Moctezuma and Me

“For there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men. ” -Herman Melville, Moby Dick 2: The Revenge

Every film geek needs their white whale. Something to look for at flea markets and yard sales to see if you can find just one more piece of evidence that your crazy obsession touched other lives.  Moctezuma's movies are that for me.  As a teen I came across his films hidden in my mother's things.   She was not happy, movies were already off limits.  So, of course, movies became my life.   As I grew up and began to study film, I discovered that Moctezuma's films had not touched very many other lives.  His body of work is small, hard to come by, but potent.  The few that have seen his films remember.  Moctezuma's work has influenced not only myself, but Guillermo del Toro, Robert Rodriguez, Sam Raimi, and more. The last film Moctezuma made was, "Death Has 1000 Pathways", his first US film, produced by Roger Corman, and rumor has it, starring Danny Trejo in his first film ever.  However in the middle of production Moctezuma stole all the shot footage and disappeared.   

 

I started this page as a teenager to reach out to the world to see who could tell me more about this unknown director.  Currently we are acquiring interviews with Moctezuma scholars, and people who worked with him.  Our goal is to go to Mexico this year, get more interviews and retrace Moctezuma's steps.

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Who is Juan F. Moctezuma II:
Moctezuma with DP and actor on, "Las fieras"
Moctezuma birthplace - Janitzio Island
Moctezuma workplace - Cine Ópera

 

“Juan Francisco Moctezuma II is a Mexican horror and sci-fi filmmaker from the 60's and 70's.  We believe he was born in the early 40s on the Isla de Janitzio on Lake Pátzcuaro in the state of Michoacán.   He found his way to Mexico City in his early teens and worked as projectionist at the Cine Ópera theater.  There are no records of payment, but it is believed he learned the craft of filmmaking from his work as a projectionist and from sneaking onto film sets around the city when he could.  His first project of note is "Lovers of the Lord of Night (1960)" (more below on each film) which won him an Ariel from the Academia Mexicana de Ciencias y Artes Cinematográficas. With his winnings Moctezuma created "A Priceless Woman (1961)".   There was a long break while Moctezuma worked with Chilean filmmaker, Alejandro Jodorowsky, before making his next film in response to the Tlateloco Massacre in the 1968, "Las Fieras (1969)", most of which was destroyed by the government. Moctezuma's next, and last completed film, was Demonoid (1971).  After struggling to get his next film made, he had the huge opportunity to make a US produced film, "Death Has 1000 Pathways" produced by Roger Corman.  An American producer who has launched the careers of directors like, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, and actor Jack Nicholson.  However, Moctezuma threw away this opportunity, stole the footage they had shot and to this day we do not know why, where he went, or what happened to the film.

 

Jodorowky
Corman
Raimi
del Toro
Rodriguez

"Moctezuma is a pivotal director in Mexican Cinema for making bold and personal films during a time of social unrest and government oppression.. ”

- “Masked Men and Mummies: The Encyclopedia of Mexican Pulp Cinema.” By J.D. Chalston

 

 “Directors such as René Cardona, Alfredo B. Crevenna, Alfonso Coronoa Blake, Federico Curiel, Miguem M. Delgado, Juan Moctezuma II and Chano Urueta take the horror film and ‘horribly mutate’ it.  The eaisly recognizable formula of the Universal and Hammer horror films is taken to bizarre extremes in mexploitation.”

- "Mexploitation Cinema" by Doyle Greene

Filmography

Reviews by my good friend, Curtis Dye and myself.

Los amantes del señor de la noche/Lovers of the Lord of Night (1960):

I think the Mexican tourism board must’ve hired Moctezuma for this one. It’s really endless shots (mostly stock footage) of women on the beach. I really want to visit 1950s/60s Mexico now.  Except not at night. Night in Mexico is very similar to the daytime except with a shitty blue filter on the camera. Even the same women are at the beaches! It’s amazing!In the blue of night there’s a guy who wears a cape who walks around town. He is probably a vampire, but the film isn’t quite clear about that. He goes to a dance club and drinks a beer. Then there is more stock footage of night bathing, then a shot of a neck with two vampire holes in it. Fucked if I can keep up with this nonsense.The film making here is almost hypnotic. The shots of woman on the beach just keep coming in a rhythmic fashion interspersed with the goofy vampires and terrible special effects. Moctezuma must’ve hypnotized someone because he won an ariel from something called the the Academia Mexicana de Ciencias y Artes Cinematográficas. The soundtrack is awesome. Not sure if this was added later, but has some great modern classical sounding stuff. Like, if Henry Cowell went to Tijuana and drank too much Tequila. Much weirder than the film it was written for. One fucking bat. /\../\

-Curtis Dye

What's special about this film is that (so the story goes) Moctezuma used clips from the movies he projected at Cine Ópera, shot some of his own footage then compiled it all together to tell a new story.  Reconstructing this film is difficult because it could include any clips from any movie that screened at Cine Ópera before 1960.

