mumfeat

Mummies of Guanajuato

One need only glance over the many titles in the lucha movie genre to see that there is a long history of enmity between Mexican wrestlers and mummies. This goes all the way back to 1964, when Elizabeth Campbell and Lorena Velazquez threw down against a pop-eyed, reconstituted Aztec warrior in their sophomore effort as The Wrestling Women, Las Luchadoras contra la Momia, and continued throughout the rest of the sixties, during which Santo, the most celebrated movie luchadore of them all, would come up against shambling bandage jockeys in films like Santo and Blue Demon vs. The Monsters and La Venganza de la Momia. But the conflict didn’t really kick into high gear until 1972, when the success of a little film called The Mummies of Guanajuato (aka Las Momias de Guanajuato) guaranteed that, for the next several years, Mexican movie screens would seldom see respite from the spectacle of colorfully-garbed, masked Mexican grapplers working their moves on a seemingly endless series of inexplicably muscular mummified adversaries.

The Mummies of Guanajuato was the brainchild of Mexican independent producer, distributor and writer Rogelio Agrasanchez. Now, Agrasanchez is a figure whom I have decidedly conflicting feelings toward. His wrestling films are generally emblematic of the type of haste and neglect that plagued the lucha genre during the 1970s, marked by sloppy storytelling rife with plot holes and continuity errors, lackadaisical pacing, hunger-strike production values, extremely hit-or-miss technical execution, and a patience-testing reliance on padding — often in the form of footage lifted from other films, as well as poorly integrated musical numbers, beauty pageants, and anything else they could squeeze in — that definitely gives the impression of films that were made on the fly with very little prior story consideration or planning. Of course, Agrasanchez was not the only Lucha filmmaker of the period who was guilty of these sins, and it should be kept in mind that this was a time during which, first of all, audience interest in the genre was waning and, second of all, government financial support for commercial Mexican films, which had been plentiful during the sixties, was at a temporary ebb due to a shift in priorities toward funding more “respectable” fare. As a result, the profitability of such films dictated a need for thrift and speed that Agrasanchez alone can’t be held personally accountable for.

Still, the fact is that lucha libre films were never big budget items, and what one sees occurring over the lifespan of the genre, from the dawn of the sixties to the end of the seventies, is not so much a reduction in the amount of money spent as a reduction in the amount of care put into insuring that the films were actually coherent or watchable. While an early film like Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro seems to be the work of accomplished craftsmen determined to deliver an engaging and atmospheric example of B movie entertainment to the fullest extent that their modest means would allow, many of Agrasanchez’s films seem to demonstrate a concern primarily with attaining acceptable feature-length by any means necessary while delivering the minimum number of bankable elements at the most minimal expenditure of time and resources possible.

While, again, these faults were not those of Rogelio Agrasanchez alone, that is not to say that he didn’t, in many other ways, put his own personal stamp upon his work in the field. And, to give the man his due, I would here like to list those contributions to Mexican wrestling cinema that are indeed uniquely Agrasanchez’s own. These are elements that you can not only count on from pretty much any one of his lucha films, but that also mark those film as being distinctly his. The first of these would have to be…

…Midgets. Sure, there were midgets in lucha movies before Rogelio Agrasanchez came upon the scene — most notably Waldo, the hunchback in Santo and Blue Demon vs. The Monsters. Furthermore, The Mummies of Guanajuato, by Agrasanchez’s standards, is fairly conservative in it use of little people, limiting itself to only one in the cast. But, generally, Agransanchez’s thinking seemed to be that, if you were going to have one midget, you might as well have a whole posse of them. It seemed he felt that there was something intrinsically much more thrilling about having a burly masked wrestler fighting several midgets as opposed to just one normal-sized man. The result saw the employment of a troupe of wee folk that I like to call The Agrasanchez Midgets in film after film. They wore matching superhero costumes with big “M”s emblazoned on their chests in The Champions of Justice, little moonman suits in Superzan el Invencible, rat-person costumes fashioned from fuzzy footy pajamas in The Champions of Justice Return, and appeared as fanged mini-vampires in the Mil Mascaras effort The Vampires of Coyoacan, which is probably one of the producer’s most enjoyable films.

