Poor Neutron. In the absence of his arch foe Doctor Caronte and his death robots, he's reduced to fighting just whoever happens to be on hand. Fortunately for him, he lives in a world where everyday jobs like "hospital attendant" are taken by people like Nathonael "Frankenstein" Leon who are capable and more than happy to take him on. Sadly, this isn't all that's changed since we last saw Neutron: In addition to having a different mask (who decided that a single racing stripe was cooler than three lightning bolts?), his torso is more conspicuously oiled, and the two manly chums he buddied around with in the previous films (played by Rocambole himself, Julio Aleman and, um, some other guy) have been replaced by... Chucho Salinas? The plot here has Neutron trying to unravel the mystery surrounding a shadowy sanitarium and the murders committed by a masked, knife-wielding maniac that appear connected to it. More accurately, I should say that it's Carlos, Neutron's civilian identity, who is trying to unravel that mystery, since the film's Scooby Doo style plot really doesn't provide much call for a masked wrestler type. Because of that, those sparse occasions on which Carlos does don his Neutron guise seem somewhat arbitrary, as if he just wanted to continue his detecting while giving his nipples some air. It's been noted elsewhere that the modus operandi of the killer here is similar to that of the killer in Michael Powell's Peeping Tom - specifically in that he films the murders as he commits them - but it's of little consequence, since the standard whodunit structure, necessitating that we only get fleeting glimpses of the killer in the course of committing his crimes, makes this film about as far from Powell's intimate psychological portrait as you could get. (Not that you would expect that, mind you, but imagine how awesome it would be if this film actually was an attempt at a faithful remake of Peeping Tom with the addition of a masked wrestler. Such a missed opportunity!) Though Neutron is not technically a luchadore, Neutron contra el Criminal Sadico, out of the four Neutron movies I've seen, is the most like a standard lucha film, mainly due to the nature of its padding; for one, it has an actual wrestling match in it (and with Fernando Oses, no less), and it also has, like Santo's Espectro del Estragulador, a shitload of nightclub set musical numbers. One of those numbers is performed by an act called Hector Cabrera and His Gay Crooners, and I want someone to give me a medal for not making a joke about that. Neutron contra el Criminal Sadico is not an intrinsically terrible film, but it's certainly an odd showcase for the Neutron that we've come to know and perhaps love over the course of the three previous films. That Neutron is most in his element fighting against two-fisted, wrestling-masked mad scientists with cackling dwarf assistants and armies of oven-baked ape zombies. Dropping him in the middle of an old dark house mystery like this seems a little perverse. Though (spoiler alert!) I must admit that I admire the solution that this film provides for its central mystery: It was everybody!
Neutron contra el Doctor Caronte is the third of five Neutron films and the final installment in the initial trilogy of films pitting Neutron against his nemesis, Doctor Caronte. Though more entertaining than the first film, the chatty Neutron el Enmascarado Negro, Neutron contra el Doctor Caronte is considerably more leaden with plot than the action-packed second installment, Neutron contra los Automatas de la Muerte. The story busies itself with a conflict between Doctor Caronte and a rival gang of spies, as well as a lot of puzzling over the identities of both Neutron and Doctor Caronte. This last bit took me by surprise, because I never expect the characters in these movies to even react to the fact that one of the other characters is wearing a mask, much less wonder who they might be beneath it. Still, despite some slow moments, the film has at its center probably the greatest - and, as would logically follow, the weirdest - of all the mad scientists in the wide, wide field of mad scientists to fill the villain's shoes in a lucha movie, the titular Doctor Caronte himself, who is of course joined by his freaky little dwarf assistant-and-maybe-boyfriend Nick and his army of home-baked zombie slaves, The Death Robots. So how could it be anything but awesome? This time around the Doctor has somehow managed to restore his laboratory to the same state of gothic ruin that it was in before it was blown up at the end of Los Automatas de la Muerte and has resumed his obsessive quest to capture the formula for the Neutron Bomb (which, again, apparently doesn't have anything to do with Neutron). It is up to Neutron to stop him of course, though the masked hero's presence doesn't seem to loom as large over this film as it did the previous one. As indicated above, this one is really Caronte's show - and not only do we get to root for the Doctor as he ruthlessly vanquishes the rival gang of spies, but also thrill as he demonstrates some wrestling prowess of his own in the process. Elsewhere the film gets a little bogged down in a love triangle involving the torch singing female love interest and a matching pair of fake-outs in which characters are revealed to be, in one case, Caronte, and, in another, Neutron and then turn out not to be after all. (I knew Julio Aleman wasn't Neutron, anyway, because how could he be both Neutron and Rocambole? That just wouldn't be fair.... And, say, didn't Neutron reveal his identity to his friends at the end of the first film, anyway? Maybe they weren't paying attention.) Still, once Caronte has somehow managed to take pretty much the entire cast hostage, the film comes through and provides appropriate closure to the saga, complete with a dramatic reveal of both principals' true identities (oh, god, please tell me I didn't just use "reveal" as a noun) and delivery in full on the implicit promise that we'd eventually get to see Neutron punch a midget. It's hard to imagine Neutron without Doctor Caronte - and, from what I understand, things would get a bit strange from this point on, with Neutron facing off in the next film against the title character from Michael Powell's Peeping Tom.
To be honest, I've been avoiding Neutron ever since watching his first film, Neutron, el Enmascarado Negro. As much as I like the old black & white, early 60s lucha movies, I found that particular one a bore, mainly because it featured a whole lot of talk and very little Neutron. Still, someone must have enjoyed Neutron, el Enmascarado Negro, because the character was brought back for no less than four more features. And that fact has made Neutron a little hard for me to avoid. Finally I decided to just suck it up, tuck in, and not come up for air until I'd watched the lot of them. My starting point was Neutron contra los Automatas de la Muerte. Now, given that Los Automatas de la Muerte is one of those instant sequels, filmed back to back with the first film and with the same cast and crew (as was the next film Neutron contra el Doctor Caronte), I had little hope that I'd be seeing much variation from el Enmascarado Negro. But the happy fact is that, because Los Automatas de la Muerte starts right where El Enmascarado Negro left off, and the previous film did all of the work of establishing all of the characters and situations, Los Automatas de la Muerte has the luxury of dispensing with all of that and simply cutting to the chase, which it does in fine style. Probably the best thing about Los Automatas de la Muerte is that it affords us ample opportunity to really savor the wonder and strangeness that is Neutron's nemesis, Dr. Caronte. As perfect a specimen of a hysterical megalomaniac as you could ask for, Caronte prowls his vast laboratory in an outfit that bespeaks of a certain career ambivalence, equal parts wrestling togs and surgeons scrubs, affectionately leading his freaky uni-browed dwarf assistant Nick by the hand as he proclaims and declaims in a booming voice about his various dastardly designs. Caronte needs lots of human blood in order to keep alive the collection of talking, disembodied brains, harvested from captured scientists, from whom he hopes to learn the secrets of the much coveted Neutron Bomb (which, as far as I can understand, is not a bomb that just kills Neutron, but more like a regular bomb, only better somehow). To do this he will use his army of Death Robots, a bunch of faceless, ape-like zombies in coveralls that Caronte appears to, um, bake in giant pizza ovens. Now, granted, there's not a lot here that we haven't seen before (well except for the robots being baked in pizza ovens, which is... well, holy shit), but the fact is, when something like this is done right, you really feel like you're watching a maniacal villain in a wrestling mask having a conversation with a roomful of disembodied brains harvested from kidnapped scientists for the very first time. And, what I'm saying is, Los Automatas de la Muerte really does it right. This is quite a well made film, exhibiting all of those qualities present in the most well appointed and technically proficient of the early lucha films: Rich black and white photography, moody night-for-night shooting, and camera work that makes the most of some impressive and atmospheric set designs - basically the same Film-Noir-meets-Universal-monster-movie look we see in great early Santo films like Santo en Museo de Cera and Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro. On top of that, the action in Los Automatas de la Muerte is virtually nonstop - and always outlandish. My favorite scene has got to be the one in which a fleeing Death Robot, on the brink of being captured by Neutron and his pals, commits suicide by pulling off his own head. But there's a lot of competition in that department, especially when you have so many scenes featuring little freaky Nick scurrying around and barking orders at the Death Robots in a screechy, overdubbed voice (there really is something genuinely disturbing about the little dude). Happily, the film ends on an uncertain note, cluing us in that Dr. Caronte and Nick will be back for the next installment (cluing us in further is the fact that the next installment is called Neutron contra el Doctor Caronte, so duh). That I'm actually looking forward to that, despite all of my initial ambivalence, is a testament to the amazing, life-transforming power of Neutron contra los Automatas de la Muerte.
It would be nice to end this Neutronathon on a relative high note - and since the penultimate Neutron film, Neutron contra el Criminal Sadico, kind of made me want to scream, that shouldn't be too hard. Or should it? Though optimistic going into Neutron contra los Asesinos del Karate, I did have some fears, based on having recently watched in quick succession both La Mafia Amarilla and Blue Demon Destructor de Espias, that the film, due to its subject matter, might contain some of the same odious (but admittedly at times hilarious - though in a totally guilty way) Asian stereotyping that those films did. Happily, that turned out to not be the case, since the film's karate gimmick is simply used as an exotic means of committing mayhem for the villains, who - though they do include in their number one actual, honest-to-goodness Asian - are not represented as being any kind of "others". At the same time, I'm not so sure if the discipline of karate itself was all that well represented, since the filmmakers seem to have taken it as simply a Japanese term for "Yelling while hitting". Still, how could you really lose with this set-up? A premise in which you pit Neutron against a bunch of Karate-chopping assassins has just got to deliver more thrills than the previous film, in which Neutron played Scooby Doo to an elusive, knife-wielding phantom. Unless, of course, you play the story as a mystery rather than an action film, opening the film with a brief montage of the assassins' crimes and then spending the rest following Neutron's alter ego Carlos as he tries to track them down through dogged detective work. Which is what they do, by the way. Granted, Carlos' investigation does lead him to a shady karate school run by German Robles - a set-up which makes possible the gratifying spectacle of Fernando Oses beating up Chucho Salinas. Otherwise, however, Neutron contra los Asesinos del Karate manages the downright impressive feat of taking a concept that involves a masked wrestler and a gang of unstoppable martial arts killers and turning it into an incredibly talky and boring motion picture. Neutron's mask appears to have gone through yet another mutation since the last film, and it's one that leaves him looking disconcertingly like the Gimp from Pulp Fiction. Given that, you've got to feel for the guy who, during an early scene in the movie, awakens to find Neutron standing at his bedside, bondage mask, oiled naked torso, tights, and all. Neutron assures him that he's a friend, but I wouldn't have found that all that comforting:
Neutron represents one of two distinct types of Mexican wrestling movie heroes. There are those like Santo and Blue Demon, who are real professional wrestlers simply bringing their ring personas to the screen, and those like Neutron, who are purely fictional characters portrayed by an actor (in this case, Wolf Ruvinskis). Of course, there is also Superzan, who, though not a real wrestler, appears on screen alongside real wrestlers, which, to me, actually constitutes some kind of a hoax. Anyway, Neutron, el Enmascarado Negro, the first of a series of Neutron films, starts off with some slick looking, Saul Bass inspired animated credits that look you right in the eye and promise you that you're about to watch the coolest movie ever. What is then delivered is a film very light on Neutron and very heavy on long and consecutive scenes of verbal exposition. This was especially hard on monolingual old me, because I watched the film on an unsubtitled dvd. And maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps the dialog in Neutron, el Enmascarado Negro is really great, brimming with droll wit and thought provoking philosophical insights. But it appears to me that it's mostly just people filling in whatever new character has just shown up (which happens a lot) on what's happened in the movie so far. In fact, our introduction to Neutron comes via one character holding up a photo of him and explaining to another character who he is, after which we don't actually get to see Neutron for well over half an hour, when he suddenly shows up and punches a bunch of cops in the face (yes, subtitles would definitely have helped). Neutron, though he in every other way matches the luchadore m.o., does not actually wrestle in this movie. And, though I'm otherwise no big fan of the lucha cinema practice of stopping the movie midway for a ten minute wrestling match, I actually think that, in the case of El Enmascarado Negro, that would have served nicely to break things up. I've heard that subsequent Neutron movies are better, so I'm not giving up on the series. After all, even this entry, despite it's longueurs, has a few things to recommend it. For instance, I liked that, rather than giving us just one mad scientist, it gives us a tag team. One of them, Dr. Caronte, wears a wrestling mask, while the other one, Dr. Walker, should, because his face looks like someone poured a can of menudo on it and let it harden. I also liked the army of ape-like zombies that Dr. Caronte has at his command, because the scenes in which they appear come the closest to suggesting the kind of creep show thrills that, in much greater quantity, would have made El Enmascarado Negro much less of a chore to sit through. If ever a movie needed some scantily clad vampire women - and/or a cyclops - this one is it.
