Mansion de las siete momias

As far as I can tell, nobody's ever bothered to translate this movie into English, either by dubbing or with subtitles. That makes the movie a little difficult for me to review, since I don't speak Spanish. But when has complete ignorance ever stopped anyone — especially me — from writing on the Internet?

Most of this review is guesswork, based on the context of the action, the odd cognate and a few faint echoes of high-school French. But what difference does it make? This is a mid-seventies Mexican-wrestlers-meet-the-monsters movie. Its spoken language may be Spanish, but its mother tongue is the universal language of whoop-ass.

For most of us norteamericanos, the most familiar Mexican wrestler is probably El Santo, the Man in the Silver Mask. Several of Santo's movies, in which the wrestler fought vampires, mummies and supercriminals, made their way north of the border thanks to producer & importer K. Gordon Murray. Mansion de las Siete Momias features a different masked wrestler: Blue Demon (born Alejandro Muñoz Moreno). Though he sometimes took second billing to El Santo in the movies, Blue Demon was equally popular in Mexico... in fact, he'd even defeated Santo in the ring. Joining Blue Demon in this film is Superzan, a wrestler who is considerably taller and slighter of build than either Blue Demon or Santo. Superzan is a better actor than Blue Demon; but unfortunately, his sparkly red-and-gold costume makes him look like a cross between a matador and a pimp. By comparison to the simplicity of Blue's outfit — the trademark blue mask and street clothes, or perhaps a matching blue sweatsuit — Superzan's cape and trim make him look just a bit overdressed. I'm also not quite sure what "Superzan" is supposed to mean... perhaps it's a cross between "Superman" and "Tarzan"? Or maybe it's "Superman" with the "m" turned sideways? No, wait: on second thought, that would be "Super3an". Either way, it suggests his signature move must be wriggling out of copyright lawsuits.

The story of the film begins in the town of San Ángel, Guatemala. The beautiful Sofia is attending the funeral of her father, who was found strangled after he started searching for a mysterious treasure rumoured to be hidden in the ruins of his family's house. As Sofia follows her father's casket out of the church to the cemetery, with her friend Isabella by her side, she thinks she hears her father's voice. She's right: her father's spirit is helpfully filling us in on some of the back-story. His body may be at rest, he says, but his soul isn't as fortunate. And now, the curse of his family will pass on to poor Sofia!

As disconcerted as Sofia is to hear her late father narrating the movie, she's still more distressed when the cemetery's ugly, hunchbacked gravedigger catches sight of her. He seems to be leering at her with a particular malignant intensity... though this could be simply because his upper and lower teeth match neither each other nor the rest of his face. It's difficult not to look intense and malignant when your features are so horribly mismatched.

Sofia stands to inherit her father's estate, including the hidden treasure. Unfortunately, this treasure has a very nasty curse on it: anyone who claims it must forfeit his (or her) soul to the Devil. What's more, the Devil himself is very anxious to have people try to find it, for obvious reasons.

It's nice to see that even as late as the 1970's, Auld Clootie still took the time out of his busy, busy schedule to get involved in the struggle for one young girl's soul. Yes: here he is, horns, red backlighting and all — in Guatemala, of all places — working with his servants to see if they can't lure Sofia to her death. Satan's human (or formerly-human) agents include a wheelchair-bound old woman in a black veil, and some sort of majordomo in a red costume so gaudy it makes Superzan's costume look tasteful.

The majordomo goes over the terms of the estate with Sofia, and informs her that if she wants to find the treasure her father sought, she must submit to three ordeals — penitencias, they call them. These are tests of strength and courage so difficult that few could ever survive them. The tests involve the old ruined house known as the Mansion of the Seven Mummies.

And Sofia says, sure. What the hell; why not? After all, what could possibly happen in a place called the "Mansion of the Seven Mummies"?

