So I woke up last night with this horrible idea that some Spanish speaking person might happen across this site and try to run it through Babel Fish or Google Translator or something, and that the resulting garbled interpretation would somehow make me look like more of an asshole than I am - or, at least, a different kind of asshole than the kind I'm trying to portray myself as. I mean, those things might work okay with a site that's actually trying to dispense clear, practical information about its chosen subject, but when a site's subject is just a springboard for it's author to engage in self involved ramblings and transparent attempts at cleverness, it's a different story. To reassure myself, I ran my review of Triunfo de los Campeones Justicieros through Babel Fish, translating it first into Spanish and then back into English, and got this result:
I do not know the jails work. I am not elegant that way. But I think that they can work in the same way that the films of Justicieros Champions work. The fact that these films offer to equipment of the greatest stars of the masked fight, and it aspires, the marks he touching to say that they are less than the sum of his pieces...
While it's true that I don't know the jails work - and that may or may not be a testament to my inelegance - this did not exactly put my mind to rest. There must be a solution to this problem, though none presents itself at the moment. Whatever I do, however, it's clear that I'll eventually have to get around to talking about El Aguila Real, as much as I want to avoid doing so. My viewing of El Aguila Real represents another dip into the stinky troth that is Netflix's selection of Santo films. It's also a product of my recent efforts to plow through some of these lesser Santo movies and avoid the inevitable result of cherry picking my way through the catalog (i.e. that I would be left staring out across a dispiriting wasteland of lucha movie detritus with no remaining high points to break up the monotony). So far this campaign has put me in contact with the listless Santo en la Frontera del Terror, the alluringly horrible Santo Frente a la Muerte and the surprisingly not so sucky Santo contra los Secuestradores. While those movies all had their small share of saving graces to put alongside their many sins, it never occurred to me in the case of any of them to think, "Well, at least it didn't have any animal cruelty in it!" El Aguila Real, on the other hand, can be summarized as follows: Boring bit, boring bit, footage of a real horse tumbling down a cliff, tedium, footage of a real cockfight, snore, snore, Santo forcing a house cat to drink poison, zzzzzzzzzz, footage of a real rabbit being shot, drool, snort, an eagle being forced into a burlap bag and slammed against a wall, boring, boring, the end. In other words, like a crazy alcoholic parent, El Aguila Real keeps waking you from a sound sleep for the sole purpose of traumatizing you. Now, as far as animal snuff goes, I know that arguments can be made about artistic justifications for such material in some cases, but we're not talking about The Rules of the Game here. And if you are so obstinate as to doubt that fact, that you need proof that revered French auteur Jean Renoir did not in fact direct the Santo film El Aguila Real under a pseudonym, just ask yourself whether Renoir would have relied quite so heavily on the abysmal comic relief antics of Santo's manager Carlos Suarez as the director here does. With it's singular combination of boredom and pointless slaughter, El Aguila Real stakes out a new frontier of Santo movie badness, one that actually serves to elevate other bad lucha movies. As a result, I am now forced to reevaluate Santo contra los Cazodores de Cabezas with a more forgiving eye, and may even issue a formal apology to Superzan. So thanks for that, El Aguila Real. In terms of plot, in can be said that the film offers a change of pace from other Santo films, in that it's basically a rural melodrama, but that's not enough to recommend it. Nor is the fact that it showcases the singing of star Irma Serrano, though the scenes of her pitching woo with our masked hero are admittedly pretty hysterical. To sum up, in the interest of better international communication, I will render my final verdict in Babel Fish: The true Aguila is a bad film. Stay far from her!
In Anonimo Mortal, Santo and his two sexy young crime fighting associates follow the trail of clues left in a series of bizarre, seemingly random murders to a vengeful concentration camp commandant and his gang of murderous neo Nazis. Among other things, its idea of a sort of Santo detective agency, teaming the masked man with suave swinger Gregoriao Casals and karate chopping fashion plate Tere Velazquez, gives the movie the feel of a TV pilot, specifically one influenced by the type of British detective shows, such as The Protectors, that were popping up in the wake of The Avengers at the time. And that's not a bad thing. I was particularly interested in Anonimo Mortal because it's brought to us by the same folks who gave us Santo contra las Lobas, which to me is one of the best and most underrated of Santo's 1970s screen efforts. While not quite as good, Anonimo Mortal is similar to Las Lobas in that it seems its makers were making a conscious effort to produce a different type of Santo film than what was otherwise being made at the time. There is a lower cheese factor, for one, and the attempts to create an atmosphere of mounting tension are mostly pretty effective. Unfortunately, because it's more of a detective story than an action film, Anonimo Mortal is a bad viewing choice if you're a monolingual English speaker like myself. To follow it I had to rely heavily on the detailed synopsis provided by Mexican film historian David Wilt on his Santo Filmography web site. Still, I found it thoroughly enjoyable. As I've said elsewhere, if you're not going to pit your heroes against some kind of supernatural threat, you can't do much better for lucha movie villains than a bunch of filthy Nazi swine. Even though they are by necessity - given the considerable stretch of time between the events of these films and those of world war II - a bunch of doddering old men, no one will object to you disposing of them in the most brutal ways possible. And, in that spirit, the commandant here meets with the same poetically ironic fate (hint: ssssssss) that John Carradine did in the last wrestlers vs. Nazis picture I watched, Enigma de Muerte. Of course, the fact that Anonimo Mortal is entertaining is as much a result of the company it keeps as it is of the efforts that went into it. Having recently viewed such entries in Santo's 1970s oeuvre as El Aquila Real and Santo en la Frontera del Terror, just having the camera change position in the course of a scene is cause for excitement in itself. And to have a musical score, minimal as it is here, that has as its obvious objective to augment the mood of what you're actually seeing on screen seems so beyond what one has come to consider reasonable to expect that it's almost an occasion for tears. These considerations, however, are more a result of me not being able to resist slamming those other films and are not meant to sell Anonimo Mortal short. It's got a bit of style, a strong story and some solid performances, and my guess is that, if someone were to put it out on a subtitled dvd (yes, please), it would probably be up among my favorites.
As wild as a lot of these Mexican wrestling films are, it sometimes seems like not a lot of imagination goes into their titles. There's definitely a strict limit on adjectives. Then again, it might just be that I'm jealous, because I simply don't live on the scale that these guys do. None of the opposing forces that I encounter in my life could without irony be called "infernal" or "diabolical". If Santo and Blue Demon were forced to live in my world, their movies would have titles like Blue Demon vs. the Condescending Waiter or Santo versus the Stubborn Screwcap. And, to be honest, while I might be able to relate more to one of those films on a personal level, I'd really rather watch something called Aranas Infernales - which, happily, happens to be the title of the Blue Demon entry that I will be considering here. Probably the one thing that I could relate that would most succinctly sum up Aranas Infernales is the fact that it steals its special effects footage from Plan Nine from Outer Space and Teenagers from Outer Space. As much as this is equivalent to copying the slow kid's homework, it still guarantees that Aranas Infernales' special effects are immeasurably better than those of Blue Demon contra las Invasoras. Still, for the viewer (or, at least, this viewer) there's nothing like the sudden recognition of, not just the fact that you're watching a movie that aspires to pass off footage from what is popularly considered one of the worst films of all time as its own, but that you immediately recognized that footage as such, to make you most acutely feel the corresponding, rapid draining of the sands of time from your mortal hourglass. This, combined with the fact that all of the scenes in Aranas Infernales that aren't filmed outside or set in a wrestling arena look like they were filmed inside a really small box, could really send me into a funk. But then here comes Fernando Oses, challenging Blue Demon in the ring with a ridiculous looking spider puppet on his hand, and all is forgiven. A sublime moment like this, occurring in a film's final minutes, is enough for me to see the total time invested, no matter how freighted with inanity, as well spent. On top of all the aforementioned pilfering and claustrophopia, Aranas Infernales has a really extraordinary number of wrestling sequences (I honestly lost count). Fortunately, due to Blue Demon's typically spirited commitment to his role's physical demands, these are all pretty good, as are all of the plot-related brawls. As for the spiders, they're not all that infernal. And, dovetailing fortuitously with the film's obviously limited effects budget, they're not all that spidery, either. It seems that the aliens' choice to assume human form was for the purpose of blending in, so that they could walk among their intended prey undetected. But they kind of defeat that purpose with their insistence on wearing sparkly capes with big pointy collars. Their vanity is their ultimate undoing.
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Of all the lucha films in which classic movie monsters have made an appearance, El Asesino Invisible is the only one that I can think of that features the Invisible Man as its villain. There are a number of reasons why pitting a luchadore against an invisible foe is a bad idea, one of the most obvious being that Santo, Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras, for all their athletic ability, were not, as far as I know, accomplished mimes, and would have had difficulty selling the idea that they were grappling with a transparent corporeal being - much less that they were walking against the wind or trapped in a small invisible box. Fortunately for us, the lead here is taken by professional actor Jorge Rivero, essaying the one-off role of El Enmascarado de Oro, aka The Golden Mask. (Unable to beat Santo at his own game, Rivero would go on to join him a couple years later as his co-star in Operacion 67 and El Tesoro de Moctezuma.) El Asesino Invisible is the type of film that I imagine people are talking about when they refer to a movie as "an entertainment"; There's a sprinkling of plot, a bunch of musical numbers, a little romance, eye candy of both the male and female varieties, and, of course, a couple of wrestling matches shown in their entirety. The adorable Ana Bertha Lepe is the female lead here, and how much you like El Asesino Invisible will depend on how much you like Lepe (I do; she's adorable, remember), because she appears in several full-length song and dance numbers that are distributed liberally throughout the length of the film. Interestingly, Lepe is playing herself here - or at least a version of famous star of stage and screen Ana Bertha Lepe who exists in a world where she might be stalked by a mad scientist with the power of invisibility - which I can't help thinking was a move to compensate for the lack of verisimilitude that resulted from having an actor, rather than the "real" wrestler you'd typically see, in the masked hero role. (It would appear that having this kind of bridge between fantasy and reality was important to the audience for these type of movies at the time - or at least the producers certainly thought it was.) In a further concession to genre tradition, Rivero forfeits the romantic lead to Miguel Arenas' police detective character, and doesn't even appear unmasked until a very brief moment in the final scene - an especially odd choice given Rovero's classic movie star looks. On the villainous front, the presence of the ever waxen Carlos Agosti in the cast once again makes a mockery of a film's attempts to create any mystery around the identity of its killer, invisible though he may be in this case. On that point, I've got to say that the movie's invisibility effects, while not groundbreaking, are always competent and, in a couple of instances, quite striking - in particular the creepy "empty mask" effect when the killer tries to masquerade as El Enmascarado de Oro, and a bizarre, supernaturally-tinged moment when the hero sees the killer made visible as the reflection in a cat's eyes. I like to point out such technical accomplishments, because I've been troubled by some online reviews I've read of later luchadore films which seem to mistakenly interpret those films' shoddiness as being typical of the product of a backward, "Third World" film industry. The fact is that, at the time El Asesino Invisible was made, the Mexican film industry was the major provider of film entertainment for all of Latin America, was making its films for a worldwide audience, and had an established studio system that was a magnet for first rate technical and artistic talent from throughout the Spanish speaking world and beyond. The real reason that those later lucha movies are shoddy is that, by the time they were made, the genre had fallen out of favor with audiences to the point where they were no longer an acceptable risk for the larger studios, and so became the provenance of smaller studios and independent producers looking to make a quick profit on as small an investment as possible. Still, I can understand how, if the only Mexican film someone has seen is, for instance, the first Superzan movie, they might not have the most charitable view of the country's film industry as a whole - because that movie looks like it was made by some kind of cargo cult after some camera equipment washed up on the beach. (Hey, I'm not saying you shouldn't make fun of those movies; I'm just saying to be careful about the generalizations you make from them.) Still, even a glossy piece of fluff like El Asesino Invisible, which is entertaining but far from the best the industry had to offer, should serve to handily refute such notions.
In Asesinos de Otros Mundos, Santo faces off against a villain who has at his disposal a giant, man-eating space blob. The reason that this film isnít called Santo contra los Blob is that Santo knows better than to pit his wrestling skills against a blob. How would he determine its vulnerable points? If he was able to lift it and spin it over his head, which end of it would he then bounce off the mat? Wouldnít head-butting it be inadvisable? Given these considerations, Santoís encounters with the blob usually end with him trying to get himself and those in his charge away from it as quickly as possible (or as quickly as necessary, since the blob isnít exactly cheetah-like in its celerity). The blob effect is achieved by having several people scurry around underneath a tarp. This makes Asesinos de Otros Mundos a cousin to the Z- grade horror classic The Creeping Terror. If you havenít seen The Creeping Terror, you really should Ė and if youíre contemplating investing your time in watching a movie as terrible as Asesinos de Otros Mundos, you obviously have no good excuse not to. In fact, watching this film without first watching The Creeping Terror would be like watching The Departed without first watching Infernal Affairs (which is what most people did, but itís still wrong). I think that having an understanding of Asesinos de Otros Mundosí rich cinematic lineage will deepen your experience of the film. Which is not to say that you shouldnít also be drunk while watching it.
Ah, the joys of contemplating Santo films in all their infinite variety. There are the competently made B horror thrillers of the early 60ís; the slap-dash low budget train wrecks of the 70ís, period epics, jungle adventures, spy films and even westerns. And then there are the Vergara pictures. David Wilt, on his wonderful, scholarly Santo Filmography website, provides a good deal of background on these particular films. For my purposes, Iíll just say that they were a series of four low-budget, independent films that Santo did for producer Luis Enrique Vergara between 1964 and 1965. Other than their obviously limited production values, these films share a strangely disjointed narrative approach, jumpy editing and eccentrically decorated, minimalist sets that combine to give them a tone of (Iím assuming) unintentional surrealism. The fact that each also contains some seriously oddball ideas and story elements provides them with a level of interest well beyond that of the throwaway cheapies theyíre price tag puts them in the company of. Because Iíve been bad, I decided to watch the three Santo Vergara films I could get my hands on (Baron Brakola eludes me as of this writing) in one sitting - an example of the strange, pie-eating contest approach Iíve taken to watching these films, turning something thatís very pleasurable in reasonable apportionments into a grueling test of endurance.