In my fantasy you are begging me to review Night of the Bloody Apes. "Please," you moan. "Tell us about the dirty lucha movie. The one with boobies." Needless to say, I am unmoved by your tears - did I mention that you were weeping? - and toy with you mercilessly. "What? You mean Now, Voyager?" "NO!", you wail. "The one that's just like Las Luchadoras contra el Medico Asesino, but with titties! Good God, man! The titties!" It's at this point that I realize that, as much as I pride myself on being a hardened sadist, there are depths of self abasement that even I find a little nauseating. And so I relent. It's a classic control fantasy, really, one where I take all of the feelings of powerlessness and suffering that I endured at the hands of Night of the Bloody Apes and project them onto you. And seeing as you've been such a good sport about it - I mean, you're still reading, aren't you? - it's only fair that I give you the thing that I've imagined you asking for. Even though, in reality, you probably want it less than a sack of cold sores and Monday mornings. The plot of Night of the Bloody Apes is one of lucha cinema's most often told tales. It made it's first appearance in 1956 in the sublime Ladron de Cadaveres, then reappeared in 1963's Las Luchadoras contra el Medico Asesino and then continued evolving downward until it came to rest within the damp confines of La Horripilante Bestia Humana aka Night of the Bloody Apes.* In all three movies, monstrosity ensues when a mad scientist performs a gorilla to human organ transplant. In Ladron, only the local constabulary are available to combat the rampaging beast man, but Las Luchadoras introduces a pair of civic-minded wrestling women, with policemen boyfriends in tow, to aid in the fight. Night of the Bloody Apes, while more similar to Las Luchadoras than Ladron, strips things down by only featuring one policeman-dating wrestling woman, and, while she wears a cute devil girl outfit and appears in a couple of gingerly choreographed wrestling matches, she ultimately proves to be of absolutely no consequence to the plot. However, it's not what Night of the Bloody Apes gives us less of that distinguishes it, but rather what it adds to the formula. It was a practice in the Mexican film industry at the time to occasionally spice up films for import release by inserting bits of female nudity that were not available in the domestic versions. Night of the Bloody Apes, the U.S. cut of La Horripilante Bestia Humana, is a rare extant example of one of these sexo versions of a lucha movie, though there were apparently others made. It strives to increase its appeal to decadent foreign interests by also inserting numerous shots of explicit gore, including some pretty nauseating footage of real surgery. These scenes are actually quite extreme for the time, though the staged shots are also laughably inept, combining the hasty no budget improvisation and stark utilitarian prurience of H.G. Lewis with the curiously liquid notion of bodily integrity exhibited in The Story of Ricky. Bodies break apart and separate like warm loaves of bread, an eye-gouging exposes the shockingly high foam rubber content of the human head, and, best of all, a "scalping" scene is accomplished by dragging a stage blood soaked toupee across the head of a Dr. Phil look-alike, revealing the grizzly horror of his male pattern baldness. Most of these shots are inserted pretty clumsily, and the resulting abrupt transitions between them and the typically affable goofiness of the lucha movie that contains them can make watching Night of the Bloody Apes a jarring experience for those used to being lulled by the genre's familiar tropes. (The film was directed by Rene Cardona and - when it's not shoving grue in your face - has the same colorful production look as other of his luchadore films from the time, such as La Mujer Murcielago.) As for the nudity, as much as I'm wholeheartedly in favor of there being more female nudity in Mexican wrestler movies (and, come to think of it, maybe less of the male kind), it pains me to say that it being so inextricably intertwined with the gore in Night of the Bloody Apes makes it pretty unappealing. Other than in some boudoir scenes of star Norma Lazareno, all of the female bodies that are bared here are so done in the process of being broken. Granted, in some of these scenes there's certainly amusement to be had from the Benny Hill like ridiculousness of the ease with which these women become relieved of their clothing in the process of fleeing or fending off the monster. But it's just not titillating. Still, there is something bracing about the very sleaziness of Night of the Bloody Apes for me. Having become perhaps overly familiar with the formula of these movies, it was nice to see it get such a violent shake up here, and, in the process, to be reminded that all the cartoonish violence and juvenile innuendo usually on display is just a family friendly face put on some darker, more complex impulses roiling behind the camera's eye. That's the kind of thing we depend on extreme cinema for, and it's something that it often does best when it's at its crudest.
*It would go on to be resuscitated for one last run-through in 1973's Santo y Blue Demon contra Dr. Frankenstein.
Watch a clip on YouTube! (Warning: NSFW ...and gross)
All of the perpetrators of La Mafia Amarilla return - along with their mustaches - for Noche de Muerte; In addition to Blue Demon, we have his two crime fighting associates - leggy blonde (Tere VelŠzquez) and bumbling oaf (Tin Tan) - the very Maurizio Merli-esque Inspector Ponce, and director Rene Cardona Sr. at the helm. Again the tone is that of a straightforward urban crime thriller, complete with some nice Mexico City location shooting and Blue Demon continuing to rock the sharp suit and tie (though alternating this time with a kicky ascot) in his role as a big city private eye. There is also a sequence showing Blue Demon's workout, which is very humbling for those of us who feel like we're keeping in pretty good shape for our age, but I digress. The plot this time involves criminal acts being perpetrated by a Blue Demon impostor, which must have seemed like a pretty fresh idea, seeing as it had only been used previously in Blue Demon contra las Diabolicas and Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos. Oh, and in Las Momias de Guanajuato - I almost forgot that one. As a result of his double's nefarious doings, Blue must go on the run from the law while trying to both establish his innocence and bring justice to the gang of despicable thugs who are behind the ruse. I really have nothing bad to say about La Noche de Muerte; It's a very competent entry in the genre of guys with blow dried hair and mustaches having shootouts and car chases with one another. And I certainly can't count among its faults that it lacks the astonishing racism of La Mafia Amarilla. Still, I must admit that Amarilla's many instances of stunningly archaic racial stereotypes added a certain spice to its otherwise pretty conventional proceedings, an odious attraction that kept me watching just to see how much more appalling it could be. So I guess that what I'm getting at, as horrible as it sounds, is that Noche de Muerte fails at having the technical or moral failings that would have made it of special interest to me (or, in lieu of those, a monster, robot, cool underground space age laboratory, or scantily clad female assassins). I did like that Blue has a match with an opponent in a fuzzy, leopard-print mask, because I thought for a moment that it might be one of Los Jaguares (though no such luck). I also liked that Blue's impostor, like Blue himself, tools around the house when no one else is around with his mask on, though, unlike Blue, he chuckles evilly to himself while doing so. All in all, I'm certainly not writing this one off. It's probably one that would be best for me to revisit once I've had some Spanish lessons.
Watch a clip on YouTube! (No audio)
Operacion 67 and it's follow-up, El Tesoro de Moctezuma, represent a kind of a mini-saga within the larger Santo saga. These films were the Santo answer to the James Bond craze, and as such they are the most streamlined and well appointed of the Santo films. They are, in fact, the first Santo films shot in color, something that their comic book colorful set design takes full advantage of. Though Operacion 67 marked a step up from Santo's recent poverty row past, it may have been a bittersweet victory for him, given that he was asked to share top billing with an upstart young pretty boy named Jorge Rivero. Mitigating this, I imagine, was the fact that, in order to ape the tone of the Bond films, the film had to provide Santo with an abundance of adoring, scantily clad women, so that he could display a callous indifference to them. In so doing, Operacion 67 effectively slammed the door once and for all on the more saintly Santo that we see in the films of the early 60's. Never again would we see the lone, celibate-by-all-appearances Santo lurking around his lab, waiting for duty to call. Future films would more likely see him spending his downtime out on a double date with Blue Demon or lounging by the pool attended to by his sexy maid. Such radical innovations aside, Operacion 67, being a spy film from the 60s, has the same plot as seemingly every other spy film from the 60s. Said plot begins with the bad guys committing some kind of spectacular crime, after which the film's super agents are put on the case. These agents' unbelievably badass reputation so precedes them that, as soon as they set foot in whatever exotic location it is that their assignment is to take place, the bad guys immediately begin trying to kill them by every impractical means possible. The bulk of the film is then taken up by a series of action set pieces in which the villains repeatedly try to kill the heroes, until, finally, by means of their very efforts to kill them, the villains lead the heroes straight to their secret lair, which they blow up. Thus the agents are freed from having to do any of the actual spying that they were hired to do by the fact that the villains have been throwing themselves at them since day one. It seems to me that the villains might just relax, lay back in the cut for a while, and find out for certain if the agents' reputation is really warranted before risking exposure by going after them so aggressively. It could turn out that they just have really good PR, that they're not all that competent, and that they might give up after a few days and go back to wherever they came from. A little patience can really pay off, especially when you have a lot invested in a spectacular criminal undertaking. Anyway, by saying this I'm not suggesting that I think the plot of Operacion 67 should be any more complicated. If it was, I wouldn't be able to understand it, because it's not in English and the dvd doesn't have subtitles. Regardless of this language barrier, Operacion 67 is a lot of fun - fun in the same way that a lot of the James Bond knock-offs from this period are fun, only inestimably better, because it has a masked wrestler in it.
Watch a clip on YouTube! (No audio)
I haven't talked a lot about what I have to do to get some of these harder to find movies. After all, it's not like I can just walk into Wal-Mart and buy them. To get them I have to do things... well, things that I'm not all that proud of. I don't want to describe all of those things here, because I'd hate for my Mother to read something like that. (Because you know my mother is all about reading The Lucha Diaries. ...Right.) In the case of Pasaporte a la Muerte, though, I had to have the brain of an ape - an ape that had watched Pasaporte a la Muerte - transplanted into my body and then use my power of speech to describe the movie to the ape, which now had my brain, so that the ape could use my typing skills to clumsily hammer out this review with its big stubby ape fingers. It's complicated. Anyway, Pasaporte a la Muerte, a direct sequel to Blue Demon Destructor de Espias, stars Blue Demon, Carlos East and the delectable Maura Monti as a team of secret agents who must battle an evil scientist with the apparent ability to cause natural disasters and a tuxedo wearing android who shoots cartoon rays out of his hands. If that sounds great, it pretty much is. This and Destructor de Espias are obviously Blue Demon's answer to the pair of James Bond knock-offs (Operacion 67 and El Tesoro de Moctezuma) that Santo did with Jorge Rivero back in 1966, and the swinging super spy tone of those films is here enhanced by the colorful comic book look used in Blue's previous classics Blue Demon contra las Diabolicas and Blue Demon contra Cerebros Infernales. There was clearly less of a budget to play with here than on the Santo/Rivero films, apparent in the predominantly set-bound look and overall talky-ness, but there's a pervasive sense of campy fun that manages to keep things moderately engaging despite that. And, as far as those sets are concerned, some of them are actually quite cool - in particular the evil Professor Marcus' space-age underground laboratory, which is about as slick as you could hope for with nothing but a bunch of plywood and silver spray paint to work with. Less successful are the film's attempts to paint Blue Demon as a rakish and worldly ladies man, simply because it's so much easier to imagine Blue drinking beer and barbecuing in the backyard than it is him sipping martinis and tangoing on the Riviera. Also, an opportunity was lost, I feel, to have Maura Monti in a catsuit karate chopping people Emma Peel-style, but I guess you can't have everything - and when what you do have is an android that looks like Daniel Baldwin in a tuxedo shooting animated beams out of his hands like a Taoist priest in an old Shaw Brothers movie, you should just be thankful and shut the fuck up. Pasaporte a la Muerte is also notable for me for being the only lucha movie I've seen in which the wrestling sequences form a parallel narrative. The first match we see pits Blue Demon against the normally chrome-domed Nathonael "Frankenstein" Leon in a ridiculous hippy wig - which is shorn from his head when he loses! The remaining matches see Leon trying to avenge this humiliation, at one point coming very close to unmasking Blue in the ring before finally getting trounced once and for all near the film's conclusion. This, the inclusion of both Maura Monti and my favorite luchadore, Blue Demon, and the goofy sixties tone combine to make Pasaporte a la Muerte, if not a great lucha movie, at least a sufficiently entertaining one, and well worth me being the shambling man-beast I was forced to become in order to experience it.
Out of The Big Three, it makes the most sense that Mil Mascaras would be the one to venture into the blaxploitation genre. Not that he's any blacker than Santo or Blue Demon (or black at all), but his penchant for wearing leopard print and gold lamť definitely makes him the most pimp-tastic. Mil, however, is less the focus of El Poder Negro than his co-star, Sergio Oliva, and Oliva offers quite a lot to exploit; Dark, massive and glowering, he appears genetically designed to frighten white people. Yet El Poder Negro is less Superfly and more a lucha version of On the Waterfront - with a glutinous dose of telenovela melodramatics shoveled in for good measure. In it Oliva portrays a virtuous - and freakishly buff - dock worker whose incorruptibility runs him afoul of a bunch of thugs who are running a smuggling racket out of the docks. When Mil Mascaras' tag team partner dies in the ring, he enlists Oliva to take his place (under the name "El Poder Negro", which is at least more PC than other potential titles, like "The Big Black Dude") and must protect him from said rudos to ensure the longevity of their partnership. It's tempting to sympathize with the thugs here, as they're mostly none-too-young and - being thugs - look like they smoke and drink too much, while Mil and Oliva are gigantic, muscle bound, and good enough at hurting people to make a comfortable living at it. We know that sooner or later the two wrestlers are going to get the clue and team up to beat the tar out of these guys and, given that, the set-up offers about as much suspense and eventual surprise as watching a kid poke a hornet's nest with a stick. This, combined with Mil's minimal role and the aforementioned soap opera elements, makes watching El Poder Negro a bit of a chore. The fact that Mil Mascaras, having already headlined a series of presumably successful lucha movies, took supporting roles in melodramas like this and Una Rosa Sobre el Ring is just one of the things that make his film career something of a mystery to me; the other is that he never (until very recently) got the name-in-title treatment that Santo and Blue Demon did. I realize that he was a movie star first, and didn't come to the screen with his wrestling stardom established, but he was just so good at the movie star part it seems criminal for him to (a) not get the "Mil Mascaras contra" treatment in the title and (b) be in a movie as boring as El Poder Negro. The least this movie could have done was live up to its title and give us some funky wah-wah guitar and Rudy Ray Moore-style fake kung fu, but sadly even those questionable pleasures are absent.
Profanadores de Tumbas (1965) ?
In a small room, a woman in a black leotard and fishnet tights go-go dances suggestively as two men play a classical piece on violin and piano. There is no audience in the room. The woman smiles serenely toward us as she dances, and the camera zooms in to focus on her hips as they undulate sensually Ė if incongruously Ė to the rather staid music. Suddenly the violin, under its own power, leaps out of the violinistís arms, and the violinist finds that one of the strings has dislodged and wrapped itself tightly around his neck. As the violinist strangles, the violin dances a few feet across the floor and then explodes. The woman screams. And the scene ends. Now, if not for the go-go dancing, you might think that I was describing a scene from some early surrealist film Ė and with that and other scenes like it, the Santo film Profanadores de Tumbas could easily hold its own against the anarchic absurdity of classics like Un Chien Andalou and LíAge Díor. In addition to the killer violin, weíre also presented with a scene in which a wig tries to strangle its owner and then continues to hop across the floor once it has been cast off. In another, a table lamp bleeds and drives its owner mad by flashing rapidly on and off and emitting weird sounds. All of this lunacy is accompanied and complimented by the jagged editing, disjointed narrative flow and weird, minimalist sets that are typical of the four micro budget features Santo did for producer Luis Enrique Vergara in the mid sixties. (This is the third of the Vergara films, which were shot back to back within roughly a one year period with mostly the same cast and crew Ė see also my reviews of Atacan las Brujas and El Hacha Diabolica.) While the film overall is a bit slow and repetitive, it leaves you Ė in a way similar to even the most mediocre David Lynch movies - with some weird and weirdly unsettling images that stick with you long after the finer details of the plot have been forgotten. And to put an exclamation point on the proceedings, the climax is absurdly violent, featuring bodies torn apart by machinery, thrown into boiling pits of acid and shoved face first into blast furnaces. I havenít seen anywhere near all of the Santo films yet, but it is very difficult for me to imagine that there is another in the series thatís any weirder than Profanadores de Tumbas.
