Never has the fraught conflict between tradition and modernity found more conceptually inspired filmic expression than in the climactic battle of the Mexican movie The Aztec Mummy vs. The Human Robot (1958). A prime example of the “Mexploitation” craze that overtook national film production amidst economic downturn, this third installment of the Aztec Mummy series, which devotes much of its brief run time to recounting its predecessors in flashback, is a fitting opener (on August 14) for the sweet UCLA Film & Television Archive tribute “Aztec Mummies & Martian Invaders: Mexican Sci-Fi Classics.” Populist mass entertainments had to keep the nationalized, tightly regimented Mexican film industry afloat in the ’50s and ’60s: Spaceships, alien monsters and women clad in short, metallic outfits invaded the screens (and their melodramatic lore of a mythologized past), while the masked superstars of immensely popular “lucha libre” wrestling leapt to the defense. The considerable camp flavor of these bizarre crossovers skyrocketed in inverse proportion to their ridiculously small budgets.
Trash connoisseurs may shed tears at the sorry cardboard sight of “el robot humano” clunkily dragging himself toward a sad fate at the hands of a guy in a crude mass of papier-mâché and rags, allegedly representing Aztec terror. But rejoice: What seems like an update of poor cardbot provides the brain-freezing musical finale for 1960s The Monsters’ Ship (showing August 28), warbling with a jukebox fembot, after an invasion of two hot Venusian chicks collecting male specimens. (The mad monster party includes a talking skeleton creature and an actor in a big-head alien costume with protruding brain.)
Submerged in these endearingly clumsy fantasy spectacles, just as in their threadbare U.S. counterparts, are remnants of the era’s sociocultural attitudes. There’s a profusion of potentially threatening women, whether from 1966’s The Planet of Female Invaders (showing August 23rd) or in the parallel world posited by its 1946 Art Deco precursor, The Strong Sex (showing August 21), in which two machos stumble onto the Island of Eden — which is ruled by the opposite gender. Still, a true folk hero resists even seductive Martian maidens, as shown in 1967’s Santo the Silver Mask vs. The Martian Invaders (showing on August 29), one of the weirdest and most beloved among 52 films for which El Santo, most legendary of luchadores, donned his iconic silver mask: Between (and during) bouts, Santo must withstand attackers (one played by fellow wrestler “El Nazi”) with ingenious obliterating powers achieved through pure poverty row magic — their victims simply fade out of the frame. (UCLA Film & Television Archive at the Billy Wilder Theater; through Sat., August 29. cinema.ucla.edu)