Fittingly, Atacan las Brujas starts out with a very long dream sequence thatís actually a lot less dreamlike than many of the following scenes that are supposed to be taking place in waking life. Itís revealed that the witches are imposing their will upon the heroineís dream life, filling her head with cryptic and ominous visions. And it appears that theyíre also doing the same to us Ė aided, of course, by lots of primitive optical effects and scary close-ups of taxidermy. Itís a weird ride, filled with apparitions, sudden transformations Ė and a whole lot of Catholicism, thanks to the fact that these witches-in-name-only are just a bunch of slumming vampire women, with all the same crucifix-borne allergies. In fact, just as in Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiros, the leader of the pack (after Satan himself, of course) is played by the first lady of Santo films, Lorena Velazquez. Santo relies heavily on the old ďhuman crossĒ move to combat Lorena and her crew, just extending his arms and letting the light hit him just so whenever he gets backed into a corner. Itís a low impact approach to conflict, but the film makes up for it with a wrestling match thatís one of the few that's really made me sit up and take notice. Itís a furiously paced brawl between Santo and Fernando Oses (who, in keeping with the filmís overall approach to continuity, is also cast as one of the witchesí henchmen, with no attempt made to connect the match in any way to the rest of the plot) filled with all kinds of crazy flips and acrobatic holds.* It speaks well of Atacan las Brujas that, at its conclusion, I was able to contemplate the combined three hours of El Hacha Diabolica and Profanadores de Tumbas that I had ahead of me with no more than the very reasonable amount of dread that I had entertained at its beginning.
*Since writing this review, I've seen 1961's Santo contra el Rey del Crimen, the film from which this fight was lifted, so in regard to this particular footage, I can't credit the producers of Atacan las Brujas with anything other than the good sense to steal it.
It's hard for me to hear the name Baron Brakola without thinking of that old "Heinrich Bimmler" sketch that Monty Python did. Couldn't Doctor Brankenstein have been included as well? Having seen the movie, though, I realize that the name is perfectly appropriate, because Baron Brakola is essentially the Anti-Dracula. Unlike the comparatively effete Count D we see in films like El Tesoro de Dracula and Santo y Blue Demon contra Dracula y el Hombre Lobo, Brakola is a bit of a thug, and, when his back's against the wall, he's just as likely to beat the shit out of you as turn into a bat and flit away. This unique and entertaining take on the old vampire shtick is entirely the creation of Fernando Oses, and I can't in good conscience discuss this movie without taking some time out to put him in the spotlight. Oses is such a ubiquitous figure in lucha cinema that he's become something of a legitimizing presence for me; It's gotten so I just can't feel like I'm watching the real thing unless it has that Oses stamp of authenticity. Not only has he appeared onscreen in an enormous number of these films, but he's also contributed to writing many of them, Baron Brakola included. As an actor, he's normally seen employing his considerable athleticism in subordinate heavy roles, sparing the marquee actor playing the lead villain from himself having to throw down against Santo or Blue Demon, while still guarantying the audience the brutal, fast-paced brawls they came to see. He made a rare exception to this practice with both Baron Brakola and a previous Vergara production, El Hacha Diabolica, by stepping into the role of the titular villain, and the results - especially in the case of Brakola - are pretty damn entertaining. Oses' scraps with Santo are among the best in the genre (so good, in fact, that footage of one of them, from Santo contra el Rey del Crimen, was recycled in not just one but two subsequent pictures) and those in Brakola easily live up to that standard. They're viscerally exciting in a way that even a guy like me who's usually tempted to fast forward through the wrestling matches in these movies isn't immune to. And the fact that Oses is grunting and sweating through these savage dust-ups in full vampiric nobleman regalia while sporting oversized fake teeth that give him a fanged overbite adds to the experience immeasurably. In terms of plot, the film is nearly identical to El Hacha Diabolica. Both concern Santo having to clean up the unfinished business of his 16th century ancestor, the Caballero Enmascarado de Plata, and both set a considerable part of their action in an under-funded school play representation of the Colonial era. This is a little weird in the case of Brakola, because, unlike in El Hacha Diabolica or El Mundo de los Muertos, where the Caballero was simply Santo in a ruffled collar, he is here obviously a completely different guy - and, rather than a wrestling mask, he's just wearing a regular half mask. In any case, I can see why the whole Caballero story line was eventually abandoned by the Santo movies, since, for all his heroic trouncing about, at millennium's end the guy just looks like a chronic ball-dropper; I mean, what does it say about your allegedly noble lineage when your most famous ancestor's primary legacy is the legion of pissed-off, deathless supernatural foes he's left behind for you to deal with? For proof of his inefficacy, merely witness the considerable amount of time the Caballero spends in this movie getting his ass handed to him - most memorably in a scene where he, with great flourish, draws his sword against Brakola and Brakola simply elbows him in the face. Fortunately, things are done a little differently in the 20th century, and Santo gets to do a little ass handing of his own (okay that didn't really come out the way I meant it to, but you know what I mean). Of course, copious guy-on-guy grappling isn't the only manly thrill that Baron Brakola has to offer, as it also provides us with some female eye candy in the person of the winsome Mercedes Carreno. I'd call her adorable, but I already called Ana Bertha Lepe adorable, and I'm determined to gift each of the Mexican film actresses that I crush on with their own adjective (the adjective for Maura Monti, if I can figure out how to spell it, is that combined steam whistle/old car horn sound you hear in cartoons where a guy's head turns into a big wolf head and his eyes and tongue shoot out a foot from his face). It also features those unique charms - a stark, by-necessity minimalism and decidedly eccentric approach to set dressing, for instance - that only one of these Santo Vergara pictures can give us. Santo would part with the studio after this film, bringing to a close one of the most bizarre chapters in his screen legacy. And what better way to cap things off than by having a no holds barred slugfest with a bucktoothed, neck headed vampire.
The Santo, Blue Demon team-up Las Bestias del Terror has a feel somewhat similar to a 1970s TV cop show. In fact, though I couldn't see it, I'm sure that Santo and Blue were sporting perms and bushy mustaches underneath their masks. Unfortunately, Las Bestias is a pretty unremarkable entry, consisting largely of long scenes of people driving aimlessly through the streets of Miami. (This is, of course, better than watching people trek endlessly and uneventfully through the jungle, but not by much.) The efforts to tack some fantastic elements on to the otherwise standard cops-and-robbers plot seem a little listless, and the titular beasts are just a trio of Irish Setters who frolic happily with their victims as the soundtrack plays snarly, growly sounds. This was all a little sad for me, because Las Bestias was the last of the Santo and Blue Demon team-up movies that I had left to view, and I was reluctant to bid farewell to the series, as I had enjoyed most of them quite a lot. So, rather than focus on Las Bestias del Terror, I'd prefer to think of the good times. For instance, the time when, in Santo y Blue Demon contra Dr. Frankenstein, Blue Demon disguised himself in a surgeon's scrubs and mask, with his wrestling mask clearly visible underneath, in order to rescue Santo from the villain's lab. Or the time when, in El Mundo de los Muertos, Blue sacrificed himself to spare Santo the stock footage based torments of Hell itself. And who can forget the warm and toasty feeling we got watching Blue, Santo and their lady friends playing a friendly game of bridge by the fire in Santo y Blue Demon contra Dracula y el Hombre Lobo? Of course, thanks to Blue Demon's bad habit of getting cloned or hypnotized by the bad guys, there were those times when Santo had to beat the living shit out of him, as he did in both Santo contra Blue Demon en la Atlantida and Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos. But, once the beating was over, the two were always willing to shake hands and be thankful for the lessons learned. It's an example we all could learn from. Because, as we all know, sometimes you simply have to beat up your friends. If they're mature about it, and you're friendship with them is worth the salt, they'll end up thanking you for it - and then go on to put their lives at great risk in order to rescue you from mad scientists and Hell beasts. As for Las Bestias del Terror, it's pretty light on life lessons. Though I did learn that biting your opponent on the stomach is not allowed in lucha libre, and that even an innocuous VW Bus can become a vessel of evil if it's driven by Fernando Oses. Valuable knowledge, to be sure, but I still think it's best to look toward better times, or at least in any direction other than Las Bestias del Terror.
Masked wrestling heroes seem to come up against brains a lot in these movies. In addition to this film, we have Santo Contra El Cerebro Del Mal and Santo Contra El Cerebro Diabolico. It would be too easy for me to assume that brains are the natural enemy of wrestlers, but, you know, I'm just saying. Blue Demon Contra Cerebros Infernales really lives up to its title in delivering the brains, too. Real ones, even. They look a little small to be human, so I doubt any people were actually dissected for the purposes of this film, but I'm guessing some farm animals weren't so lucky. These puny but powerful brains reside inside glass domes and testily bark orders at a team of furiously scenery chewing mad scientists who do their bidding with the aid of some mini-skirt clad female zombie/robots. I really like this movie. They were definitely going for a feel similar to the Batman TV show here, and the bright primary hues of the sets make some of the scenes look like they were filmed inside a pack of Jolly Ranchers. Everybody seems to be having fun trying to overact one another, especially the aforementioned bad guys, and the music seems to have been composed by someone who'd actually seen the footage they were scoring (unlike the "let's just play a free jazz album side" approach to scoring later luchadore movies) Blue Demon, in particular, gets a nice, snazzy theme that would be reused in some of his subsequent films. It's nice to see that Demon, despite his second banana status, was having some good, self-mocking fun in life while Santo at this time was often more grimly attending to his world-saving duties.
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That title might lead you to believe you were going to get to see Blue putting a face-lock on Old Scratch himself. But, sadly, the Demon doesn't roll that way. For him, the only way to fight satanic power is with word power. So, when a diabolical killer rises from the grave and starts abducting and incinerating all the young women in town, Blue Demon heads to the library and hits the books. And when the killer sets his sights on Demon himself, he heads to the library and hits the books again. And again. These aren't wimpy little pocket books, of course, but imposingly hefty and ancient looking tomes. Still, while all these scenes of Blue getting his read on certainly provide a good example for the kids, they don't make for exciting lucha cinema. Fortunately, there are wrestling matches to provide a little action, and one of them even features Santo. Unfortunately, it's that same fight with Fernando Oses from Santo contra el Rey del Crimen... again! (In keeping with Vergara Productions' continuity standards, Oses shows up just a couple scenes later as Demon's sweaty police detective friend.) Afterward, Santo drops by Demon's dressing room to offer some words of encouragement. It seems like a nice gesture, but I think I saw Santo surreptitiously grabbing a handful of cold cuts from Blue's deli tray and stuffing them in his mouth before he made his exit. Anyway, Blue finally fills his head with enough book learning to confront his nemeses head on. And, when he does, he's so fat with knowledge that he doesn't even need to lift a finger to defeat him. This is disappointing not only because the film lacks plot driven action, but also because the villain, as played by Jaime Fernandez, is such a creepy little bastard, and his crimes are so sleazy and horrific, that you really want to see him beaten to a steaming pulp. Blue Demon contra el Poder Satanico is, as mentioned above, a Vergara production, and it's brought to us by the same crew who gave us two of Blue Demon's best adventures from the 60s, Contra Cerebros Infernales and Contra las Diabolicas, (both directed, like this film, by Chano Urueta, who also gave the world the insane El Baron del Terror aka The Braniac). However, it's low rent gothic atmosphere and murky black & white photography make it more similar to Santo's efforts for that studio than to those aforementioned ultra-mod camp fests - and it lacks the bizarre elements that made those Santo films so interesting. As much as I like Blue's films in general, I'd have to say this one is pretty pass worthy.
It's another slam bang Blue Demon adventure! This one is a companion film to Blue Demon contra Cerebros Infernales, filmed at roughly the same time as that film with largely the same cast and many of the same sets. Because of the title, I thought it might also be a thematic companion to Blue Demon contra las Invasoras, and as such would cement Blue Demon's place as defender of mandom against the evil designs of other worldly, predatory females. Turns out this wasn't the case, however, since the Diabolicas of the title turn out to be a team of female wrestlers who are just one component of the diamond smuggling ring that Demon tackles here. In any case, like Cerebros Infernales, this is another hugely satisfying entry, perhaps even surpassing Cerebros in terms of colorful, campy nonsense. Other films in the genre go for this type of comic book feel, but Las Diabolicas really nails it. As a result, we get plenty of candy-colored pop arts sets, energetic and fairly well staged brawls, and an overall sense of exuberant silliness. As a big bonus, we also get - thanks to the swinging nightclub setting of the smugglers' operation - copious frugging and watusi-ing by a bunch of mop-topped Mexican teens. (To compliment this go-go action, the same brassy score from Cerebros Infernales is augmented by some twangy beat combo numbers by the orange-suited nightclub act El Clan.) Blue really throws himself into the physical action here, and in so doing makes some very dramatic entrances and exits. This is a man who clearly feels that using the front door to enter a friend's home is not a matter of courtesy but rather a failure of imagination. Once the guns are put away, everyone will agree that somersaulting in through an open window was the way to go. And when it's time to leave? Well, let's just thank goodness that all of Blue's friends live on the ground floor. Las Diabolicas also includes the earliest appearance of an evil double of Blue Demon that I've seen in one of these films. This device turns up so frequently in later films that I've got to wonder if Blue Demon's intended role in lucha cinema was to serve as a symbol for the duality of man. If that's the case, he here externalizes that inner conflict by going mano a mano with his doppelganger in the film's climactic ring battle. All in all, this is one of my favorite films in the genre. Demon looks great and appears to be having a good time, even perversely toying with the police at one point by suggesting that he might be responsible for the murders the evil double is trying to frame him for. It's a credibly super heroic performance on his part. For all that, however, I fear that even he may be helpless to prevent the pixie-ish Ana Martin from being crushed under the weight of the enormous hairdo she wears here.
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Blue Demon contra Las Invasoras bravely puts its worst foot forward by opening with one of the most outrageously haphazard space travel sequences Iíve seen. Iím tempted to make an Ed Wood comparison here, but while the sequence in question certainly makes the hubcap flying saucers in Plan 9 look like the height of cinematic spectacle, to do so would miss the point. What makes those scenes in Plan 9 so excitingly, compellingly bad is Woodís legendary enthusiasm, the fact that we suspect that he thought those saucers looked fantastic, that he was really doing the absolute best that he could do. The makers of Blue Demon contra Las Invasoras could easily have made a more special special effects sequence than the one that they gave us, they just didnít bother. They knew that their movieís major special effect was its star. Blue Demon was going to get people in the seats regardless of what else was on screen, so, when it came time to show the female invaders landing on Earth, blurry shots of a marble sinking in an aquarium would do just fine. The English title of this one could be ďCooties from SpaceĒ, as it concerns some horrible girls who come to Earth to turn all the men they kiss into zombie slaves. Itís a great plot for the seven-year-old boys in the audience, and for dad we have the mini-dresses and pneumatic builds on the invasoras themselves. Of course, a couple of these alien women eventually succumb to the charms of our strapping Earth studs and turn on their leader (none of these studs is Blue Demon, however; I guess this was still before he was allowed to get a girl of his own in his movies). The set up, simple as it is, takes a good while, and Blue Demon doesnít show up until about halfway through the movie, but this is still good, campy fun. Iíve now watched so many of these movies that Iím becoming comfortably familiar with the recurring props. In particular, thereís a pedestal mounted, round control console inside the invaderís spaceship that Iíve seen, with different paint jobs, in probably a dozen of them now.