The final two Santo films, El Puno de la Muerte and La Furia de las Karatecas, are not so much two stand alone films as they are one unaccountably long Santo movie that's been cut in two. I saw La Furia de las Karatecas first, and in my review I mentioned that I was uneasy about what El Puno de la Muerte might contain, based on the fact that las Karatecas alone didn't contain enough elements to comprise even one proper film, much less two. Well, now I am back from the muddy trenches of lucha cinema to report that El Puno de la Muerte contains pretty much all of the same elements as La Furia, and with much of the same padding used to plump it up into feature length. As with La Furia, the star attraction here is Grace Renat, a woman with freakishly enhanced, watermelon-shaped boobs that, in an obscene mockery of all that is natural and holy, stand out from her chest at a perfect ninety degree angle. Renat plays a pair of twin sisters who appear to come from some kind of showgirl planet where wars are settled by the comparative size and brilliance of their leaders' tiaras. As the evil and most nearly naked of the sisters, she consults an oracle that appears to be a child's C-3PO Halloween mask fixed to a mirror and periodically turns into a tubby, disoriented monster with symmetrically spaced, hair-sprouting moles all over its body. This evil Grace can accomplish her evil acts only through lots of ritual dancing - the type of ritual dancing that might be practiced by some kind of cargo cult whose only exposure to the concept of dance was through Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield" video - and it is this fevered hoochie dancing that makes up the majority of El Puno's padding, an impressive feat given the severe back problems that Renat undoubtedly suffered as a result of her condition. The good and more clothed - though still mostly naked - Grace is meanwhile ensconced in a palatial mansion guarded by a cadre of anemic looking karate dudes (one of whom, presumably, is the owner of the "Fist of Death" referred to in the title), where she protects a virginal blond space girl who the evil Grace wants to capture and sacrifice to the glowing piece of space rock that is the subject of her most orgasmic booty dancing. As for Santo, well, he was in his mid sixties by this point, and most of his action scenes involve him riding in various forms of transport, starting with a badass Corvette, then, in rapid succession, a private jet, a fan-boat (the film was shot in the Florida Everglades), a prop plane, and then a regular motorboat. This makes up the entirety of Santo's scenes during the movie's first half, though there are some snippets of action thrown in. For instance, there is a very brief fight with some of Evil Grace's goons who attack Santo and his party as they're boarding the prop plane and - whoa! That guy just got cut in half by the propeller! I've never seen something like that in a Santo movie. Who directed this one... Lucio Fulci? Anyway, most of the real two-fisted action is handled here by Tinieblas, playing Evil Grace's right-hand man, who has one pretty good fight against Good Grace's army of karate guys (who, to be fair - and as much as I want to mock them - do actually seem to be practicing something that has at least some tangential relationship to real martial arts). Perhaps it was all the Scotch and Benadryl, or the carbon monoxide leaking from my faulty gas heater, or the repeated self-inflicted blows to the head, but for some reason I found El Puno de la Muerte somewhat more entertaining than La Furia de las Karatecas. Sadly, this was dampened considerably by what looked to be a probable instance of animal cruelty taking place in the film's final third. And just what is up with that, exactly? This was never an issue with any of the early Santo films, but I've come across it more and more as I've delved into his movies from the mid 70s onward. Could it be that Santo was only kept alive by means of animal sacrifices at this point? In any case, while the rest of El Puno de la Muerte could conceivably provide some modicum of trainwreck entertainment value, it goes without saying that there's nothing about it that could possibly justify any living thing losing its life in the course of its creation. Well, okay: if you told me that the guy who got cut in half by the propeller was real, I might think that was cool - but, come on, you shouldn't go around attacking 65 year old men like that, even if the director is yelling at you to do it. That guy totally had it coming.
This is the first sequel to Las Momias de Guanajuato, and, while Santo and Blue Demon are nowhere to be seen, the producers were at least able to afford Mil Mascarasí salary and keep him aboard for one more go around. Helping out this time are Blue Angel, who looks like a Chippendaleís version of Captain America, and El Rayo de Jalisco, whoís on hand to confuse those of us familiar with La Sombra Vengadora by wearing a nearly identical costume. What I love about this one are the interstitial bits featuring a shock zoom on a leering skull. Itís very reminiscent of something youíd see in a 1970s Saturday morning cartoon. In fact, the whole movie has sort of a Scooby Doo feel to it. The wrestlerís gal pals, Iím happy to report, are in on the action this time and, whenever itís time to go poking around in a spooky tomb of creepy lair, the whole gang goes along - even when they lose the advantage of stealth by doing so. The mummy make-up is especially puke-y for this one, and the climactic mummies vs. wrestlers battle is satisfyingly action-packed. Up until that final battle, however, all of the wrestlersí physical confrontations are with the midget henchmen. Now, Iím a big fan of the whole midgets vs. wrestlers thing, and in cases where the wrestlers in question are not exactly at their physical peak, I see the utility of such pairings. However, it does seem like kind of a wasted opportunity when you have three wrestlers as obviously in their prime as those featured here and you spend most of their screen time pitting them against opponents who are one sixth their size. At the same time, itís truly hilarious to watch a big, muscle bound lug like Mil Mascaras try to pretend heís being taken down by a gang of clamoring little people, so, given the choice, I guess Iíll take the hilarity. I also like that the main supporting characters here are a street kid and an older homeless man (the boyís father? - without subtitles I canít be sure), and that those characters arenít played for pathos like they typically would be in an American film. These are clearly characters that the audience is meant to identify with, rather than pity. These two witness the titular robbery and end up going to Mil Mascaras and his crew after the proper authorities scoff at their story. This indicates a big change from the days when Santo functioned as an adjunct to the police. Here the masked wrestlers are presented as those who the people turn to when official justice fails them.
I admit it: I've been dying to revisit Rocambole ever since being introduced to him in Rocambole contra las Mujeres Arpias. That stupid "this way, ladies" chest emblem of his just can't fail to bring a smile to my face - and, as such, it serves as a happy reminder that my prolonged serial consumption of lucha movies hasn't rendered me completely insensible to such absurdities. Rocambole, to recap, is kind of like Batman if Batman's secret identity was Mandrake the Magician. He's also somewhat similar to European pulp characters like Diabolik or Kriminal in that he seems to sometimes operate on the shady side of the law, only fighting for good when it dovetails with his own interests. In this sense he offers a little bit of something for everybody - if by "everybody" you mean geeks. Rocambole contra la Secta del Escorpion, the second and final Rocambole film, is one of these "and tomorrow we'll shoot the sequel" films, obviously made in very close proximity to - if not concurrent with - the previous one and with a lot of the same cast and resources. Unfortunately, it has less of the colorful comic book atmosphere and none of the outlandish fantasy elements of Contra las Mujeres Arpias. The Cult of the Scorpion, despite the visions of cloaks and sacrificial daggers that its name evokes, is actually a gang of dapper international assassins who are more the type of villains you'd expect in a low rent James Bond knock-off from the period. To complicate things, German Robles, who plays one of the main baddies, is virtually identical to Julio Aleman, the actor playing Rocambole, a fact which adds an extra level of challenge for those of us trying to figure out what's going on without the aid of understanding the spoken language. The action is also a little lighter this time around. Still, it's worth soldiering through, because in the frenetic last five minutes of the picture, Rocambole delivers fully on the promise made in his debut, vanquishing his foes with a deadly combination of ventriloquism and karate and zestfully beating the crap out of a woman in the process. Now that's the Rocambole I wanted to see. Contra la Secta del Escorpion is also interesting for being one of those films that presents sort of a who's who of lucha movie regulars from the period, among them everybody's comic relief second banana Chucho Salinas, waxy font of villainy Carlos Agosti, serial toady Nothanael "Frankenstein" Leon, and the probably-not-really-blonde Gina Romand. In summation: Rocambole didn't really do very much in Rocambole contra la Secta del Escorpion, but he still looked really silly doing it, which is really all that I was asking for.
Judging from the costume worn by the titular hero of Rocambole contra las Mujeres Arpias, I'd have to guess that Rocambole is Spanish for "check out my junk". You can make your own call based on the picture that accompanies this review, but to me that emblem on his chest looks like an arrow showing us the direct route downtown. For this and many, many other reasons, las Mujeres Arpias is a truly silly movie, one that I'm sure will provide lots of amusement for those who can put aside - or revel in - its backward gender politics. How could you expect any less from a film whose super hero sports a uniform incorporating a truckstop novelty tee-shirt? I only wish that Rocambole's sidekick wore a costume as well, so that he could have one of those sex position zodiac symbols on it. Anyway, you've got to wonder what's up with this war between the sexes we see playing out in lucha films. We've so far seen masked wrestlers set upon by female vampires (both women and girls), witches, mini-skirted femaliens, just plain diabolical women, and now... harpies? In keeping with this spirit, Rocambole contra las Mujeres Arpias taps into female villainy at its very root, giving us bad guys who make a group of chorus girls literal slaves to their vanity by injecting them with a fugly-making drug and then bribing them to commit crimes with the promise of a temporary antidote. Of course, not a one among these women - even Rocambole's trusty girl friday - is willing to sacrifice her beauty for the moral high ground, and so the harpies are born. To be fair, we're not just talking about run of the mill, every day fuglitude here, but rather the kind of full bore, mirror cracking, oatmeal-faced fugilaciousness that makes adults and babies alike cry in terror and confuses dogs into thinking they should bury the one afflicted. (Not to put too fine a point on it.) Entrenched in the Wrestlers vs. Women film cycle as it is, contra las Mujeres Arpias sets itself apart from the pack by not providing male henchman for the physical tussles with the hero and instead has Rocambole actually slugging it out with the women themselves (or, in most cases, obvious male doubles in bad drag). These fights are actually quite brutal and, Rocambole, not the nicest of masked Mexican movie heroes, actually seems to be getting off on it a little bit. He just really likes to hit people, it seems, and it's a testament to just how thick the cheese is sliced here that this never manages to come off as repellent as it probably should. Rocambole contra las Mujeres Arpias is one of those movies that skirts the margins of what can really be considered lucha cinema, and, to be honest, I'm mainly including it to mix things up. Rocambole, like Neutron, is a fictional character (loosely based on a 19th century French pulp hero, it seems), and, while his look and fighting style are similar to those of a luchadore, he's not presented as a professional wrestler. Instead, he's essentially a traditional super hero who, when he's not in his ridiculous costume, wows nightclub crowds as a stage magician who's sort of a one man Ed Sullivan show, punctuating the pulling of bouquets from his sleeve by exhibiting his skills as a ventriloquist, knife thrower and escape artist. It may just be a function of his troubling resemblance to Bob Saget that makes actor Julio Aleman's suave take on this alter ego come off as more smarmy than was probably intended. But it just makes it all the more enjoyable when he has to put on that stupid looking costume. It's like his punishment for being creepy. Do I recommend Rocambole contra las Mujeres Arpias? Well, yes; just as I implicitly recommend any film that I don't specifically say should be avoided. Like a lot of these movies, it clearly has issues, but if there's a cry for help in there somewhere, I wasn't able to hear it over the sound of my own laughter
Una Rosa Sobre el Ring is a straight up melodrama, a soap opera set in the world of lucha libre. Mil Mascaras appears in it, but it's really no more than a cameo, and he doesn't venture outside of his professional wrestling role to right any wrongs, heal the sick, or hurl any vampire midgets into other vampire midgets. In short, I have absolutely no business writing about this movie. Sure, I did watch it, but I've also watched open heart surgery on the Discovery Channel, and I don't feel like that makes me any more qualified to comment on the quality of its execution. The problem is that the dvd of Una Rosa Sobre el Ring, like about half of those that I've watched in connection with compiling these diaries, has no English subtitles, so I had no idea what was being said, and wasn't entirely clear on all of the relationships between the characters. If the cast of characters had included a mad scientist, or a mini-skirted femalien, or a werewolf, or a diabolical criminal mastermind, or an evil, disembodied brain, it would have been a different story, because those, for me, are part of a universal language. If you at least give me a mad scientist and a burly guy in a wrestling mask, I can pretty much put all the rest of the pieces in place. But the trials and tribulations of everyday life? The vagaries of the human heart? Come on! I'm a guy! I need you to spell that shit out for me! Don't make me guess at it, otherwise I'm just going to get it wrong and piss you off. Anyway, the little that I can with certainty tell you about Una Rosa Sobre el Ring is that it stars Crox Alvarado as an aging luchadore haunted by the death of an opponent in the ring. But, hold up; now that I've said that, I realize that I can't really say with certainty that his role was that of an "aging luchadore". It may have just been age inappropriate casting, with his obviously very advanced years not intended to be a focus of the story. In any case, I definitely can say that a remarkable effect is achieved at the film's conclusion when Alvarado dons his mask and enters the ring against Mil Mascaras. His formerly pendulous man-maries are suddenly rock hard, and he seems to gain a few inches in stature. It's almost as if it's an entirely different person in the role. Una Rosa Sobre el Ring also features a lady who becomes a nun, an impoverished orphan who gets slapped upside the head a lot by a mean guy who takes his panhandling money, and a guy in a suit who is repeatedly shown punching a buff guy with a club foot in the face and knocking him out, which I think is meant to be comical. I could further pad this review by mentioning that its an Agrasanchez production and then go on to enumerate all of the technical failings that go hand in hand with that - but I just got finished jumping all over Agrasanchez in my review of El Hijo de Alma Grande and I'm exhausted from the effort. Well, almost exhausted. The sound looping in this film is really atrocious, giving us a 10 year old newsboy who has the voice of a 35 year old man, a crowd of people who visibly applaud yet emit no sound, and physical blows that sound full seconds after they're landed. As far as the onscreen production values go, the fact that the film focuses a lot on people who are desperately poor works well within the typical Agrasanchez film's budgetary restrictions. They're not so good at realizing a super villain's high tech lair, but a squalid hovel they can do. As far as the story goes, as I said, I really can't say. But there's a lot of exaggerated gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair going on that suggests to me that, were it's dialog understandable, Una Rosa Sobre el Ring might just be a lot of fun to watch. Not fun enough to prompt me to invest in those much needed Spanish lessons, mind you, but fun nonetheless.
