Film Review: The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy (1958)

Also known as: La momia azteca contra el robot humano (original Mexican title), The Aztec Mummy Against the Humanoid Robot (worldwide English title)
Release Date: July 17th, 1958 (Mexico)
Directed by: Rafael Portillo
Written by: Guillermo Calderon, Alfredo Salazar
Music by: Antonio Diaz Conde
Cast: Ramon Gay, Rosa Arenas, Crox Alvarado, Luis Acevedes Castaneda, Jaime Gonzalez Quinones

Cinematográfica Calderón S.A., 65 Minutes

Review:

Is this a terrible movie? Yes. However, within the context of what it is and how it was made, I can accept it and not just trash it for being total schlock. Besides, it features a friggin’ robot fighting a friggin’ mummy. Okay. maybe the monsters are terrible and move at the speed of a mentally handicapped turtles through a sea of molasses but still, it’s got a robot and a mummy!

This film was featured on the first nationally syndicated season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and for good reason: it’s a big stinker. But show me a Mexican science fiction film from the 1950s that isn’t?

The MST3K versions and really, any version available in the U.S., has English dubbing. Sure, the dubbing is also terrible but it sort of adds an extra level of goofiness to the proceedings and makes this film more endearing than it probably should be.

To be honest, you’ve got to love these sort of pictures to have an appreciation for this. A normal person would probably rather claw their eyes out but it’s certainly not the most dreadful thing ever made and definitely not the worst thing featured on MST3K.

The biggest negative isn’t the crappy monsters or the shitty special effects, it’s that the film has some really boring and drawn out moments. This thing could probably be whittled down to a twenty minute picture and you wouldn’t feel like you’ve lost anything important. Hell, it’d probably play better that way.

One of the highlights is the mad scientist. That guy was pure gold and dedicated to that insane role.

The robot was some knee-less hulking thing with a window that displayed a full human face but he was referred to as a “human robot” so I guess that works. The mummy looked more like the zombie version of Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies but I totally bought into it being a former Aztec warrior. Okay, that last sentence was me totally being facetious.

Even though I don’t hate this, it is shitty. I know it is shitty. It is impossible to deny its shittiness. Therefore, it must be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: Lots of old school Mexican monster movies, especially some of the lucha libre stuff with El Santo and Blue Demon.

Film Review: Hellish Spiders (1968)

Also known as: Arañas Infernales (original Spanish title), Cerebros diabolicos (alternate Spanish title), Blue Demon vs. the Hellish Spiders (alternate title)
Release Date: May 31st, 1968 (Mexico)
Directed by: Federico Curiel
Written by: Adolfo Torres Portillo, Luis Enrique Vergara
Music by: Jorge Perez
Cast: Blue Demon, Blanca Sanchez, Martha Elena Cervantes, Ramon Bugarini, Sergio Virel

Filmica Vergara S.A., 85 Minutes

Review:

I’m not a fluent Spanish speaker by any means but I took Spanish for two years in high school and Duolingo says I’m 41 percent fluent. Still, I have always loved lucha libre and lucha libre movies of the ’60s and ’70s. Blue Demon was always a favorite of mine, even though El Santo was pretty much the lucha king of Mexico. But since it has been a while since I’ve watched one of these crazy pictures, I figured I’d fire up a Blue Demon one.

Sure, I don’t understand most of the dialogue and these things don’t typically come with subtitles on YouTube, where you can find many of them, but it doesn’t take extreme proficiency in español to understand what’s happening in these movies.

You see, Blue Demon is a total badass. He rules the rings of Mexico and is basically a superhero in the minds of his fans. So when a race of alien spiders decide to take over the Earth, he rushes to action to stop their evil plan.

There are two big highlights in the film. The biggest though is during a lucha libre match when one of the luchadores “spiders out” in the ring like some sort of were-spider. His hand becomes a mutant spider fist that starts biting people and injecting them with venom for instant kills. The other highlight is the big finale that pits Blue Demon against the spider aliens in their webby lair.

The action isn’t great but the wrestling is fair. Also, the cinematography is pretty terrible, the effects are acceptable for the time and regardless of my language barrier, the acting left a lot to be desired. But Blue Demon still shined, which is really all that matters.

Lucha libre films aren’t good movies by any stretch of the imagination but they are at least ridiculous and entertaining, especially this older stuff.

Despite the below average rating, because I can’t give it anything higher and keep a straight face, I do like this picture. It’s a relic of a bygone era that was cooler than the one we live in now. Plus, it’s about a famous luchador fighting alien spiders! Seriously, what’s cooler than that?

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Blue Demon movies, as well as any other lucha libre films from the era.

