Mil Máscaras vs. the Aztec Mummy*

(Osmium Entertainment, 2007) Exec Prod: Kannappan Palaniappan, Jeffrey Uhlmann; Prod: Kannappan Palaniappan, Chuck Williams, Jeffrey Uhlmann; Dir: Andrew Quint, Chip Gubera; Scr: Jeffrey Uhlmann; Photo: Thomas Callaway; Music: Vaughn Johnson; Film Ed: Thom Calderon; Prod Des: Gary Ambrosia; Sound Des: Alan Porzio, Kent Gibson; Creature Masks & FX: Patrick Voss; Robot Des & Construction: Scott Uhlmann

*also known as Mil Máscaras: Resurrection

Cast: Mil Máscaras (himself), Jeffrey Uhlmann (Mummy; Robot), Kurt Drennen Mirtsching (Professor), Willard Pugh (police chief), Melissa Osborn (Maria), Richard Lynch (President of the U.S.), Harley Race & P.J. Soles (themselves), El Hijo del Santo (himself), wrestlers at climax: Blue Demon Jr., Huracán Ramírez Jr., Neutrón, Dos Caras, Argozan, La Torcha, Maura Incognita, El Médico Ángel, El Cardo, Trench Fighter; Marco Lanzagorta (Aztec chief), Gary Ambrosia (Officer Guerrero), Stephanie Matthews (Donna, Mil's date), Jonathan Verdejo Rocha (human sacrifice), Abbie Adkins (Aztec dancer), Magister (himself, in ring sequences), Jerry Uhlmann (JCOS Army), Marty Walker (JCOS Marines), Jenna & Jessica Brondel (vampire twins), Bobby Bragg (referee), Jessica Hodge (dressing room seductress), Jerri Manthey (reporter)

Notes: one of two wrestling-hero movies shot in Missouri (the other is Academy of Doom aka Wrestling Women vs. the Brainiac), Mil Máscaras: Resurrection is a slick and entertaining homage to Mexican lucha libre films. If Ricardo Montalban were to see MM:R, he'd probably say it "looks maaahvelous," because it does. The photography, sets, sound, music, and costumes are excellent, in no way exposing the production's low budget (under $1 million, according to IMDB) and regional (non-Hollywood) origins. MM:R (better known as Mil Máscaras vs. the Aztec Mummy, a title which may yet be re-applied to the film) throws in everything but the kitchen sink (although parts of a kitchen sink may have been used to construct the movie's robot) in its evocation of lucha films of yore. The youngest of lucha-film's Big Three (El Santo & Blue Demon were the other two, for novices), Mil Máscaras appeared in his first film in 1966, and never reached the level of screen stardom his compatriots did, working mostly in ensemble casts or in guest shots. Consequently, his persona in MM:R (wrestler as scientist, crimefighter, etc.) is largely drawn from the Santo-movie mythos, although it is clearly tailored to Mil himself (in one scene, Mil flies his own jet to Washington, D.C., probably a reference to shots of Mil as a private pilot in Mil Máscaras, 1966). We also get the following homages to other lucha (and other horror) movies:

Although MM:R looks great and is a treat for long-time lucha-film fans, I do have some minor criticisms, both concrete and philosophical. On the philosophical side--MM:R is played straight (for the most part), without a lot of obvious "camp" intent. However, at times the script veers over the line into outrageous and (perhaps) unintentional self-parody. For example, the constant adulation of Mil Máscaras as Renaissance genius-superhero. Sure, in Santo's movies he was presented as a superhero-athletic idol-scientist (inventing a time machine in El tesoro de Drácula, for example) and received respectful treatment, but I can't recall Santo films containing the type of fawning admiration evinced in MM:R (particularly from the Professor). You don't have to say he's a genius, show it. The script also contains some awkward dialogue which may have been calculated to evoke earlier lucha films, but here sounds unnatural: "We have much with which to concern ourselves," for example. Yet MM: R contains a number of clever lines of dialogue (and some amusing situations), which tends to reinforce my belief that what may seem to be awkward or illogical aspects are actually deliberate attempts to evoke the feel of earlier lucha films.