That title promises so much. It's also very practical. You can be certain that no one ever had to ask what Santo versus Blue Demon in Atlantis was about, since the title, following a strict journalistic model, provides us with the who, the what and the where (with the how - by wrestling - being clearly implied by the stars named therein). The reality, however, is that, other than the special effects sequences, the action in this film is pretty generic. Furthermore, all of the special effects sequences are lifted from Japanese kaiju movies (as in, the actual footage from those films is inserted into this film), so there's just not that much new to savor here. The film starts Santo and Blue's onscreen partnership off on a bad foot, it being one of the many that presents Blue as an evil-doing pawn of the bad guys (here it's the actual Blue, who's been hypnotized by the Atlantians, though other films would use the device of a cloned double or impostor). It also gives us one of the most blistering examples of pointless filler in lucha cinema history by showing us several minutes of Santo sitting and watching black and white footage of a musical number from another film on television. If ever a film was screaming a warning to its audience that it wasn't worth their time, this is it. (What was the poster's tag line? "Bring a book"?) Atlantida also suffers by comparison to Operacion 67, because it tries to go for the same James Bond feel, but without the panache and relatively lavish budget of that earlier film. On the mitigating side, there are some good fights and some decent underwater footage, but, unless you're OCD like me, I'd skip this one and move on to Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos. Now that's a picture!
If I ever had any reason to believe - or hope - that this compulsion of mine would burn itself out before I had watched every blessed Santo film ever made, the fact that I just watched Santo contra Capulina has put it to rest once and for all. You might have thought that it would be El Aguila Real or Santo Frente a la Muerte, but no. It's Santo contra Capulina that truly demarcates my personal point of no return. Certainly lots of non Spanish-speaking Santo fans like myself have watched unsubtitled Santo films, but they don't watch this one. That's because they're smart, and they realize that, because Santo contra Capulina is a comedy, and they wouldn't be able to understand a single word of it, the only viewing experience it could offer them is a numbing and pointless repetition of childish mugging, exaggerated hand gestures, people running in fast motion, and cloyingly whimsical music. But, um, not me. So, I'm not going to make any judgments here. Santo contra Capulina may, in fact, be the greatest comedy of all time. The greatest movie, even. Who am I to say? Of course, there is the fact that its musical score consists entirely of a wacky-fied rendition of the theme from Exodus played constantly and repeatedly throughout its entire running time, but there are conceivably contexts in which that would be pure genius, and my lack of access to the film's spoken language may just be preventing me from getting that. Also, it does seem like the style of comedy practiced by Santo's co-star Capulina is very broad and physical in nature, and that its apparent unfunny-ness may not be a result of the language barrier. After all, translation isn't everything; understanding the meaning of this film's title, for instance, does not make it any less misleading, as Santo does not, as that title would seem to promise, give Capulina the beat down some might think he so richly deserves. The worst he does is call him "idiota" and maybe playfully box his ears (the robot Capulina doesn't count). But, you know what? None of that really matters to me right now. Standing here on this new threshold, all I can think about is the future. My future. For it's now beginning to dawn on me that, as much as I've tried to bargain with myself, I really am going to watch El Misterio de la Perla Negra, the unbidden and cruelly unnecessary follow-up to Santo Frente a la Muerte - just as, inconceivable as it may seem, I am going to watch those last two Santo movies from the 80s starring that woman with the freakishly large breasts. What I need to do now is accept those facts and prepare myself to deal with their inevitable consequences.
Santo contra el Asesino de la Television, the third to last Santo movie, is, like a lot of these later Santo films, somewhat disappointing. What was most disappointing about it for me was that it was not, as the box promised, 62 minutes long; I was really hoping that I could squeeze in viewings of both it and Shaolin Drunkard before my fiance came home wanting to watch something that wasn't vaguely retarded. At the time of making El Asesino de la Television, Santo was in his mid sixties and, correspondingly, most of his fight scenes here might just as well have been shot in slow motion. Sullying things further is the fact that a large share of screen time is devoted to fat ranchera singer Gerardo Reyes, who obstructed the screen in similar fashion in the wan Santo en la Frontera del Terror just a couple years previous. Still, the film is not without things to recommend it. Director Rafael Perez Grovas makes some nice atmospheric use of the villain's cave-dwelling lair, managing some slick looking set-ups that compensate somewhat for the drab locations and interiors - all too typical of Santo movies from this time - that are seen elsewhere. Also, Rubi Re does an engaging turn in the spunky "girl reporter" role, zooming around on a motorcycle and even engaging in some mild kung fu badass-ery at one point. (You've just got to be thankful for kung fu, if only for all the otherwise intolerable movies from the late 70s and early 80s rendered amusing by its poorly executed inclusion.) The plot concerns reality TV pioneer Magnus, who hijacks the airwaves to announce and then broadcast his crimes. There is some mystery as to the identity of the masked Magnus - but then Carlos Agosti shows up on screen and, you know, when is Carlos Agosti not the bad guy? Magnus' crimes include robbing a jewelry store and kidnapping a TV starlet - and, while he's not a terrible Santo villain, he does seem pretty small scale. After all, once we've seen Santo prevent the end of man's reign on Earth, as he did in Santo contra las Lobas, and deflect a Martian invasion in Santo contra la Invasion de los Marcianos, why should we settle for a piker like Magnus in the opposing corner? It's not as if the producers of those earlier films had that much more to work with financially. That the makers of El Asesino de la Television couldn't step up is indicative of a general sense of scaling back in these later Santo movies that even extends to the amount of imagination put into the scenarios themselves. Still, there is hope for the remaining two Santo movies, because they feature karate, Tinieblas and a woman with freakishly enormous breasts.
When I contemplate the year of El Asesino de la Television's release, and the memories that I associate with that time, I'm struck with a very personal sense of the scope of Santo's film career. When I first encountered Santo - I'm pretty sure the movie was Invasion of the Zombies - I was a pudgy, exercise-averse grade schooler spending just one of many Saturday afternoons parked in front of the TV in my pajamas, no doubt eating some kind of cereal with dye-saturated marshmallows as I devoted an almost severe attention to the endless procession of B horror movies parading across the UHF band. By the time Santo was making El Asesino de la Television, I was a technical adult, living in The Big City with a beautiful proto-goth girl, eating lots of drugs and playing in an arty punk rock band. Not that I knew it, of course, but during the entire time that I was making that journey from innocent youth to a surly and pretentious young adulthood, Santo continued year after year to take part in the ritual of making these movies. I doubt that I thought much about Santo in 1981, but he'd definitely staked out a permanent place in my brain, because, a couple of years later, when I stumbled across some Santo lobby cards at a garage sale, my hand instinctively shot for my wallet. (They were for El Aguila Real, and I wonder if I would have been as excited had I known what a deeply horrible movie that was.) I was fascinated by the color photographs on the cards because I had not previously known that Santo made movies in color, or even that his career had continued into the 1970s. This realization that Santo had not simply disappeared with my childhood, but instead had continued to be Santo while I, as I then liked to think, had metamorphosed into this completely different person, was like getting a sudden glimpse into some kind of alternate reality branching off from my own. Now, thanks to the dubious wonders of dvd and the internet, I've managed to immerse myself in that alternate reality to a degree that I would never have thought possible back in those days. And while the experience has to some degree demystified and rendered quotidian the contents of that reality, what really strikes me is the degree to which it still retains an indelible strangeness. This is the part of the appeal of Santo's movies - and of lucha movies in general - that goes beyond the glib "so bad it's good" characterization with which they're so often associated. As such, my affection for Santo doesn't arise from having grown up with him as a familiar presence, but rather from my adult discovery that what I had encountered of him in my childhood - and had lead me to prematurely consider him a known quantity - was just a phantom visitation from a world much larger and stranger than I could then have imagined. Those kind of discoveries are the juice for me, and they're the very thing that will keep me coming back to this generous well of cinematic craziness until it's dry.
Santo contra el Cerebro Diabolico is entertaining to the point that I forgot to be pissed that Santo was barely in it. I've mentioned elsewhere that many of these early films relegate Santo, despite his marquee status, to a fairly peripheral role, essentially having him on hand just to help the film's traditional hero when there's heavy lifting to be done. Cerebro Diabolico takes that to an extreme by putting him in a part that might have better been filled by an animal star like Lassie or Rin Tin Tin - though Lassie would undoubtedly have gotten more dialog than the single line that Santo's given here. And what's really striking is how unnecessary Santo seems to the movie. Both of the stars, Fernando Casanova and Ana Berthe Lepe, are appealing enough - and their characters resourceful enough - to carry the film on their own. And the script doesn't go out of it's way to create scrapes for them that cry out for Santo's intervention. (Well, except for one, which I'll just call "the interminable head-cinching scene", in which you keep expecting Santo to burst in and put a stop to the madness, and he never actually does.) Up until the point, well past the films' halfway mark, when Santo appears onscreen with the other principals, I was actually beginning to wonder if this was a case where footage of Santo was inserted into an already completed film. Add to this the fact that, because the movie, though set in modern times, is basically a western, the presence of Santo, with his gizmo-filled laboratory and tricked-out sports car, is sort of incongruous. The filmmakers seem aware of this, too, because, at those times when they do put him onscreen, they're very quick to usher him off again once he's finished with the required business, and to keep him off for a good chunk of screen time from that point on. This isn't to say that he doesn't have his moments, however. Among other things, we get to see Santo charging to the rescue on horseback, preventing a plane from taking off with his bare hands, and taking part in a climactic brawl during which he dispatches all but one of the villain's henchmen by tossing them off a cliff (which seems a bit harsh, seeing as they'd all had the courtesy to fight him mano a mano, without drawing their readily available sidearms on him). As with Santo contra Cerebro del Mal, the brain referred to in the title is of the "criminal mastermind" type, not the disembodied, pulsating sentient organ you might have been hoping for (so far, only Blue Demon contra Cerebros Infernales has been brave enough to give us that). In fact, this film has no supernatural or science fiction elements at all. But what it does have is lots and lots of fist fights. I would say that Santo contra el Cerebro Diabolico is for people who like to watch people hitting each other what Winged Migration is to people who like to watch the awe-inspiring miracle of avian flight. All in all, this movie is a very enjoyable example of Mexican popcorn cinema, but it's not one to turn to for filling your daily Santo requirement.
Santo contra el Doctor Muerte (1973)
Santo contra el Doctor Muerte is unique in the annals of Santo for being a Spanish production, filmed in Spain with a predominately Spanish cast and crew. Given that this is essentially a Euro-Santo film, I was really hoping to see Santo take on some homicidal lesbian nuns or naked lady vampires - and maybe even hook-up with Emmanuelle. Unfortunately, this one is more of a throw-back to the Eurospy films of the 60ís, which means we get that plot I described in detail in my review of Operacion 67. To recap: The villain commits a spectacular crime Ė this time somehow involving both art forgery and the harvesting of organs from captive models Ė then immediately embarks on a series of ill-advisedly preemptive and brazen attempts to assassinate the secret agents who are assigned to solve that crime. This results in the villain leaving a breadcrumb trail of botched murder attempts that leads his pursuers directly to him, making their job much easier than if heíd just adopted more of a wait-and-see attitude. To be fair, Santo and his sidekick (an Interpol agent with more than a passing resemblance to Tony Orlando) do put in a lot of leg work here, and it pays off in us having to watch a lot of long scenes of them sitting in various offices and well appointed studies interviewing people in un-subtitled Spanish. Strangely, once it finally comes time to spring into action, Santo and Paul turn the second half of the movie over to Mirta Miller as sexy female spy ďSusanĒ. (ďSusanís the name. SusanÖ well, just Susan, actually.") Susanís version of spying looks a lot like being the heroine in a Hammer horror film, as she spends most of her screen time wandering around the villainís castle in a negligee that threatens to fall off at any second. After a good half hour of this, Santo and Paul return, refreshed from their well-earned hiatus from Santo contra el Doctor Muerte, and put the beat down on the heavies. Though itís a lot better put together than a contemporaneous Mexican stab at the Santo/spy genre like Mision Suicida, Santo contra el Doctor Muerte isnít really anything special. It does have one very brief and un-Santo like flash of female nudity, but Iím sad for you if thatís what inspires you to watch it. In fact, if youíre going to watch Doctor Muerte for the nudity (and if merely implied nudity will do it for you), do it for the scene where Santo steps out of the shower with his mask on, because thatís awesome. Itís almost as awesome as the thrilling Airport Urinal Brawl where Santo places his shoes on the floor of one of the stalls and makes his attackers think heís sitting on the can.