Now, it just so happens that Sofia is expecting some guests to drop by from Mexico... friends of her burly wrestler boyfriend Rodrigo. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you who those friends might be. But before Blue Demon and Superzan arrive on the scene, Rodrigo goes to call on Sofia in the dead of night. As the hunchbacked gravedigger watches from the shadows, three ghastly walking cadavers stagger down the street towards Rodrigo, who just happens to be standing with his back to them. One of the shambling things strikes Rodrigo on the back of the head... and even though Rodrigo looks so thickly-muscled that he wouldn't even notice the blow, he falls unconscious. The three ghouls drag him offscreen, as the gravedigger hobbles away in the other direction.

When the two famous wrestlers arrive from Mexico, they're brought up to speed on the plot by our Odious Comic Relief, the reedy-voiced and bespectacled comedian Manolín. To recap: Sofia's father is dead; Sofia is facing terrible danger; and young Rodrigo has disappeared. Clearly, this kind of news is best delivered by the Comic Relief, and equally clearly this is a job for a masked wrestler. Or two.

In the meantime, Sofia is preparing to face the first penitencia. She goes with Isabella to the ruined mansion at midnight; Isabella waits outside while Sofia goes to meet the majordomo. There she is faced with the choice of seven doors. Behind one door is a jeweled scepter of some sort, which will appear at the stroke of midnight. If Sofia is able to get her hands on the scepter, it will give her the key to the second penitencia. But there's something else behind the doors as well (look at the title of the movie. Need I say more?). Sofia will either succeed... or die.

Just as the clock strikes midnight and the trial is about to begin, the glowing scepter appears in one of the doorways. Sofia is no more than a few feet from that very door. All she needs to do is take a step of two, and she would be able to grab the silly thing. But before she can act, seven rotting corpses come pouring out of the doorways. And wouldn't you know it? Sofia immediately lapses into Helpless Screaming Female mode. She stands there, paralyzed, utterly unable to make a move either to grab the staff or to try to protect herself.

Fortunately, our masked heroes have run into the suspicious gravedigger, who makes some gestures and grunting noises that send them off in the direction of the penitencia. They arrive just in the nick of time, and begin kicking zombie butt.

But though the walking dead are relatively easy to knock over, they have an irritating habit of getting right back up again. Heck, they've managed to get up after being knocked down by the Big Guy himself — Death, the greatest wrestler of all. You'd figure that Blue Demon, who had been fighting movie monsters since 1965, and who'd tangled with killer mummies as recently as 1972, would have remembered this. Que no. What we end up with is a completely unchoreographed free-for-all, with Manolín running around the periphery of the battle, egging on the wrestlers and occasionally swatting mummies with his hat.

(By the way: if Odious Comic Relief has ever left you pining for death, this movie shows your instincts may have been correct. The mummies react to Manolín's "humorous" antics by ignoring him. So you see: death does confer immunity to OCR.)

Eventually, much to the displeasure of the veiled old hag and the majordomo, Sofia shakes off her paralysis enough to reach out and grab the scepter. At once, the seven mummies cease their fighting and shamble back into the darkness.

At this point, you're probably asking yourself: shouldn't there have been eight doors?

You'll also have noticed, I suppose, that these "mummies" are very much like what we would refer to as "zombies"; that is, they're walking cadavers with rotting flesh and a staggering gait. They're not the sort of mummies we're used to in American films, or in the series of Mexican films that featured Popoca, the Aztec Mummy. Rather than being re-animated relics of a distant civilization, these are just ordinary dead guys.

They're called mummies rather than zombies in large part because of the success of the movie Las momias de Guanajuato from 1972. In Guanajuato, as in other parts of rural Mexico, there was a tradition of digging up and cremating the remains of the dead whose families could no longer afford the tax on the graves. In the mid-19th century, some of the bodies exhumed for this reason were found to have become mummified. These bodies were set aside as curiosities, and by the early 20th century the "collection" had become large enough to become a tourist attraction.