-Alaric Rocha

Una mujer sin precio/A Priceless Woman (1961):

Sort of a bait and switch on this film. I was all psyched up for another dumb luchador film with some guy in a scorpion mask* fighting the Bride of Frankenstein or something, but clearly the director had other things in mind. It does open with the obligatory lucha match with Mexican Sting wrestling some non-descript guy in white tights. It’s pretty clearly two different matches cut together because El Stingo doesn’t have scorpions on his mask for certain shots. Yay, Mexican film industry!  The mystery of the missing scorpion** is never solved***. Which ends up not mattering as our masked man is only seen in one other scene as we cut to a “scenery chewing” scientist, Dr. Victor Junco, presenting his findings on life and death to some stock footage. Sting makes some comment about man not being god and our scientist loses his funding. Luchadores be hating the spirit of academic inquiry.  Anyhow, our hero doesn’t care as he has a hot wife. They go to dinner and she gets hit by a car. Dr. Junco does some great over-the-top campy mugging when he hears the off screen accident****. What follows is a pretty great take on the Frankenstein story, as Dr. Junco uses his SCIENCE to rebuild his wife and bring her back to ‘life.’ He quickly realizes that if there is something he doesn’t like about his wife he can simply reprogram her, and suddenly this movie has become, "The Stepford Bride of Frankenstein" and I am fascinated. Much like the Stepford wives this film is a great commentary on control and gender roles as Junco keeps trying to perfect his wife. Things just keep getting more and more creepy until he finally decides to totally rebuild her into a ridiculous centerfold, and at that point you have to wonder if she’s even his wife anymore. No, no she is not. Even robo-wife seems to realize that her “perfection” has removed her from any obligations to her creator as she drives off into the sunset with a little dog.  Then we have another El Stingo match (vs. “La Serpiente” Joaquin Roberto, no doubt). The End. Highly recommended.

Full four bats (with robot eyes) here./\==/\ /\==/\ /\==/\ /\==/\

*Who is this guy? The VHS tape doesn’t really say. Is he some distant Mexican relative of Sting?

**That would be a great name for a movie.

***I’m guessing Rick Rude was involved.

****Let’s talk about ‘camp.’ I find camp really hard to pull off, as the exaggerations often seem to be the result of bad acting and direction rather than an artistic choice. Moctezuma, thought. This guy gets it. At first glance this movie looks like it might just be more of the same crap, but Moctezuma is really in control of the aesthetic. It somehow serves to highlight the science fiction story rather than detract from it. The best Twilight Zone and Star Trek episodes pull this same trick off.

- Curtis Dye

This was Moctezuma's first studio film, and yes he bait and switched everyone, not just the audiences, but the studios and El Scorpion himself (no relation to Sting).  Moctezuma promised to make a lucha film, and rumor has it shot wrestling sequences, but in the end, Moctezuma wanted to tell Junco's story.  However, breaking so many promises and angering so many people damaged Moctezuma's career.

- Alaric Rocha

Las fieras/The Beasts (1969):

The Tlateloclo massacre was some serious shit, guys. In America, I sometimes feel we live a bit of a charmed life. Sure, things got a bit crazy during the Vietnam era here, but nothing approaches some of the governmental malfeasance from other countries. We sing about “four dead in Ohio” and the people of Tlateloclo, Gwanju, and Tiananmen Square are like “bitches, please.” Long story short, the Mexican government slaughtered 300 people in the run up to the 1968 Olympics, and Juan Moctezuma made a film about it. The opening scrawl of the remaining footage of The Beasts 1969 tells us that this film was brutally censored by the Authorities. It’s not hard to see why. Zombie/apes wearing soldier uniforms rise from their graves and start in on eating the students at a nearby university. Our heroine, Alcira, is chased into a public bathroom where she locks the door and waits out the attack over the course of two weeks.This is a truly weird little movie. The zombie stuff, what with the gore and the face eating and all, is weird enough, but the voyeuristic camera in the bathroom is what really puts this one over the top. I mean voyeurism is pretty much the theme of this flick. Which is a pretty odd direction to take a zombie film. First off, there are repeated shot of our young woman heroine as she sits on and uses the toilet. Followed by repeated shots of the toilet from different angles (above, below, close-up, etc.). Moctezuma clearly has some sort of women-on-the-toilet fetish he’s working through in this film.* Also, when she flushes the toilet the noise draws the zombies, all of which creates this intense feeling of paranoia as Alcira is terrified of being observed at her most vulnerable. There are occasional shots of Alcira looking out through a crack in the window and becomes the voyeur as she watches other students get eaten by zombies. So the audience is made voyeur watching someone use the bathroom and the subject is a voyeur watching people get eaten all presented as some sort of anti-government statement. I’m not sure Moctezuma was totally successful in his message, but heck, at least he made something weird and thought provoking. I wish more directors would try for weird and fucked-up ideas in their pulp films. Too often we’re left with meaningless action sandwiched between meaningless exposition. A pity the whole film doesn’t appear to exist anymore. Hard to rate as it’s only a few remaining fragments, but I’ll give it three bats.