Now there is nothing inherently wrong with this, of course, and, upon first encounter, you can’t beat the sheer entertainment value of watching a big, musclebound lug like Mil Mascaras or Tinieblas trying to pretend that he’s being taken down by a gang of clamoring homunculi. In cases where the featured wrestlers are in less than peak physical condition, I can even see the utility of such mismatched pairings. But over time it comes to seem like evidence of an absurdly obstinate aversion to opportunity when a film has athletes such as these at its disposal and dedicates most of their screen time to pitting them against opponents a sixth their size. The result is that, impressively and against the odds, these pictures often manage within ninety minutes to drain something as awesome sounding as masked-wrestler-midget-fighting of much of its novelty and entertainment value.

Another hallmark of Agrasanchez’s films is a reliance on musical accompaniment that is inappropriate to the point of approaching ironic commentary. In the case of The Mummies of Guanajuato, this is perpetrated by frequent lucha movie scorer Gustavo Cesar Carrion in the form of sedately jaunty organ riffs that bring to mind nothing more than heavily medicated mental patients on furlough traversing endless dazed circles around an ice skating rink. Still, Guanajuato is far from the worst offender in this regard. The soundtrack to The Champions of Justice is much more typical, seemingly comprised of the producer just letting a sub-par West Coast Jazz album side play out over all of the action, with the result that every bit of screen business — be it Mil Mascaras hurling a midget or Blue Demon staring blankly at a cue card — carries the same negligible dramatic weight.

The Champions of Justice also represents another one of the trends that ran through Agrasanchez’s lucha work, and that was his tendency to stuff his films full of as many masked wrestlers as they could possibly hold. Of course, that he would do so is not all that surprising, given that Champions — which featured a total of six luchadores, including heavy-hitters Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras — was one of his early successes in the genre. Audiences had seen wrestlers paired onscreen before in the several films that teamed Santo and Blue Demon, but it was Agrasanchez who made the use of small armies comprised of three or more fighters his own. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. In fact it’s a great idea. It’s just that the half-heartedness of Agrasanchez and his crew’s execution so frequently resulted in these films being so much less than the sum of their parts and, as such, fragrant of wasted opportunity. I realize that a lot of people reserve a fond place in their hearts for The Champions of Justice, but I can’t help thinking that they do so as a result of being in love more with what the film promises than with what it actually delivers.

The dependence of Agrasanchez on multiple wrestlers to make up his casts lead the producer to even invent new wrestlers of his own, which brings me to the last of the cinematic offenses he committed that I will comment upon here: Superzan. Superzan was a bodybuilder by the name of Alfonse Mora who Agrasanchez styled as a masked wrestler/superhero (the name was meant to suggest a combination of Superman and Tarzan) to both star in his own series of films and fill-out the bill in some of the producer’s multi-wrestler extravaganzas — such as the aforementioned Vampires of Coyoacan and the final entry in the Champions of Justice trilogy. Aside from a black hole-like lack of charisma, Superzan’s biggest liability was probably his costume. While, by this time, other wrestling heroes were affecting a more casual look, wearing their street clothes, or at least a more basic wrestling ensemble, with their masks, Superzan in the field always wore a complete, head-to-toe superhero outfit complete with cape, sparkly skin-tight body suit and boots. When paired with a comparatively less flamboyant wrestler, this made him look kind of like the kid who insists on wearing his costume to the grocery store the day after Halloween. On top of this, it didn’t help matters that the film meant to launch Superzan into stardom, Superzan el Invencible, is among the most lackluster and incomprehensible in Agrasanchez’s body of work, so leaden with pointless filler that it stubbornly defies even the most masochistic viewer’s efforts to view it to its conclusion.

Now that I’ve spent several paragraphs ardently running Rogelio Agrasanchez’s contributions to lucha cinema into the ground, let me shift gears a bit and focus on another, quite different aspect of his career in film. This occurred later in his life, when he began to take interest in the preservation of Mexican commercial cinema’s history, an interest which involved him acquiring and preserving, not only many original negatives of classic films, but also countless posters, lobby cards and other examples of Mexican film-related ephemera. In the 1980s, his son, Rogelio Jr., also began to take an interest in this project, and is today the owner and curator of the Agrasanchez Film Archive in Harlingen, Texas, home to thousands of movies and pieces of memorabilia from throughout the long and varied history of Mexican film. Apropos of the diversity of its contents, the archive boasts an ethos that is refreshingly egalitarian, catering to the standard scholarly interests while at the same time reflecting an attitude that The Braniac is every bit as worthy of study as Los Olvidados.