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When you don't understand what the characters are saying, you tend to become acutely aware of just how much talking there is in a movie, and Blue Demon Destructor de Espias has quite a lot. Which is not necessarily a criticism. After all, spying is all about the exchange of information, and Destructor de Espias is a spy movie - so it may just be that Destructor de Espias is an especially realistic spy movie, certainly more so than crap like 24. In any case, it was inevitable that Blue Demon would make a spy movie, and not just because Santo had made one, but because it was the late 60s and pretty much everyone else had made one. The thing that makes Blue Demon a perfect candidate to be a spy is his ability to blend seamlessly into any environment - or, at least, any environment in which a bare chested man in a blue cape and wrestling mask would not be out of place. In other environments, it's probably best to team him, as the producers have here, with serial Mexi-spy star and all around suave bastard Carlos East and sleek Italian import Maura Monti; then people will be too busy looking at them to notice him anyway. Anyway, because of the aforementioned language difficulties, I can't really relate much of the plot of Destructor de Espias other than that it involves the typical international rogues typically harassing and kidnapping the typical scientists in order to get the typical secret formula. But that won't matter to you if you're that imaginary person who I see as being the target audience for The Lucha Diaries, because that person would not care about a film's plot, but would rather ask, "Does the movie have a racist, go-go dancing puppet in it?". And the answer in this case is, "Why, yes it does". To explain: The action in the film's third act is set in San Francisco's Chinatown - a glamorous change of locale that is accomplished through stock footage, that plinky-plonky xylophone music (because xylophones are a Chinese instrument, right?), Hispanic people in Fu Manchu make-up, and people mentioning the fact that they're in "San Francisco" as much as is humanly possible (as in "Will you, in San Francisco, please pass the salt of San Francisco to me, also in San Francisco?"). During this section of the film, all of the principals visit a swanky nightclub whose star attraction is a Chinaman marionette that go-go dances with a Latina in a Suzie Wong outfit. (Because, aw yeah, bitches, we know how to pawty in San-to-the-mother-fuckin-Francisco.) I must also mention that this marionette has a disturbingly erectile neck which extends lewdly in reaction, I'm guessing, to his dance partner's more seductive moves. This sequence happens in the last ten minutes of the movie, so if you happen upon it, don't give up on the film before you've seen this part. Other than that, I'm afraid that Destructor de Espias compares unfavorably to it's sequel Pasaporte a la Muerte, mainly because Pasaporte a la Muerte features a cool underground lab and an android that shoots cartoon rays out of its hands. I will say for Destructor de Espias, though, that it does afford Maura Monti the opportunity to flip and judo chop people Emma Peel-style much more than in Pasaporte a la Muerte, though still not in a leather catsuit. Oh, well. Here's some more pictures, 'cause I know you want to see the damn puppet:
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This week I'm reviewing the debut movies of Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras. I don't have particularly high expectations of either film, but that's okay, because I harbor a boatload of goodwill towards these guys, thanks in large part to my happy experience of the decidedly favorable winners-to-clunkers ratio in each of their limited filmographies (especially in comparison to, you know, that third guy). Blue Demon, for one, fronted a couple of my all time favorite lucha movies, the campy live action cartoons Blue Demon contra Cerebros Infernales and Blue Demon contra las Diabolicas, and his team-ups with Santo are among the few of Santo's films from the late 60s and 70s that are actually entertaining. I'm conveniently choosing not to hold him responsible for the Los Campeones Justicieros movies - which I'm beginning to feel I may have a completely irrational hatred for - but, those aside, the only real suffering I've done at the altar of Blue Demon thus far has been at the hands of El Hijo de Alma Grande and, to a much lesser extent, La Mansion de las Siete Momias. The qualities that make Blue so appealing for me could well be the result of his number two status; he exhibits the kind of game doggedness you might expect to see in someone fighting to prove himself in the Santo-shaped shadow of a more widely recognized peer. It might also be possible that I'm just projecting my lame underdog fantasies onto him. In any case, I have rarely felt that a Blue Demon performance, as one-note and stick figure basic as it might be, was phoned in, and never have I considered that I might be watching a stunt double when watching any of his fight scenes. The guy just always gives it his all, and you can't help rooting for him because of it. Anyway, before this starts sounding like some kind of big gay love letter to Blue Demon, I should probably discuss the movie at hand. Blue Demon features Blue Demon series regular Jaime Fernandez as a mad scientist who, in his efforts to create a superman, just ends up turning a bunch of guys - including himself and Fernando Oses as one of his wrestler henchmen - into werewolves. These werewolves are notable for 1) being particularly mangy in appearance, with the growth on their hands and faces looking more like patchy clumps of moss than hair and 2) for the fact that their werewolfism seems to only affect their extremities, as evidenced in a scene where a bare chested Oses transforms during a match against Blue and remains baby butt hairless from the neck down and wrists up. Blue Demon, obviously Mexico's first line of defense against werewolves, is called in as soon as the first beast makes it's appearance, which actually takes place in the very first scene. This early introduction of both a classic monster and our luchadore hero has Blue Demon hitting all the right beats fresh out of the gate. The movie definitely plays it safe by simply recycling successful elements from preceding Santo movies, but, while it doesn't show you anything you haven't seen in a lucha movie before, it never really drops the ball either. The result is a solidly engaging, if not particularly outstanding, wrestler vs. monster movie, one that serves as a perfectly respectable screen introduction to El Demonio Azul. (Yes, that title, translating to Blue Demon: The Blue Demon, is the most redundant film title ever - at least until the release of my directing debut, Motion Picture: The Movie!) I especially appreciated the filmmakers' conspicuously conscientious efforts to make sure they included absolutely every existing spook show clichť within Blue Demon's running time. In one extended scene, in which Blue explores a seemingly deserted old mansion, one carnival haunted house trope after another is rolled out - a fake scare from a projectile cat, eyes peering out through holes cut in a spooky portrait, a near miss from a dagger tossed by an unseen assailant, a cobweb covered skeleton moving it's head to follow Blue as he passes, a tarantula attack, a bat attack - until the whole catalog is completely exhausted. It's interesting and oddly impressive to see such meticulousness put in the service of basically making sure that a movie is as derivative as possible, but, in any case, it makes for a really fun scene. After all, the beauty of Mexican wrestling movies is that, the more familiar elements they place around their bemasked protagonists, the more their very oddness is highlighted. So Blue Demon actually ended up exceeding my admittedly modest expectations - and the forgiving attitude I brought to it proved to be entirely unnecessary. Because, in watching it, I achieved the near-complete suspension of judgment, taste, intelligence and credulity that is the ideal state you're shooting for when you tuck into one of these things. Now here's hoping that Mil Mascaras' debut will be an equally smooth ride.
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Now this is the stuff: A whole team of colorfully costumed, masked wrestlers (on motorcycles!) battling super powered midgets in matching super hero outfits, a mad scientist, lots of cut-rate action set pieces, etc. At least, it should be the stuff. Though I enjoyed this movie, my experience of it didn't match up to what I was seeing on the screen. And what I was seeing on the screen should have added up to absolute lucha cinema nirvana. I just couldn't get past the musical score here. Instead of the traditional approach to creating a film soundtrack, where someone is paid to actually watch the film and create different pieces of music that are appropriate to the different scenes as needed, it sounds as if the producers here just decided to put on a sub-par west coast jazz album and let it play through behind all of the action. This might not be so distracting if the "broken clock" rule could be applied and the music was appropriate to at least some of the action, but it just isn't. As a result, every bit of screen business - be it Mil Mascaras hurling a midget or Blue Demon staring blankly at a cue card - carries the same dramatic weight. This isn't the only film I've seen from this genre that commits this sin, but it's the most potentially enjoyable one that's damaged by it. I watched this movie the same day that I watched the Kommissar X film "Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill" and I noticed that both prominently featured as a prop that old 60s toy gun that folds up into a transistor radio. Weeeird, man.
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This Mil Mascaras vehicle features a couple scenes of mildly S&M tinged violence, placing it firmly on the kinkier end of the lucha cinema spectrum. This hint of decadence doesn't seem too out of place, though, because it compliments the relatively rock star-ish aura that the flamboyant Mil Mascaras projects (I mean, the whole "thousand masks" thing is a bit Bowie-esque, isn't it?). It's because of that bad boy glamour of his that I feel Mil really comes down on the wrong side of the conflict in Los Canallas, which for me boils down to a battle between the cool kids and the dorks. The cool kids here are a bunch of black clad hipsters who smoke and hang out in dank basement nightclubs, dancing lasciviously to steamy lounge exotica - just like cool kids in the late 90's, but without irony. Sadly, the cool kids really don't like Mil Mascaras, and they take the first opportunity to express their dislike by chucking smoke bombs at him and running him off the road in his sports car. On the other hand, there are a bunch of dorky square john kids who like Mil Mascaras a whole lot. They like him so much that, when they go see him wrestle, they lead the crowd in a pep rally style cheer for him - Mil Mascaras! Mil Mascaras! Ra ra ra! The film isn't subtitled, so I can't give you a literal translation of any of the other things that the dorks say, but basically they're saying things like, "Gosh, Mil Mascaras! Those cool kids are smoking!" Or, "Gee, Mil Mascaras! That cool girl's jeans sure are tight! Let's all go pray!" This isn't to say I'm not glad that Mil Mascaras has someone in his corner; I just firmly believe that, if the cool kids decided to let him hang with them, Mil would drop the dorky kids faster than he could face-lock a midget. Another thing that makes the cool kids so cool - aside from the black wearing, the smoking and the dancing lewdly to Nicola Conte music - is that they're lead by Regina Torne, who is hot in the way that only crazy, mean, revenge-obsessed girls can be. But, alas, all of the good ones are taken, and here Torne's character, Kadena, is taken by lucha film renaissance man Fernando Oses, who communicates with her from prison through a plastic toy piano. Given that Mil Mascaras isn't given a whole lot to do outside the ring here, Torne's performance is definitely the high point of the film. A runner-up high point is a pagan ritual that comes off like a cut-rate version of one of the production numbers in Showgirls. This is Mil Mascaras' first color feature, and it has a similar flavor to the first color efforts by Santo and Blue Demon (Operacion 67 and Blue Demon contra Cerebros Infernales, respectively), which also came out in 1966, though it's not quite up to the quality level of those two. Nonetheless, it's still reasonably entertaining. Those kids sure are dorks, though.
Las Momias de Guanajuato is considered a classic of lucha cinema. As of this writing, I have not seen that film, but I believe that I have seen all of its disappointing sequels. One of the reasons that Las Momias de Guanajuato is so beloved is that it marked the first time that Santo, Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras, the three greatest names in Mexican wrestling, appeared on screen together. El Castillo de las Momias de Guanajuato, the film Iím reviewing here, stars Superzan, Blue Angel and Tinieblas. Iím guessing that the eighties Hollywood equivalent of this would be following a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis with a sequel starring Steven Seagal, Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. Of course, if youíre a big eighties action film fan, you would probably think that a movie starring those three would be pretty great, so I should just shut up. Iím trying to make fun of this movie and I just ended up making it sound kind of cool. Since starting this diary, I have pledged to myself that Iíll write these movies up within a day or so of seeing them, while theyíre still fresh in my mind. Unfortunately, I watched this one before I started this diary, so now many of its finer details Ė and many of its broader ones, also - are lost to me. The fact that I was able to hold so little of it in my mind - along with the vague feeling that watching it again would be a mistake - doesnít speak well to me of El Castillo de las Momias de Guanajuato. I do remember scenes of Superzan driving everyone around in a VW bus. And there were mummies. The mummies here are not mummies as we in the U.S. understand them, though, but are rather a bunch of hash-faced zombies with the conveniently plot-advancing power to make women faint instantly at the sight of them. Furthermore, the mummies in the Momias de Guanajuato films donít generally commit evil of their own volition, but only under the control of a third party Ė say, a mad scientist. Now, letís seeÖ mad scientist meansÖ midget henchmen! Yes, there were those, too. Okay, I think you get the picture. Time to move on to El Robo de las Momias de Guanajuato.
It's debatable whether this movie belongs on this site. Or it would be, if the matter was open for debate, but, since I love this movie - and this is my site - we can consider the matter closed. Cazadores de Espias only concerns masked wrestling to the extent that it's one of numerous aspects of Mexican genre cinema that get spoofed therein, as the film is a broad and careening parody that recklessly throws together seemingly anything its makers thought would stick. The story - to the extent that there is one (or, I should say, to the extent that there is just one) - concerns a couple who inherit a building and can't agree on whether to turn it into a wrestling arena or a go-go club, so they do both. The result is pretty much what you'd get if you dropped a wrestling ring down in the middle of the Hullabaloo set; you'll see a match between a masked luchadore and a robot, cheered on by screaming girls in mini-skirts and go-go boots, followed by Maura Monti shaking a tailfeather to a live performance by one of Mexico's mod-est pop combos. Adding to this stew is the fact that, unknown to the couple (who are played by Eleaza "Chelelo" Garcia and Leonorilda Ochoa), the area beneath their property is serving as the subterranean lair for a nest of enemy spies with super villain uniforms and accoutrements so ridiculous that they make the trappings of the Kommissar X movies look like those of a staid John Le Carre adaptation. These baddies in turn necessitate the appearance of Carlos East, playing a suave secret agent whose scenes, for the most part, are played so straight that they almost seem like they came from another movie. Oh, and as I mentioned before, there's also Maura Monti, who basically eats the movie whole from the moment she's introduced on screen, in a scene where she feeds live puppies to her pet carnivorous plant.
So, do I really need to tell you at this point why I love Cazadores de Espias? I didn't think so. And I haven't even told you about the music yet. In addition to it's insanely catchy Mexi-Spy theme music, the film features onscreen performances by a couple of real bands. One of these bands, Los Rockin Devils, plays an appealing 60s style rocanrol, while the other, The Shadow of the Beast, is a psychedelic band so outrť that they make The Monks sound like the Monkees. (While I was able to find a website for Los Rockin Devils, I couldn't find any information at all on The Shadow of the Beast - seriously, has David Byrne heard of these guys?) Lastly, though the attempts at comedy in lucha movies generally make me seize up into a defensive fetal posture, I actually found Cazadore de Espias funny, and even laughed out loud at a couple of its goofy sight gags. It really made me wonder what I was missing for the lack of a translation. In fact, this is one of the few movies covered on this site that I feel really needs, in order for it to be properly enjoyed by gringos like me, to be released on an English subtitled dvd. It just rocks. Anyone?