/\../\ /\../\ /\../\

*There’s also a strange foot-fetish sequence where Alcira slowly takes off her shoes to go barefoot into a puddle of blood. It’s all very sensual, and I don’t really know what the fuck to make of it except that it adds the uniquely creepy atmosphere.

-Curtis Dye

Moctezuma struggled for many years to make another film after burning so many bridges with "Una mujer".  It was the indie/do it yourself attitude of Alejandro Jodorowsky that inspired Moctezuma to make this film under the radar.  Shot on location at UNAM University in Mexico City.  Alcira was a real person, trapped in an UNAM bathroom during a police take over of the campus in Sept 1968, about a month before the massacre itself.

Demonoid (1971):

I first want to say that as awesome as a name Demonoid 1971 is, really they should’ve gone with “Obsidian Butterfly” or what ever the fuck that translates to in Spanish. Mariposa de… uh… Obsidiano? Whatever. I would totally go see a band called “Obsidian Butterfly". They’d play some kind of spaced out guitar rock. They could open for a Hawkwind reunion tour. Where was I? Oh, yeah, this movie. This movie is great. If Montezuma could be said to have a masterpiece, this would be it.*  From the opening shot with some goofy shirtless dude thinking he’s all cool, to the final blood bath the whole movie has a unintentionally surreal quality that I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe I’m being unfair calling it “unintentional.” I mean, lots of these bad movies are so poorly shot and edited that they take on a sort of surreal element as the incompetence piles up (see the works of Al Adamson for my favorite examples), but this movie… this fucking movie… maybe Montezuma was trying for more. Like he ate a bunch of funky cactus with Alejandro Jodorowsky the night before filming this because you can really see some freaked out fingerprints all over Demonoid 1971.  Lots of crazy shots and camera angles…. Anyhow. A bunch of hot people (lead by cool shirtless guy) go on an excursion (as you do when you are young) and end up summoning some sex demon called the Obsidian Butterfly. Demons are fun. Summoning circles and chicken sacrifice.** Not enough bad movies use demons. You’d think there’d be tons, but really Death and bloodshed ensue for the amusement of the unsuspecting drive-in audience down Mexico way. The weird thing is that the message is almost sex positive. Or at least not as blatantly sex negative as most films in the slasher genre. Again, makes me think the director had some sort of plan beyond putting out schlock.

I rate the entire movies three bats and some peyote out of four.***

/\xx/\ /\xx/\ /\xx/\

* Note: It can’t be said that Montezuma has a masterpiece. True.

** I sort of pity the actor who had to deal with the animal sacrifices in this one. I imagine the old guy, probably a legend of Mexican TV long forgotten, being told he needs to stab the fuck out of a rabbit (not chicken in this case) to get his meager paycheck. Blood everywhere. Standards lowered.

*** I used the bats with googly eyes because they are out of their bat-gourds on cactus juice. And tequila. And BLOOD!!!

-Curtis Dye

Itzpapalotl, also known as the Obsidian Butterfly the Aztec demon goddess of change.  I believe Sam Raimi has said this movie inspired "Evil Dead".  Teens go camping and accidentally release a spirit?  There are even vines that drag people away.  Either way, this is the first movie I can think of to play with the teens get massacred by a demon genre. 

-Alaric Rocha

Mil caminos tiene la muerte/Death Has A Thousand Paths

All that I have been able to find of this film is a poster and get the general idea of the plot.  Dr. Nava lives in a post apocalyptic world that has been overrun by zombies who need cold to survive (this is way before GoT Nightwalkers!).   Humanity lives safely in the few warm parts left in the world. Dr. Nava journeys into the "0-Zone" to seek out his missing wife.  Feels like a strange continuation of "Demonoid (1971)".  

The poster (if real) confirms Corman was the producer, but even more shocking it included a young Danny Trejo!  This would have been just after he got out of prison, but before any records of him being in any movie.

-Alaric Rocha

The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Add Date here

There are rumors that this 1973-haunted house film starring Roddy McDowall was actually written by Moctezuma II and stolen by the credited writer Richard Matheson.  Matheson is a well-known horror and thriller writer responsible for the novel and screenplay of "I Am Legend" and "Omega Man".  He's also written many Twilight Zone, and Outer Limits episodes.  It is doubtful this prolific writer would have stolen from Moctezuma II.  However there are many Moctezuma-esc themes in the film, for example, the sexuality, the evil spirits or the battle between faith and science.  The law suite never went anywhere because of the timing of scripts as well a key difference. In Moctezuma II’s script the machine communicates with the dead. In Matheson’s novel/script the machine clears the house of spirits. 

-Alaric Rocha

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