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Mystery Science Theater 3000, Season 1, Episode 2: "The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy"
We're just on the second official episode of the series (ignoring "Season 0" from the show's public broadcasting days), and we already have a movie with a short at the start. This was, of course, the way for Mystery Science Theater 3000First aired on the independent TV network KTMA, Mystery Science Theater 3000 grew in popularity when it moved to Comedy Central. Spoofing bad movies, the gang on the show watch the flicks and make jokes about them, entertaining its audience with the same kind of shtick many movies watchers provided on their own (just usually not as funny as the MST3K guys could provide). It became an indelible part of the entertainment landscape from there, and lives on today on Netflix. to fluff out shorter movies to fill the full length of a standard two-hour episode (minus commercial time), so before we get to The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy, we have to get through the first serial episode of "Commando Cody" first.
It's worth noting that The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy is actually the third "Aztec Mummy" film in a series (of five films, no less), the first three of which were all produced in 1957. The fourth film, The Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy, came out in 1964, while an even more unofficial sequel, Mil Mascaras vs. the Aztec Mummy, came out much later in 2007. Clearly there was a fan-base for these films, although sadly MST3k only covered this third film on the set.
Short: Radar Men from the Moon, Chapter 1: "Moon Rocket"
Radar Men from the Moon is the first serial to feature recurring character Commando Cody (played here by George Wallace). In this, the first episode of an eventually 12 episode run, Cody is introduced, working on a moon rocket with civilian partners Joan (Aline Towne), Ted (William Bakewell) and Dick (Gayle Kellogg), but their project is top secret and commissioned by the U.S. Government. Their goal: to get to the moon and make contact with the civilization there. Didn't realize there was a civilization on this moon? Don't worry about it as none of the science in this short film is good.
Oh, and it's worth mentioning that Cody is also a superhero (thus the name "Commando Cody"). When in need, Cody will don a helmet, and jet pack, and fly off into danger to fight crime with... his gun. Honestly, that doesn't seem very heroic, and frankly Cody is a pretty lackluster hero. He's about as capable of a fighter as Captain Kirk (i.e., not at all), and he has a penchant for constantly getting himself into stupid and improbable situations. You know, like just about every other serial character ever written (for reference, see also: 1948's Superman).
This short is, of course, laughably bad, from the improbable "moon men", to the dinky rocket ship that the heroes somehow use to fly to the moon in a matter of hours (or seconds, in the serial's runtime), and, as the MST3K crew points out, the fact that space, apparently, is as bright as daylight if the scenes of the rocket in flight are any indication. I know there are fans of Commando Cody (and that includes George Lucas) but this serial was a total dud. At least Joel and the Robots made it watchable, but I don't think I'll actively go out searching for the rest of the run.
The Main Event
Woof. Generally speaking, if a movie is bad enough to get on MST3K then it's a real stinker, but nothing prepared me for just how bad The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy was going to be. This is just a leaden mess, slow and meandering, without much in the way of plot for most of its (brief, mind you) runtime. The film itself is only an hour long but, despite this, and Joel and the bots doing their best to elevate the material, it was still hard to stay awake through this mess.
In the film (if we even want to call something this short a "film"), we're (re)introduced to Dr. Eduardo Almada (Ramon Gay), discoverer of Popoca the Aztec Mummy (Angel di Stefani). As we're told in flashbacks (and, my god, are there a lot of flashbacks), Gay's wife, Flora (Rosa Arenas), bears a striking resemblance to the Aztec priestess Xochitl. In ancient times, the priestess fell into an affair with Popoca, and, for their crimes, were put to death, Popoca was forced to guard the treasures of Xochitl, a golden breastplate and bracelet that, if put together and used, would somehow guide the user to the treasure of the Aztecs.
Aztec treasure sounds great, of course, so in steps the villain, Dr. Krupp aka, "The Bat" (Luis Aceves Casteneda), am evil scientist bent on gaining the treasure. Unfortunately for The Bat, every time he gets his hands on the mystical relics, the Aztec Mummy wakes up and attacks, nearly killing him before regaining the treasures. This time around, the evil doctor has built a "robot" comprised of a human head and heart encased in a metal body (which would technically make it a "cyborg"). With this beast, the scientist hopes to fend off the Mummy and gain the treasures so he can find the big lost treasure and be rich. RICH!
There are a lot of issues with the film but it all really comes down to the pace. This film is slow, a dragging chore to get through. Much of that is because, as these films were all filmed back-to-back-to-back, starting with The Aztec Mummy and then followed by The Curse of the Aztec Mummy and now this film, there was apparently a lot of back-story to get through. As such, a good 30 minutes of this hour-long film is devoted to recapping everything that happened before. I found it tedious to sit through as we watch old footage with the characters explaining what happened, like we're seeing a boring "what I did on my summer vacation" report.
Of course, if you're paying attention, that means that half the film is just a recap, meaning whatever little bit of actual story is left has to cram into the back half. I have to think if you had actually sat through the previous two films you'd be pissed. You paid good money for all three of these films and all you get with this one is a film recapping everything you just watched, followed by a short, serial-style adventure. The villain, who apparently died at the end of the previous film, improbably comes back only to create a dumb monster and then die again. Seriously, what was the point of all of this?
It's especially egregious when the whole point of the film, as it's put in the title, is to see a robot fight a mummy. That sequence happens in the last few minutes of the last act (with very little of either the robot or the mummy at all before then) and even then it's just so very boring. Each monster walks at the other, waves their hands for a bit, and then bounces off. This isn't a fight so much as a hugging session for a bit before the actor playing the robot gets out of the costume so the film can have the guy playing the mummy rip the costume apart. An epic fight for the ages between two monsters, one mythical and one sci-fi, this was not.
I don't blame Joel and the bots for how tedious this episode was as this is the kind of film I don't think anyone could elevate. This is still early in the run of the show and the whip-crack fast patter over the top of movies hadn't developed yet, but the quips the guys come up with are pretty good. Despite this, though, this film is just too slow, too leaden, to be worth watching. I like old horror films from this bygone era but even I would have to put a hard pass on this film (and, likely, the other two Aztec Mummy films).
If there is a "curse of the mummy" it's that mummies, with very few exceptions, do not make for good movie villains. The curse is being forced to sit through their awful adventures, and this third Aztec Mummy film only confirms that rule.