 

Film Review: Slaughter (1972)

Also known as: Massacre (France), Masacre (Mexico), Kill Julian Drake (working title)
Release Date: August 16th, 1972 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jack Starrett
Written by: Mark Hanna, Don Williams
Music by: Luchi de Jesus
Cast: Jim Brown, Stella Stevens, Rip Torn

American International Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“You’re really far out, you know that? I mean we go out to that house and let them know we are lookin’ to get killed, and all of a sudden your sittin’ on top of the world like your King Shit! Man, you’re weird Slaughter, I mean goddammit, you’re just weird!” – Harry

Jim Brown is a badass and there is no question that the man could pretty much beat the crap out of anyone else in his presence. However, he never seemed to have the command of the screen in the same way that Fred Williamson, Issac Hayes, Jim Kelly, Rudy Ray Moore and Richard Roundtree had. He was sexy, had a certain panache and could carry his own but it had to be hard to compete with the more charismatic male stars who were also making their mark in the blaxploitation era. Regardless, Brown still has an acting career that has lasted longer than the others.

I think that the reason why is because what you see is what you get. I think Jim Brown just plays Jim Brown. Sure, from film to film he has a different occupation or a different purpose. At the core of all his characters though, is authentic Jim Brown.

I feel like Brown’s vehicles also weren’t as good as the other blaxploitation stars. In all honesty, this is probably his best film of that era and it isn’t very good. It’s also not bad but it’s pretty tame and just lacks the style and energy of the other films in the genre.

I do like that this primarily takes place in Mexico though. It isn’t a rehash of the American urban blaxploitation shtick and gives us something refreshing while keeping a familiar formula. Jim Brown plays an ex-Green Beret that has to avenge the murder of is parents. This takes him to Mexico where he must take on an Italian drug cartel and get to a final showdown with the great Rip Torn, who makes a solid heavy in this.

The finale of the film was pretty good but just about everything else is fairly mundane. One thing that was annoying about this movie is that it often times used these weird fish-eye effect action shots that felt like they were cut into the editing just sort of randomly. These shots looked bad and were a distraction to the flow of the action.

Slaughter just isn’t very exciting or engaging. You want to really like Jim Brown’s character but he just never seems to turn the volume up enough.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other Jim Brown ’70s pictures: Slaughter’s Big Rip-OffBlack GunnI Escapred From Devil’s IslandThree the Hard Way, etc.

Film Review: Deathstalker III: The Warriors From Hell (1988)

Also known as: Deathstalker III: Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell (full title), Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell (alternate)
Release Date: 1988 (Mexico)
Directed by: Alfonso Corona
Written by: Howard R. Cohen
Music by: Israel Torres, Alejandro Rulfo
Cast: John Allen Nelson, Carla Herd, Thom Christopher, Terri Treas

Concorde-New Horizons, New Classics, Triana Films, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Potatoes are what we eat!” – Khorsa

I have never seen a Deathstalker movie that I have liked, so finding one that was featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is no surprise. And really, this is probably the worst film out of the four.

The movie starts with an evil barbarian horde pillaging a village because that’s how all these kinds of movies start. People die, a hero rises from the ashes and has to crush the evil. However, the evil is some short, scrawny, bald guy that wears giant furs and looks like the host of some swingers party that no one wants to be at. He’s like the guy that tried to bang his secretary to get revenge on his wife who is “disinterested in sex”, except the secretary wouldn’t touch him and quit her job and the dude just planted evidence to look like he had an affair because no one wants him: his wife, his secretary, the bears at the gay biker bar, no one.

The hero is no better. He spends the duration of the film’s 86 minutes trying out different accents, none of which work. He’s also just some pretty boy soap actor from Santa Barbara. All I remember from that show was the opening credits sequence, which made my Auntie Belle smile everyday like a fat kid with a coupon book to Chet’s Burger City.

Deathstalker III is just a long, awful, meaningless, mundane build up to a final showdown between a fur covered mid-life crisis having Saturn car salesman and a pretty boy trying out accents to woo ladies that would be more at home in a Chubbies advertisement than wielding a sword.

I remember actually renting this as a kid because I thought the video box art was incredibly f’n badass! That poster represents the movie in no way whatsoever. The only thing accurate about it is the swords. Yes, they exist in this movie but the hero certainly isn’t some Fabio-esque barbarian book cover model. In fact, the filmmakers should be sued by anyone that ever saw the video box on a shelf and wasted 99 cents on a lie. It’s like buying a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue with Heidi Klum on the cover, only to open it and see that all the other sexy bikini shots are of Rosie O’Donnell and Oprah Winfrey.