Watch a clip on YouTube! (No audio)
The plot of
Santo contra el Rey del Crimen concerns corruption in the sport of Jai
Alai. I had seen this sport depicted in an old episode of Miami Vice,
which not only saved me some Wikipedia time, but also kept me from spending most
of the movie scratching my head and saying, "What the hell?" Like Santo
contra el Cerebro Diabolico, which I had watched previously to this, El
Rey del Crimen is one of three pictures that Santo did for Peliculas
Rodriguez with stars Fernando Casanova and Ana Bertha Lepe. As with Cerebro
Diabolico, Casanova and Lepe are really the focus here, with the bits of
Santo action rather awkwardly - almost inexplicably, in fact - integrated into
the story. Watching El Rey del Crimen gave me some insight into what
gives these films that strange, disjointed feel. The producers here were trying
to present Santo as a traditional super hero, hampered by the fact that his
alter ego couldn't be shown. In your usual masked crime fighter yarn - such as
those told in the old Republic serials that clearly had such an influence on
these films - those scenes that here feature Casanova as police detective
Fernando Lavalle would be those featuring the hero's alter ego. It's as if
Superman and Clark Kent really were separate people - and Superman really did
just show up coincidentally whenever Clark and Lois were in trouble, just like
Clark was always saying he did. (In fact, in her role as Virginia, an ambitious
and fearless "girl" reporter - and also Lavalle's girlfriend - Lepe fills the
Lois Lane role in all but name.) El Rey del Crimen even gives us an
origin story for Santo, showing us Santo as a young boy being told by his ailing
father of the legacy of the Silver Mask, and even introducing an Alfred-like
manservant, Matias, who gives the young Santo his first look at the Batcave-like
Santo lab. (Interestingly - to judge by the cars, architecture and clothing -
the scenes of Santo's boyhood take place in what was then the present day, which
means that the film's later events take place, well, a couple of years ago,
though the films' version of our very recent past looks a lot like the early
60s.) There's a fascinating, monastic element to the Enmascarado de
Plata role that young Santo's guardians lay out for him here; the mask
isn't meant for concealing identity so much as it is a means of renouncing it
altogether. By becoming faceless, Santo is turning his back on the sin of pride
and any potential for the desire to do good to be tainted by the desire for
fame or worldly reward. Unfortunately, the film kind of skirts over the whole
issue of how this version of Santo jibes with him pursuing fame as a
professional wrestler - and, needless to say, doesn't even touch upon the fact
that his mask would just eventually become his (very famous) face. In any case,
by 1966, we had a version of Santo whose house featured a room containing a
simulated tropical beach in which he made sweet love to bikini clad women whom
he dismissed with a snap of his fingers (see Operacion 67), so I think
it's pretty safe to say that the idea of Santo as an ascetic was ultimately
pretty much abandoned. Anyway, while I didn't enjoy it quite as much as
Santo contra el Cerebro Diabolico, I found this film to be fairly
entertaining. And, it saddens me to say, it wouldn't be much less so without
Santo. I just find Casanova and Lepe to be tremendously appealing actors (and
Lepe is adorable, even with the tremendous hairdo they've got her hoisting
around). I'm looking forward to Santo en el Hotel de la
Muerte, the last of the Rodriguez pictures that I have to see. But,
by this point, I know what to - and not to -
You know, I honestly try to come to each of these films fresh, ideally judging them on their own merits without making a lot of generalizations based on the fact that they may be, oh, the twentieth lucha film I've seen this month. Still, once you've watched thirty or so Santo films, it's inevitable that certain patterns will emerge. For instance, it's become clear to me that any studio that had Santo under contract would go to considerable lengths to make the most of their investment, with the prevailing attitude being, "Why make just one Santo movie, when, by recycling elements, you can, for very little extra money, make two, or three, or four?" As a result, there are few Santo films that can stand alone without there being at least one other production, made with many of the same resources, piggy-backed on top of it. And this was true from the very beginning. In fact, Santo contra Hombres Infernales, the follow-up to Santo's first screen effort, Cerebro del Mal, may just be the most egregious example of this practice. By today's standards, it might even be considered a remix of Cerebro del Mal rather than an actual free standing film, as it recycles entire scenes from that film while adding very little new of substance. Joaquin Cordero returns for this one, this time playing the hero, and he does the best he can with what he's given, but since that's virtually nothing, he can't give anything close to the bravura performance he gave as the conflicted villain in Cerebro del Mal. And, as for Santo, his presence in the movie is so minimal, and his role so entirely superfluous to what there is of a story, that it doesn't even serve it's intended purpose of justifying his name in the title (despite that titular presence, his name actually appears pretty far down in the credits). The few scenes that he does appear in, which mostly consist of him inexplicably popping in and out of the ocean like Aqua-Santo, look like they probably took up no more than an afternoon of filming, and they're inserted pretty randomly, like a casually sprinkled garnish on a hastily prepared footage salad. All in all, I could only recommend watching Santo contra Hombres Infernales if you wanted to see a standout example of filmmaking at it's most mercenary. It does have some great location footage of Havana, but I'm pretty sure that all of that also appears in Cerebro del Mal, which has the added benefit of being a movie that's actually enjoyable to watch. One thing I did like about the film, though, is the opening credits, which run over an extended sequence of an ambulance making it's way through the twilit urban streets, with the siren's persistent moan as the only sound accompaniment. It's sad, because, watching that sequence at the time, I thought it was an artful touch, but now, having seen the film that followed it, I can only conclude that it was the result of some kind of cost cutting measure.
For some reason I thought that Blue Demon was in this movie, and I was surprised by how disappointed I was when I realized that he wasn't. I think I need to come to terms with the fact that I may like Blue Demon even more than I like Santo. What is it about Blue Demon? Is it his colorful costume? His sensuous lips? Anyway, I don't mean to imply that this isn't a plenty entertaining and stupid film even without Blue Demon. Frankenstein's daughter wears a huge Dolly Parton wig, a mini skirt and go go boots and uses a youth serum to change a bunch of decrepit old men into a gang of strapping 52 year old henchmen (Yes, the 70s truly were an age of diminished expectations). There's also some serious Santo bondage and a poignant moment where Santo shows compassion toward the mortally wounded monster. Oh, that Santo... How could he not be my favorite?
This was the first Santo film that I watched as an adult. Of course, as a kid, I had seen all of the dubbed versions, and even caught an un-subtitled Atacan Las Brujas on the local Spanish language channel, but when I happened across La Invasion de los Marcianos while channel surfing one day a few years back (again on a local Spanish language channel, this time in L.A.), it had been decades since I last encountered El Santo. The film had a strangely hypnotic effect on me. I think the reason it's possible to become obsessed with something like Santo movies is that their very existence somehow defies comprehension. The fact that human beings would endeavor to create something so awesome, yet so seemingly unnecessary, is something that the brain is incapable of completely grasping, and so we must continually revisit the evidence. Before my recent lucha jag, La Invasion de los Marcianos was the only Santo movie that I actually owned. At the time of purchasing it I felt that it could stand alone in my DVD collection as a representative of the series, because it contained everything that a Santo movie should. And it does, I suppose, except it doesnít contain Santo beating a Cyclops in the face with a club, or any outrageously inept human-to-bat transformations, or evil midgets, or Blue Demon, or Santo hanging out by the pool surrounded by fawning bikini babes, or underwater Santo. Still, if you were only going to watch one Santo movie, you could do a lot worse than this one. And you should watch at least one Santo movie, because your life will be changed by it, even if only in a very insignificant, totally imperceptible and stupid way. It will be changed because you will have seen something you never saw before. And that something is the unique brand of straight-faced absurdity that only a top notch Santo film like this can offer.
When I sat down to watch Santo contra la Mafia del Vicio, I never would have guessed that I was about to see an epic crime saga with an operatic tone and an unforgettable cast of vivid, richly realized characters. And that's a good thing, because Santo contra la Mafia del Vicio couldn't be farther from what I just described if it was filmed in space with a cast of weightless mice in tiny gangster outfits. But why focus on what Santo contra la Mafia del Vicio is not? After all, you can find tens of millions of films on the Internet Movie Database that have all of the elements that Mafia del Vicio lacks. In place of such humdrum elements, Mafia del Vicio possesses that certain quality that is the very thing that keeps me coming back again and again to the films of El Santo. And that is mystery! Not the type of mystery that derives from plot, but the deeper, ultimately unsolvable type of mystery that enlivens all of our most enduring relationships. For the motives of the creative forces behind Santo's movies are mysterious in the same irresistibly compelling way that all those people, places and things that most cling to our memories and haunt our dreams are. I'm not talking about the type of muddled confusion that leads you to exasperatedly wonder what on Earth someone was thinking, either. Because, to me, the inscrutable trappings of Santo's movies imply, not mere cluelesness, but rather the existence of a secret, internal logic that I am simply not privy to and, maddeningly, probably never will be. For instance, why does Mafia del Vicio famously begin with a sequence (often compared to a music video, but more on the technical level of one of the old Scopitone films from the 60s) in which Peruvian pop star Jimmy Santy shimmies on the beach while lip-synching a cloying bubblegum number to a group of bikini clad women and an obvious double wearing Santo's mask? I could venture a guess, but the true answer is ultimately... a mystery! And what are we to make of the scene where Santo watches Elsa Cardenas undress while hidden behind a partition in her bedroom, then makes a show of sneaking out once she's turned out the light, even though she made it very clear to him that she knew that he was there while continuing to undress anyway? It might seem that the intention was for this scene to serve as a relatively chaste substitute for an actual sex scene, with the misfired result being that it ended up a lot kinkier and creepier than if we'd just been shown Santo and Cardenas getting it on. But was that kinkiness and creepiness perhaps intentional? And, if so, what is that meant to say about Santo? Again... a mystery! And why exactly does the crime boss in the film kidnap his own niece? Did I fall asleep? Perhaps. But perhaps not. And why do two adult women have a child's squeaky toy lying around on the floor of their apartment? Is it -- Okay, to be honest, I don't care about the why of that one, because the dramatic use that squeaky toy is put to made me laugh really hard. And I don't think it was supposed to be funny. Or was it?
Of course, I don't want to focus on Santo contra la Mafia del Vicio's mysteries to the exclusion of it's more unambiguous selling points. For one, the film gives Santo an opportunity to put an interesting spin on Blue Demon's usual shtick by having him spend most of his screen time impersonating a hood who is supposed to be impersonating him. In addition, it proves to be quite an ambitious film by setting itself the monumental goal of stripping Superzan el Invencible of its title as reigning length-padding champ. It makes quite an impressive showing in that respect, too, bringing to the competition a formidable three full musical numbers, then upping the ante with an extended water skiing sequence, and then going for the knock-out punch by including an unnecessary scene of expositional dialog in order to prominently plug the restaurant in which the scene takes place (In return for... what? Catering? The use of the location? Another mystery!). Still, Supezan el Invencible easily retains the belt, seeing as it would gladly, if it could, cram all of Mafia del Vicio's contents into it's own running time and still greedily engorge itself further on a recycled plot from an old Superman episode, pilfered effects footage from a 50s sci fi film, and a ponderous beauty pageant sequence. (Good effort, though, Mafia del Vicio.) Lastly, Mafia del Vicio shows an unwavering commitment to the notion that every woman that appears on screen, no matter how advanced their age or unsuitable their body type, should be wearing a revealing swimsuit. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, of course. But, for myself, these are instances where a little more mystery would have gone a long way.
Santo contra la Magia Negra was filmed in Haiti and relies heavily on documentary style footage of the local sights to pad out its running time. The amount of screen time it devotes to shakily lensed scenes of locals getting freaky in ostensible voodoo rituals (including, unfortunately, the very graphic sacrifice of a live goat) could even qualify it as a film in the mondo genre if not for the meager Santo story line. When I see a Santo film like this that's essentially a travelogue, I can't help thinking that it's a case of the Santo gang just needing an excuse for a paid vacation. I expect it couldn't have been too difficult to take a few minutes out between enjoying Carnival and sipping tropical cocktails to shoot those few parts of the movie that couldn't be covered with stock footage or tourist shots. For instance, Fernando Oses and Carlos Suarez, tanned and rested in their festive tourist togs, look way more relaxed than any two enemy agents seeking a doomsday device have any right to be. And Santo is positively lethargic, shrugging and mumbling his way through most of his dialog like he's in the waning days of an ill advised holiday bender. To compensate for his sluggishness, the filmmakers under-crank the fight scenes, making even more comedic the fact that the slowly shambling zombies he's up against suddenly start swinging like crazed meth addicts once the first punch is thrown. No one needed to lose sleep over the script, either, since the fleshing out of the voodoo story line only required a cataloguing of all the standard trappings, including the old poisonous snake in the bed gag, characters being felled by pins in dolls, Elsa Cardenas tied to the sacrificial altar, and, of course, the aforementioned zombies. While those zombies provide a horror movie aspect that's always welcome, there's little else to raise this one out of the ranks of Santo's more dreary 1970s output - and, as with El Aguila Real, the animal slaughter gives it a repellent aspect that other lesser Santo films, which are merely boring and lackluster, are wholly innocent of. To sum up, I'm glad that Santo, Fernando, Carlos, Elsa and the rest apparently had fun making Santo contra la Magia Negra, because for the rest of us, it's no day at the beach.
Santo doesnít show up until about halfway through Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro. For Mexican audiences, I imagine this served to build anticipation, making the moment when the legendary Enmascarado de Plata finally made his appearance all the more impactful. For the rest of the world, it meant that a pretty engaging and spooky little B horror movie was suddenly interrupted at midpoint by a long, statically shot wrestling match. Donít get me wrong; I love Mujeres Vampiro as much as the next guy. Itís just that the film is otherwise so stylish and atmospheric that the flatness of the ring match scenes sticks out even more than usual (though itís true that very flatness sets us up for one of the movieís biggest shocks). In any case, itís a little surprising that it takes so long to call Santo in on the job, because in the scenes where we first meet Doctor Orlof and his soon-to-be-imperiled daughter Diana, we can clearly see that the doctor has all of the necessary Santo contacting gear Ė the Santo flat screen, the knobby box with the weird, square antenna Ė right there in his study. (By the way, who gets to have this stuff, anyway? Do you have to pay for it, like Cable Ė and, if you do, does Santo come to your house and install it for you?) Anyway, Orlof must first let some hapless police detectives bungle the case before he makes the fateful call - and is forced to leave a message on Santoís big reel-to-reel answering machine, because the masked one isnít home (thatís what you get for waiting.) When Santo does show up, Orlof basically asks him to work security for the costume party heís throwing for Diana the next night, as itís abundantly clear by now that the vampire women have evil designs on her - and will probably take full advantage of the doctorís brilliant idea to throw the type of party where people can easily disguise themselves. Santo, in not so few words, indicates that the Doctorís party sounds lame and he has other things to do, but heíll be on the case. I assumed this meant that Santo would show up at the party in disguise, only to reveal himself at a key moment, but what it really meant was that Santo would count on his usual luck and arrive at a completely random time, hopefully at the moment when he was most needed. Which he does, of course.
Now, I realize I got dangerously close to writing a summary there, but thatís just an indication of how much I like this movie. You may have noticed that, when I donít like a movie, Iím so overcome by inertia that I can barely bring myself to discuss its most basic elements. Not the case here. Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro is a great movie Ė even when viewed in the poorly dubbed K. Gordon Murray version on a public domain dvd with a picture that looks like it was projected out of a dogís anus. And thatís saying something.* Not the least of its charms is the fact that it stars the lovely Lorena Velazquez, who Iíve seen in a number of movies now, and who Iíve become convinced is an actual vampire. Where ever she appears, be it in this film, or in 1973ís Leyendas Macabras de la Colonia, or in 1959ís La Nave de los Monstruos, she looks equally great. This film also features one of the most famous scenes in lucha cinema, where Santoís opponent in the ring is unmasked as a crazed werewolf. There is a very similar scene in Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos, which some people might see as a faint echo of the seriesí former greatness, but which I see as greatness revisited.
* Since writing this review, I've been lucky enough to get my hands on a subtitled dvd of the original Spanish languange version of Las Mujeres Vampiro (cheers, Mexicine DVD!), and I'm both happy and surprised to report that K. Gordon Murray,aside from the crappy dubbing, made very few - if any - alterations to the original. Still, for all of Samson vs. the Vampire Women's camp and nostalgia appeal, it goes without saying that watching the actors speak in their own voices, rather than those of the affect-challenged clock watchers in Murray's employ, provides an entirely different - and infinitely more pleasurable - experience.