Cerebro del Mal, shot in Cuba in 1958, is Santo's first film, though it's not exactly the auspicious debut you might expect. In fact, the role he plays here is identical to the one Blue Demon would play in certain of Santo's films, that of the second banana hero who spends the majority of the film under the hypnotic sway of the villain. Given these beginnings, you'd think Santo might have had more compassion for his partner - and would maybe have thought twice before busting out those flame pistols and stealing Blue's thunder at the end of Las Momias de Guanajuato. (According to Robert Michael "Bobb" Cotter's book, Blue remained resentful about that for the rest of his life, which prompts me to imagine a bemasked Blue Demon mumbling bitterly over his breakfast cereal, imitating Santo in a whiny, baby voice going, "I've got some flame pistols! Why don't we use my flame pistols!" I then go on to imagine Mil Mascaras looking up from his newspaper and saying, "What did you say?" At which point, Blue would start embarrassedly dissembling, saying he was just saying how lame the Pistols' reunion was, or something like that.) Then again, perhaps Santo, having himself perfected his actors' art through adversity, felt that giving Blue Demon a break would have denied him an important growth experience. For all the Santo films that I've reviewed on this site, it never occurred to me to comment on Santo's acting until I saw Cerebro del Mal. His fledgling attempt at the craft here really impressed on me how much work it must have taken for Santo to get to the point where he could just be Santo on screen. Among his more interesting choices here is his attempt to convey being in a state of hypnosis by acting stumbling-down drunk; another is when he - I'm guessing to show his hypnotically enforced docility - curls up in a chair and goes to sleep like a sated kitten. Despite Santo's lesser role (the main wrestler hero is a one-shot called El Incognito), and aside from its historical interest to Santo fans, Cerebro del Mal has a lot to recommend it. While the look that would be typical of early Santo films - a combination of Film Noir, Republic Serial and Universal Horror Film - is fully in place here, the abundant use of location shooting in and around Havana - in addition to giving us a fascinating, time capsule view of pre-Castro Cuba - gives it a feel unique in the series. The performances are strong, especially Joaquin Cordero as the villainous Dr. Campos, and the story moves along at a sprightly pace, with nary a wrestling match in sight (though there are plenty of plot driven tussles to keep things rolling). It's a good looking film, with one of the only nightclub scenes in the history of Santo movies that isn't painful. The mad scientist's lab set is a little spare, but the use of a cavernous distillery (a real location, I'm guessing) for his gang's lair, with it's looming, giant casks, is really impressive looking. All told, this is a classy and entertaining little B thriller that's given immeasurable extra "oomph" by its inclusion of masked wrestlers in the cast.
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I watched Doctor of Doom the day after I saw Grindhouse and was happy to see in it an early example of the type of "Until they fucked with the wrong girls" plot that Tarantino pays homage to in that film. The Wrong Girls here, of course, are the wrestling women played by Lorena Velazquez and Elizabeth Campbell, and the person doing the ill-advised fucking-with is the mad doctor immortalized in the film's title. Apparently that doctor is having some difficulty finding a woman who can survive having her brain removed. I say "apparently" because I've become accustomed to using that word when describing these movies, given I'm often watching them in Spanish without the aid of subtitles. However, this movie is dubbed in English - and that, incredibly, is what the man says - so there's actually no "apparently" about it. In any case, the doctor makes mistake number one by kidnapping the sister of famed luchadora Gloria Venus (Velazquez) and removing her brain (which doesn't work out for her either, in case you were wondering). He then proceeds directly to mistake number two and tries to kidnap Gloria herself. Of course, Doctor Ruiz has reason to believe he can withstand the vengeful wrath of the wrestling women, since he has under his command a fearsome beast-man of super human strength. He has softened that beast-man's fearsomeness somewhat by naming him Gomar, but he has also made him even more super human by providing him with a suit of indestructible armor. That armor is a high point of the film for me, not the least because of the armored face mask that accompanies it (also because it makes Gomar kind of a robot, which is cool.) Including the mask was a practical decision on Dr. Ruiz's part, because in so doing he anticipated that the police might do something that police in these movies never do; actually try to shoot their assailant in the head. It was also an artistic decision, though, because he took the time to etch on it a stylized face complete with elegant, equine nose and full, luscious lips. The addition of this tender touch to such brute utility indicates to me some ambivalence on the part of Dr. Ruiz. He may have wanted Gomar to act as a mindless instrument of destruction, but he also wanted him to look pretty while doing it. (The doctor himself models some pretty impressive head gear at the film's climax, donning a jagged-toothed wrestling mask that looks like it was designed by Ed "Big Daddy" Roth.)
Doctor of Doom is an old fashioned, Saturday matinee thrill ride, complete with hooded villains, wild fights, and last minute escapes from spike-walled rooms. It also features some women who seriously throw down, which is not so old fashioned at all. Because of that, I was pretty disappointed - though not that surprised - when Gloria and Rubi's policeman boyfriends took over the action at the end, reducing the women to the traditional role of simpering on the sidelines. It's an especially absurd turn of events in light of the number of times we've watched the girls' save those two losers' hides during the previous 90 minutes. As superfluous as they are, however, there is one moment featuring the two policemen that I enjoyed. It's when they attend one of Gloria and Rubi's matches, joining in good naturedly with the crowd in booing their opponent. There's a lightheartedness to it, a sense that what they're joining in on is the fun of participating in the theater of it all, without any aggression or investment in the outcome. This says to me that, while you may hear a lot about how revered the sport of masked wrestling is in Mexico, you shouldn't assume that people always take it all that seriously.
Enigma de Muerte is the other movie - after Las Vampiras - that pairs aging horror icon John Carradine with Mil Mascaras, the world's most flamboyant he-man. In this one, Interpol calls on Mil to blow the big top off a crappy circus/carnival that's actually a rat's nest of escaped Nazis. Carradine plays the Nazi leader, who by day masquerades as a clown (ironic!). And, while it's all fun and prizes upstairs, it's all dirty business down in the Nazi's secret bunker, where there are disintegrator rays, electric chairs, and plenty of swastikas, just in case you forget exactly who we're dealing with here. This one's actually pretty great - not quite as good as Las Vampiras (mainly for the lack of interpretive dancing female vampires), but leagues better than the other circus themed lucha movie that I've seen, Triunfo de los Campeones Justicieros, which actually isn't saying much. I do have to do a recycled footage tally here, though, and note that the first act features both the same wrestling match and footage of Mil landing his twin engine plane that is included in the opening third of both of the Mil Mascaras movies that preceded this one, Los Canallas and Las Vampiras. (Since the Mil Mascaras movie previous to it was in black and white, I have to assume that this footage originated with Los Canallas.*) Once that's out of the way, however, what's original to Enigma de Muerte is quite engaging. Mil Mascaras is used well here, and there's quite a lot of action, much of it making good use of the carnival setting. Particularly good is a fight that takes place on a moving ferris wheel, which is accomplished by having Mil Mascaras and a guy fight while on a moving ferris wheel. (This is Vergara Production, after all. What did you think they were going to do? Use a green screen? That's expensive!) There's also a fight that memorably ends with Mil Mascaras' opponent being clobbered by a loop-o-plane car. On the acting front, John Carradine once again delivers with the goes-to-eleven scenery chewing, whether he be horse whipping an underperforming minion, bellowing a Hitlerian tirade, or gleefully putting in practice one of the many elaborate tools of destruction at his disposal. There's even a pre-credit sequence where Carradine addresses the audience, which I wish had been subtitled. ("Hello. I'm John Carradine. Before we get too far into this thing, let me explain to you why I made this movie. You see, I have this acting troupe. It's a labor of love, really...") Considering Enigma de Muerte, I've got to say that, though they're not supernatural or extraterrestrial in origin, Nazis make pretty good lucha movie villains. Like Frankenstein and Dracula, you don't need to provide any back story to establish their villainy, so you can just skip right to the action. And when you add the whole clown angle? Golden! If Jerry Lewis ever decides to release his lost masterpiece The Day the Clown Cried from his vaults, this would complete a great double bill.
*Wrong! That footage of Mil Mascaras landing his plane also appears in his first film, Mil Mascaras, so I now have to assume that, while available copies of that first film are in black & white, it must have originally been shot in color.
El Enmascarado de Plata was intended to be Santo's first film, but he turned the producers down. I wasn't there - or anywhere near born yet, thank you - but I can hear him now as if I were a fly on the wall, pointing out that, were a luchadore to do something so ridiculous as appear in movies fighting mad scientists and monsters, once the internet was invented, he and his descendants would never hear the end of it. I mean, had the opportunity existed, would his noble 16th century ancestor, The Caballero Enmascarado de Plata, have done such a thing? (Yes, probably. And, in his fashion, he would have left some contractual obligation unfulfilled, forcing Santo to settle accounts with the vengeful ghost of some colonial era solicitor.) In any case, I kind of wish I was ignorant of this particular detail of El Enmascarado de Plata's history, because, despite it's many points of interest, it's hard to watch it without thinking about how cool it would be if Santo was in it. In lieu of Santo, another wrestler, El Medico Asesino, was brought in to fill the masked hero role. He doesn't do a horrible job, but he's rather statue-like in the acting department and, being a rather large fellow, a little slow and lumbering in the action scenes. (In some of the fight sequences he appears to just plant his feet and wait for his opponent to considerately step within arms reach to receive his punches.) Seeing as Santo was in his physical prime at the time, it's hard to imagine that his presence wouldn't have added a considerably higher level of excitement to the proceedings. All that aside, what can't be taken away from El Enmascarado de Plata is the fact that it is one of the earliest examples of lucha cinema, and that within it are the seeds of much of what was to come. It's also quite well made. Originally presented as an 11 chapter serial, it would, if not for the spoken language, be virtually indistinguishable from the better examples of Republic's serials from roughly the same period. Following the same blueprint, each episode features El Medico Asesino mixing it up with the masked villain's fedora-wearing goons as they make one of their repeated attempts to kidnap or otherwise harass the female lead or the spunky kid sidekick. There's a world-for-ransom scheme involving some kind of death ray, but at some point the villain seems to lose sight of the prize and just wants to mess with El Medico for its own sake. It all ends with some impending peril that the hero summarily escapes at the beginning of the next chapter. Of course, anyone who's watched these serials knows that, due to this rigid formula and episodic structure, they can be numbingly repetitive if watched in one sitting. But I'm sure that El Enmascarado de Plata, if watched in the bite-sized portions in which it was intended to be viewed, would take most viewers to a happy place. The performances are good, the pace is brisk, and the numerous nightclub musical numbers - one unique aspect of the Mexican take on movie serials - actually add a nice dose of B movie glamour to the otherwise pretty utilitarian unwinding of the plot's machinations. The film even includes an early example of that lucha cinema staple, the evil double of the wrestling hero, with El Medico facing off against his doppelganger in a climactic ring battle, just like Blue Demon in Blue Demon contra las Diabolicas. What the film lacks, however, is those absurd elements that make later masked wrestler movies so addictive. This is exemplified by the fact that the characters in El Enmascarado de Plata spend a lot of time wondering which of the other characters is actually El Medico Asesino. This is something that people in the real world would do. In the world of lucha movies, not only are you not supposed to wonder who the masked wrestler "really is", you're not even supposed to react to the fact that he's wearing a mask, even if he's sitting in the Jacuzzi with you or sitting across from you at the bridge club. Still, I guess the makers of El Enmascarado de Plata can be forgiven for wanting their characters' actions to follow some form of logic based on actual human behavior. I'm glad that their successors tossed that whole idea, though
You might remember me mentioning in my review of Santo contra Hombres Infernales how it was common practice for whatever producer Santo was under contract to at any given time to sometimes try to maximize their investment by stretching one movie's worth of material into two. This was generally accomplished by mixing a modest amount of new material featuring the same cast and crew with outtakes and recycled footage from the immediately previous film, along with a generous garnish of filler material, to make what was basically an instant sequel. It's sort of the same principle as a thrifty 1950's housewife gussying up last night's leftovers and presenting them as an entirely new dish. Following that analogy, 1963's Espectro del Estrangulador is like the stroganoff to the earlier Santo contra el Estrangulador's prime rib. The problem with this for me (as much as there can be anything problematic - beyond the dire spiritual implications of the act itself - in sitting on your ass and watching your umpteenth Mexican wrestling movie) is that Santo contra el Estrangulador is a film that's quite difficult to get a hold of - impossible for me so far, in fact. So I was forced to consider Espectro del Estrangulador on it's own merits. And judging it on it's own merits, I actually think that Espectro del Estrangulador is pretty good. Granted, it does rely heavily on filler material to pad out its length. But in my journey through Santo's filmography, I have found that there are such things as good filler and bad filler. For instance, Santo's manager Carlos Suarez attempting any kind of comic relief shtick is bad filler, but Rossy Mendoza dancing with very few clothes on, as she does in Santo contra los Secuestradores, is very good filler indeed. Espectro del Estrangulador draws most of its opportunities for padding from the concert hall setting of its Phantom of the Opera inspired story, presenting us with a great many musical numbers. You might say that this makes Espectro del Estrangulador a musical, but it being a true musical would require its leading man, Santo, to sing a few tunes and, sadly, that is apparently just too much to ask for. As such it's more of a variety show with a Santo movie mixed into it. Most self respecting lucha movie fans would probably regard such a combination as aesthetic kryptonite, and they'd probably be right to. But given that I'm a person who enjoys watching Bollywood movies and old Scopitones, I actually found the song and dance sequences entertaining. The type of music presented is basically the Latin American version of what was passing for mainstream popular music everywhere in the early sixties - "adult" pop in the Dean Martin and Join Lansing vein suffused with confused nods to the safer elements of rock and roll, mostly in the form of lots of enthusiastic but stiff-legged dancing of "The Twist". I enjoy this type of stuff, not only for its own cheesy charms, but also because a thorough experience of it really makes you appreciate what The Beatles saved us from. I especially enjoy this type of stuff when it's packaged in the sort of ripe production numbers we see in Espectro del Estrangulador, all billowing dry-ice fog, cascading staircases to nothing, "I enjoy being a girl" boudoir sets, and awkward go-go dancing by leotard-clad chorus girls. As for the part of Espectro del Estrangulador that is a Santo movie, as abbreviated as it was, I quite enjoyed that as well (again, having no idea just how much of it was cannibalized from Santo contra el Estrangulador). The villain, a disfigured killer who disguises himself with masks made from the flesh of his exhumed victims, is suitably creepy, and the story puts Santo himself at its center to a degree quite unusual for one of these early films. Santo is even provided with an adopted son here - Milton, who also sings and does The Twist. (Undoubtedly it was later determined that having a kid in tow would put too much of a damper on Santo's love life, since Milton never graced any subsequent films in the series with a reappearance.) Since the plot focuses on the strangler's efforts to exact his vengeance against Santo, there are no unmasked characters shoved to the forefront to fulfill any romantic lead requirement, and nothing - other than about a dozen musical numbers, of course - to get in the way of the conflict between our masked hero and villain. And that conflict, as compact as it is, is pretty intense, with a couple great instances of Santo in peril, including a harrowing sequence where he awakens to find himself buried alive. All this is dressed in the moody atmosphere and relatively high production values that were typical of this brief period in Santo's filmic history (after this, next stop for him was the decidedly downscale Vergara productions) and capped off with a great noirish score by Enrico Cabiati. It all just goes to show that, even at their least, the Santo films of this era outshine the vast majority of what was to follow.