This is an appalling movie that must have been a cruel joke by the filmmakers involved. Even though Roger Corman is a producer, albeit uncredited, this is a blight on his name and he’s the King of B-movies.

This is a Z-movie, that’s how bad it is.

Deathstalker III: The Warriors From Hell can’t escape the clutches of the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Rating: 1/10
Pairs well with: I guess the other Deathstalker films but this will be the worst part of the pairing.

Film Review: Santa Claus (1959)

Release Date: November 26th, 1959 (Mexico)
Directed by: Rene Cardona, Ken Smith (English language direction)
Written by: Adolfo Torres Portillo, Rene Cardona
Music by: Antonio Diaz Conde
Cast: Jose Elias Moreno, Pulgarcito, Jose Luis Aguirre, Armando Arriola, Lupita Quezadas, Antonio Diaz Conde, Angel Di Stefani, Ken Smith (English language narrator)

Cinematográfica Calderón S.A., 97 Minutes

Review:

“Away up in the heavens, far out in space, in a beautiful gold and crystal palace right above the North Pole, lives a kind and jolly old gentleman. Santa Claus.” – Narrator

This could be the worst Christmas themed anything that I have ever seen. Sure, it’s a challenge to top Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny but this may have done just that.

Santa Claus is a Mexican movie but don’t worry, as it is accompanied by some really bad dubbing for gringos in the States.

Basically, this pits Santa Claus against the Devil or some form of a devil because he comes from an underground land of devils. The Devil is evil, Santa is good. The Devil wants to stop Santa, Santa is just like, “Screw this Devil bro, I got presents to get to the little hijos!”

While this film is terrible. It does have some cool visuals. The sets are hokey and cheap but at least they are somewhat imaginative even if they look like they were pieced together from stolen department store holiday displays. But you can’t accuse this film of not at east feeling and looking festive. For 1959, the atmosphere isn’t any worse than any of the bigger budget American holiday specials from the time. It looks like a stage show but that’s fine, all things considered.

However, the plot, the acting and just about everything else is pretty awful. This isn’t a good movie but the visual aesthetic is still interesting and I can’t completely dismiss this. Still, as a total package, it is probably the worst holiday film I’ve seen in a really long time. Although, it probably isn’t as bad as Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, which I have yet to see. Maybe next year.

So does Santa Claus deserve to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Why, yes! The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.”

Film Review: Cronos (1993)

Also known as: Chronos, La invención de Cronos (alternate Mexican title)
Release Date: May 3rd, 1993 (Cannes)
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Guillermo del Toro
Music by: Javier Alvarez
Cast: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, Tamara Shanath

Fondo de Fomento Cinematográfico, Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía, Universidad de Guadalajara, Iguana Producciones, Ventana Films, Prime Films S.L., October Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“That fucker does nothing but shit and piss all day, and he wants to live longer?” – Angel de la Guardia

Cronos is the film that introduced the world to the talents of one of the most sought after film directors of the last several years, Guillermo del Toro. It was also del Toro’s first feature length film, following his shorts Geometria and Doña Lupe. He also had eight unreleased shorts before those.

This film is a vampire story but not in the traditional sense. While humans become monsters that need blood to survive, it is a uniquely original take on the concept.

In Cronos, there is a device that is in the shape of a golden scarab. Within the scarab is an insect connected to a lot of clock-like gears. The mechanism attaches to a person, taking their blood but giving them youth and vitality. The human then needs to drink blood to feed himself and the machine. An antique dealer and a rich eccentric battle over the ownership of the device with the rich eccentric employing his hulking nephew (Ron Perlman) as his muscle.

The device itself seems like a respectful nod to the Lament Configuration from the Hellraiser film series. It is a tiny mechanical device imbued with supernatural power that physically hurts its possessor while giving them extraordinary gifts and eventually pain and death. I don’t know if this was intentional by del Toro, not that it even matters, but the two devices have a lot of similarities.

While del Toro had a lot of practice making a slew of short films, being that this is his first real feature, it is impressive. It is visually stunning and uncomfortably enchanting. It is a dark fantasy world but feels like it is within the boundaries of reality. It is gritty and beautiful and there is a great balance between light and dark from a visual and narrative standpoint.

The acting is pretty solid and Ron Perlman is really great in this. I kind of wish his part was a bit bigger but it established his long-time friendship and working relationship with del Toro and even though he had a lot of acting credits before this, it kind of feels like a new chapter in his career, moving on from mostly being known behind a lot of makeup as the Beast from the late 80s Beauty and the Beast television series.

I liked this motion picture quite a lot. It doesn’t have as strong of an effect as del Toro’s later pictures but it is certainly his movie and fits well alongside the others.