Yes, this is a mind numbing film, but, paradoxically, itís also a thought provoking one. For me, it provoked this thought: Just how much trekking through the jungle does one need to show in order to communicate to an audience that a trek through the jungle is being undertaken? By presenting Santo's Amazon journey in real time, veteran Santo-grapher Rene Cardona seems here to be targeting an imaginary audience that would actually demand such verisimilitude from a luchadore movie. The fact that I watched this movie in its entirety, despite not being able to understand a word of it, is the best example I could hope for of my personal Santo Rule. No matter how boring a film may be, if you plop a masked Mexican wrestler down in the middle of it, I will find it strangely transfixing. It doesn't have to be Santo, either; it even works with Superzan, and he's pretty lame. (It does, however, have to be a Mexican wrestler; as proven by my one, unhappy encounter with Superargo.) This movie gets kicked around a lot (it deserves it), so I wonít belabor its badness. One thing that doesnít seem to get said about it, though, is that it has one of the best openings of any Santo movie. The first shot you see is a full-screen close-up of Santoís face contorting as heís being strangled by an off-screen assailant. Itís strikingly similar to the opening of Hitchcockís Rope, and it sucks you in immediately. If only the sucking had stopped there, we might have had a much more interesting film than the one we got with Santo contra los Cazadores de Cabezas.
Santo contra los Jinetes del Terror is a western about lepers. That fact alone is enough to draw me to it irresistibly. That it also contains Santo represents to me such an embarrassment of riches that I wouldn't be surprised if it also featured a female secret agent in a cat suit and a Taoist priest shooting cartoon rays out of his hands. Now exactly how Santo ended up in frontier times is not explained. There is, for instance, no reference to a time machine, or a prologue casting him as an ancestor of the modern day Santo. But I'm not going to speculate on the matter. I pledged at the outset that the words "canon" and "universe" would never appear alongside the name Santo in the Lucha Diaries - just as I would never use the phrase "Wait for it!" - and doing so would take me into dangerous territory. Instead, let's all just enjoy this horsey ride for what it is: an odd and reasonably entertaining oater in which Santo tracks a vicious gang who are using a group of escaped lepers to cover their crimes. In terms of how the lepers are presented, the filmmakers really try to have it both ways. No opportunity is missed to exploit the scare value of their gruel-faced fuglitude (which is sometimes explored in such extreme close-up that I think I actually contracted leprosy through the TV screen). At the same time, great pains are taken to present them as sympathetic. So much so that Los Jinetes del Terror sometimes comes off like a leprosy themed After School Special. Santo cannot mention the lepers without pointing out how "unfortunate" or "miserable" they are, and there's even a scene in which Santo asks a doctor to explain the different types of leprosy, which the doctor proceeds to do in pretty great detail. It's almost as if the movie was just one facet of a larger public awareness campaign regarding the disease. That's all well and good, but I must admit it's odd to see such sensitivity toward the afflicted in a genre that's so far proven to never be above the most callous exploitation of the vertically challenged. Then again, I may just have missed the movie where Santo runs around insisting that midgets be called "Little People" as he hurls them off scaffoldings and into sparking control panels. In any case, Santo's leper loving here seems to go so far as to blind him to the facts, as he promises the escapees that they will not be punished for the gangs' crimes, even though we've seen that the lepers actually agreed to take part in the scheme and even took part in a robbery in which a person was murdered. What a bleeding heart! Another unusual aspect of Los Jinetes del Terror is how, due to Santo looking just extra weird wandering around in a late 19th century frontier town, the writers really had no choice but to have the other characters address the fact that his head is entirely covered by a silver wrestling mask. One of the bad guys even mocks Santo to his face by saying he looks like a pigeon. Then Santo kicks his ass. I myself would not tell Santo to his face that he looks like a pigeon. I'm no fighter, and while there may have been times when I have written things about Santo that weren't entirely respectful, if he were to appear before me right now I'd probably be all like, "Oh, uh, hey, Santo. I was just writing about how totally awesome you are. As usual! Heh heh..." Anyway, Santo ultimately ingratiates himself with the townsfolk by defeating the bad guys and sparing the lepers from the wrath of an angry mob, then puts the icing on the delicious leprosy cake by delivering the good news of a cure. Unfortunately, he's a bit premature, because dapsone, the first drug to effectively treat leprosy, wasn't introduced until the late forties (thanks Wikipedia!).
Ah, comedy. Ernesto Alban, aka "Evaristo", has everything one needs to be a comic relief character in a Mexican wrestling movie: A funny hat, exaggerated hands gestures and a goofy musical theme to sound the warning whenever he's about to engage in some allegedly amusing antics. He will deploy every weapon in this awesome comic arsenal to its fullest throughout Santo contra los Secuestradores. And, oh look, here's Santo's manager, Carlos Suarez - and, while he doesn't have his own whimsical theme music, he does have a funny hat and exaggerated hand gestures, and he's not afraid to use them. It looks like Santo contra los Secuestradores is shaping up to be a veritable comedy relief battle royal, though one that's very light on actual comedy and with little - if any - relief. In other words, Santo contra los Secuestradores has a lot to make up for. What can we ask of Santo contra los Secuestradores that would go towards compensating us for all the damage and heartache the combined onslaught of Evaristo and Suarez is going to inflict upon us? Well, for starters, how about a lot of near nudity from its foxy leading lady, Rossy Mendoza? Done, you say? Well, thank you very much. Now, how about a nice change of scenery - say, Ecuador? Got that, too, eh? Moving on, then: why not a wrestling sequence where Santo just completely kicks a guys ass? I mean, not just the usual, technically proficient playing out of the standard moves, but a really brutal and merciless stomping of the kind we've never seen Santo deliver before? Wow, we can have that, too? How about a Mil Mascaras cameo? Yeah? How about Santo hugging a black man? Excellent! Okay, now I'm just fucking with you, but it would be awesome if Santo could wear a really gaudy pink pinstriped sport coat throughout most of the movie. Sweet! In short, Santo contra los Secuestradores pulls a neat trick by coming very close to mitigating its heavy Evaristo/Suarez content by the inclusion of all of these elements. The only problem is that, while it's distracting us with copious T&A, colorful travelogues, bone-crunching fights and feeble attempts at humor (not to mention a really stupid dream sequence), it's actual plot seems to be taking place largely off-screen. As a result, it's little more than a catalogue of gratuitousness, an ideal training film for the film padders' academy (that exists, right?). As such, it's still very entertaining, but even more pointless than a standard Santo entry. So, in other words, check it out, since no one in his or her right mind would worry over what the point of a Santo movie was, anyway. Just don't expect an engaging story and you'll be just fine. Watch it for the empty spectacle, the eye candy, and the amusements provided by its incongruous casting. On that last count, I'm referring to Elizabeth Sartore, who plays Santo's assistant, Rosita. I think she's supposed to be an Interpol agent, but when we meet her, she looks wasted and a little, um, disheveled, like she just stumbled out of Robert Plant's dressing room. She looks like she should've been hanging out in the parking lot of my high school with some oily older guy in a Trans Am.
ďA legend. A chimera.
I love me some people standing around talking about how great Santo is! This is the third Santo movie, and itís one Iím comfortably familiar with, because I watched it on TV when I was a kid - when it was in English and called Invasion of the Zombies. This is an example of one of those earlier Santo films in which Santo is kind of peripheral to the action, acting more as muscle for the traditional square-jawed hero who hogs most of the screen time. He doesnít get to participate in any of the actual crime detection, nor does he even get to participate in the social lives of the other characters. When heís not wrestling, he just tools around alone in his secret lab until itís time to step out of the shadows and wail on some zombies. In fact, the filmís heroine is at first noticeably put off by the idea that this weird masked figure is her best hope for justice. In a way, itís almost as if Santo himself is a type of monster here. A decisive break with this version of Santo came with 1966ís Operacion 67, in which we got a Santo who hung out by the pool wooing bikini babes. I canít imagine that Santo saw that as anything other than a positive development. Anyway, the happy news is that, with or without Santo, Santo contra los Zombies is a very entertaining film. The inclusion of Santo just provides that certain ďx factorĒ that pushes it into the ranks of the greatest films of all time. One thing I remembered from watching this film as a kid is the ridiculous tunic and tights outfit that the villain has the zombies wearing. You might say, ďSure, the zombies canít be expected to dress themselves, but couldnít they at least be afforded a little dignity?Ē But, as any woman whoís ever been a brideís maid Ė or anyone raised as a twin Ė knows, the most ominous of all the powers that can be invested in one human being is the power to dress others. Like the Stanford Prison Experiment, it tends to bring out the worst in them. Also worth noting are the subtitles on the DVD, which try to give the dialog a contemporary edge. I donít think that people in 1961 said ďSay what?Ē - and I donít think that the literal translation of Idiota is ďassholeĒ.
This isnít a good Santo movie, but I kind of like it anyway. I just like the look of these older Santo films, regardless of their content. The rich black & white photography and night-for-night location shooting give them a great noir-ish feel. I especially love the closing shots of Santo racing his sports car through the empty city streets at night. Still, this is one of those movies that would, if the protagonist were to simply act with a modicum of common sense, be over in 15 minutes (well, maybe 30 minutes, allowing for the wrestling sequences). And the villains, by Santo standards, are uninteresting. However, I found it something of a novelty to see Santoís featured opponents be just regular wrestlers, albeit evil ones, rather than vampires, Martians or midgets. And I liked how Santo seemed reluctant to get the police involved, driven, I presumed, by some unspoken wrestlersí code to want to settle the matter within the community. You know, I even liked the whole phony spiritualist angle. It just seems like such an old fashioned plot device, especially considering this was the last film of the series shot in black & white, and the last before it swung into swinging 60s mode with Operacion 67.
Santo en el Hotel de la Muerte is the second film in a trio of romantic mystery/adventures starring Fernando Casanova and Ana Bertha Lepe as "Fernando" and Virginia, a no nonsense big city police detective and his uppity reporter girlfriend. Oh, and Santo's in there somewhere, too, but don't blink. In comparison to the two films that bracketed it, Santo contra el Rey del Crimen and Santo contra el Cerebro Diabolico, Hotel de la Muerte easily comes out the weakest, managing the mean feat of being at once the most lurid and the most boring of the series. This time Casanova and Lepe are called to a resort hotel in Mexico's pyramid zone to investigate a series of murders of young women. This plot makes Hotel de la Muerte something of a proto-slasher film, and there's definitely something sleazy about the way the film presents the scantily clad bodies of the murder victims as cheesecake. Santo doesn't make an appearance until the 40 minute mark, and then only briefly, after which he doesn't actually take part in any of the film's action until the final third. This means that, as usual, the film is carried by Casanova and Lepe - not to mention Casanova's comedy relief sidekick, who, with this film, suddenly became really annoying to me. Now, I've mentioned in the reviews of the other two films that I found both Casanova and Lepe appealing (and she's cute, too), but I found here that, when the film that's hung around them is little more than a thin excuse to show women, both living and dead, in baby doll nighties, they begin to grate a little. Especially because their shtick is all about constant bickering. You see, Fernando, being a total cromag, wants Virginia to quit her job as a crusading reporter in order to make him a proper wife, and Virginia, being uppity, refuses to do so. Sometimes her refusal can be pretty strident, too, as on the two occasions in this film when she serves Fernando up with a resounding bitch slap (but don't worry, cavemen, male hegemony is reestablished at the end of the trilogy's last film, el Cerebro Diabolico, when Casanova - I shit u not - takes Lepe over his knee and spanks her). Admittedly, the shtick occasionally pays off in comic gold, but when a woman with big hair slapping a guy is the most cherished image you take away from a film, it's time to turn the page.
It's impossible to discuss Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra without first discussing Santo Frente a la Muerte, and, because of that, I think that a little disclosure is in order: I have a very unhealthy relationship with Santo Frente a la Muerte. It's a truly awful movie; eighty to ninety percent of Santo's scenes in it are shot with a laughably unconvincing double, it's musical score is inappropriate to the point of approaching ironic commentary, and it's obviously on-the-fly location shooting is continuously marred by passers-by gawping both at the actors and into the camera. But it's just so brazen and unapologetic in its crappiness that, I have to admit, I secretly thrill to it. Perhaps this is because I see something in Santo Frente a la Muerte that I lack: a brash and heedless strain of self acceptance that says, "Yes, I'm crappy, but who's the idiot watching me? Oh, sorry, that would be YOU, wouldn't it?". And, lord, Santo Frente a la Muerte is crappy. So crappy, in fact, that it's hard to believe it could be any crappier than it already is. And it couldn't be, apparently. Because when they were through making Santo Frente a la Muerte, there was some crappiness left over. And they took that crappiness, stitched it together, added a bunch of new crap to it (and a lot of old, as well), and created its sister film, Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra. So, now that I've unburdened myself to you, I don't mind telling you that, while I approached Misterio de la Perla Negra with an outward display of trepidation, deep inside I wanted it to hurt me. Really bad. Most of the cast from Frente a la Muerte returns for this one, including Santo's unconvincing double - who, for easy identification, is also wearing an unconvincing double of Santo's mask, which looks like it's made from a pair of off-white pantyhose with silver lacing up the back. One new addition to the cast is Maria Eugenia San Martin, playing a lady who makes her living dancing badly at nightclubs. This provides an opportunity for padding in the form of two lengthy examples of her "act". For the first, a lavish musical production number from some film from the 1950's, complete with shots of an appreciative 1950s audience, is inserted in its entirety into La Perla Negra with clumsily added close-ups of San Martin to tell us we're supposed to think she's actually participating in the number. For the second one - and this is more what we're used to - San Martin dances solo to tinny canned music in a dank and tiny third rate basement supper club. Santo (the real one) watches her appreciatively, and we're helpfully provided with a close-up POV shot of San Martin's chest, just to make the whole scene that much more classy. Much of La Perla Negra is made up of this kind of padding, and most of it is footage taken from other films. To add to the overall incoherence, that footage is often inserted without any rhyme or reason, as is the case with a lengthy free-for-all wrestling match between a bunch of masked female wrestlers that just pops up during the first twenty minutes and has nothing to do with the story. Simply put, if I were to randomly edit together parts of every dollar dvd I bought at Walgreens over the last year - including the cartoons and silent films -and mixed it up with some grainy vacation videos, I would end up with something with more narrative drive than - and actually quite similar to - Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra. More simply put, Santo en la Misterio de la Perla Negra is furiously and irredeemably awful. Oh, the chills! In fact, people, I think it's time to break out the bubbly. I've watched all but a very small number of Santo's films at this point and I think that I can say with near certainty that this is the absolute worst. That's right, I said it. Some people consider Samson vs. the Vampire Women to be a classic "so bad it's good" film, and they just don't get it. Because Samson aka Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro is an attractively shot and well paced film made by experienced craftsmen who cared about creating a quality product, who felt a responsibility to their audience to be entertaining, regardless of how silly the plot and characters in their film might be. Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra, on the other hand, was made by people who, while they might have had the know-how to make a better film, really didn't care to, and really didn't care if their audience knew it. You get the sense that these guys would have been happy to splice in anything that would run through a projector, celluloid or no, just to fill out the required running time, be it calcified strips of bacon or film strips made from woven human hair. And, again, I admit it: I admire them for it. So, hats off to you, you brazen hacks, wherever you may be. Yours is truly a singular accomplishment.
