Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Las momias de Guanajuato (1972)

... aka: El santo contra las momias (Santo vs. the Mummies)
... aka: Guanajuato's Mummies
... aka: Mummies of Guanajuato, The
... aka: Santo contre les momies de Guanajuato (Santo vs. the Mummies of Guanajuato)

Directed by:
Federico Curiel

Because of a burial tax, the bodies of many deceased in Guanajuato, Mexico (ones which were either unclaimed or had relatives who couldn't pay to keep them buried) were dug up and then stored in a building. There, the bodies went through a natural mummification process. Due to the amount of tourists flocking to the area to get a look at the mummies, a museum (El Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato) was finally opened in 1969 to display the well-preserved corpses in. Now many of them stand around in well-lit glass cases. Well, except for the dead babies, which sit in their own case. Some are still dressed. Others aren't. Some still have hair while others are bald. Many have their arms crossed and a good number of them have hauntingly agonized looks on their faces (supposedly many had died of cholera). Among the mummies is a woman who appears to have been buried alive, a mummified fetus taken from a pregnant corpse's womb and corpses that have been taken out of their cases and posed on benches so visitors can take selfies with them (!!)

The museum is still open to this day and remains a popular tourist destination but I've gotta admit I'd never personally set foot in this place. While I'm not religious myself, the over eighty percent of Mexicans who identify as Roman Catholic are, so you'd think the concept of putting corpses on display and then charging money to see them would be considered a bit, I dunno, blasphemous, right? After all, these are bodies that should have never been taken out of the ground in the first place. They are not intentionally-preserved mummies like in Egypt but corpses that have only been disinterred because their families didn't have the money to pay an annual tax. It's on those grounds I have an issue with the museum. It seems like just another way; a very, very tasteless way, to exploit poor people even in death.

Speaking of exploitation, the museum had barely been open for a year when this film went into production. It starts out as an advertisement / endorsement for the place and presents it like any other spook show attraction. We follow a tour group on a bus as they travel through Guanajuato all the way to the museum. We get some nice looks at the city and it indeed appears like it would be a cool city to visit. An alcoholic dwarf tour guide named Penguin (Jorge Pinguino) leads the group through a cemetery (where the "mummies" should be!) to the museum while trying to scare them with stories about how some visitors have died of heart attacks while viewing the exhibit. He claims some may have been buried alive and explains how the cities dry climate mummified the corpses but leaves out that little detail about how the bodies ended up there in the first place. We get plenty of leering shots of the corpses as they pass through while spooky music plays.

The tour group then enter into another room where (fake) mummies line the walls. One of these is a 7'2" former wrestler named Satan (an uncredited Tinieblas) who is rumored to have made a pact with the devil to become a world champion wrestler back in 1871. He ended up being defeated by a wrestler named Santo but swore he'd return a century later for revenge. A squeamish woman (Mabel Luna) who sees Satan's body move passes out and then, after the tour group angrily leave, Penguin himself faints after witnessing the same. When he awakens, Satan's mummy has disappeared.

Taking a break from the mummy stuff, we visit a nightclub where singer Martha Angelica (playing herself) performs for three minutes. Penguin shows up, has a bunch of drinks and convinces singer Lina (Elsa Cárdenas) and cigarette girl Alicia (Patricia Ferrer) to accompany him to the museum so he can show them that Satan is gone. That's followed soon after by an eight-minute-long wrestling match with the undefeated tag team duo of Blue Demon and Mil Máscaras taking down their competitors. Afterward, Lina (who's the fiancée of Mil Máscaras) and Penguin try to warn them there's a mummy on the loose, but Blue Demon doesn't buy it. His skepticism doesn't last long however after he's knocked out by the mummy and finds the night watchman dead. A wino is then killed, which pulls the obligatory police inspector (Juan Gallardo) into the story.

Other mummies are resurrected and kill off some of the supporting cast in bloodless attacks (necks are broken). Satan gets his hands on Blue Demon's mask and outfit, lures cops to a location at night and then frame him for killing a bum. Next thing Blue knows, his name is all over the evening news as the killer and he's forced to go into hiding. Santo, who just happens to be passing through on his way to a match in San Luis with his agent Mr. Gonzalez (Carlos Suárez), stops in Guanajuato to get a hotel and ends up figuring in the finale, which includes lots of clunkily-choreographed fighting and flamethrower pistols. Despite his third billing, Santo is only seen one other time in the movie when the mummy has a flashback to losing his wrestling bout with Santo's ancestor.

Granted, someone returning from the dead for revenge because they lost a wrestling match 100 years earlier isn't the most compelling plot line in the world but this at least has a few fun elements. The mummy make-up and masks are pretty good (some even look pretty scary!), travelogue footage is decent and there's some amusing teasing about the wrestler's masks being removed, plus some truly amazing outfits, with Mil Máscaras' pink and yellow mask, red vest, animal print trunks and gold tights and cape ensemble being the "best" of the bunch. On the down side, this never generates much in the way of excitement, scenes involving the police are boring (numerous other scenes also drag) and they give Blue Demon an annoying adopted son named Julio (played by Julio César, the son of producer Rogelio Agrasánchez), who, along with not being able to act, does the usual dumb little kid things like trying to follow his dad around and getting himself kidnapped.

While most earlier Mexican wrestling movies were produced cheaply and turned a nice profit, the zenith of all that is right here. This is rumored to be the highest grossing film of them all and it's not too difficult to see why. While this is a pretty mediocre offering, the casting coup of the three most popular Lucha Libre legends in one film, plus capitalizing on the fame of the Guanajuato mummies / museum just as it opened, brought audiences in droves.

There were two follow-ups from the same producer: El robo de las momias de Guanajuato / "Robbery of the Mummies of Guanajuato" (1972) and El castillo de las momias de Guanajuato / "Castle of the Mummies of Guanajuato" (1973). Both of these were directed by Tito Novaro and filmed in Guatemala. Before all of that there was the telenovela Las momias de Guanajuato (1962) produced by Telesistema Mexicano, which eventually became Televisa; the largest mass media company in all of Latin America. And there was the comedy Capulina contra las momias (El terror de Guanajuato) / "Capulina vs. the Mummies: The Terror of Guanajuato" (1973) and the semi-recent animated kid's movie La Leyenda de las Momias de Guanajuato / "The Legend of the Mummies of Guanajuato" (2014).

There were actually two VHS releases for this one (1986 and a 1991 reissue) in the U.S., both on the Mexcinema Video Corp. label and both in Spanish with no subtitles. The Mexican DVD release from Distribuidora Virtual Digital de Mexico comes with both English and French subtitles.

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