Now, to give you some idea of just how high my esteem is for efforts such as those of the Agrasanchez family, let me just say the following: Here at Teleport City, there is not a single day that passes — not one single day — in which we are not tortured — tortured! — by the fact that we will probably never be able to see the Filipino monster vs. superhero mash-up Batman Fights Dracula or the similarly tantalizing-sounding Turkish effort Killink vs. Frankenstein — this largely due to the low premium those films’ respective countries of origin placed on the preservation of their national popular cinema. On the other hand, we do not take lightly the fact that, when it comes to Mexican cinema, if we hear about a film such as, say, the science fiction/western/musical La Nave de los Monstruos, or the Sixties spy spoof Cazadores de Espias, in which a masked luchadore can be seen fighting a robot while a scantily clad Maura Monti go-go dances ringside, we can rest assured in the knowledge that sooner or later we’ll probably be able to scare up a copy. Of course, I realize that this is not due to the efforts of the Agrasanchez family alone, but those efforts are emblematic of both an abiding respect for their nation’s cinematic history and a forward-thinking understanding of the need for preservation of the type that makes the lives of basement-dwelling world cinema obsessives like ourselves less of the recipe for serial disappointment and despair than it otherwise might be.

In fact, so deep is my appreciation for Rogelio Agrasanchez in this regard that every negative word I cast in the direction of his efforts as a filmmaker is like a dagger plunged into my own side, making the preface of this review something akin to my own little private circle of Hell.

The primary reason that The Mummies of Guanajuato had the success that it did is because it marked the first time that the three biggest stars of lucha libre — and of lucha cinema, for that matter — had appeared onscreen together, those three stars being Santo, Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras. I’ve devoted a lot of words to the careers of both Santo and Blue Demon, but for those not well versed in the particulars of Mexican wrestling movies, Mil Mascaras will probably need some introduction. Like Santo and Blue Demon, Mil Mascaras (the name means “Thousand Masks”) had enjoyed success in his own series of films prior to making The Mummies of Guanajuato, though, beyond that, he was separated from his costumed co-stars by some marked differences in terms of both his personal style and his career path.

Mil, who was born Aaron Rodriguez in 1942, began his screen career in 1966 under the guidance of low budget independent film producer Luis Enrique Vergara. Vergara had produced popular lucha film series for both Santo and Blue Demon, but, by the time of signing Mil, had found himself without a star as a result of Santo moving on to greener paychecks and Blue suffering a debilitating injury that would keep him off the boards for a matter of months. Now, one major difference at this point between Mil and those other two stars at the dawn of their respective movie-making careers, aside from the fact that he was considerably younger, is that, unlike Santo and Blue, who began their film careers later in life and thus made films that capitalized upon the stardom that they had already achieved in the ring, Mil at the time of his screen debut was a relatively unknown up-and-comer, a fact which made Vergara casting him something of a gamble on the producer’s part. As a result, Mil Mascaras was unique among lucha cinema’s top stars in that his public persona had in part been established as a result of him appearing in these films, rather than the other way around. Of course, he would later go on to prove himself in the ring and, in that regard, achieve international fame that would in some ways even surpass Santo’s, but that does not change the fact that, unlike his peers, he was, to some extent, a movie star first and a wrestler second, which may explain some of those differences in style that I referred to earlier.

For one thing, Mil was a dedicated bodybuilder, and had a lean, chiseled physique that was a marked contrast to the stockier builds seen on many of the wrestling stars of the day. This not only made him stand out, but also fit in nicely with the superheroic persona that Vergara had crafted for him. (Mil Mascaras, his scrupulously titled debut film, even fitted him with a Captain America-like origin story, in which, left orphaned as an infant during the war, he is raised by a team of scientists to be an invincible super soldier.) Beyond that, Mil brought a rockstar-like flamboyance to his style of dress that seemed exceptionally peacock-like even within the context of the colorful world of lucha libre. This may have been the result of his chosen gimmick, which was to wear numerous masks as opposed to one distinctive one, and which might have lead him to feel the need to visually distinguish himself by other means. Still, despite the name, the number of different masks he wore numbered far less than a thousand, and was generally limited to several highly identifiable models — my favorite being a toothy green dragon number that looks like it could have been designed by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth.

