Thursday, June 15, 2017

Review: American Mummy (3D)

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

American Mummy (3D) [aka Aztec Blood]
Directed by Charles Pinion
TX-2 Productions / Fusion / Inferential Pictures
Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
82 minutes, 2014 / 2017

I have absolutely no doubt that this film, originally titled Aztec Blood a few short years ago, is being rereleased under its new title because of the re-tick of The Mummy series with the diminutive Tom Cruise. If he find out, will he dance in his undies to “We take those old films off the shelf / Rename them to promote ourselves…”?

Tezcalipoca mask
Honestly, I have no problem with any indie, low-budget film doing that (though it may be irksome if a major did it). The possible problem I do see with this, though, is part of me is wondering if it smacks of appropriation. This is supposed to be about finding a remanence of an Aztec culture, a civilization pretty much wiped out through European intrusion in the 16th century (I suggest reading James Michener’s excellent and massive centuries-spanning 1992 tome, Mexico). In this case it’s regarding a god named Tezcalipoca and of… well, I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be the mummy of Tezzy himself or one of his priests The latter would actually make more sense considering Tezzy was one of the four creators of the world; it’s nice they made a film about him rather than the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl, another of the four who gets way more coverage.

Suzeiy Block
Anyway, this film should be noted as one of the few I’ve seen to have two prologues that set up the story, which is, essentially that an archeological class from Monroe College (thank goodness they didn’t use the overdone Miskatonic name) is out in the desert somewhere on a excavation, which I’m assuming a Southwestern state considering the film’s title [The director, Charles Pinion, wisely pointed out post-publication that: "Regarding 'American,' I'd like to flip that to the presumption of 'American' only including the United States. Mexico is in fact on the American continent. United States' imperialism (the name Monroe College alludes to the Monroe Doctrine) is central to the under-arching theme, if you will. They find something, they claim it, and they plant a flag there."], after a couple of students come across said mummy. The dig is led by the totally inept Professor Jensen (Suzeiy Block), so it’s a good thing she’s cute; had a boss like that once, but I digress…

Of course, there’s that one student – in films like this anyway – that has an ulterior motive: Carmen (Esther Cantana) is trying to raise the mummy using an ancient Aztec book of the dead. At this point it may be worth noting that there are a bunch of themes used from other films, such as the cabin in the woods/camping in deserted areas tropes, of course the mummy series, and mostly the Evil Dead (1981). Another to add on could be the viral zombie mini-apocalypse, or even Bava’s Demons (1985) and [*Rec] (2007). One could argue for The Thing (1982), but I would disagree due to lack of shape-shifting.

Erin Condry
I will applaud that they do try to build up some context through exposition of the characters, rather than them being merely fodder. Yet it’s still tough to feel deep sympathy, never mind empathy, for most of the characters, though I did for at least one named Connie (Erin Condry, who I’m pretty sure I’ve seen elsewhere in a genre pic that’s not listed on IMDB).

That’s not to say there isn’t a certainly level of accuracy about the characters. I mean, I’ve been to a few academic conferences, and there is a lot of hooking up and abuse of substances that goes on in that world, never mind in the middle of nowhere. In films like this, I’m happy to say that leads to a lot of nudity, though most of the sex is implied. They even manage to have a shower scene in the middle of a desert. For that alone, they get some extra points. Thankfully, it’s an attractive cast.

As Dylan said, “The line it is drawn / The curse it is cast,” and you know that one-by-one the demon fever (or whatever it is) will spread through the group via blood and green tongues. The effects are pretty nice, with lots of blood and even some unbelievable bits look pretty good. It seems most of the SFX are appliances rather than computer generated, and that’s another check mark in the plus column.

Esther Cantana and her green tongue
The acting isn’t necessarily stellar throughout, but there are some fine moments and decent characterizations, though some are a bit over the top; an example is the seemingly unnecessarily thickly-accented Dr. Lobachevsky (Greg Salman, who is also a producer on the film). I could never find a reason why he was Russian in the story, or what his true purpose was to the story as a Russian, as opposed to a scientist of any other nationality.

One aspect I find interesting is the actual lack of motion of the titular character, other than some limb wiggling. As a side note, I think calling it an “American” mummy when the mummy-proper dates back before the Europeans even came to the New World is presumptuous and a bit settler colonialization (or, as I up it at the beginning, appropriation; this is the same mentality that uses the term American Indian, rather than First Nations, as do the Canadians). Getting back to the point, it does sort of leave it open to the interpretation of the viewer whether it’s some kind of genre viral infection (such as was true(r) with the Tomb of King Tut’s “curse”), or the actual mummy having some mystical power raised by the fanatical student and her sycophant.

There are definitely a few holes in the story, the biggest perhaps is why Carmen was so determined to raise the mummy – or his curse, anyway. In other films, such as various Universal Monsters’ version of the Mummy, at least we were told that the person performing the rite was part of a cult following of the person/god/mummy. Well, even from early on, it’s obvious she’s eager to find the thingy, so that’s something.

There are a bunch of extras that come along with this Blu-ray, such as both a 2-D and 3-D version, some minor and quick outtakes and behind the scenes that don’t really add up to much, and a couple of different generations of the trailer. Being a Wild Eye Releasing – err – release, there are also a bunch of other trailers.

This film isn’t brilliant, but it’s certainly enjoyable, and the second half certainly is bloody and has a decent body count. Plus, there is a lot of decent research on Tezcalipoca and Aztec sacrificial procedurals that make it even more interesting. It did keep me pretty entertained all the way through.

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