The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy directed by Rafael PortilloThe Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy directed by Rafael Portillo

The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy directed by Rafael PortilloIt was at NYC’s legendary Thalia Theater on W. 95th St. in Manhattan where I first saw the Mexican wonder known as The Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy (1964), paired with the Ed Wood-scripted The Bride and the Beast (1958) to make for one truly mind-boggling double feature. Ah, what a great theater that was! OK, time for Tales From My Misspent Youth, chapter 135: The Thalia, back when (I’m talking about the late ‘70s/very early ‘80s here), was a wonderful place to see a double feature of this sort, its rear section (a “balcony” reached by climbing one or two steps, if memory serves) permitting smoking…of all manner of dry goods. As for the first film on the bill, my main recollection of that showing was the stoned-out audience laughing uproariously every time one of the characters therein mentioned the word “codex,” an object that served as the Hitchcockian MacGuffin in that picture; the audience, apparently, thought the actors were saying “Kotex.” The picture was a genuine hoot, and I have wanted to see others of its ilk ever since.

Flash-forward a good 40 years or so, to just last night, when I sat down to watch a film called The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy, which I mistakenly took to be a sequel to that first film. But, of course, my homework had been woefully inadequate, and rather than being a sequel to the Thalia film, it turns out that Wrestling Women… was not only a much-belated, only tangentially related follow-up to Robot…, but that Robot… itself had been the third film of a very self-contained trilogy. (The Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy, by the way, turns out to have been the second in a completely separate series of six films featuring the fighters – or Las Luchadoras – Gloria Venus and Golden Rubi, the first of which was 1963’s Doctor of Doom.) When I learned this, I was on the verge of deleting the film completely from my DVR box, not being the type to watch the third picture in a series without having first watched the previous two. But TCM host Ben Mankiewicz reassured me, in his introduction, with the following words, saying that the film “…while not much longer than an hour, roughly 65 minutes, spends almost half that time recapping the events of the previous two movies, The Aztec Mummy [1957] and The Curse of the Aztec Mummy [also 1957], so don’t worry if you haven’t seen the first two; you’ll find a way to follow the story…” As it turns out, Mankiewicz was 100% correct, and this viewer had no problem whatsoever in catching up. And Robot… (1958), as it turns out, really was quite a hoot!

The film does indeed spend its first half hour informing us of what had transpired before, as the previous two films’ leading character, Eduardo Almada (Ramon Gay), tells his colleagues of what had occurred. It seems that Almada, a scientist who was a firm believer in the notion of hypnotic regression, had put his fiancée, Flor (the great Mexican actress Rosita Arenas, who had previously impressed this viewer in two terrific films, The Witch’s Mirror [1962] and The Curse of the Crying Woman [1963], the latter of which I deem to be a horror masterpiece), into a trance and had discovered that she was the reincarnation of an Aztec temple priestess named Xochi. Xochi had become romantically involved with a warrior named Popoca (Angel Di Stefani), and the two had planned on running away together. But after being caught in the act, the priestess had been ritualistically put to death in the pyramid of Teotihuacan and Popoca had been buried alive, his mummified body charged with guarding a hieroglyph-engraved breastplate and bracelet that revealed the precise location of the Aztecs’ treasure horde.

Upon awakening, Flor had been able to lead her fiancé and his friend, Pinacate (Crox Alvarado), to the tomb wherein lay the bones of Xochi, but Popoca had awakened and frightened them off. In addition, in the first two films, the viewer watched in awe as one of Almada’s colleagues, Dr. Krupp (Luis Aceves Castaneda), also known as The Bat (because of the cape he wears?), makes repeated efforts to obtain that breastplate and bracelet, only to be thwarted by Popoca ever and again. And so, as the third film in the trilogy begins, five years after the events of the first two, we learn that Krupp has indeed survived being thrown into a pit of snakes by the mummy at the end of the second film, and is once again planning a means of acquiring his goal. He has obtained a good deal of radium and has stolen a corpse from a nearby Cancer Institute, and utilizing them, has constructed an enormous robot, powered by remote control, with which he plans on fighting the ancient mummy and getting his hands on those ancient relics. To ascertain the current location of Popoca, he himself hypnotizes Flor, now married to Almada, and gets her to set up a mental communication with the slumbering mummy (!). The mummy, Krupp learns, now resides in a nearby cemetery, and so, off he goes, scar-faced minion Tender and mummy in tow, to what promises to be a true battle royale…

The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy (originally released under the title La Momia Azteca Contra El Robot Humano) was shot and produced at the very same time as the two previous films; they were filmed back to back to back with no break in 1957, and thus make for one very seamless experience. Director Rafael Portillo does quite a fine job at keeping things compact and streamlined, and this little picture really does move! The acting by one and all is uniformly fine, the sets are handsome, the tombs and crypts convincingly moldering and creepy, the atmosphere dark and mysterious. Kudos especially to Castaneda’s performance as The Bat, especially in the scene in which his robot creation finally comes to life. Castaneda overacts gloriously, his mania and insanity practically bursting through his bulging eyeballs. It is a delightfully zany performance, and great fun to watch.

His nameless robotic creation, by the way, must be placed into the Pantheon of Clunkiest-Looking Robots in Film History, standing in pride next to such lumbering metalmen as the ones in Devil Girl From Mars (1954) and Target Earth (also 1954). But unlike those other creations, the one here features a man’s revivified head behind a glass faceplate, thus justifying Krupp’s designation of it as a “human robot.” The promotional poster for the film proclaimed that the ending showcased “An Epic Battle To The Death Between Two Titans Of Terror!,” and while I’m not exactly sure that the big dukeout that climaxes the picture is deserving of that kind of ballyhoo, it sure is fun to watch, brief as it is. Popoca is quite a formidable entity, a ripper and a choker, but our human robot here is capable of delivering radium-derived burns with its merest touch. So put your bets down and settle in to watch, folks!

OK, I’m not going to lie to you: This film is no great work of art, but you probably expected as much just from the title, right? As Mankiewicz himself tells us, “…This ain’t Citizen Kane … but it’s still a blast to watch.” And boy, is he ever right! The film really is a lot of fun, in a Saturday afternoon matinee at the movies kind of way. Other viewers have pointed out various historical inaccuracies in the picture, such as the fact that the Aztecs did not mummify their dead and didn’t use hieroglyphics. Mexican history dummy that I am, these matters did not concern me one bit. What did bother me a little, however, is the fact that Popoca can be easily deterred by holding up a crucifix in front of its cloth-wrapped face, as if he were some kind of Transylvanian vampire. Since when were the Aztecs, and more particularly the worshippers of the god Tecaztlipoca here, such believers in Christianity and its various symbols? Another head-scratching tidbit in this film: How is Krupp able to hypnotize Flor at a distance, while she sleeps in her bedroom (a separate bedroom from her new husband?) and he sits in the backseat of his car, speaking into some kind of microphone? And while I’m at it, why has Pinacate, who had, it is shown, secretly had a side career as the superhero Angel in the previous two films, stopped his crime-fighting ways as the third film commences? But perhaps I am overthinking things here.

The bottom line is that this film is just pure entertainment; a perfect film to sit down and watch with your 8-year-old nephew, perhaps. It is not close to being the work of art that The Curse of the Crying Woman would be, five years later (I can’t recommend that film highly enough, by the way), but its fun factor surely is a perfect 10 … or, rather, should I say, a diez perfecto!


  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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