The Guanajuato Mummy Museum is still there and is still popular. I'm sure it's the rare and unimaginative visitor who doesn't look at the ranks of withered corpses, with their mouths frozen open in the appearance of a silent scream, and think... what if they were to come back to life? And in 1972, writer/producer Rogelio Agrasánchez decided to exploit that particular horror, in a film that set Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras (with the last-minute help of El Santo) against the walking dead. The result was so successful that Agrasánchez went back to the idea several times over the next few years, with El Robo de los momias de Guanajuato (1972, featuring Blue Angel and Mil Mascaras); El Castillo de los momias de Guanajuato (1973, featuring Blue Angel, Superzan and Tinieblas — and, like many of the "Guanajuato" sequels, actually shot in Guatemala, possibly on the theory that anyplace beginning with "Gua..." would do); Las momias de San Ángel (1975, with Mil Mascaras and others); and back to San Ángel for this film in 1977.

Sofia is able to shed further light on the origin of this particular batch of mummies. It seems that back in the 16th century, in the days of the conquistadores, her ancestor had made a pact with the Devil in order to amass wealth and power. He gained his treasure at the expense of the native peoples (which explains in further detail how the curse came to be applied to it; in fact, Sofia wants to find the treasure so she can return it in its entirety to the impoverished descendants of the slaves who originally provided it... thereby breaking the curse). But at the end of his life, Sofia's ancestor had thought better of the pact, as so many of these would-be Fausts seem to do. He'd tried to break the bond of the contract by performing an exorcism. But Satan corrupted the hearts of his seven counsellors, who betrayed him, cutting off his head and burning his body. The seven perfidious counsellors were then condemned to an eternity of undeath as guardians of the treasure.

As for Sofia's damned forefather — apparently his curse was a bit more subtle. I'm a little sketchy about this, since the story is a bit more complicated than my feeble Spanish could decipher... but apparently, the man's soul was reborn from generation to generation, displacing the souls of his descendants after each failure. Until now, that is: Sofia is the first female child to be born into the family in three hundred years, and as she explains, a male soul cannot pass into a female body.

(I know some people who would take exception to this idea, but we'll let it pass).

So what happened to her great-great-grandfather's floating soul? Chances are you'll have guessed its latest destination. On a somewhat related note, chances are you'll also have guessed the identity of the withered old woman in the wheelchair. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

And thinking of getting a head, that's exactly what the second penitencia turns out to be. Sofia has to cross a swamp (over a curiously well-tended path) to retrieve the severed head of her ancestor. Once again, her friend Isabella accompanies Sofia just to the edge of the penitencia; the wrestlers and Manolín follow behind them, as stealthily as two masked wrestlers and a bad comedian can creep.

Waiting for Sofia across a flimsy wooden footbridge is a mummified human head on a pedestal. Once she approaches the head, she's in for her first nasty surprise: it's still alive. Then comes the second surprise: up from the swamp rise the seven mummies (the way we wish the undead had risen in Manuel Caño's Pantano de los cuervos from 1974)!

Eat your heart out, Lac des morts-vivants!

Fortunately for Sofia, the wrestlers are on their way to help. Equally fortunately, the mummies are so slow that Sofia can easily outrun them... even when she's in Helpless Screaming Female mode. In fact, when she trips and falls (as required by Screenwriters' Union rules all over the world), the mummies are so slow to react that they stand over her, wiggling their fingers in consternation, with no idea what they should do next. This gives our heroic manly types time to jump in and start pummelling the zombies yet again.

Unfortunately for the good guys, Rodrigo chooses that moment to show up. Yes; I said unfortunately. He'd been released from his captivity a few scenes ago by the suspicious-looking gravedigger. But for some reason, when he wades into the fracas, he takes the side of the mummies! Unlike the feeble walking dead, Rodrigo is a beefy wrestler himself, so when he combines his attack with those of the weak but numerous mummies, things begin to look very bad for Bluecito and Superzan. Though the pair is eventually able to knock Rodrigo unconscious, both fighters manage to get roughed up pretty badly, and in the meantime they are distracted from helping poor Sofia.