Damn, damn, damn. Here I was thinking that I was done with Santo - at least for the time being. I thought I'd watched every dvd - both legit and gray market - that was available, and in the process had seen all but three of the fifty-four(!) films in El Enmascarado de Plata's oeuvre. Confident that those remaining three films would continue to be elusive for the foreseeable future (and, let's be honest, too spent from my efforts to put much work into finding them in any case), I commemorated this milestone by adding an elegiac postscript to my review of Santo contra el Asesino de la Television, wistfully reflecting on the place Santo has had in my life and dreams over all these long years. Then, just days later, I came across a gray market copy of Santo's final film, La Furia de las Karatecas. Thank you, internet. Thank you so very much. La Furia de las Karatecas stars a 64 year old Santo and Grace Renat, a woman with freakishly enormous breasts. Renat plays twins here, a circumstance that opens such a broad vista of possible juvenile puns that my only response can be to turn and quietly walk away. As the evil sister, she spends almost the entirety of her screen time doing orgasmic, mostly naked booty dances in supplication to some kind of glowing space rock. As the good sister - well, who cares what the good sister does. There is a monster also - awakened by Bad Grace In the course of her gyrations - and he appears to have symmetrically-spaced, hair-sprouting moles all over his body. I find the fact that this film is a continuation of the immediately preceding film, El Puno de la Muerte, both puzzling and frightening, because La Furia de las Karatecas falls far short of having enough content to make even one movie interesting, much less two - so what on earth could El Puno de la Muerte possibly contain? Providing little relief are the aged Santo's action scenes, which are limited to a couple of enervated brawls between himself and Tinieblas, who here plays one of the evil Grace's henchmen. As for the karate experts referred to in the title, they really don't make much of a showing, which makes it difficult to ascertain exactly what it is that they're so furious about. La Furia de las Karatecas is really pretty horrible. The only way it could be worse, really, would be if you could actually catch some kind of disease by watching it. I'd only recommend this one if you're dying to see a Santo movie with an annoying 80s synth score; otherwise, I'd give it a wide berth. And don't even think about the fact that Santo would be dead within a few short years of completing this one. That's just too depressing to bear.
I don't claim to be an expert on Italian genre cinema (despite the many doors, both social and professional, that doing so would no doubt open for me), but I've seen a lot of the stuff. And what I've learned from the experience is that those movies, with some notable exceptions, are unique in their ability to combine a great number of lurid and outlandish elements and still end up being catatonically boring. Still, the possibility of discovering another Danger: Diabolik or Suspiria or The Great Silence makes it worth the slog. Goldface, the Fantastic Superman, which can best be described as a Spaghetti Lucha, is neither catatonically boring nor on the level of those three aforementioned gems, but it is, along with 3 Dev Adam, a perfect example of the international influence of the Santo films. In it Robert Anthony portrays the crime fighting masked wrestler Goldface. Of course, because this is 1967 - and the influence of the Batman TV series cannot be escaped - Goldface is also provided with a secret identity, a departure from standard lucha movie procedure that tells me such conventions were too weird even for the Italians. That alter ego, Dr. Villar, is a horndog scientist with a bevy of giggling, nubile lab assistants. We know that he's a scientist because, at one point, he looks up from a microscope and spews some nonsense about the "sex organs" of a certain "species" of "microbes". We know that he's a horndog because anything any of his young female assistants says provides an opportunity for him to toss off some kind of witty double entendre, usually something on the level of "Yeah, in my pants!" That kind of backwardness shouldn't be too surprising, of course, since Goldface is the type of movie whose vision of the swinging 60s leaves no doubt as to precisely what it was that was swinging, buttressed by the kind of jazz pop chorale soundtrack - all folks going "bwap-wa-waa" and "dooba-dibba-dip" - that screams out "I'm a cheerfully sexist Italian movie from the 60s, dammit!". On the other hand, vintage can neither excuse nor prepare one for the appearance of Goldface's faithful sidekick Gotar, a large, bare-chested black man who wears a crocodile tooth necklace, spouts gibberish while making moon eyes, and calls Goldface "Bwana". This character is just one of Goldface's many instances of intentional camp, but the movie lacks any of the sophistication that might suggest we should give it any more weight than any of the other kitschy anachronisms that are glibly trotted out for our amusement. So shame on your racist gold face, Goldface! Goldface's foe here is The Cobra, who runs an outfit called Cobra, which is involved in something called Operation Cobra. The Cobra is prone to making super villain speeches that are extremely repetitive - so much so that, after a point, every time he started talking, all I could hear was "cobra cobra cobra cobra cobra" - but he does have one great line, in a scene where he executes one of his minions, saying, "You are guilty of being and acting incredibly stupid". The Cobra also wears a cloak with a wraparound collar that covers his face up to his eyes, which gives him an appearance reminiscent of Mort from the old Bazooka Joe comics. Despite an obviously tiny budget, Goldface does an admirable job of keeping things moving along, giving us a variety of vehicle chases and a lot of fist fights in addition to the requisite two wrestling matches (one of which, following a grand lucha movie tradition, involves an evil Goldface impostor). In this regard, it comes out ahead of the one other example of Italian lucha cinema I've seen, Superargo and the Faceless Giants, as that film is more representative of the trend I described above in terms of being both weird and dull. Goldface even manages an acceptable pass at the old 007-style "climactic siege upon the villain's compound", employing some tricky editing that disguises the fact that there were only about eight people involved. At the film's close, there's a wrestling match where Goldface's aggressive love interest jumps into the ring to challenge him - and, after she pins him, we learn she meant "with tongues". Those crazy Italians!
El Hacha Diabolica (1964)
In my review of Atacan las Brujas, I mentioned that one of the things that set Santoís Vergara films apart from the poverty row quickies they might otherwise have been considered kin to Ė other than the fact that they appear to be photographed and edited by actual madmen Ė is their inclusion of some distinctly oddball ideas in their storylines. El Hacha Diabolica is a great example of this, as it quite ambitiously sets out to give us a 16th century costume adventure on a budget smaller than a drivers ed film. And in the process it gives us quite an interesting back story on Santo. In fact, as modest as it is, El Hacha Diabolica will teach you more about Santo than most any other film in the series. For instance, did you know that there was a colonial era version of Santo? This ancestor of the 20th century Santo was a nobleman who renounced his wealth and identity after having the magic silver wrestling mask bestowed upon him by a cave-dwelling wizard. Of course, this being a Vergara film, the painted clapboard cave the wizard lives in is more like a German Expressionist version of a cave (but, this being a Vergara film, that weird detail actually serves to give the scene a strange Ė and probably completely unintended Ė power). The modern day action in the film takes place when Santo finds that, in inheriting his ancestorís mask and cape, he has also inherited the enmity of the century-hopping villain of the filmís title. Itís a close call, but I think that El Hacha is my favorite of the three Vergara films Iíve seen at this point. (Iím coming for you Baron Brakola!) No way is it as weird as Profanadores de Tumbas, though.
Alma Grande is a gun slinging hero of comic books and movies. Why a film ostensibly centered around the adventures of his son would need to prominently feature Blue Demon becomes immediately apparent once you see the kid. He's a pudgy and not very charismatic teenager, unconvincingly cinched into a buckskin and fringe outfit. El Hijo de Alma Grande is an Agrasanchez production, and the thought of writing about it fills me with inertia. In order to psyche myself up for it, I tried to convince myself that I was ready for another Agrasanchez picture, that I was even perversely looking forward to it. After all, it had been a while since I'd watched one - I think since the time I grimly soldiered through one of those BCI bargain flipper disc sets with seemingly a million of the things on it. And as much as I have decried the Agrasanchez movies for their hunger strike production values, ghastly musical scores and constant reliance on the use of little people as a cheap gimmick (Okay, maybe I didn't decry that last thing, but I should have), it could be considered a virtue of sorts that they can always be counted on to provide some of the most preposterous and seriously just plain broken shit that any films in this genre have to offer. But this turned out to be way too much to ask of myself. Soon after the film's villains - a pair of evil aliens who pluck the eyes from those victims whom they don't disintegrate in a machine that looks like a cross between a vintage jukebox and a Pez dispenser - capture Blue Demon and his friends, they set out with them and the rest of their captives on a forced march through the jungle. And we are forced to endure the endless foot-tromping, brush-slashing nightmare of Santo contra los Cazadores de Cabezas all over again. No quantity of ridiculous seventies fashions or jaw-droppingly half-assed special effects, abundant as those are here, can mitigate the toll that this takes - and while liberal application of the fast-forward button dulls the pain, it doesn't lessen the insult. In El Hijo de Alma Grande's favor, I will say that the fact that it's shot on location in Belize is of interest, and the film even starts off by providing a little travelogue of the region. We also get a charming, documentary-style sequence (this was a working vacation for cast and crew, perhaps?) in which Blue, Alma Grande Jr. and their entourage enjoy a sumptuous feast while the impoverished and hungry-looking locals - many of them children - dance for their entertainment. Also, the casting offers some surprises, as there are a couple of familiar, but not recently seen, faces in the evil alien roles. As the male alien - in the bright orange alien leisure suit and rocking the Mike Brady perm - is our old friend Noe Murayama, who we haven't seen since his villainous trifecta of 1966 with Operacion 67, El Tesoro de Moctezuma and Blue Demon contra Cerbros Infernales. As the female alien - in the skin tight, bell bottom, silver glitter jumpsuit - we have Ana Bertha Lepe, still looking good many years after we last saw her in 1961 as the spunky girl reporter in Santo's three Rodriguez pictures. Attractively frocked as they are, it doesn't look like either Murayama or Lepe had much fun standing around in the hot sun in their Alien Ice Capades outfits, since, when they don't have lines to recite, they both noticeably check out - and the umbrella that Lepe holds over her head for the duration of the forced march doesn't look like a space age accessory approved by the prop department. She, especially, looks like she would rather be anywhere else. I can relate.
Don't give up on Zovek like I did. I bought this DVD at Walgreen's for $5.00 and cut my viewing short after 45 minutes of talking head exposition and lame comic relief. - all of it in Spanish, a language I don't understand (I've got to give the filmmakers low marks for that; their callous insistence on filming in their native language really interfered with my ability to follow the story). However, when I popped it back in the player two weeks later, I was treated to a hailstorm of cannibal midgets, reanimated corpses, and bad kung fu. So be patient with this one. This is basically a luchadore movie that replaces the masked wrestler character with Zovek, the real life escape artist and athlete who was a superstar in Mexico at the time (he would die not long after making this film, during the filming of its sequel, La Invasiůn de los Muertos, prompting the producers to bring in Blue Demon to shoot the remaining scenes). This means that, instead of the film taking a break from the story to show you a wrestling match, it takes a break from the story to show you Zovek's nightclub act. Other than that, all the lucha components are in place: Directed by Rene Cardona? Check. Mad scientist? Check. Midgets? Check. When I first encountered midgets in a lucha film - the first Champions of Justice movie, to be exact - I thought it was an amusing novelty. Now I know that, if you're watching a lucha film from the 70's and you're not seeing little people, then you're being cheated. I'm not sure yet, but I think it's always the same guys, too. Their faces are obscured by space helmets in Superzan el Invencible, but I'm pretty sure that's them in there. They're too embarrassed to show them properly in the second Champions of Justice movie, because their costumes were so awful, but I think that was them, too. Anyway, I found this one satisfying after the initial slog. The monster make-up is worth special note; It's entertaining mainly for being terrible (you see the dime store vampire teeth actually start to fall out of one actor's mouth before the cut in one scene), but there's one effectively creepy beast-man whose face appears to have melted into the bars of his cell. They know it's cool, too, because they keep going back to it over and over.
The art of filmmaking sure has changed in the last thirty-five years. Take La Invasion de los Muertos, for instance. It was originally intended to be the sequel to El Increible Profesor Zovek, but then Zovek went and got himself killed during a break in filming. If that had happened in this day and age, the producers would have simply created some kind of creepy virtual robot or something to finish Zovek's scenes and nobody who didn't pay attention to the news or care whether or not Zovek was dead would be the wiser. The producers of La Invasion de los Muertos, however, not having access to that kind of technology, had no choice but to insert a bunch of unrelated footage of Blue Demon standing around in what looks like the boiler room beneath a suburban high school and talking on and on at people to fill out the picture. And the shocking thing is that that really doesn't make La Invasion de los Muertos that much worse. By which I mean to say that La Invasion de los Muertos is pretty fucking awesome. The film wears its debt to Night of the Living Dead on its sleeve - but to get a sense of what La Invasion de los Muertos is like, you'd have to imagine Night of the Living Dead minus social commentary, realistic characters, suspense, human drama and gore and plus a masked wrestler, a portion of Zovek's stage act in which he escapes from a flaming coffin, and comic relief. There are some effectively atmospheric moments - a scene where Zovek battles a bunch of zombies in an underground cavern, the moment when the zombies first rise from the grave and shuffle en masse through the cemetery - but the scenes with Blue Demon serve to pretty much scuttle any chance of there being any kind of consistent tone. It's understandable why the producers turned to Blue in their hour of need - seeing as he seemed to be pretty much game for anything that was thrown his way - but why they then chose to use him as little more than a talking head is somewhat mysterious. From what we see, it's as if Blue has moved beyond using his fists and has resolved to subdue his enemies by simply boring them into unconsciousness. A typical scene (keeping in mind that I had no idea of what was actually being said) will have some official type person coming into the boiler room and reporting some event to Blue, after which Blue will begin to talk, and talk, and talk while we alternately cut to shots of the official looking like he's battling both confusion and the sudden urge to take a nap and Blue's comic relief sidekick mugging and grimacing furiously. And that comic relief sidekick really represents an impressive low point in the genre, seeing as he can best be described as a Carlos Suarez wannabe. The apparent desperation to pad out La Invasion de los Muertos' running time makes you wonder just what the consequences would have been for director Rene Cardona Sr. had he not turned in the film at feature length. Could it be that he would have been... killed? Well, that's the explanation I'm going with, anyway, because it's easy enough to believe that, somewhere behind the scenes, there was a gun to someone's head here - and the price on that someone's head was the imperative that La Invasion de los Muertos be as much of a clusterfuck as was humanly possible. An entertaining clusterfuck, mind you, but a clusterfuck nonetheless.
