A young woman under hypnosis regresses to a past life, where she took part in strange temple rites. She guides a group of scientists to an ancient pyramid, where they discover two mummified bodies. One of them is struck by lightning in a laboratory behind a waxworks, and turns in to a werewolf…
Jerry Warren; the man, the maverick, the legend. Possibly the worst movie director who ever stood behind a camera. If you’re going to debate that dubious title, he has to be seriously considered. Information about this particular ‘classic’ is a little vague. When one of the cast members is listed on the ‘Internet Movie Database’ as playing ‘Undetermined Role (May Not Appear In This Film)’ you know there aren’t going to be a whole lot of ‘Making of’ documentaries included on the DVD. l’m always happy to accept corrections to this blog, so if you know better then please get in touch, but here’s how I think it probably went…
Jerry had directed a small number of low budget science-fiction/horror pictures: ‘Man Beast’ (1956), ‘The Incredible Petrified World’ (1957), ‘Teenage Zombies’ (1960) and ‘Terror of the Blood Hunters’ (1962). These were all very poor (actually his ‘best’ work), but they hadn’t set the box office alight for obvious reasons. So he hit on a new scheme and bought the rights to a Mexican feature called ‘La Momia Azteca’ (1957). This was the first film featuring the exploits of The Aztec Mummy. He was a rather tatty creature doomed to a living death guarding an ancient pyramid and its treasures. Jerry shot scenes of American actors providing exposition, edited them together with the original monster footage and created ‘Attack of the Mayan Mummy’ (1964), which he sold to TV. Never mind that it was a tad on the dull side, it worked. Jerry pulled the trick again with cinema features ‘Creature of the Walking Dead’ (1965) and ‘Curse of the Stone Hand’ (1965). The latter was two Chilean films stuck together in the middle with just two additional scenes from Jerry.
In general, there is a slight problem with Jerry’s own filmmaking technique, which is fairly apparent in all his pictures. There are hardly ever any cuts within a scene and virtually no camera movement at all. Whether this was down to economics, the limitations of the equipment, or his lack of ability, is open to discussion. Whatever it was, we are often left with a single static shot of two people talking for minutes at a time. lt’s hard to describe just how boring this is. But never mind, for the last of his Mexican monster mash-ups, Jerry had something rather special up his sleeve.
‘La Casa del Terror’ (1960) was a Mexican comedy about a mummy who turns in to a werewolf. It starred Lon Chaney Jr in what turned out to be his last performance as a wolf man. Now, Chaney’s star had fallen a long way by the early 1960s, but he was still a ‘name’. Only Jerry had a problem; ‘La Casa del Terror’ (1960) was a comedy in the vein of ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein’ (1948). It wasn’t a horror picture and the comedy wouldn’t play with a U.S. audience.
The solution was simple. Jerry still had the footage of ‘La Momia Azteca’ (1957) so why not cut scenes from the two films together, add a sprinkling of the exposition footage he’d shot for ‘Attack of the Mayan Mummy’ (1964) and a little bit of new stuff featuring a couple of cops? This was the genius of Jerry Warren.
Does the finished film make any sense? Well, the first 20 minutes do, because it’s nearly all sequences from ‘La Momia Azteca’ (1957). All this had already appeared in ‘Attack of the Mayan Mummy’ (1964) of course, but that hadn’t played in theatres, had it? No-one’s going to notice. So the U.S. news broadcast announcing the expedition’s find looks suspiciously familiar. This is followed by a brief cut-in of Chaney as a mummified corpse in the pyramid before the Aztec Mummy attacks! Chaney has only been recently interred after an ‘exchange of fluids’ with the mummy. No, don’t ask me to explain, I just can’t.
The Aztec Mummy is subdued by having a strange piece of wood thrown at it and then rogue scientists kidnap Chaney’s body from a press conference. They put him in a metal sweatbox and a big horizontal centrifuge. But nothing wakes him up until the lab is hit by lightning. Then he stares at the moon and turns into a werewolf. These things happen. Besides, the original film was a comedy, remember? Meanwhile, the Aztec Mummy runs amuck before becoming the victim of road rage. The two monsters never meet, of course, because they’re in completely different films.
Chaney hasn’t any dialogue (and probably didn’t in the original film) and he looks old and weary. Years with the bottle were already beginning to take their toll, although he was still working regularly in the following decade. The transformation sequences are the basic ‘stop the camera and add more hair’ technique, and it’s almost certain that a stunt double handles all the ‘action’ scenes when he has his furry face on. But we can’t really judge the original film, because we are only seeing pieces of it.
Jerry’s contribution is a couple of brief scenes with investigating cops. These are distinguished by being presented on a far cheaper and fuzzier film stock than the elements of the other films. They probably took a couple of hours to shoot. Not surprisingly, fame and fortune were not in Jerry’s future, but I expect he made a buck or two. He followed his Mexican triumphs by adding a few scenes to the half-abandoned ‘House of the Black Death’ (1965), which, coincidentally, also had Chaney in the original footage. After that, Jerry took a trip to ‘The Wild, Wild World of Batwoman’ (1966) (it really, really wasn’t) before finally wrapping things up 15 years later with the incredible spectacle of ‘Frankenstein Island’ (1981).
Jerry Warren; quite possibly the worst film director the world has ever seen. Or is it Larry Buchanan? Or Dwain Esper? The quest continues…