an enthusiastic narrator intones:
“How far, can the human mind penetrate the mysteries of the great beyond? Who Knows? This picture, is based upon an extraordinary experiment, carried out by Doctors Hughes and Tooney of the University of Los Angeles. There is no doubt as to its authenticity; testimony of people participating in the experiment, sworn to by a notary public, preclude the possibility of any fraud! This picture is a combination of factual data, mixed with fiction.”
Factual data, mixed with fiction? Whaa? Now, seriously, isn’t that about the greatest cinematic disclaimer of all time? History books should have the same disclaimer! You know whatever follows will be exploitation history, for better or wicked. And wicked it is…
This wild flick, the third of the original “Momia Azteca” series, is a real Saturday-Afternoon classic.
Any movie that uses up half its hour-ling screen time with footage from its predecessors can’t be all bad.
We start off with footage from LA MOMIA AZTECA (the scientific symposium and the beloved ritual murder sequence), and flash forward to scenes from LA MALDICION DE LA MOMIA AZTECA (the Aztec Mummy invades Krupp’s lab).
In fact, this film may ironically be one of the few sources of footage from the original LA MOMIA AZTECA, which is now considered lost. Some of this rare footage also turns up in Jerry Warren’s patchwork nightmares ATTACK OF THE MAYAN MUMMY and FACE OF THE SCREAMING WEREWOLF.
Indeed, is it possible that the Aztec rituals sequence from LA MOMIA AZTECA holds the record for footage being recycled in the most movies?
At any rate, this film conveys a comfortable sense of deva vu, via its primarily flashback structure.
The first third of the film relies on the LA MOMIA AZTECA footage. Then we watch the exciting climax, as well as other scenes, from LA MALDICION DE LA MOMIA AZTECA. So it is at about the half-way mark before we actually “start” the new movie!
As in the earlier films (as in much of Mexican horror cinema of the period), hypnosis figures prominently, as the evil Dr. Krupp puts cute Flora under in order to locate Popoca’s current resting place. Luckily, Krupp sends her out into the night wearing her cute little nightie…
There are some strange comparisons between this movie and its direct predecessor.
The address of Krupp’s first lab is 22 Mount Lorraine. His next lab is located at 22 Shade Street. What could be the significance of the number 22 to “The Bat”?
Krupp’s robot lab here is even cooler than his previous lab, full of weird, patchwork mechanisms like a tin-foil Frankenstein factory.
Our hero, Dr. Almada, was called “Almaden” last time. His assistant, Pincate, was called “Peacock”! Even weirder, Almeda’s kid Bobby was referred to as his younger brother in the last film!
Krupp’s main thug, Bruno, had the lyrical tag “Lilac” in the last outing.
And Krupp makes a passing reference to Pincate/Peacock’s alter ego, super-wrestler The Angel. But why doesn’t Pincate show any courage whatsoever in this installment? Was it the cool costume, after all, which gave The Angel his “cajones”?
Triva aside, there are much better mummy scenes here than in “our last episode”.
The long-awaited title robot appears, after one of Krupp’s long-winded rants, at 51 minutes into this hour-long feature, long after the kiddie matinee audience had likley run screaming to the popcorn stands in frustration.
And what a robot it is, a low-tech masterpiece with a water-heater body, a paint-can headpiece, and the human face of John Agar! Big pulsating light bulbs on its head, a couple of radio knobs for nipples, and a springy antenna! Just perfect!
One masterful scene has Krupp walking his new creation through the cemetery on the way to Popoca’s pad. A drunken watchman stumbles by, and Krupp commands his devil-machine to attack him. The robot touches the drunk’s arm, and atomic mist spews out as the poor old lush runs off, screaming in radioactive agony. Pure pulp gold.
The title bout is relegated to a scant two-minute fight at the very tail of the picture, virtually an afterthought.
The fight is brief, but memorable, with some great close-ups of both impossible creatures (Science vs Religion, if you wanna talk skid-row metaphors) hashing it out.
And as you would expect from a Catholic-culture artifact, the ancient beast beats the bejeezus out of the godless, soulless science-machine. One magnificent final shot shows the mummy thrashing the crap out of an obviously empty robot suit, until it literally disintegrates.
This cheesy mini-bout simply defines the whole notion of the exploitation racket: “always give the customer what you promised them, but just barely!”
And the whole idea of a fragile, centuries-old mummy as an intact, muscle-bound wrestler is pure, ludicrous comic-book heaven.
Overall, this flick is surely an example of a fascinating use of common footage, very much an homage to the thrilling cliffhanger serials of yore.
Whether you see it as an exciting new movie, pure comic book thrills, or a creaky retread rip-off, you have to agree that THE ROBOT VS THE AZTEC MUMMY is a classic of psycho-shlock cinema.
* THE ROBOT VS THE AZTEC MUMMY has the dubious distinction of being the only film in history to be “Recommended by the Young America Horror Club”, a bizarre marketing ploy by Murray and Company, which doesn’t seem to have had an actual club behind it! Perhaps it was a secret society. Considering the cheesy logo, perhaps it is/was a pseudonym (or front) for “Skull & Bones”, the secret society at Yale University, whose members rule the world!
* Murray released two different versions of THE ROBOT VS THE AZTEC MUMMY. One print released was a syndicated TV version. Either before or after, Murray released his theatrical version, containing the same footage, but with an entirely different musical soundtrack, and with a revised opening credits sequence, containing the notorious emblem: “Recommended by the Young America Horror Club”! We believe the theatrical version contains Antonio Diaz Conde’s original score, while the TV release, whose credits are missing a music credit, uses Gustav Cesar Carrion cues lifted from other horror films, but this has not been verified.
* According to AFI, THE ROBOT VS THE AZTEC MUMMY (presumably with its theatrical co-feature, THE VAMPIRE’S COFFIN), had its US premiere in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 17, 1965. On the other hand, the theatrical poster has a late-1964 National Screen Service number, so again, exact release dates are anyone’s guess…
* Rumors persist about a “reserved seat engagement” campaign mounted by Murray, to try and lure moviegoers in large cities to his wild horror double bill, THE VAMPIRE’S COFFIN/THE ROBOT VS THE AZTEC MUMMY. It could not possibly have been successful.
* For the theatrical showings of THE ROBOT VS THE AZTEC MUMMY/THE VAMPIRE’S COFFIN, Murray created a fictional psychological gimmick called “Hypno-Scope” which, according to the trailers, consisted of a whirling spiral which supposedly could hypnotize you into a state of sheer terror!
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