Los Jaguares contra el Invasor Misterioso is the second and last in the Colombian film series starring the leopard print clad, motorcycle riding team of crime fighting luchadores known as Los Jaguares. As I mentioned in my review of Karla contra los Jaguares, that film's scant apportionment of screen time to its titular heroes left me with a lot of unanswered questions. Thankfully, Los Jaguares are on display to a much greater extent in El Invasor Misterioso and, as a result, I was able to learn a number of things about them. Three things, in fact. Firstly, their costumes are fuzzy. I hadn't noticed that before. Secondly, the three of them don't have distinct personalities. There's not a "goofy" one, or a "hot head", or a "ladies' man". It doesn't matter which one is talking or punching somebody. All act concertedly and interchangeably - like there's a kind of Los Jaguares hive mind in effect. Thirdly, Los Jaguares are masters of the "no reaction" reaction shot. Time and again in El Invasor Misterioso, an event will be followed by a shot of Los Jaguares either not reacting to it or looking at each other as if to say, "Are we supposed to be reacting to that?" The most awesome example of this is when two of the Jaguars are fighting one of the villain's minions and, because super villains are seemingly incapable of properly grounding their secret lairs, he does that thing where he stumbles back into a piece of electrical equipment and gets electrocuted. The guy really oversells it, but to be fair, the filmmakers didn't even bother to provide any sparks or flames or anything, instead just putting a "zzzzzttt" sound effect in, so he kind of had to. After a good thirty seconds of convulsing and going "AAAAARGGHHH!", the guy finally collapses, and we get a shot of the two Jaguars giving each other a "What was that all about?" look before they just kind of saunter off. As the title implies, Los Jaguares face off against some space aliens in this movie, and I do not say lightly that they are one of the most motley groups of space aliens ever seen in a lucha movie. Their leader wears a dime store gorilla mask that I think may be the missing part of the "Robot Monster" costume. At his side are two dwarves wearing silver jumpsuits and platinum blonde afro wigs who look like nothing more than a pair of glam rock Oompa-Loompas. And the karate fighting alien foot soldiers, well, they all wear thin latex masks with black hair and mutton chop sideburns painted on them that are further adorned with glued-on platinum blonde bushy eyebrows and van dyke beards. There are also some humans working under the aliens, including a foxy young couple who, based on the amount of screen time they get and the recurring romantic musical theme they're given, are apparently the actual stars of the movie. These two are given the task of fencing the fake diamonds that the aliens are for some reason making (to a jeweler named "Senor Rosenberg") and spend most of the movie on the lam from the police, which is played off as very "Bonnie and Clyde". Like Karla contra los Jaguares, El Invasor Misterioso makes an honest effort to provide as many bargain bin action thrills as it can within it's anemic means, and in so doing follows the standard low budget action movie practice of making sure that any piece of hardware paid for gets as much screen time as possible. For instance, there's a helicopter - and you know that, once a helicopter makes an appearance in one of these movies, you better accept the fact that you're going to be seeing an awful lot of it before the end credits roll, because that helicopter is going to serve as one of the movie's sole signifiers of production value. The makers of El Invasor Misterioso fulfill that expectation and then - shockingly - exceed it by providing three more helicopters for the climax. There is also lots and lots of parachuting, as well as that most prized of budget action cinema set pieces, people in motor boats shooting at each other. All in all, it's good stupid fun, which makes me a little sad that there aren't any more Los Jaguares movies to look forward to.
Kaliman is a popular costumed hero of Mexican comics and radio. A somewhat new agey super hero, his super powers - from what I can glean from Kaliman en el Siniestro Mundo de Humanon - are telepathy, the ability to quote from the Koran and endlessly spew all sorts of pseudo spiritual hooey gooey, and some vague form of martial arts that involves lots of crouching and hand waving. Kaliman en el Siniestro Mundo de Humanon is not a lucha movie, but it contains enough dopey weirdness for ten Santo movies (providing that one of those ten isn't Profandores de Tumbas), and that for me is enough to qualify it for inclusion in The Lucha Diaries. I've heard that the first Kaliman movie was one of the most expensive productions in Mexican film history, complete with globe-spanning locations, lavish sets, and a large international cast. Kaliman en el Siniestro Mundo de Humanon, however, is the second Kaliman movie, and it exhibits the kind of downward scaling and hastiness of construction with which viewers of late 70s lucha films will be comfortably familiar. Kaliman himself, though he does not wear a face obscuring mask, does share with Santo and Blue Demon the fact that his super hero identity is in effect twenty-four/seven and, as such, requires him to wear his Kaliman costume at all times, no matter what the circumstances. The producers highlight this to fine effect by placing the film's action in Brazil, because nowhere could Kaliman's outfit of turban, cape, and blindingly white tunic and tights look more conspicuous than as he strolls among the bikini clad sun worshippers on the beaches of Rio. Kaliman's sidekicks include a small boy wearing a fez (more of a liability than an asset, really, because he keeps getting kidnapped and imperiled - and simply leaving him at home never appears to be an option) and a woman who wears very little else besides a black veil that conceals her hideously disfigured face, which is later revealed to itself be a mask concealing - for no reason other than shits and giggles, apparently - her real face, which is unremarkable but at least not at all disfigured. These are strange characters, indeed, though the villains in El Siniestro Mundo de Humanon serve to normalize them a great deal. Humanon, for instance, who wears a bright red Klansman's outfit (but with sunglasses worn over the hood) and a cape with an atomic symbol on it, hides out in a secret jungle compound with a magical dwarf lady, a cackling, hyperactive witch doctor and a grizzled right hand man with the demeanor of a crazy old prospector and does all kinds of weird shit for no discernable reason. Among Humanon's projects are the placement of animal brains and electronic parts into captured scientists to create what he calls "Zombie-tronics", a collection of living disembodied heads in jars, and a furry cyclops who he claims to have evolved from a rock. Obviously a stop needs to be put to all this, because, even though none of it really make any sense, it's not particularly right either. Kaliman en el Siniestro Mundo de Humanon hits the ground running, providing a rich, projectile stream of insanity that lasts from it's first moments to its very last. And if that doesn't sound like an endorsement, you don't know me very well.
Karla contra los Jaguares was produced in Colombia, a fact which renders unnecessary the question of what it's makers were smoking. -- Okay, that was cheap and stupid. And inappropriate. Because Karla contra los Jaguares, for a low budget film starring a team of motorcycle riding luchadores in matching leopard print outfits, is not nearly as cheap and stupid as it could have been. Consider that, on the scale of motorcycle riding team of luchadore movies, it could have been on the level of either of the two Los Campeones Justicieros sequels, and it's very modest charms become a lot easier to appreciate. Not that the makers of Karla had any more to work with than the producers of the Campeones movies. It's just that they seem to have made a somewhat greater effort to cover up for their budgetary shortcomings - and that they show some sense of obligation to their audience to be at least a little bit entertaining, even to provide us with a couple semi-satisfying moments of cut-rate spectacle. The two heist sequences that the film is built around, for instance, are actually handled fairly well, and on the action front, while there is a midget, there are also karate guys and a small army of burly automatons to provide the heroes with some more equally matched physical opposition. Capping off this vaguely engaging display of base level competence is a musical score that provides everything you'd want from a cheesy 70s action movie: psych funk arrangements, disco synths and goth metal guitars, all sounding very Italian and probably lifted from some giallo movie or other. In what is beginning to seem like a kind of minor lucha movie tradition, The Jaguars themselves don't actually get called in to take part in the action until the movie's halfway point, and then with comparatively little ballyhoo. I kind of like how this lack of fanfare makes the whole business seem like routine procedure, as if sending in a team of unarmed masked wrestlers in leopard print briefs is just one of the many tactical options available to the police, and was, for some reason, in this case preferable to sending in the SWAT team. Still, I was left with a lot of questions concerning The Jaguars that I hope will be answered in the film's sequel, Los Jaguares contra el Invasor Misterioso. For instance, do they all share a house, like The Monkees? We don't even get to see them in a wrestling match, for God's sake. As for the top billed Karla, the icy blonde villainess comprises, with her permed and jump-suited boy toy, a sort of pairs skating team of evil. It's not hard to see who's the top in the relationship, especially when the poor guy shows up with a giant sparkly "K" appliquťd on his shirt (some guys would get a tattoo, but whatever), and more especially at the end when she blithely elbows aside his bullet-riddled ass to board a waiting helicopter and make her getaway. Seeing as it's playing to some markedly lowered expectations here, the only thing I found disappointing about Karla contra los Jaguares is that it contains so little that is truly atrocious. Given that, I had to make due with the architect's model Karla's gang uses to plan a heist involving the hijacking of a skyscaper mounted crane. It's frustrating, because all too frequently people make fun of the models used in B movies by saying they look like they were made by six year olds. But this particular model is made of construction paper and toothpicks, and I'm reasonably certain that it actually was made by a six year old.
I've been delving into some seminal lucha films lately. Last week it was the seminal 1952 serial El Enmascarado de Plata, and this week it's the seminal 1956 wrestling monster movie Ladron de Cadaveres. And I'm not just calling these movies seminal because the 12 year old in me finds the word seminal hilarious (har!). Ladron de Cadaveres, for one, is so seminal that it spawned a whole nursery full of remakes, among them Las Luchadoras contra el Medico Asesino, La Horripilante Bestia Humana, Santo y Blue Demon contra Dr. Frankenstein, and, to some extent, Santo contra la Hija de Frankenstein. You might wonder what was so singular about this film's central concept that it would inspire such a plague of homage, pastiche and imitation. And if I were to tell you that concept was the transplanting of an ape's brain into a wrestler's body, you'd probably still be wondering. It's not like that's such a difficult idea to nail down the first time around, and the producers of Ladron de Cadaveres look to have had a bigger budget than any of their successors, so it couldn't have been a desire to improve upon the original. For one, you just can't top the awesome, futuristic looking, tandem man/monkey operating table that the mad scientist in Ladron uses for his purpose, and the monster makeup here is vastly superior to that seen in any of the later efforts. Still, the film does leave some obvious questions - such as why anyone would want to do such a thing in the first place, for instance - unanswered, and implies some interesting new ones. Among those, of particular interest to me are those questions regarding the source of consciousness and where within it personality and memory reside. How is it that the ill-fated subject, Guillermo, his God-given brain having been tossed in some medical waste dumpster somewhere, still remembers not only how to find his girlfriend's apartment, but also his apparent - and now cross-species - attraction to her? And on the question of the brain's role in physical development, what are we to make of the film's "think strong, be strong" position, which would no doubt be attractive to Oprah and followers of The Secret? It seems one need only put the brain of an ape into a human to give that human the actual strength - and, eventually, the appearance - of an ape. Could one not then gain such strength by simply striving to think like an ape? Fascinating questions, to be sure, though one need not grapple with them in order to enjoy the hell out of Ladron de Cadaveres. The film is the first to combine elements of both the horror and wrestling genres, and it does that so well that it's easy to see why the idea turned out to be so infectious. There's just the right balance of cheesy thrills and genuinely creepy atmosphere to make it an ideal creature feature. At the same time, its efforts to establish a credible professional wrestling backdrop for its fantastic elements to play out against result in some especially gritty and intense fight sequences. It's actually a little sad, because once the genre was established, you'd only rarely see such effort going into making sure all of these elements worked together. You never get the sense here, as with some later lucha films, that you're just seeing half hearted nods to genre expectations. Capping things off is the fact that Ladron de Cadaveres is really nicely shot, overloaded with striking black and white compositions and thrilling, expressionistic plays of light and shadow. Overall, it makes me feel like a kid again. Which reminds me: Seminal... hyuk!
This is a weird one. The film stars Mil Mascaras and Tinieblas. Tinieblas is a trim, athletically built wrestler who wears a yellow mask with a triangle of black mesh that completely covers his face. It's a sleek look, one that wouldn't be out of place on a Marvel Comics character from the 70s. In other films I've seen - including ones that also star Mil Mascaras - Tinieblas plays it straight, but here he seems intended to be a comic relief sidekick for Mil Mascaras. There are all kinds of comical sparring and quarreling between the two, as if we're meant to take them as some kind of luchadore Martin & Lewis, and Tinieblas even takes a pratfall at one point. Anyway, in Leyendas Macabras De La Colonia, Tinieblas (that goofball) unwittingly buys a haunted painting from an antiques dealer. When he, Mil Mascaras and El Fantasmo Blanco take their ladies back to Tinieblas' apartment for a nightcap after the match, the painting magically transports them back to colonial times. Holy shit! Once they're back in colonial times, the wrestlers and their babes aren't left with much to do other than hide behind a series of pillars and do what we're doing, which is watching the rest of the movie. And the movie that transpires is a vengeful ghost yarn that's mainly interesting for its attempts to convey period with fewer resources than a radio drama. At the moment when the interlopers from the 20th century are finally discovered - and are threatened with having to surrender their roles as audience surrogates - one of the ladies figures out the secret of time travel and - poof! - they're all back in Tinieblas' bachelor pad, mercifully relieved of having to perform any of the ghost pummeling that would have justified us watching this movie in the first place. Then there's a wrestling match and Tinieblas acts silly and falls down. It may not sound like it, but I have a real fondness for this movie. I admire it, actually. It's just so aggressively half-assed that you've got to respect its nerve.
For their third outing, the Wrestling Women apparently decided they needed a break from grappling with mummies, brain-thieving mad scientists and armor-plated beast men and instead chose to take on a comparably more quotidian adversary. This would be Lorena Vazquez's last film in the series before she moved on to bigger and brighter things (well, she would next co-star in a couple of Santo's Vergara pictures, so maybe I should just say other things) and perhaps doing a Luchadoras film in which she abstained from punching any zombies in the face was the closest she could come to bowing out gracefully. In any case, the plot of Las Lobas del Ring revolves around a wrestling tournament that pits Loreta Venus (Vazquez), Golden Rubi (Elizabeth Campbell) and their fellow luchadoras against a team of unscrupulous woman wrestlers who will stop at nothing - Nothing, I tell you! - to win. This focus on wrestlers wrestling makes Las Lobas del Ring a lucha film that's very heavy on the lucha - and its an interesting choice, given that the Luchadoras series is one of the few lucha film series built around stars who are not actual professional wrestlers. As a result, we get a film where Vazquez and Campbell's chunky, unconvincing doubles get a real workout. For unprepared viewers who come to the film expecting the usual smackdown between big-haired women in leotards and cheesy monsters - finding instead just more big-haired women in leotards in place of those cheesy monsters - Las Lobas del Ring will undoubtedly come as something of a wet slap in the face. It's really impossible to over-stress just how much this isn't a monster movie. Still, it's not like everything in the Luchadoras universe has changed; Elizabeth Campbell, for instance, is still inexplicably saddled with a grating comic relief boyfriend (He has to stand on a box to kiss her! Oh my sides!) - though it's not Chucho Salinas this time, so perhaps we should at least be thankful for that. Much comedy is also mined from the rich vein of mere women - both in and out of the ring - repeatedly beating the hell out of men. One member of Venus and Rubi's team in particular is shown happy-slapping her tubby boyfriend into a cowering stupor in scene after scene until he finally breaks a flower pot over her head... The End. (Seriously, that's how the movie ends, though I don't think that quite counts as a spoiler.) Come to think of it, even if you are prepared for it (as I was) Las Lobas del Ring is kind of tough going. In its favor is the fact that it features Velazquez and Campbell, who are always engaging company. (It might also be of interest to Campbell fans for a brief moment where the gringa actress slips into English for a couple of lines.) There is also a somewhat rousing climax in which a group of the Luchadoras' wrestler friends storm the hideout where the villains are holding not just Rubi but also Loreta's mom (Nothing, I tell you!) hostage. Still, its a good thing that the series got back on track with the next film - the cheesy monster-fest and wannabe Santo movie Las Mujeres Panteras - because seeing the Wrestling Women amidst all this ordinariness is mildly traumatizing.