The reason for Mil’s signature sartorial style was more likely that he was just a big, glammy ham. And God bless him for it, because his clothes alone exponentially increase the entertainment value of any movie in which he appears. In The Mummies of Guanajuato, for instance, he spends much of his screen time wearing a pair of leopard print hotpants on top of a pair of gold lame wrestling tights, topped off with a red velvet vest with gold trim worn over a bare chest. As pimp-tastic as that may sound, it is only a distant second in splendor to the outfit he wore in the loose Mummies of Guanajuato sequel, The Mummies of San Angel, which consisted of a silver, billowy-sleeved pirate shirt paired with a vest that had his face — in starburst, of course — emblazoned on the back.

The Mummies of Guanajuato was originally intended to be a starring vehicle for Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras alone, but doubts on Agrasanchez’s part that their names would carry the necessary box office clout lead him to make the eleventh hour addition of Santo to the cast just for good measure. Mil Mascaras reacted to the resulting dimunition of his role with pragmatic stoicism, but for Blue Demon this was just another insult in a long history of rivalry with el Enmascarado de Plata, and would reportedly remain a thorn in his side for the rest of his life. To Blue’s point, Agrasanchez and company were certainly less than sensitive to their top billed stars’ feelings in the ham-handed manner in which they inserted Santo into the action, essentially using him as a deus ex machina who shows up at the end to save the day with relatively little effort after Blue and Mil have proven ineffective for much of the previous running time. While Santo was basically credited as a special guest star, with Blue and Mil’s names above the title, the true nature of his participation can be gleaned from the title that the movie was given upon its release in Spain later the same year: Santo vs. las Momias.

Now to fully understand and enjoy The Mummies of Guanajuato, one has to appreciate that the “mummies” of its title are not the kind of mummies that viewers of English language horror films are normally accustomed to, as, rather than being ancient mummies that are man-made in origin, they are naturally occurring mummies of much more recent vintage. The real Mummies of Guanajuato were corpses — many of them casualties of a cholera epidemic that swept the city in 1933 — that were disinterred from a cemetery in the Mexican city of Guanajuato between the years of 1896 and 1958 — said disinterment being the result of a law that required loved ones to pay an annual grave tax in order to keep their dearly departed safely ensconced underground. Inevitably, some of those loved ones were unable or unavailable to make payment of that tax, and so up from the crypt old Aunt Paola and Uncle Gustavo came. Once those bodies were brought back into the cold light of day, it was found that many of them had undergone a natural process of mummification, the result, it has been conjectured, of soil and atmospheric conditions unique to the area.

As novel as that is in itself, the thing that ended up making the real-life Mummies of Guanajuato the stuff of legend, as well as a popular tourist attraction, is the fact that many of their faces were contorted in what appeared to be horrified screams. While this has been explained away by some dull scientific types as a natural result of the skin constricting in the course of mummification, the creepier and, thus, much preferable explanation is that these particular mummies had been cholera victims who had been hastily buried before they were completely and verifiably dead. So, as fascinating as we might like to pretend that the phenomenon of naturally occurring mummification is to us, it is, understandably, this tantalizing, spook show aspect of the mummies that has kept the coins of paying customers pouring into the till of the museum in Guanajuato where they are lovingly displayed.

The movie The Mummies of Guanajuato indoctrinates us into its idiosyncratically meandering and lackadaisical way with storytelling in its very opening moments, treating us to a startlingly ponderous sequence in which the camera appears to be following a tour bus in real time through the entire length of the city. Finally the bus comes to a stop at the Mummies of Guanajuato museum, at which point its party disembarks, lead by a miniature tour guide going by the name of Penguin (Jorge Pinguino, here the only little person in the cast, but otherwise a key member of the Agrasanchez Midgets in most of the other movies in which they appeared). Soon thereafter we are given a view of the actual Mummies of Guanajuato, which are every bit as creepy as advertised. After a few introductory words, Penguin then leads the group into another room where a group of “special” mummies are housed. These seven mummies, he explains, are, for reasons unknown, markedly less decomposed than the others, and he’s not kidding. The muscle tone on these things is amazing. This, of course, is because they are portrayed by a group of professional wrestlers who have been mummied-up with tattered clothing and hash-faced zombie make-up.