A sequence near the end of the movie also offends my lucha sensibilities a bit: the defeated Mummy is placed in a stone sarcophagus to be sealed up forever, but before the lid is placed on the tomb, Mil pours blood from one of the Mummy's victims into the dormant (dead?) creature's mouth. It has been established (barely, see below) that the Mummy absorbs the knowledge and strength of his victims through their blood, so Mil's actions mean the villain will suffer the pain of torture "for eternity." This seems a little mean-spirited to me, and not something El Santo would have done. Santo would stomp on, set fire to, shoot, even toss the villains off a cliff, but he'd never perform an act of deliberate revenge on a helpless (if evil) opponent.

My concrete criticisms are rather brief. (1) The script contains a number of loose ends and inconsistencies. As noted above, some of these could have been deliberately intended to evoke the "wacky" aspects of lucha-films, but others seem either sloppy or (possibly) the result of editing and re-editing over the years. For example, in the opening sequence, Officer Guerrero identifies himself as a member of the "Mexico City" police, yet he's later shown to be a member of the police force in the city where the film takes place--and this is clearly not Mexico City (it's never identified, actually). This obviously American city just happens to have an Aztec temple located nearby (and not a hidden one, either) and a newspaper in one scene has a Spanish headline. This type of inconsistency bugged me. I was also confused at the movie's off-and-on use of the blood idea: a major early plot point is made of blood-bank robberies, and yet exactly what the Mummy is doing with all of this stolen blood isn't obvious. There are suggestions he's using it to revive long-dead henchmen (who have skull-faces and wear monk's robes), but the script could have been a little clearer on this. On the positive side, I did like the idea that Mil owns one mask that changes appearance magically one thousand times.

(2) the level of acting is extremely variable. Mil Máscaras' dialogue is post-dubbed (it doesn't even remotely match his lip movements--I was under the impression Mil spoke some English, so this may have been a deliberate homage again) and his "acting" is restricted to bugging out his eyes in surprise/shock/horror (he really overdoes this trick). Melissa Osborn, who plays his putative love interest, is very attractive (I think she looks like Angie Harmon) but her scripted dialogue (and the way she delivers it) makes her sound like a young, immature girl and thus--when contrasted with her appearance and her role in the movie--she seems developmentally disabled! Kurt Drennen Mirtsching is another actor whose histrionic abilities may have been hampered by the sychophantic role he's given. On the positive side, Willard Pugh as the police chief is fine: he's the only performer in the movie who appears to be a professional actor (other than Richard Lynch, who is OK, in a cameo; P.J. Soles, on the other hand, has only a couple of lines of dialogue in her guest appearance).

[To be fair, many of the people involved with this movie are not full-time film professionals--producers Uhlmann and Palaniappan are professors at the University of Missouri-Columbia and the cast includes various UMC students, faculty, friends, and colleagues (Mirtschung runs a restaurant in Columbia). Other production factors influenced the final product in various ways--the film was made over a period of time, revised, casting decisions didn't always mesh with the script, and so on. So, the slick technical aspects of the picture may actually unfairly raise audience expectations--if this looked like a cheap, backyard movie, perhaps the acting wouldn't seem so uneven and the plot holes wouldn't be as irksome. The fact the film was made at all is pretty amazing, and that it turned out as well as it did is even more astonishing, but that doesn't mean we can give it a free pass on everything.]

As the film opens, the Aztec Mummy is revived when one of his devoted followers willingly sacrifices himself (cutting out his own heart, now that's devotion!). The Mummy uses a sceptre with a powerful jewel embedded in its tip to brainwash a policeman who has stumbled onto his "hideout" (in a plainly visible Aztec temple in a forest). A short time later, a series of blood bank robberies comes to the attention of the authorities, who consult with superhero-wrestler-scientist-composer Mil Máscaras (who's just been dumped by his fiancee). With the aid of the local police chief and a scientist (referred to from here on as the Chief and the Professor), Mil tracks down and confronts the Mummy, who explains his plan to conquer the world. Mil and his friends escape (Mil isn't affected by the sceptre) and the masked wrestler flies his private jet to Washington to warn the President of the danger to humanity. Back in Unnamed City, USA, Mil wrestles rudo Magister, unaware that his opponent has been replaced by a beefy henchman of the Mummy. Unmasking "Magister" in the ring, Mil (and the audience) are shocked to see the man has a green zombie-face! [This is the film's second "ring" sequence--in the first, Mil and El Hijo del Santo participate in a tag-team match, with Harley Race and P.J. Soles as celebrity judges.]