With Las Luchadoras contra el Robot Asesino we find that there has been a complete turnover within the ranks of the Wrestling Women, with both Malu Reyes and Regina Torne taking on the lead roles for the first (and only) time. Reyes I'm not familiar with, but I'd previously seen Torne as, among other things, a scoundrel and a harpy, and I was happy to see her here translating her previous villainous experience into an obvious joy at flinging her hapless opponents about the ring. Las Luchadoras contra el Robot Asesino is, at its essence, two things. Firstly, it is yet another remake of Las Luchadoras contra el Medico Asesino (itself a reimagining of Ladron de Cadaveres), though this time in glorious Eastman Color. Secondly, it is another lucha film for which an extended, retitled, export-only version was shot containing scenes of female nudity. Though Contra el Robot Asesino is the "clean" cut of the movie, vestiges of it's tawdry double life remain in the form of scenes of women in sheer lingerie lounging about to drunken saxophone music that are abruptly cut at the moment the rapacious monster lunges out of the shadows. These factors combined make Contra el Medico Asesino feel sort of like a test run for the following year's La Horripilante Bestia Humana (aka Night of the Bloody Apes). What's new about the movie is the inclusion of the robot assassin of the title, though - and I've been trying to resist this, because I know its going to peg me once and forever as a total, basement-dwelling mega-geek - I simply must point out that that robot's appearance, in addition to the staging of most of the scenes in which it appears, was appropriated of a piece from the Avengers episode The Cybernauts. Of course, I can't fault the filmmakers for pilfering from a source as cool as The Avengers, especially when the result is a robot that looks quite a bit cooler than what the Mexican film industry of the time was typically able to come up with (if in a goofy, 1960s TV kind of way). In fact, Las Luchadoras contra el Robot Asesino, like - now that I think of it - most of the Luchadoras movies, is a pretty satisfying watch. Waxy font of villainy Carlos Agosti gives what has to be his most over-heated performance in the mad doctor role, and he's well matched by the fiery Torne. (My favorite moment is when, after Agosti has gleefully revealed his evil plan, Torne yells "Por que?" and flashes her eyes as if launching a billion tiny, Habanero-dipped daggers in his direction.) The final twenty minutes of the film are virtually identical to those of Contra el Medico Asesino, but, as such, really serve to highlight just how much the use of color amplifies the comic book absurdity of what transpires. Again the mad scientist pits a robotically controlled masked female wrestler, "Electra", against the Wrestling Women in a climactic ring match - and again he fails in his revenge, instead plunging with his creation from the rafters above the arena to crash into the ring below as the fans scream in horror. Of course, the doctor doesn't wear a cool, Rat Fink inspired wrestling mask like the doctor in El Medico Asesino, but that would have just wasted all of Agosti's inspired grimacing and leering anyway. Overall it's a fun film and, as the final Luchadoras film, makes, along with Las Luchadoras contra el Medico Asesino, a fitting bookend to the series.
Ah, the Mysterious Orient, land of Mr. Moto, Swanson's frozen egg rolls and Hong Kong Phooey. While we eagerly partake of such exotic delights, round-eyes such as myself can never understand their true meaning, because their rich secrets are locked away within the impenetrable vault that is the inscrutable Asiatic mind. Yu-Gi-Oh, Tae Bo, Puffy AmiYumi, mathematics - are these all just innocuous products of pop culture, or part of a sinister secret language spoken by a scheming race intent on spreading their insidious influence throughout every country on the globe, especially Mexico? And what about those weird statues of the kitties making the black power fist? World famous detective, criminologist and impromptu lecturer Blue Demon will find the answer to all of these questions and more when his hunt for a murderous Chinese crime lord takes him deep within the Asian demimonde, a dark landscape of Chinese Laundries, gloomy antiquities shops and smoke-filled opium dens. And it is only when he has fallen into their clutches that these nefarious denizens of the east reveal their secret weapon: A big, muscle-bound black man! Okay, I cannot in good conscience recommend a movie as reprehensible as La Mafia Amarilla, but I will say that I howled with laughter from its beginning to its very end, all the while shedding an inward tear at the sad spectacle that it presents. It's a shame really, because, minus all of its instances of jaw-dropping racism, it's a fairly slick and fast-paced - not to mention violent (that yellow mafia really likes to kill people) - little B crime thriller. Of course, all of the Asian roles are taken by Latinos, and the worst offender by far is Jorge Arvizo as Chan Lo, a one man amalgam of all of the most odious Chinaman stereotypes that the history of cinema has to offer. Aside from those characters, though, the rest of La Mafia Amarilla's cast appears to have walked out of an Italian crime drama of the period, making the film a visual manual on how to rock a blow dry and big bushy 'stache. Blue Demon plays it straight-up as a 70s style private dick here, only doffing his smart suit and tie for his ring matches and spending lots of time staring at evidence through a microscope and holding forth to his two associates (the kinky booted Teresa Velazquez and the even more redundant than usual purveyor of comic relief Tin-Tan) on his refined crime solving techniques. With all the utter absurdity on display, it's difficult to pick a favorite moment, but right now I'm leaning toward the one where Blue Demon hands his business card to someone and a close-up clearly reveals the strokes of the Magic Marker that was used to make it. All this movie is missing is a boner-necked, go-go dancing Chinaman puppet.
It's my impression that the year 1964 fell right in the middle of a very brief golden age of Mexican wrestler films. I'm speaking of those halcyon days before the name Superzan had darkened a marquee and the midget mafia got a stranglehold on the casting process, when nightclub scenes were filmed in actual nightclubs, rather than in the cramped corners of downscale family restaurants with crappy wood paneling. At that time, Santo had just completed a run of good films, the Wrestling Women were in their prime, Blue Demon was starting his screen career, and Mil Mascaras was soon to follow with his film debut. The relatively high level of care and craft that went into many of the films indicates that lucha movies were seen as something worth investing in. And the sheer number of such films being produced suggests a healthy appetite on the part of Spanish speaking movie goers for such fare. It's these factors, I imagine, that lead to us having films like La Mano gue Aprieta. The second of a series of two films - both shot in the same year - La Mano stars Karloff LaGarde and Rene "Copetes" Guajardo as the fictional masked wrestling tag team, Endemoniados del Ring. To me, these second string lucha movie stars - Endemoniados, Neutron, Rocambole - are like the Freddy and the Dreamers and Dave Clark Five to Santo and Blue Demon's Beatles and Rolling Stones. And I don't mean to belittle them by saying that (as anyone who's ever heard the DC5's head imploding "Any Way You Want It" would surely know). In fact, La Mano que Aprieta is quite a swell film, even if it's plot machinations make it a little vexing for a non-Spanish speaker like myself. What's most interesting about it to me is the fact that it's cast and crew make up something of a who's who in lucha cinema at the time. Directed by Alfredo B. Crevenna, who helmed many Santo films, the cast includes Claudio Brook, who played the villain in both Santo en el Museo de Cera and the first Neutron film (as well as the head butler in The Exterminating Angel!), Chucho Salinas, Elizabeth Campbell's goofy cop boyfriend from the first two Las Luchadoras movies, later Santo nemesis Gina Romand (La Venganza de las Mujeres vampiro, Santo contra la Hija de Frankenstein), and of course, Fernando Oses. As I indicated, the plot was a little hard for me to follow, but the film's slick look and energetic pace - along with it's inclusion of a disintegrating ray and a mysterious villain with a mutilated hand - kept me interested from start to finish. One aspect of the story, in which competing interests pursue a McGuffin that ultimately turns out to be a nuclear Pandora's box, seemed to be a quote from Kiss Me Deadly, of all things. As for the Endemoniados themselves (known individually as "Satan" and "Angel"), it was a good idea to pair them up, since I don't think that either of them on their own had the wattage to carry the picture - and, besides, the way their outfits are reverse images of one another is cute. In summation, La Mano que Aprierta: I didn't understand it, but I liked it. It took me back to a time and place that I like to imagine as being impossibly glamorous. A Valhalla, if you will. The golden days of Lucha-wood, back before the pictures got small.
Maybe I just donít like mummies as villains in these movies. I think my favorite villains in Mexican wrestling movies are, in order of preference, sexy female aliens, midgets, brains, Cyclops, Frankenstein, then maybe Dracula, and then mummies somewhere down below that. This movie, as far as I can understand it, has Blue Demon and Superzan helping a woman who has to fight a bunch of hash-faced zombies controlled by Satan and a guy who dresses like a conquistador in order to collect her inheritance. This one was a real chore for me, and it wasnít Superzan this time (hey, I liked Los Vampiros de Coyoacon). The problem was the annoying and ubiquitous comic relief character, who appears in pretty much every scene that Blue Demon and Superzan are in. I generally dislike the comic relief character in every movie that has one, except that I have a begrudging soft spot for Percito in El Tesoro de Dracula because his whole look was so ahead of its time. You just have to respect a guy who walks around in 1967 looking like the young Elvis Costello and accessorizing like Lil Jon.
In my review of Blue Demon: El Demonio Azul, I mentioned that Mil Mascaras has earned a lot of brownie points with me. Like Blue, he's managed to deliver a surprising amount of solidly entertaining lucha movie goodness within a relatively slight filmography, while making very few films that made my hair hurt. Having borne witness to the punishing trash-to-treasure ratio in Santo's vast cinematic oeuvre, this is not something that I take lightly. The 1968 Mil Mascaras vehicle Las Vampiras, for instance, has pretty much everything you'd want in a lucha movie and John Carradine besides, while its follow-up, Enigma de Muerte, has John Carradine, Nazis and a fight on a moving Ferris wheel - plus generous amounts of footage from Las Vampiras! It was for this reason that I approached his freshman screen effort, Mil Mascaras, with a lot of goodwill, reasoning that, if it came up a little wanting - as I expected it just might - he could be given a dispensation based on the hours of enjoyment he's provided me in films like those mentioned, as well as Los vampiros de Coyoacan and Las Momias de Guanajuato. The film begins during WW II, with the infant Mil plucked from his dead mother's arms amidst the rubble of a bombed out building and taken to a team of scientists who intend, through an intensive regimen of specialized training and education, to turn him into a superman (totally ethical). A montage depicting his upbringing and rigorous training follows which lasts about six seconds and features a jungle gym in someone's back yard. After that we're shown the adult Mil, all masked and muscled, sitting before his mentors as they inform him of his momentous destiny. He is to go to Mexico to fight against.... Fernando Oses, who plays a corrupt and unsanitary wrestler who, when we're introduced to him, is trying to stick his nasty finger in the mouth and eyes of his opponent. Oh, and he also hangs out with a bunch of central casting juvenile delinquents who like to break stuff. Um... Seriously? All that buildup just so Mil can fight another wrestler who's trying to spread pinkeye and a left-feeted version of the Jets? Charitable feelings aside, I couldn't help seeing that as a pretty anemic scenario - and something of a failure of imagination on the part of Filmica Vergara, the film's producers. Based on the ultra-weirdness of the cheapjack Santo movies Vergara made just a year previous, it seemed like imagination was just about the only thing we could count on from them (well, that and recycled footage). This is the company that gave us a bleeding, homicidal lampshade in Profanadores de Tumbas, after all, and it's a bit shocking that, when presented with a strapping and charismatic star like Mil Mascaras, this is all they could come up with. Thankfully, they did eventually figure out what to do with Mil, giving us the sublime Las vampiras just two pictures down the road. But as for Mil Mascaras, it's a little weak. The fights between Oses and Mil are, as can be expected, pretty good, but between those fights there is an awful lot of talking being done by people standing around in drab, minimalist sets. And when there isn't fighting or talking, there is dancing, lots and lots of go-go dancing, which would be fine except that, at one point, there is also singing. Actually, thinking about it now, I can't decide whether I consider the singing part a high or a low point, because, as I write about it, I find myself wanting to watch it again so that I can thrill anew to just how awful it is. The singing is done by a pixie-ish woman in white face make-up and blonde pageboy wig - Mexico's answer to Lulu, it would appear - who manages to keep the one note melody in an entirely different key from the one chord that the band is playing behind her for the entire song. It would actually border on No Wave if there was any indication that the atonality of it was at all intentional. Since I said I was going to be forgiving here, though, let's just say that the song is totally awesome and I wish there was a soundtrack album so I could make it my ringtone and play it at my wedding, etc. As for Mil Mascaras as a whole, there's really nothing to forgive, but not much to treasure, either. Let's just be thankful that things would only get better from here.
Oh, I donít want to talk about Mision suicida! Itís not that itís the worst the genre has to offer Ė nothing on the level of a Superzan movie, for instance. Itís just that it has an air of apathy that I always find depressing in a Santo vehicle. I mean, come on. Itís Santo! Canít we at least work up a little enthusiasm? The film unwisely puts its own lethargy in stark relief by wanly attempting a spoof-y, Matt Helm-style plot involving an army of bikini-clad female assassins, the type of thing that was done with considerably more flair (and budget) in Santoís two films with Jorge Rivero, Operacion 67 and El Tesoro de Moctezuma. One thing I will say for the movie, though, is that, as cheap as it looks, at least they didnít use footage from another film for the nightclub sequences. Of course, the nightclub here looks more like an Olive Garden restaurant on a Monday night, with the band set up on the floor and Lorena Velazquez dancing her way between tables of decidedly nonplussed looking patrons. It cheers me up to think that Santo still had better films like Santo y Blue Demon contra Dracula y el Hombre Lobo in his future. But, then again, why do I keep thinking of Santo as a victim of his own films? Am I confusing him with Elvis? As far as I know, itís not like he had a Col. Tom Parker who was forcing him to do these things.
This late entry features the final teaming of Santo, Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras, and itís a somewhat drab affair. It does, however, feature one of my all time favorite scenes of wrestler domesticity (which, if youíve been reading other entries, you might know is one of my favorite Mexican wrestler movie motifs). No, it doesnít involve Santo sleeping with his mask on. This one features Mil Mascaras, and heís walking home from the grocery store with a bag of groceries tucked under each arm (neither bag has a baguette sticking out of it, but that movie rule may not have been established yet). If Misterio in las Bermudas were a romantic comedy, some attractive stranger would accidentally bump Mil and send those bags tumbling, then there would be a charmingly awkward moment while the two of them scrambled to gather the spilled contents while making flustered apologies. But Misterio in las Bermudas is a Mexican wrestler movie, so what actually happens is that a bunch of thugs ambush Mil and he has to throw his bags (which I imagine were both completely filled with steaks) to the ground in order to defend himself. The thugs actually get the better of him, probably because Mil was so taken off guard, thinking that it should have been obvious that this was his ďmeĒ time and not the time to be attacking him with clubs and things. We never get to see if the steaks were salvaged.