At the center of this group of special mummies is a towering figure with a droopy-eyed make-up job that looks very similar to Gary Conway’s in I Was a Teenage Frankenstein. This, Penguin tells the assembled vacationers, is a former wrestler called Satan, and he is portrayed by Manuel Leal, who we last saw as the goateed Frankenstein’s monster in Santo and Blue Demon vs. The Monsters, and who would also gain fame both in the ring and in a number of Agrasanchez’s multi-starrer lucha movies as the masked wrestler Tinieblas. Satan, Penguin continues, lost his championship title to an identically named and masked ancestor of Santo a hundred years previous and, at that time, having allegedly made a pact with the devil, swore to return from the dead a hundred years hence to seek vengeance upon el Enmascerado de Plata‘s descendants and supporters. In response to this, one of the tourists innocently asks on which day Satan’s curse would come due. Why, “exactly today”, replies Penguin after a bit of mental calculation. Then, having neatly set up the entire plot of The Mummies of Guanajuato, he promptly moves on without a word of explanation as to the identities of the other six preternaturally burly mummies on display.

The notion of the mantle of Santo being a legacy handed down from generation to generation is not unique to The Mummies of Guanajuato, and was in fact a plot element in a number of earlier Santo movies. Films like 1965′s Baron Brakola and 1969′s El Mundo de los Muertos even presented a Colonial era version of Santo called the Caballero Enmascarado de Plata. This character was usually simply portrayed by Santo wearing a frilly collar along with his mask, and required the wrestler to engage in some fancy rapier work in addition to his usual moves, though on occasion another actor was brought in for the role. The device was generally used just as it is in The Mummies of Guanajuato: to justify the supernatural appearance of some vengeance-seeking foe of one of Santo’s ancestors in the present day, a situation whose frequent re-occurrence throughout the series gives the clear impression that Santo’s forebears were not very good at settling their own scores in their own time.

It probably goes without saying that, soon after Penguin drops the bomb about Satan’s very imminent, if fabled, return — and once the museum has been cleared of visitors — the diminutive guide catches a glimpse of the hulking cadaver starting to shudder back to life. In response, he faints and lapses into druggy, fish-eye-lens-shot visions of the wrestler-mummies pawing at him hungrily, at which point the movie’s action shifts to the nearby Santa Fe Inn. Here is where best friends Lina (played by 70s lucha movie fixture Elsa Cardenaz) and Alicia (Patricia Ferrer) earn their daily bread, the former as a lounge singer and the latter as a cigarette girl. Lina is Mil Mascaras’ girlfriend, though, because she appears to live in Guanajuato and Mil Mascaras seems to only come through town when his fight schedule requires, I’m not sure whether she’s his girlfriend girlfriend, or just, you know , his girlfriend in Guanajuato. (Oh, snap, upon a repeat pass I caught a bit I missed in which she threatens to return Mil’s engagement ring, which pretty much settles that question. Sorry Lina.)

Anyway, because we have just had several uninterrupted minutes of fairly solid plot development, it is now time for us to watch a musical number performed by an unidentified woman who plays absolutely no part in the rest of the film, despite the fact that we have just been introduced to a major character who is a singer. Once this is over, Penguin stumbles into the lounge in an agitated state, at which point we learn that, while we have been watching the lady sing, the plot of The Mummies of Guanajuato has moved on without us. Penguin tells us and the girls that, upon reviving from his faint, he found the body of Satan missing, and, upon follow-up, the three of them find footprints leading away from the pedestal on which it had stood. Fortunately, Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras are in town, and so the girls race with Penguin in tow to the arena where they are appearing, which affords the opportunity for a lengthy wrestling sequence in which Mil and Blue fight a tag team match against a couple of identically bearded goons.

After the match, Lina, Alicia and Penguin, having made their way back to our stars’ dressing room, find Blue and Mil in a much less heroic mood than they might have hoped for. It seems that both have had their memories wiped of all those encounters with vampires, werewolves, space aliens and mummies that have marked their cinematic careers up to this point, causing them to scoff at Penguin’s story and instead offer all kinds of pragmatic-sounding explanations for why the mummy might be missing. This is something that happens in lucha movies from time to time, especially in those starring Santo: a sort of periodic slate-cleaning that I appreciate for the simple reason that it prevents anyone from ever being able to make reference to a Santo “universe” or “canon”, which would in turn necessitate that I kill them or scream the word “no” into their ears so loudly and protractedly that they forget their own names.

