29 September 2000 | kikaidar
How Not To (Re)Make A Horror Movie
If you've been a movie fan for any great length of time. you'll have heard about "that" film.
No, this isn't any one, particular film. It's more a glaring example of what's basically wrong with the film making/releasing process as a whole, and it can wear many faces.
It can be a MADMEN OF MANDORAS, any of Coleman Francis's universally depressing little ventures, or a piece of mauled footage such as this wretched version of the initial AZTEC MUMMY.
Wherever the film was made, whoever distributed it, and whoever took it into their empty little head to inflict a very, very painfully flawed personal vision on us all, there's always ONE film you can dredge up to sum up what is, for you, everything negative about the movie industry.
My personal pick, after sitting through it this evening, is the dismal Jerry Warren ATTACK OF THE MAYAN MUMMY. I ordered this title from the American distributor, simply on the grounds of a fondness for the later AZTEC MUMMY films, and out of curiosity. I'd heard the title years ago, and when I stumbled across it in an on-line catalog, I figured "what the heck."
In retrospect, we all know what curiosity kills, right?
Warren has long enjoyed something of a reputation as an arch schlockmeister, having purchased several foreign productions and recut them for domestic release. He's known for particularly vapid plots, added footage which is negligently directed, and for gutting plotlines and consequently making things needlessly more complicated than they really needed to be.
Mind you, he wasn't the only one to adapt foreign horror films for the U.S. market. Producers such as K. Gordon Murray picked up the domestic release rights to Mexican horror titles and dubbed them for sale to television. The Murray films are at least structured around a plotline and follow the writers' dictum of "show us, rather than tell us about it." Moreover, they introduced American audiences to the likes of Santo and Las Luchadoras, and exactly how the Mexican audiences liked their horror. While never art, these were always entertaining productions.
Warren, however, went wild with this project. First, he retitled the film, possibly to distance it from any other AZTEC MUMMY films which might also be circulating at the time. Moving the (heavily discussed but little seen) locale of the action down the Central American peninsula, he placed the mummy and his pyramid home in Yucatan. A suspiciously well groomed Yucatan, I might mention (and I did actually do a field trip there in college, when I was earning my degree in archaeology),
Having made this first decision, Warren now went a painful step beyond -- and it's an inexplicable step beyond. Rather arbitrarily, he excised possibly 20 minutes of original footage from THE AZTEC MUMMY, including roughly four minutes of monster footage. Count 'em -- four.
He then shot lengthy, heavily overlit and numbingly static connecting scenes, in which several American actors endlessly talked the plot of the film. The original footage he had "saved" from AZTEC MUMMY was inserted in snippets into this wider, framing footage.
Putting it mildly, the new footage is awful, not moving quickly and displaying an evident pace which would have made Roger Corman giddy if he's tried to approach it. The height of this footage is a scene in which a scientist who is narrating much of the story meets with two girls at a local malt shop. We're treated to his "hilarious" discomfort at being surrounded by gyrating teenagers, all a-flame with the tepid tunes of the early, pre-metal '60s.
This one scene goes on for several minutes, with not thing to show except a string of medium-close shots of portions of the dancers. No dialog, no wide shots to break the monotony, and the whole thing stretches on forever before the two girls grimly galump up the stairs to sulk and demand Cokes for their trouble. Seems they had had to come all the way across town.
The logic to this footage being to tie Our Hero in with the original movie's actors, via a boy who (though clearly years younger than the girls in the added footage) is supposedly a teen-aged pal for whom they're ferrying information.
Equally baffling was his decision to, unless it was absolutely impossible to do so, completely remove the sound from the original scene he did retain, and have one of the added players contribute even more narration as a voice-over. We're treated to ten minutes of animatedly talking actors from the original film, while we're told a short form version of what is being said.
I had heard this was a heavily talky edit, but when I checked my timer, I was 20 minutes into the film and nothing of the original footage had yet appeared.
If there is a greater display of contempt for an audience, tempered with a desire to slap something up on the screen as quickly and cheaply as possible, I have yet to see it. Strip away the narration, and you see a very brief look at an experiment in hypnotic regression.
A woman is regressed back to Aztec/Mayan times, during which she was sacrificed. The love interest sub-plot which also dooms Popoca (the original AZTEC MUMMY, now a nameless, unexplained warrior in the scene) is totally abandoned.
Given a drink and then tucked under a blanket of hide, it looks more like Popoca's simply conking out at a particularly dull frat party, and is being put to bed before the coach finds out.
From then on, it's the familiar story. The researchers enter the tomb and remove a breastplate which reveals where a treasure is found (this plate pops up again throughout the AZTEC MUMMY series, and the gimmick is to be found in the unrelated LAS LUCHADORAS CONTRA LA MOMIA). Popoca, who guards the tombs, comes to life and stalks them.
He finally obtains both the breastplate and the reincarnated maiden he'd loved. In the last of the original footage Warren makes use of, he heads back to his tomb, carrying the unconscious woman.
In order to resolve things quickly (presumably he felt he had already overspent with lensing new footage), Warren fakes a car running down the mummy, as it carries the girl off. Note: at no time do the car and the mummy occupy the same frame.
Still, it does its work. Both die, but the newspapers refuse to print the story unaltered -- perhaps ascribing to the Jerry Warren school of journalism.
Not even worth setting the VCR for. You want, cheap, Mexican action fun, rent either of the black-and-white Las Luchadoras films. Let this dog rest in peace.