There is a long history of animosity between mummies and Mexican wrestlers. Iím not even going to try to go into that history here. Thereís so much sensitivity on both sides that it would only serve to stir up controversy. All Iíll say is that Iím pretty sure the women started it. Or at least that's what the earliest film record of the conflict, 1964ís Las Luchadoras contra la Momia (aka The Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy ), would lead us to believe. The film up for discussion today, Las Momias de Guanajuato is considered one of the high points of the strain of cinema that followed in Las Luchadoras' footsteps. As many of you know, the Mummies of Guanajuato are an attraction in the city of Guanajuato. One of the things that makes the mummies attractive, I'm told, is the fact that they're extraordinarily well preserved. No kidding. The muscle tone on those things is amazing. And from what I saw in this movie, it looks like they can deliver a mean pile-driver.
Las Momias de Guanajuato is famous for being the first film in which Santo, Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras starred together. However, this is really Blue and Mil Mascaras' film... for the most part. Santo here plays the role of Santo ex machina, showing up out of nowhere at the end with his trusty flame pistols - and, in so doing, steals the show from his buddies by making short work of the mummies they've been unsuccessfully trying to defeat for the length of the picture. Now, I've mentioned elsewhere that I came late to Las Momias de Guanajuato. In fact I had seen a number of its underwhelming sequels (El Castillo de las Momias de Guanajuato, El Robo de las Momias de Guanajuato, etc.) before this viewing. But, because it's such a touchstone in the genre, I had heard a lot about it. And one of the things I had heard about is its notoriously half-assed ending. However, I had not realized, prior to viewing it, that the film doesn't even bother to come up with a reason for Santo suddenly showing up. As presented, Santo and his manager just happen to be driving home from a match and decide to stop for the night in Guanajuato, pulling into the town square just as the climactic battle between Blue, Mil and the mummies is taking place. It is because of things like this that I occasionally have to take a break from my steady diet of lucha films and pallet cleanse by watching some other types of movies - not just "legit" movies, but other types of psychotronic films, as well. I need to remind myself that there is a base level of preposterousness in these movies that is higher than you'll see pretty much anywhere else. Seriously, the demands on credulity that are routinely made by these later lucha films are at a level seldom seen in even the most drunkenly conceived, zero budget shlockfests from other genres. Now that I've watched enough of them, even a film like 3 Dev Adam makes perfect sense (yes, I believe a hamster can kill).
Anyway, another thing I knew about this film was that it was produced by Rogelio Agrasanchez Sr., the man responsible for the Campeones Justicieros and Superzan movies. This told me that I could expect (1) a seemingly randomly selected musical soundtrack that at no time would be appropriate to what was on screen and (2) midgets. Surprisingly, though there was a bit of the former, there were some recurring musical themes that actually kind of worked and weren't too distracting. And, as for the latter, this, disappointingly, has the lowest midget count of any Agrasanchez film I've seen - and the one (one!) that's on hand gets killed off pretty early (oops, spoiler alert!). Otherwise, it's not hard to see why this one is beloved. It's very entertaining. And I was surprised to see the amount of character background they gave Blue Demon; they gave him a kid! And, not only that, he plays his scenes with the little guy pretty well. It's actually affecting, making it even sadder that the picture ends up getting jerked out from under him. Mil Mascaras doesn't get much character development, but spends a lot of time wearing a pair of leopard print hot pants over gold lame tights, which I guess you could say hints at character.
Watch a clip on YouTube! (The climactic battle)
Watch a clip on YouTube! (Blue Demon and son)
And finally we come to the last of these Agrasanchez-produced mummies versus assorted wrestlers movies. The mummies apparently had other engagements by this time (Dinner theater? The casino circuit?) because they don't really show up in force until the end. But, when they do, it provides one of those moments that I've become all too familiar with in the course of watching these movies - so familiar, in fact, that I wish there was some catchy French or German phrase I could use to describe it: that moment that makes you realize just how good the movie could have been if someone involved had actually given a shit. El Enmascarado Negro plays a villainous masked wrestler here, and the, um, plot involves him and his gang ending up at a creepy old mansion along with Mil Mascaras and Tinieblas and, for some reason, Lorena Velazquez and her ultra-manly boyfriend (not to be confused with Ultraman, of course). The mansion also seems to be the home of the mummies, as well as a cackling hunchback and, in one scene, a couple of characters who appear to be living in the colonial era. Due to the lack of subtitles, I can't in all fairness say that Las Momias de San Angel doesn't make any sense, but I can say that it gives the appearance of not making any sense. It also gives the appearance of being made up of at least two different movies. This disjuncture is apparent even in individual scenes, where, thanks to the magic of editing that's been freed from the tyrannical bonds of continuity, you'll have actors who are obviously in completely different locations (think exteriors versus interiors) reacting and speaking to one another. All is not lost however, because our flamboyant old friend Mil Mascaras, as he has so often in the past, comes to rescue us before the film can simply confuse us into a state of stupor - or, I should say, Mil Mascaras' wardrobe comes to the rescue, since it here includes a silver shirt with billowy pirate sleeves paired with a vest that has his face - in starburst, of course - emblazoned on the back. Mil's final battle with El Enmascarado Negro, which takes place in the woods surrounding the mansion, is also quite an impressive knock-down-drag-out, and having him stumble away from it exhausted and disoriented is a nice and quite surprising dramatic touch. But the film's absolute high point is without question the mummies' climactic rampage through the town, especially once it's established that these mummies can shoot fire out of their hands! (I'm guessing this development was the result of some kind of mummy arms race that took place in the years since Santo so easily defeated the mummies with his handy flame pistols in Las Momias de Guanajuato). Unlike most of what has preceded it, it's quite apparent that great care was taken to make this sequence as creepy and atmospheric as possible, and the effort really pays off. Still, Mil and Tinieblas, along with a helpful mob of angry torch-bearing villagers, make short work of the mummies and quickly return us to the drab routine of Las Momias de San Angel before we can get too excited. This appears to be a movie that's sort of slipped through the cracks; It's the only one of the Agrasanchez lucha films - aside from Las Momias de Guanajuato - that hasn't come out on one of those BCI bargain flipper disc sets, which is a little puzzling. I mean, don't get me wrong; It blows - but it doesn't blow nearly as hard as El Hijo de Alma Grande or Triunfo de los Campeones Justicieros. And if those deserve to be seen, Las Momias de San Angel does, too.
Exhibiting a brazenness comparable to 3 Dev Adam's in it's attitude toward international copyrights, La Mujer Murcielago has Maura Monti - in her role as secret agent/masked wrestler Bat Woman - costumed almost identically to Batgirl of TV and comic book fame. I say almost because - while the mask, cape and boots she wears are indistinguishable from her American inspiration - where Batgirl would wear a skintight body suit, Bat Woman just wears skin. Now, I don't need a whole lot more than that - and the makers of La Mujer Murcielago have shown an eerie prescience by providing me with just that: very little more than Maura Monti padding around in a miniscule bikini for 85 minutes. And, while I am grateful, it pains me to say that, despite the very forgiving attitude I brought to the film, I did find La Mujer Murcielago slow going in some parts. This is not to say that there aren't some nods toward plot and the corresponding elements of same. To justify long sequences of Bat Woman scuba diving and - as already mentioned - padding around, we have a mad scientist (quelle surprise!), his assistant Igor (Parents, please! Don't you realize that naming your child Igor dooms him to an adulthood spent in servitude to a mad scientist?), and their killer goldfish man. Now this may be something that was lost to me in the non-translation, but the mad scientist here appears to have the most un-secret hideout in film history. Said hideout is a large ship - named, I'm delighted to report, Reptilicus - that's anchored conveniently just offshore from the seaside resort where our heroine is stationed. Whenever Bat Woman and her male cohorts want to spy on the doctor, or tussle with his henchmen, or throw acid in his face, they just take the short boat ride out to the Reptilicus and tuck in. However, despite all of the doctor's obvious criminal activity, they never take any of these opportunities to just haul him in. Of course, these are 1960's movie secret agents, so they'd be remiss in their duties if they didn't hold off on closing the case until the opportunity arose to have the villains and their hideout consumed by an enormous explosion. (Is that a spoiler?) La Mujer Murcielago also has wrestling matches, but, since Maura Monti is not a professional wrestler, a considerably more chunky double is used for these scenes (and, since the substitution is glaringly obvious, the scenes are very brief).
If you have read any of my other reviews on this site, there may have been times when you regarded my description of something that happened in a film with skepticism. And you should do. In many cases here I am describing, without the aid of a re-viewing, films that I watched many weeks previous. And the condition in which I originally watched them was often one of either somnolence or compromised sobriety. As a result, there are "reviews" here in which I freely admit to remembering very few of the subject film's details, or in which I unwittingly invent those details because I confused that film with another one that I watched in an equally inattentive state. I say this because, in his entry regarding La Mujer Murcielago in his fine book The Mexican Masked Wrestler and Monster Filmography, Robert Michael "Bobb" Cotter describes the process by which the mad scientist creates the goldfish man as involving putting a fish and a G.I. Joe doll in an aquarium together and boiling the water. I thought that this was just too good to be true. However, I should not have doubted the generosity of a film that would give us a seagoing vessel named Reptilicus, for, when I watched the film, what Cotter described is precisely what I saw. Also, because it appears that some of the available versions of this film are in black and white, I should account for my calling the monster a goldfish man. In the color version, you can clearly see that the fish in the aquarium with the G.I. Joe is a large goldfish - and the monster that ultimately springs from that union is bright orange in color. It's a goldfish man.
Something happened to the Wrestling Women between their first film, Las Luchadoras contra el Medico Asesino, and their fourth film, Las Mujeres Panteras. For one thing, Lorena Velazquez turned into Ariadne Welter. But, more importantly, they went from being the stars of their own series to becoming supporting players in a fake Santo movie. Sure, Welter and her partner, the fetching giantess Elizabeth Campbell, are somewhat central to the plot and feature in a couple wrestling matches, but for some reason most of the film's actual heroics are handed over to a male masked wrestler by the name of The Angel. The Angel has a secret crime lab, a snazzy sports car, a wrist radio, and a big, booming, overdubbed voice - and, while he's apparently played by an actual wrestler called The Angel, his presence on screen serves largely as an advertisement for the fact that the producers couldn't get Santo. In that sense of serving as a substitute while at the same time signifying the absence of the thing substituted for, he's kind of like one of those "Spader-Man" action figures I see for sale in Chinatown all the time. Which is not to say he doesn't make for a fun time at the movies. Just as Ashanti, while being no substitute for Beyonce, has made some perfectly decent pop records, La Mujeres Panteras, while not completely satisfying either as a Luchadoras or a "Santo" movie, is a perfectly engaging lucha movie when taken on its own terms. In fact, if you'd never seen a Mexican wrestling movie, and were the type of person who was inclined to like such things, one viewing of Las Mujeres Panteras would probably get you hooked. It's slick, fast paced and action packed, with lots of kooky set pieces and instances of people hatching brilliant plans that are actually quite stupid. It also features the classic, time tested lucha movie set-up: a group of vengeful hags with supernatural powers seeking payback for an ancient grudge (and, guys, we've all been on the receiving end of that one, right? Hey-oh!). These hags are not all panther women, at least not all of the time, and our glimpses of those titular beasts are doled out pretty sparingly, most likely because their costumes have the same novelty pajama look as the midget rat costumes in Vuelven los Campeones Justicieros. However, the PW's boss, a hulking zombie wizard with superhuman strength, is on hand to provide plenty of quality monstrosity. Still, having thrilled to Las Luchadoras taking a more active role in the monster bashing in El Medico Asesino, it's hard not to find Las Mujeres Panteras a little disappointing. And also a little puzzling. Of course, women are usually relegated to passive roles in these movies, but that's exactly what gives the Wrestling Women their novelty and what, I'm assuming, is the source of the popularity that merited them having their own five picture series. Why undermine that by inserting this generic good guy and crowding them into a traditional women-in-peril role? It's certainly not as if the towering Campbell, who reduces everything in her immediate surroundings to HO scale, isn't credible as someone who could physically harm monsters. She looks like she could juggle the entire male cast (in a sexy way!). And, to be fair, the Luchadoras do mix it up in a couple of plot related brawls here; it's just that, in both cases, events are arranged in a way that necessitates them being bailed out at the last minute by The Angel, and so, despite their exertions, I Can't Believe It's Not Santo ends up getting the glory every time. The most egregious instance of this comes at the end when Campbell, playing Golden Rubi, is poised to stab the monstrous wizard with a magic sword - the only weapon that can kill him - and faints (faints!) at the last minute, requiring The Angel to step in and strike the fatal blow, thus saving the day. To compound the insult, the movie ends on a dramatic close-up of The Angel's mask as one of the other characters mouths one of those "what a man" speeches that are typically reserved for Santo. If I were Santo that would have really pissed me off. The Angel, BTW, never made another screen appearance. Las Luchadoras, on the other hand, would return for at least one more official release, two if you count the fetid La Horriplante Bestia Humana.
Watch a clip on YouTube! (No audio)
One of my favorite things about Santo films - other than that they show us people in colorful wrestling masks napping, carting groceries and playing bridge - is how they often manage to deliver some surprisingly imaginative storytelling within the constraints of rigid formula. Given that all the producers of these films needed to do to fulfill their mandate was provide the required number of wrestling matches, some beautiful women in short skirts, and a simple narrative in which good triumphs over evil, it always seems like a bonus when we get something as ambitious as the shoestring historical epic that is El Mundo de los Muertos. Like El Hacha Diabolica, Muertos focuses for its first half on the exploits of Santo's 16th century ancestor, the Caballero Enmascarado de Plata. This time the Caballero battles a cult of devil worshippers, and for his efforts the cult's leader, Damiana, lets fly with a curse that will have uncomfortable repercussions for his modern day descendant. The attempts at conveying period in this segment are a little spotty (apparently those who were last in line at the costume department just got black turtlenecks to wear) but there is plenty of swashbuckling, stake burning, and righteous waving of crucifixes to distract you from such shortcomings. Blue Demon also makes a colonial era appearance and, since he only gets to be the hero in his own movies, here adds "Mindless Tool of Satan" to his acting resume alongside "Evil Duplicate of Self", "Hypnotized Slave of Atlantian Fascists" and "Evil Impostor of Self". (Come to think of it, though it may have been demeaning for him, Blue was really honing his craft in these Santo movies, while Santo, limited to playing his heroic and virtuous self, only once had the benefit of such an acting challenge.) The second half of the film is set in the present day, and it's just like the Wizard of Oz, with all of the characters introduced in the first half showing up in slightly different roles. And the Satanic cult leader is now Santo's fiancť, which gets a little thorny. The film climaxes with a visit to the World of the Dead itself, which looks like a red-tinted state park besieged by stock footage. It's not very spectacular, but, as with Santo y Blue Demon contra los Montruos, I just have to give the filmmakers credit for even attempting to tackle something that was so obviously beyond their means. Overall, I enjoyed El Mundo de los Muertos. It's novelty alone is enough to keep it interesting, and it has an energy to it that goes a long way toward compensating for its lack of polish. Perhaps most impressive is that, amid all its period trappings, it still manages to deliver the expected wrestling matches, beautiful women in short skirts and good-on-evil smackdowns.
All text content © Copyright 2007 Todd Stadtman. All rights reserved.