In any case, Blue Demon will ultimately pay for his arrogance, as later that night, when he is leaving the deserted arena, the reanimated Satan comes up and clobbers him from behind. Satan then stands ringside and has a mummy flashback to his fateful match with Santo’s ancestor all those years ago, providing another opportunity for a long wrestling sequence, during which no attempt to convey period is made whatsoever. Afterward, and perhaps with the intention of working his way up gradually to fighting within his own weight class, he kills the elderly caretaker at the arena and then an old drunk guy whom he encounters on the street outside. Later, the Guanajuato police will speculate that the manner of death of these two victims — i.e., ass kicking — suggests that a professional wrestler might be the culprit.

Now, armed with clear evidence of sinister supernatural doings afoot, Blue, Mil and the girls hit the streets — Blue in his Alpha Romeo, and the rest in Mil’s awesome green dune buggy — to do some mummy hunting. They are not so successful in this respect, but they do come across some kind of street fare where some people in Colonial era garb are performing some kind of folk tune on traditional instruments, which enables us to take a much needed breather from what has been yet another several minutes of uninterrupted plot development. Afterward, to pick up the slack, Penguin does his part to move things along by thoughtfully phoning Blue to let him know that he is being murdered by Satan at that very moment. The group rush to Penguin’s apartment, only to find that Satan has had yet one more success in his campaign to practice his wrestling skills upon only the most impossibly over-matched opponents.

One of the positive aspects of The Mummies of Guanajuato is that it is one of those infrequent lucha pictures that actually tries to provide its luchadore heroes with some back-story and character development. This is done, not only by providing Mil Mascaras with a love interest, but also by introducing a subplot involving Blue Demon having a young adopted son, Julio, who comes to stay with him while he’s in Guanajuato. What’s most surprising about this particular tack is how effective it is. Blue actually manages to convey some genuine warmth and affection in those scenes he shares with the kid, and watching him wrestle playfully with Julio and pretend to be incapacitated by his fledgling attempt at a face-lock is both enjoyable and affecting. It just confirms all of those warm and fuzzy feelings I’ve always had for Blue — forever and undeservedly the earnest and striving second banana — and makes it all the more sad when the whole picture ends up getting jerked out from under him.

And it is at this point, in the aftermath of Penguin’s murder, that Blue Demon makes a couple of decisions that seriously put into question his leadership skills. First of all, he determines that the group shouldn’t report Penguin’s death to the authorities, for the reason that “they’d think it was us”, despite the fact that — even though, by doing so, he is predicting a plot development that is still a ways off from actually happening — there has been little reason established at this point why they would. Second of all, he fatefully rejects Mil Mascaras’ suggestion that they get Santo involved, protesting that that would be exactly what the damn mummy wants. Of course, this is only a bad decision in light of how everything turns out, as it provides Blue with a mouthful of words that he will ultimately have to eat. Finally, as they make their way out of Penguin’s apartment, the gang is confronted by Satan and the other six wrestler-mummies, whose resurrection is as yet and will remain unexplained. After a bit of grappling, Blue Demon declares the Mummies indestructible and orders a retreat, setting the tone for all of Mil and Blue’s further encounters with the mummies over the remaining course of the movie.

Compounding The Mummies of Guanajuato‘s insult to Blue is the fact that it includes undoubtedly the most humiliating enactment of the time-tested “Evil Blue Demon” gimmick in his filmography. As I’ve mentioned in my other reviews, it became typical in those films starring both Santo and Blue Demon for an evil version of Blue Demon to be introduced — either by way of Blue being somehow brainwashed or possessed, or via the introduction of a malevolent double — so that fans could see Santo and Blue — who were rivals in the ring, but allies on screen — fight one another while still preserving their status as cinematic BFFs. Somehow this trope eventually achieved a life beyond its initial utility and began to turn up in even those films in which Blue didn’t have to fight Santo, as if audiences just grew to expect it. In the case of The Mummies of Guanajuato, the trick is simply accomplished by having the evil mummy Satan sneak up and clobber Blue from behind, then steal both his mask and the clothes off his back and give them to one of his hench-mummies to carry out the impersonation. That hench-mummy then dresses up as Blue and goes out and kills some people, leading the police to suspect Blue in earnest. Soon the TV is broadcasting reports that Blue Demon is wanted and “on the run”, despite the fact that he’s still just hanging out with Mil at Lina and Alicia’s place like he was before all this happened.