More encounters with Mummy-henchmen ensue. In one sequence, Mil participates in a photo session with twin blonde models. Afterwards, they invite him back to their place for some fun. Our hero demurs, but says "you are very attractive." The twins (who talk in unison) reply "We know, we also find each other to be very attractive " (!) and the prospect of a blonde-twin/Mil Máscaras sandwich makes Mil's eyes bug out. [This made me laugh out loud, I confess.] However, the twins are actually vampires (don't you hate it when that happens?) and have to be destroyed, sadly.

After a rather uncomfortable scene in which the Professor appears to be pimping out his daughter to Mil, Maria vanishes, abducted by the Mummy to be his bride (because she has a birthmark on her back which identifies her as the chosen one). Mil goes to an old monastery where the Mummy has set up shop, but is overcome by the zombie monks. He's saved at the last moment by the arrival of the Professor and his robot (briefly seen earlier): the robot provides enough of a distraction (before it breaks down) for Mil to free Maria, who escapes from the monastery with her father. Outside, the Chief arrives with a big crowd of masked wrestlers (I counted ten, including the "Wrestling Women" of Academy of Doom) to fight the zombie-monks. Mil wins his one-on-one with the Mummy and good triumphs over evil. The Mummy is sealed in his stone sarcophagus and the Aztec temple is dynamited to seal him up for eternity.

Although the golden age of lucha libre films more or less ended in the early 1980s (with El Santo's final movies), the genre made a minor comeback in the early '90s, and a handful of lucha films--theatrical and direct-to-video--have been produced since then. The problem facing those who want to make new lucha-hero movies is what slant to put on the material. Do you try to make a 21st-century film that just happens to star a masked wrestler or do you attempt to faithfully recreate the "classic" lucha-hero style, at the risk of producing something that seems "campy"? One illustration of this dilemma can be seen in the fight sequences of MM:R. Non-ring action in classic lucha movies was, on the whole, rather clumsily presented. For the most part, the heroes were wrestlers and their opponents were played by wrestlers, so the street fights looked like wrestling matches, only slower and more awkward, because the participants weren't in their familiar environment (the ring). MM:R's action varies--the blood bank fight is perhaps the best, while the final battle royale between the good luchadores and the zombie monks is old-school lucha screen-fighting, i.e., slow and clumsy despite the editor's attempts to speed up the action with quick cuts. So this is a case where tradition clashes with modern audience expectations.

The hagiographic presentation of Mil Máscaras, mentioned earlier, is another example. He's just too perfect and the constant verbal allusions to his expertise in every field of human endeavor get a little ludicrous after a while. MM:R isn't unique in this, El Hijo del Santo's Infraterrestre depicted him as a genius, babe magnet, athlete, etc., but at least that movie didn't have someone ((I'm looking at you, "Professor") constantly talking about how great El Hijo del Santo was at everything. And my previous criticisms of the acting and the flamboyant dialogue may actually be rooted in the film's attempt to recreate an old-school lucha style rather than the fault of the actors and scripter. Consequently, although this may not have been the filmmakers' intention, MM:R and other recent lucha films come off as rather campy, because the traditional lucha sensibility was rooted in the 60s-70s and not the 2000s. On the other hand, if you do just plug a masked wrestler into a standard action or horror movie, aren't you losing something of the soul and essence of lucha-films? MM:R certainly can't be faulted for this: it is faithful to the legendary Mil Máscaras and faithful to the lucha film genre as a whole. In summation: a great looking movie that will probably please lucha-film fans with its fidelity to the lucha style and mythos. Is it perfect? No. But a few rough edges don't prevent Mil Máscaras: Resurrection from being entertaining and fun.

Review posted 8 February 2009.

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