Mummy's the Word
Mexic-Arte Museum screens a landmark of Mexican fantastic cinema
Shot back to back and sharing many of the same sets as its insta-sequels Curse of the Aztec Mummy and The Robot Vs. the Aztec Mummy (much like the superior 1931 Spanish-language Dracula that director George Melford filmed in the off-hours of Tod Browning's stagey Lugosi production), Attack of the Aztec Mummy is, in its own modest, black-and-white way, a genuine landmark of Mexican fantastic cinema. In a switch from Universal's (and Boris Karloff's) long-established minimalist approach to the romantic ménage à trois template of two alive/one dead, director Rafael Portillo instead mines the Monogram/RKO matinee serial vein and comes up with a subplot involving a rival scientist – masquerading as the Bat and played with creepy, earnest, telenovela-style flair by Luis Aceves Castañeda – that feels as if it just rode in on the last stage out of Radio Ranch.
That genre-hopping admixture would find perfection a few years later when Rodolfo Guzman Huerta's silver-masked luchador, Santo, brought his decidedly "destroy all monsters" attitude to the silver screen (scripted, on occasion, by Aztec Mummy scribe Alfredo Salazar), but Portillo's Aztec Mummy trilogy is, for our dineros, simply the coolest of Mexican cinema's various horror series. Granted, it's not as downright bizarre as Chano Urueta's 1962 El Baron del Terror (aka The Brainiac), nor does it involve anything like the queasy lucha-gore of René Cardona's late-Sixties freak-out, Night of the Bloody Apes. But no less than Guillermo del Toro has been gaga for los momias since he was knee-high to Coffin Joe, and that's good enough a recommendation for anyone.
Mexic-Arte Museum's "Aztec and Maya Revival" exhibit continues through Sept. 16. Attack of the Aztec Mummy screens at Mexic-Arte (419 Congress) on Friday, Aug. 15, at 8pm, preceded by a preparty at 7pm. For more information, visit www.mexic-artemuseum.org.