In terms of box office success, The Mummies of Guanajuato was a sort of last hurrah for the once lucrative lucha genre, enjoying a run in Mexico City that, at nine weeks, was longer than that of any Santo movie previous or since. As a result, a slew of sequels was spawned in its wake, none of which were able to duplicate its impact, mainly due to the fact that they were unable to feature the same assemblage of talent (Superzan was even in one of them). The popularity of the film even had consequences for the actual Mummies of Guanajuato, as the museum where they were housed saw a considerable rise in attendance as a result of the free publicity. That the film’s impact was so profound is all the more impressive when you consider what an aimless, lazily-constructed mess The Mummies of Guanajuato is. You’d have to be kind of humorless, however, to also not find it to be a good bit of fun, and it is that, combined with the thrill of seeing its three heavy hitting stars sharing the screen for the first time, that I imagine accounted for its broad appeal.

As I suggested earlier, The Mummies of Guanajuato then plays out as a series of encounters between Mil and Blue and the mummies, during which the mummies manage to do considerable damage and Mil and Blue’s efforts prove to have little effect whatsoever. Finally, someone behind the scenes decides that a suitable amount of running time has been achieved, and that it is time for a hastily contrived, entirely coincidence-dependent ending to be fashioned in order to wrap things up. To that end, Santo and his manager (played by his actual manager and frequent screen sidekick Carlos Suarez), while driving home from a match, just happen to decide to stop for the night in Guanajuato, pulling into the town square just as the mummies are attacking a group of townspeople. After a brief scuffle, Santo, echoing Blue’s earlier sentiments, declares the mummies “undefeatable’ and retreats, but soon returns to the fray, soon after to be joined in the fight by Mil and Blue. Things are looking grim for a moment, until Santo, in a moment of sudden inspiration, asks Mil to go fetch some flamethrower pistols that are sitting on the seat of his car. Mil dutifully complies, and when he gets to Santo’s car — what do you know? — there the pistols are, right on the seat where Carlos Suarez had been sitting only moments before. Mil returns and distributes the pistols to Santo and Blue, after which the three of them open fire, quickly reducing all of the previously indestructible mummies to piles of smoking ash like so many spent Black Snakes. Everyone laughs, and Lina turns to Blue Demon and says, “You would have saved a lot of trouble if you had called Santo on time.” Ouch.

In fact, it is by virtue of its very shortcomings that The Mummies of Guanajuato provides a perfect example of the lucha genre’s beauty and magic. It is a film that — without the presence of Blue Demon, Mil Mascaras and Santo — would be completely unwatchable, but that, somehow, by its inclusion of three grown men who conduct all of their affairs from behind constricting and colorfully ornamented full head masks, attains an added dimension that renders it irresistibly compelling. You could perhaps call it “surrealism” or “absurdity”, but I think that, for me, the real key to these movie’s allure is that, once you make the leap required to accept these improbable figures as your heroes, you have crossed a frontier in the suspension of disbelief that leaves you liberated in a state of unbounded, childlike credulity. Truly, to accept the notion that a masked wrestler in leopard print hotpants and gold lame tights is the world’s best hope against a bunch of murderous mummies that all look like Hulk Hogan wearing a rubber fright mask from Walgreen’s brings with it a joy of surrender paralleled by few other experiences on Earth.

The Mummies of Guanajuato is helped in this regard by the fact that, in classic lucha movie tradition — and despite the very obvious fact that no one behind the scenes was taking things very seriously at all — everyone in front of the camera plays it completely straight throughout. At no time are you in doubt that any of our protagonists see these wrestlers in crappy zombie make-up as being anything but the gravest threat that the Earth has ever confronted. For all the fun that could be had at the expense of Blue, Santo and Mil’s acting abilities, that’s a pretty impressive feat, because I doubt that I, in their shoes, could have done a comparable job of keeping a straight face.

In the final analysis, then, The Mummies of Guanajuato, while by no means a great film, is nonetheless an important one in the history of lucha cinema, not to mention one that’s a stupid good time if you know what you’re getting into. For myself, the film generates enough goodwill by virtue of its sheer goofiness that I’m willing to overlook most of its many flaws in the interest of just going along and enjoying the ride. Most of its flaws, that is, except one: and that would be the disrespect shown toward my man Blue Demon. It just pains me to think that Blue went into this project thinking that it would be a star vehicle, only to have it turn into something of a prolonged joke at his expense. And the thought that, as a result, he began each of his remaining days by mumbling bitterly into his Cornflakes about Santo and his stupid flamethrower pistols — while admittedly funny, though in a totally rueful way — brings me no joy at all. The man clearly deserved better.