That's when the increasingly suspiciously non-suspicous gravedigger shows up and mimes to Manolín what Sofia must do to end the test: she must cover the head so it can no longer see them. Sofia takes Manolín's jacket and attempts to use it to cover up the calavera. But when she tries — shades of Zombie 3! — the head floats off its pedestal and tries to attack her. Sofia bags the flying head; and the Seven Mummies march harmlessly back into the water.

So now the stage is set for the third penitencia, and this time the Devil and his minions aren't about to leave the outcome to chance. For one thing, the promise of riches has corrupted young Rodrigo, so that he has become their willing accomplice. For another, they've decided to change the rules a little bit so that Sofia will be forced to fail.

You can use your experience of the movie so far to guess what the third challenge is going to be:

a. Food fight!

b. Blue Demon has a fiddle-playing contest with the Devil

c. Another round with the seven largely-ineffectual mummies

If you answered "c", you've obviously been paying attention. Or perhaps you remember the title of the movie. Either way, congratulations!

The main problem with the movie is that the three hurdles Sofia must overcome are just variations of the same idea. In each case, she has to go do some simple task, while the undead guardians wander around making threatening gestures. The mummies certainly look scary enough, but they don't really do anything. It's not like they're ravening cannibals in the George Romero mold, or that they have any supernatural powers other than the ability to fight after death. They're also ridiculously easily sidetracked: instead of concentrating on the defenseless Sofia, who ought to be their real target, they spend most of their energy attacking the wrestlers. OK; after three hundred years, maybe they're so used to fighting men that the presence of a woman confuses them. Or maybe they're just shy.

So in the end, even though there are none of the usual staged wrestling matches to slow down the action, Mansion de las siete momias still manages to feel a little tedious.

On the plus side, the mummies are effectively gross. And what's more, in spite of the title, we're actually given nine rotting mummies by the end of the film (nine and one-fifth if you include the floating head). Considering that the mummies are a livelier crew than the wrestlers who are supposed to be our heroes, I'd say that the extra two are a welcome surprise.

There is one nice bit of black comedy at the end of the film, unintentional though it is. The by-now totally-non-suspicious gravedigger is helping Blue Demon and Superzan by holding up a heavy, pointy portcullis. While the wrestlers go off and do their hero-things, we still see the poor hunchback, slowly collapsing under the weight of the portcullis, with an expression on his face that seems to say: "Go on, go on; (umph!) don't worry about me... save the (ungh!) pretty girl, but (gasp!) don't even spare a second thought for the (aargh!) ugly old man..." And when the good guys finally remember to check on him, surprise! He's a man-kebab. To be fair, it is strongly suggested that the old man allowed himself to be impaled, as a way of ending his suffering. But that's not really the way it looks at first sight.

Still, Mansion de las siete momias is a passably entertaining entry in the Mexican wrestler series. At its heart is a very constructive lesson, namely: do not be deceived by appearances. Not all that is ugly is evil; and sometimes the things we find attractive, such as a treasure or even a trusted friend, may hide the Devil within. By the end, the forces of Evil meet their just rewards, with a particularly apposite fate handed out to the spineless Rodrigo.

My copy of this movie came in a three-film set, together with El Hijo de Alma Grande (Son of Great Spirit) and Los Vampiros de Coyoacán. The disk is part of the Luchadores Enmascarados series from Brentwood. Most of us know Brentwood from their wildly variable releases of public-domain horror films, but their ambition is much bigger than many people realize. For years now, Brentwood (or BCI Eclipse, or Navarre, or Deimos, or whatever other names the company has decided to go by) has put out Spanish-language product such as this; and recently they've even begun to release some astonishingly high-quality releases of subtitled Mexican horror films in their "Crypt of Terror" series. Well... this is not one of their highest-quality products, but it's still brighter, clearer and more watchable than the old bootleg VHS prints (many taken off Mexican TV) that we used to have to put up with if we wanted to see any of this stuff. It's also very inexpensive, which makes it even more appealing.

Subtitles or no, this is good, clean, dumb fun... for those of us who miss the sort of good, clean, dumb fun we used to have as kids, watching monster movies from the sofa on a lazy Saturday morning.

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