Santo en el Museo de Cera, like a number of the earlier Santo films, is at the level of the best B horror films of its era. It has a handsome look, capable performances, lots of satisfyingly spooky atmosphere, and a brisk, energetic pace. While Iíve mostly enjoyed reviewing these films, itís been a little wearying to go back and forth between these more carefully crafted earlier entries in Santoís filmography and some of the slapped-together train wrecks that speckle his later years. For instance, it gives me no joy that, after musing over El Museo de Cera, I must go on to consider either Mission Suicida or Asesinos de Otros Mundos. Museo de Cera is one of those films that could almost stand on its own without Santo, but through its inclusion of Santo achieves an imposing cinematic stature that no level of placement on the AFI Top 100 could accurately convey. Weíre still in those dark days here when Santo wasnít allowed to get the girl, hang out by the pool, or even have any real friends. He just wrestles and hangs out in his laboratory, waiting for the cops to cock up theyíre investigation of whatever weird series of crimes theyíre investigating and give him a holler. Iím glad that Santo eventually got to mambo with showgirls and kiss Maura Monti, but thereís a pathos to this version of Santo that Iím beginning to dig. You get the sense that - unlike Batman, who can just change back into Bruce Wayne and go to some society function with a hot socialite on his arm Ė this Santo is always Santo. And being Santo is just an endless cycle of wrestling, hanging out in the secret lab and beating up monsters. Which actually doesnít sound so bad when I think about what my average day consists of. Anyway, the fact that this film is shot in a wax museum affords Santo the rare opportunity to share the screen with Stalin, Gandhi and other of his peers Ė and thereís beast-men for him to fight, too. Highly recommended.
The selection of Santo movies that are available from Netflix is pretty shitty. The one unexpected bright spot is that they have - or claim to have - Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos. Other than that, it's mostly stuff on the level of Santo en la Frontera del Terror. That's good news for me, though, because, while I'm more than happy to shell out the bucks to buy a copy of one of Santo's better films, I'd really rather not have to do so for something like Frontera del Terror. (I would if I had to, though, because that's just how deep my dedication to you readers - be you real or imagined - goes.) Not that I had condemned this movie sight unseen. The truth is that I did leave some room for the possibility that it might not be terrible - and I certainly couldn't know one way or the other without actually watching it. At the same time, I do possess the rudimentary intelligence necessary for simple pattern recognition - and the pattern that I've recognized in Santo's movies from the 1970's is that they get shoddier and shoddier as the decade progresses, especially once you're into those dark ages that followed 1973. Since Santo made Frontera del Terror in 1979, I felt there was more than ample reason for trepidation going in. And, true to the pattern, it thoroughly lived down to my expectations within moments of being popped in the player, relieving me of the extraordinary effort I was putting into remaining optimistic about it. Rather than writing about what actually occurs in Santo en la Frontera del Terror, it would probably be more interesting to write about all of the measures I took to try to stay awake while watching it, as I ventured into areas of imposed discomfort that are likely prohibited by the Geneva Convention. (Though such prohibitions are of course overridden by my greater goal of summarizing Santo movies for a tiny audience of casual internet readers). As with some other Santo films I've seen from this period, what's bad about Frontera del Terror seems to be not so much the result of incompetence as it is of a general disinterestedness. Large portions of scenes are shot from one static angle, as if the camera operator just turned on the camera and went out for a beer, and, for the most part, what's being filmed - from the staging of the action to the appearance of the physical locations - has a dreary half-heartedness to it. The story idea - though not the execution of it - does hold some interest, however, as it makes Frontera del Terror, among Mexican wrestler films, the closest I've seen to an "issue" movie. It concerns the fate of two Mexican men who illegally cross the border into the U.S. to find work. Now, before all you "fence around America" people start pouring the hate-o-rade, let me shame you into silence by mentioning that they do this is in order to pay for a sight-restoring operation for an adorable little blind girl (who wears huge Elton John shades). Following up on a too-good-to-be-true employment offer, the men take jobs as farm laborers, only to find themselves held prisoner by a mad scientist who plans to harvest their organs for sale to the highest bidder. Because the presentation is so flat, it's difficult to tell whether the filmmakers intended to make some kind of statement about the exploitation of undocumented workers, or if their use of the subject was simply exploitative in itself. All I know is that this movie really could have used some crappy looking monsters (as can be said about any movie with a social agenda). It also would have been an improvement if a scene that happens at the very end, where a guy fires a gun at an obvious toy helicopter and it blows up like it was made entirely of atom bombs, had been moved to the beginning. It would have been a bait and switch, but it would have elicited enough good will from me to keep me mildly interested in whatever was to follow. Lastly, what would need to be removed from Frontera del Terror in order for it to approach watchability is Carlos Suarez's performance in the role of Santo's manager/sidekick. It's an attempt at comic relief that misunderstands both the words "comic" and "relief". The fact that Suarez actually was Santo's manager made me wonder why he would want to present himself as so deeply challenged. Then again, if he had any part in Santo agreeing to do this movie, it might have been in his best interest to plead some kind of impairment. As I've mentioned before, I find the apparent apathy behind movies like this depressing. It must have been obvious at this point that Santo, now near 60, didn't have too many more of these movies left in him. Would it have killed people to muster just a little bit of enthusiasm?
So what does someone who's perpetually in disguise do when they want to go incognito? In Santo's case, you might think that he would just take his mask off. Happily for us, though, Santo en Oro Negro has a completely different answer to that question, drawing on one of the most sublimely silly of all old spy movie tropes: namely the one where our hero picks up a flimsy rubber mask and lifts it to his face as we cut to another actor, who then gives his face little pats to suggest the mask being fixed into place. Of course, this could have just been a way for Santo to delegate some of his screen action without having to resort to a poorly matched double. Whatever the case, though, this vision of Santo as a Master of Disguise (who wears his disguises over his own mask, apparently) is just one of a number of novel elements that give Santo en Oro Negro a level of interest a bit above the other shoestring spy capers Santo made in the 70s. The funny thing is, the first time he employs this device, it's not even really necessary, since all he does is go out and watch Rossy Mendoza's nightclub act. And we know from countless other films that Santo has no qualms about going to see sub par nightclub acts with his public face on. Furthermore, he's not even disguised as anyone interesting: just some average Joe with a mustache. (He's not even wearing a monocle; why wear a disguise if you're not going to wear a monocle?) Anyway, yes, I do mean that Rossy Mendoza, the perpetually undisguised and unclothed star of Santo contra los Secuestradores, who here treats us to, among other things, a scene of her kung fu fighting a gang of life-like robots in her underwear. (Santo also takes part in this brawl, but his fighting is impaired by his attempts to hide his huge boner). These robots are the pawns of an electronics-genius-cum-terrorist (played by Santo's manager Carlos Suarez in a rare, Fernando Oses-like turn as the main bad guy) who runs his operations out of a hideout conveniently secreted away within the bowels of a cavernous and apparently not very well staffed prison. This rogue's plan involves extorting money from a large American oil company with threats of sabotage. One admirable thing about Santo en Oro Negro is that it aims, in defiance of it's obviously meager resources, to set it's action on an international stage. Of course, most if it appears to have been filmed in Puerto Rico, but the magic of stock footage manages to whisk us like birds on the wing from PR to New York to Mexico and back as our international lover, fighter and Master of Disguise takes the fight to wherever evil rears it's bald, mustached, Carlos Suarez-like head. Also impressive here are the wrestling matches, not so much for the fights themselves, but for their scale and setting. At this point in Santo's career, the ring sequences in his films were often either just recycled from earlier films or shot on a soundstage with an off-screen announcer describing the enthusiastic, sold-out crowd and large, resplendent arena. But these sequences, real matches shot on location in Puerto Rico, are in front of huge, stadium-sized crowds. This is something that's very nice to see, especially as we get later into the Santo filmography and expectations start to dim accordingly. It reminds us that, as interest in lucha cinema as a genre waned in the late 70s, love for El Enmascarado de Plata in the Spanish speaking world still stayed strong.
Part of me thinks that the best way to review Santo Frente a la Muerte would be to transcribe a long, low moan, the kind of sound one might make as they lay expiring in a rain filled ditch after being tossed from a moving car. You hear this sort of language of victimization a lot coming from trash film aficionados. But, despite the claims of suffering, there's an obvious, deep pleasure taken in the description of violence done that reveals the true masochistic nature of the experience. For how can I claim to be Santo Frente a la Muerte's victim when I so clearly knew what was coming? David Wilt described it as "one of the five worst Santo films". I read those words not as a warning, but as a sentence, knowing that, given my nature, there was no way I was not going to watch it. And while I outwardly cringed at the prospect, something deep within the darkest part of me purred with contentment. Given that, it should come as no surprise that I ended up enjoying Frente a la Muerte immensely. Make no mistake, however. As bad movies go, Santo Frente a la Muerte is the hard stuff - boring, tawdry, lackluster and incoherent. But it so brazenly crosses boundaries of just-not-giving-a-shit that it simply demands respect. It's a humbling experience for the viewer, one that makes you question whether you actually deserve to be entertained in the first place. Probably what's most indicative of the level of apathy that powers Frente a la Muerte is the fact that Santo himself deemed it unnecessary to show up for the most part. The film was shot mostly in BogotŠ, and it appears that el enmascarado de plata didn't see fit to make the trip, since, other than in the ring matches and a few set-bound scenes which appear to feature the real deal, it's obvious - in the location scenes especially - that we're dealing with a faux Santo. The filmmakers try to confuse the issue by introducing an evil Santo imposter at one point, but no amount of subterfuge can hide the fact that the relatively tall, slim and long-necked individual wearing the silver mask in most scenes is not the genuine article. (For absolute confirmation of this, one need only look at his fighting style, which includes none of Santo's signature moves and mainly consists of creeping up behind people and bonking their heads together Three Stooges style.) In addition to this, the producers demonstrate their total indifference to our suspension of disbelief by failing to hire either professional extras or crowd control for the location shooting, giving us street scenes where passers by continuously stop to gawk at the camera and crowd around the stars as they try to go about their business. Adding a mottled glaze of half-heartedness to these proceedings, the film's music supervisors prove that they could teach the Agrasanchez crew a thing or two - mainly that, if you're going to use an inappropriate musical score, you might as well shoot for the moon. Because, from the plucky 1950s "kitchen of tomorrow" music that accompanies Santo's arrival at the airport to the ice rink instrumental version of "Sunny" that keeps popping up in various action scenes (not to mention the enervated big band theme that accompanies the opening and end credits), the soundtrack to Frente a la Muerte is absolutely fucking hilarious. Not that all of the picture's entertainment value derives from incompetence and neglect, mind you, as there are also some low-rent Z movie thrills to be had, such as a ridiculous cat fight between Elsa Cardenas and Celia Roldan, and "Santo" parachuting from a plane in army duds and jumping from a helicopter onto a speeding boat. Still, it really sums up Santo Frente a la Muerte for me that the other Santo (or "Santo") film it most resembles is 3 Dev Adam. Seeing as that film was made in Turkey without the participation of Santo by people with an obviously tenuous grasp of what a Santo movie should contain, that's more than a little bit sad. Nonetheless, as much as I feel the moral pressure to warn people away from this movie, I can't do it. Because I just can't believe that there aren't other people out there who would find its sublime agonies as perversely appealing as I did. If you're out there, you know who you areÖ and you're welcome.
Okay, somebody kiss me. With my viewing of the elusive Santo vs. El Estrangulador, I have now watched every one of the fifty-four (fifty-four!) movies in which Santo starred. It's a big moment, and I'm glad I chose Santo vs. El Estrangulador to share it with, because I really wanted it to be something special. Of course, the only other choice I had was El Puno de la Muerte, a movie whose most noteworthy feature is that it stars a woman with freakish monster breasts that look like they've each swallowed several normal-sized breasts. So it wasn't like it was a really tough decision. Besides, I've always had a soft spot for these older, black & white Santo films, because - as flawed as they might sometimes be - they're always well crafted enough to give you the feeling that someone involved was at least trying. Anyway, onward: Most of the action in Santo vs. El Estrangulador is set in a music hall, and to drive home this fact, the film starts with five consecutive musical numbers. After that we settle into an obviously Phantom of the Opera-inspired plot in which a scarred former performer lurks around in the rafters and occasionally ventures out to strangle one of the female cast members. Amid all the singing and strangling, the film also manages to include a subplot involving a little kid who stows away in Santo's car and asks him to be his papa. Then the kid performs a musical number. You might think that this abundance of peripheral activity might have indicated to the writers of Santo vs. El Estrangulador that they needed to beef up their plot just a little bit. Whether this occurred to them or not, however, they seem to have been content to just let the movie cheerfully carry on in its unfocused and mildly entertaining way all the way through to its unspectacular but satisfyingly silly conclusion. Though this certainly isn't one of the best Santo movies, it contains enough of the classic Santo iconography to keep me well satisfied. For instance, there are lots of night time scenes of Santo tearing around in his white convertible sports car; instances of people talking in awed tones about how awesome Santo is; a great fight with Fernando Oses in front of a real, enthusiastically chanting crowd; and, last but not least, lots of scenes of Santo in his Santo Lab, complete with bloopy blip super-scientific outer space sound effects. Which inspires me to ask: What ever happened to the Santo Lab? It seems to have disappeared from the Santo films by the time the late sixties rolled around. My guess is that perhaps having such a large piece of real estate tied the new, liberated and globetrotting Santo that we saw in those later movies down to one place too much. Though it also could be that they just couldn't afford the set. Anyway, Santo vs. El Estrangulador is fine, but I would actually recommend its direct sequel, El Espectro del Estrangulador more highly. That one starts with the strangler totally pissed at Santo for scuttling his plans in the first film and, as a result, features a lot more heated Santo-on-Strangler action. There is still a shit load of musical numbers, though. In closing, I'd like to thank that person who, many years ago, stuck a cheap VHS tape in their VCR and recorded the broadcast of Santo vs. El Estrangulador on their local Spanish language TV station - and also the dozens of people who, over the years, made dubs of that tape and successive dubs of those dubs, a process which resulted in the hazy, garbled artifact that is apparently now the only available version of Santo vs. El Estrangulador in circulation. It's not much, but I'll take it. And perhaps its the most suitable way to close this chapter of my life, as Santo, now no longer a frequent tenant of my DVD player, slips into the garbled haze of my aging memory.