Still, I take heart in the fact that Blue Demon’s film career was far from over at this point, with a number of its high points still ahead. I also take solace in those few moments in The Mummies of Guanajuato when the film, taking a break from making him the butt of its jokes, actually manages to place Blue Demon in a suitably iconic context. Such is the movie’s final sequence, in which he, Santo and Mil ride smiling off into the sunset — Blue and Santo in their respective sports cars, and Mil in his dune buggy. At that moment, all of those perhaps less than spectacular exploits that we’ve witnessed on the parts of our heroes over the past ninety minutes are wiped away, and we see them only as their most perfect selves: three titans of lucha cinema heading off toward the vast unknown, heartily embracing the promise of greater dangers and grander adventures ahead. It’s such an inspiring image that, even though we know that said promise will ultimately be realized by way of cheesy and unconvincing monster make-up and charity haunted house-level special effects — not to mention padded to within an inch of its life with lengthy wrestling matches and unwanted musical numbers — we cannot help but want to follow along.

Release Year: 1972 | Country: Mexico | Starring: Blue Demon, Mil Mascaras, Santo, Elsa Cardenas, Juan Gallardo, Jorge Pinguino, Manuel Leal, Julio Cesar, Carlos Suarez, Patricia Ferrer | Screenplay: Rogelio Agrasanchez, Rafael Garcia Travesi | Director: Federico Curiel | Cinematographer: Enrique Wallace | Music: Gustavo Cesar Carrion | Producer: Rogelio Agrasanchez | Also known as: Las Momias de Guanajuato; Santo vs. Las Momias

7 thoughts on “Mummies of Guanajuato”

  1. Great review.I sometimes dream of someone writing a parallel history of lucha movies, based on the figure of Santo as just plain evil.I mean, stealing the show from poor Blue here; sneaking in women’s dressing rooms to watch them in other films – was there nothing beneath him?

  2. I’d write it as a sort of All About Eve style backstage drama. I’ve come around to that opinion a bit as I’ve been writing these reviews. Not that I thinks Santo is evil, but he did seem to do a lot of resting on his laurels while, on the other hand, Mil Mascaras and Blue always seemed to never give less than 100%. Despite that, they never seemed to get the same level of recognition for their film efforts, such as, for instance, the honor of having K. Gordon Murray prepare horribly dubbed versions of their films for the American television market.

  3. When we first got the chance to see a stack of the Santo/Blue team-ups thanks to the now sadly defunct Rise Above dvd label, my friends and I were amused by how every movie consisted of a lot of Santo smiling and saying “Let’s figure this out” while Blue was all jumping around and ready to kick some ass.I agree with Todd that Santo deserves his fame, but Blue and Mil deserve the same amount of fame. Watching any combination of those three always makes me happy, even when the movies are at their worst. Heck, I even love the Champions of Justice movies.But yeah — there’s no saving Superzan, is there?

  4. I can’t help it either, the three make me happy as well.One always wants to be on the side of the underdog, I suppose, so it’s no wonder that one starts defending poor Blue against Santo. I’ll see if I can’t find something nice to say about Superzan – I have his two solo outings on my to watch pile, looking as innocently goofy as can be.

  5. “I’ll see if I can’t find something nice to say about Superzan”House, that is a review that I will be looking forward to reading. I agree with you guys on all counts. For one thing, though they did fewer films, I still think it counts for something that the gems-to-stinkers ratio in the filmographies of both Blue and Mil is much higher than in Santo’s — and if, for instance, the Mil Mascaras movie Las Vampiras had gotten the same U.S. television exposure that those old Santo movies did, there is no doubt in my mind that it would have a huge cult following today.

  6. “a sort of periodic slate-cleaning that I appreciate for the simple reason that it prevents anyone from ever being able to make reference to a Santo “universe” or “canon”,”I can’t decide if this is meant as a joke. A brief browse of the Wikipedia pages devoted to any of the Marvel or DC characters shows that there are plenty of people out there who enjoy keeping track of six different continuity timelines at once.

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