As much as I sincerely love Santo movies, I have to admit that, when I sit down to write about them, I take for granted that I'm usually going to spend part of my review ticking off the various ways in which a particular film fulfills certain formula requirements. So, when a Santo film surprises me as much as Santo vs. las Lobas did, I really have to take my hat off and bow down. Unlike Santo's other monster movies from the seventies, which were mostly throwbacks to Universal's monster movies from the forties, Las Lobas is clearly a product of its time. It's unremittingly bleak and oppressive in the way that only a horror film from the seventies can be, and it likewise makes a virtue of it's grainy and murky photography as many such films of that era did. (There's actually one scene that reminded me in particular of the original version of The Hills Have Eyes, though Las Lobas predates that by a few years.) It's not these stylistic touches, however, that really made me sit up and take notice of Las Lobas, as much as it was the way in which the film puts Santo in some situations I really hadn't seen him in before. Las Lobas starts with Santo being asked to come to the aid of a rural village besieged by a clan of werewolves. Having once again had his memory of countless previous encounters with wolfmen and other monsters somehow erased, Santo somewhat callously demurs, scoffing at the very notion of lycanthropy. His feelings begin to change, however, when, later that night, his efforts to escape from a pack of vicious demon dogs (I know they should be wolves, but they're even referred to as dogs in the dialog) leave him literally hanging from the rafters of a deserted arena, screaming for help. Santo is really terrorized and rendered helpless - pathetically so - in this scene, and I actually found it kind of shocking to see; I've really got to give Las Lobas props for, for the first time, leaving me unsure of exactly where a Santo movie was going. Later, when Santo goes to the village and tries to question the villagers about what's going on, they're so crazed with fear that they threaten him and tell him to butt out - then pummel him with fruit and vegetables! The final surprise comes when we learn that, having been bitten by one of the demon dogs, Santo himself will turn into a werewolf at the next full moon if he doesn't defeat the king of the werewolves. Putting added pressure on Santo is the fact that the rise of the werewolf king will bring about the end of mankind and herald an age of werewolf dominion on Earth. You know, the whole apocalypse thing. Now, I'm so immersed in all things Santo at the moment that it's hard for me to determine if the degree to which I love Santo vs. las Lobas can be separated from the context of Santo films as a whole. It's certainly far from a perfect film. The she wolves actually look pretty terrible when seen under direct light (which the filmmakers wisely avoid as much as possible) and the fact that it manages to be so consistent in tone makes those moments when it breaks with that tone (some cheesy action music in one later scene, for instance) especially glaring. For this reason, while I enthusiastically recommend Santo vs. las Lobas, I wouldn't recommend it as anyone's introduction to Santo. I think it would be ideal to first watch something like Santo contra la Invasion de los Marcianos and then this one, thus treating yourself to two very opposite extremes of quality Santo.
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Santo has a hot new girlfriend named Lina. She's quite a handful - and she's also one of the last remaining members of a family that's been marked for death by Dracula! Now that Drac and his pal Rufus, the Sauvť and sexy wolf man, have been resurrected from the dead, it's time for Santo to call in his number one hench, Blue Demon, for some tag team action. Yay! This is a standout among Santo's 1970s monster mash-ups. Despite featuring three full wrestling matches - at the beginning, middle, and end of the film - it's well paced (and, hell, even I won't complain about a wrestling sequence featuring an opponent called Renato the Hippie, in which the announcer says things like "Blue Demon gives the hippie a good smack!" and "Get out, hippie!"). The production values are respectable (no pilfered or stock footage in sight!) and the film has a set-bound, gothic look that shows equally the welcome influence of both the Hammer horror pictures and the work of Mario Bava. Best of all, this entry in the series features Santo and Blue in a wide variety of cozy domestic tableaus, playing cards, drinking tea and even enjoying a friendly game of masked chess while wearing an assortment of comfy looking sweaters. That's what I like to see. I also like to see Demon getting in on the action to the extent that he does here. Although he does get captured briefly, he never becomes a hypno-pawn of the villains or an evil duplicate of himself, and there are a good number of brawls where he and Santo fight side by side. Despite all the luchadore power on hand, however, the secret weapon here seems to be Lina, as Santo would not have made it through the movie alive without her. He just keeps telling her to stay behind, and she just keeps ignoring him and showing up to save his sorry can at the last minute - most memorably by driving a forklift into a bunch of thugs Dracula has employed to take care of Santo and Blue. On that point, I found it interesting that, despite the fact that Dracula and Rufus have created a small army of wolf men and vampires to carry out their evil plans, Dracula still felt it necessary to hire some shark-suited hoodlums straight out of Guys and Dolls to take the wrestlers out. Okay, maybe I didn't so much find it "interesting". I meant "stupid", but in the best way possible - because a world where everything in a Santo movie makes sense is a world I just don't want to live in.
At this stage in the game, my preferences are pretty set. If I'm going to be getting solo Santo (Santo a la carte, if you will), I want him in black and white, played straight, and with lots of spooky B movie atmosphere. If I have to deal with one of these cartoony 50s throwback monster fests from the 70s, I need to have Blue Demon along for the ride in order to sell it. Otherwise I get disappointed (like with Santo contra la Hija de Frankenstien, which I was fully expecting to feature Blue, though it totally didn't). It's not just Blue's colorful get-up, but also the way he enthusiastically throws himself into the physical action that so compliments the comic book silliness of a movie like Contra Dr. Frankenstien. And there is indeed a lot of silliness to be had here. So much so that it's tempting to catalog every bit of nonsensical pseudo-scientific dialog, every jaw dropping "oh so seventies" costuming choice, and every goofy piece of story business. But I won't. I'll just say that I'm sure the makers of Santo y Blue Demon contra Dr. Frankenstein would have made it even more ridiculous if they could have, but they'd already filled it with as many risible elements as it could possibly contain. In addition to being appealingly absurd, the movie proves to be a great showcase for the Demon for once. He never becomes evil or hypnotized or gets cloned, and he actually comes to Santo's rescue a couple of time - most memorably disguised in a surgeons' scrubs and mask, with his wrestling mask clearly visible underneath! Plot-wise, if you wanted to be uncharitable, you could say that it recycles the plot of Las Luchadoras contra el Medico Asesino. Or you could say that it's an homage. I prefer to call it an homage, because it recreates certain scenes from Las Luchadoras in their entirety in a way that shows, if not affection for, at least a great deal of attention to the original. Here, rather than being called Gomar, the fearsome beast-man of super human strength that the mad doctor commands is named Golem, and he is a large black man (something I have to assume is more than an instance of color blind casting based on the reference to him as having the brain of "a South African giant". Hmm.) Golem doesn't get that awesome indestructible metal mask - with the weirdly feminine features etched onto it - that Doctor Ruiz made for Gomar; he just gets a bullet proof vest, so the cops avoid shooting at his face, which is what they always do in these movies anyway. To carbon copy scenes from Las Luchadoras that centered around the Luchadoras themselves, a couple of sexy police women are introduced - and then given nothing to do, since it's Santo and Blue who are meant to do all of the monster bashing this time. This is not to say that all of the elements of Contra Dr. Frankenstein are rehashed from Luchadoras. Other elements are rehashed from Santo contra la Hija de Frankenstien, the most welcome of those elements being the "lowered expectations youth serum" that makes a 70 year old man look, oh, 55 or so. Though it's everything and anything but unique in the genre, because Santo y Blue Demon contra Dr. Frankenstein is so agreeably stupid - and because it distributes the action between Blue and Santo more equally than any of their co-starring movies I've yet seen - I have no choice but to flag it ! highly recommended.
Despite all of its flaws, it is my sincere belief that youíd have to be some kind of soulless meat puppet not to love Santo y Blue Demon contra los Montruos. Granted, if you took away its flaws, there would be very little left of Santo y Blue Demon contra los Montruos to consider. Yes, the renderings of the classic movie monsters are on the technical level of a charity haunted house, and, yes, there is that long scene where Santo and his girlfriend sit in a tiny restaurant set staring at inserted footage of a nightclub act from a movie made at least ten years previous. Still, unlike certain underachieving entries in the lucha cinema canon (stand up and be counted, Blue Demon contra Las Invasoras), the filmmakers here knew they didnít have the resources to realize their grand vision, and they went for it anyway. And what a grand vision it was, pitting the two greatest legends in wrestling against Frankensteinís monster, the Wolfman, the Mummy, vampires of both the male and female variety, and a Cyclops (plus, for added measure, a mad scientist, his hunchbacked dwarf assistant and zombie henchmen, and an evil duplicate of Blue Demon!). Of course, as Iíve already indicated, the classic monsters arenít too expertly realized. In fact, theyíre all so awful, itís difficult to single one out as the worst. However, the one oddball entry in the line up, the Cyclops, is actually pretty handsome looking. Thatís because his costume wasnít made for this movie, but rather for the 1959 film La Nave de los Monstruos (and if thereís one hard to find film thatís worth the effort, that one is it, believe me). Itís a great looking costume, though it could have used a little maintenance; you can see the stuffing coming out of it in almost every scene where it appears. (This costume might have been purchased as part of a package deal, because thereís another costume from La Nave de los Monstruos on display in contra los Monstruos, kind of a bonus monster in the form of a troll-like creature with a giant, exposed brain. This monster just hangs out on the periphery of the laboratory scenes without anyone ever reacting or referring to him. I kept waiting for someone to notice him and have that ďI didnít invite him Ė I though you invited himĒ conversation.) Anyway, say what you want about this movie, you canít deny that itís an ambitious concept, given what they had to work with, and the filmmakers and cast tackle it with a lot of enthusiasm. The action comes fast and furious, the fights are brutal, and there are even some cut-rate gore effects (itís the first time our old friend the severed head has made an appearance in any Santo film that Iíve seen). My favorite scene is the one in which the vampire disguises himself as a masked wrestler to take Santo on in the ring. When the match starts to turn against the vampire, all of the monsters suddenly appear in the ring as the crowd erupts into pandemonium. Itís a classic Santo moment. So I say way to go, Santo y Blue Demon contra los Montruos! Good effort! And to those who think that this movie is overrated, Iím sorry. Itís a definite favorite for me.
The Blue Demon vehicle La Sombra del Murcielago is, like many great monster films, a tragic love story. On one side of its star-crossed equation is The Bat, a hideously disfigured wrestler who lives in a torch lit cave with a trio of slow-witted minions. Like his namesake, he's a strange animal. For one, the mask he wears is almost uglier than the horribly scarred face it's meant to conceal. It looks like a bat's face with scabs on it. At the same time, he's not without vanity, as can be seen from the bejeweled cape he wears, which calls to mind no one so much as Liberace - especially in those scene where he rapturously hammers away at a large pipe organ (just in case the Phantom of the Opera references weren't already clear enough for you). Ubiquitous lucha film go-to guy and all around good sport Fernando Oses essays the role of The Bat, and it's quite a broad performance, constantly careening the short distance back and forth between tortured contortions, hallucinatory rants and megalomaniacal tantrums. I just got finished raving about Oses in Baron Brakola, but in my mind right now I'm handing him an imaginary lucha movie Oscar for this one. At the receiving end of The Bat's affections is Marta Romano in the role of night club chanteuse "Marta". We get to see Marta perform several numbers, and you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching Lypsinka. There's just something about her appearance (enormous wig, eye lashes) and mannerisms (histrionic, femme without being feminine) that say drag queen... loudly. Sadly, Marta doesn't return The Bat's affections, which is a shame, because they're both the campest things within miles. You'd think they'd want to support each other through the coming career dry spell, since Pedro Almodovar wouldn't be making films for another 20 years. As it is, The Bat has no choice but to kidnap Marta and throw her in his dungeon so he can force her to watch him in rigged wrestling matches with the captive luchadores that his minions have wrangled for him. It's kind of like going to Phil Spector's house, except instead of the wrestling, he'd just make you listen to "To Know Him is to Love Him" over and over again. Fortunately, Blue Demon just happens to drive by at a key moment - in a car with a broken tail light, no less (oh, Vergara Productions! Couldn't you have just cut corners with some more stock footage and at least given Blue a decent car?) - and joins with Marta's creepy boyfriend to effect her rescue. All considered, this is an amusing entry, with some odd hocus-pocus - an old witch, a Mandrake root with boobs whose significance I couldn't quite divine - thrown in to provide some color. It's another one where Blue doesn't show up until pretty late in the proceedings, but with Oses and Romano ravenously inhaling the scenery as they are, his absence isn't felt too acutely.
As with other early lucha movies, there's little in La Sombra Vengadora to indicate just how weird the whole genre would become within a few short years. Except, of course, for that nightclub song and dance number that somehow manages to incorporate a cockfight, which is one of the weirder things I've seen, period. With that scene, it's as if the makers suddenly realized that they hadn't supplied any moments of only-in-Mexico absurdity and decided to step up to the plate big time. Other than that, though, this movie follows the same old time serial template as the earlier El Enmascarado de Plata. There is a much coveted secret formula, a masked villain with a clutch of fedora wearing goons intent on stealing it, a kidnapped scientist and his beautiful, serially imperiled daughter, and lots of creeping back and forth through secret passageways. What La Sombra Vengadora has that El Enmascarado de Plata didn't, however, is Fernando Oses in its masked hero role. This means that La Sombra Vengadora has lots and lots of kinetic and fairly well staged fight scenes. I lost count at some point, but I believe that Oses, bare of chest and sheathed of face as La Sombra Vengadora, engages in around six hundred physical scraps in the course of the movie. Two of these happen within the first 15 minutes, which was a refreshing change of pace from the spate of luchas I'd watch recently, which all for some reason chose to keep their heroes under wraps until well into their second, or even third, acts. For those of us spoiled by the inclusion of Cyclopes, harpies and zombies in later masked wrestler movies, this serves to make La Sombra Vengadora a perfectly engaging, but not outstanding entry. On the other hand, it does exhibit an elegance of execution that, while standard for its era, would pretty much disappear from these films after about 1966. As generic as the plot may be, it's always a pleasure to see the kind of handsome, chiaroscuro compositions and budget-hiding set designs that we see here in the service of our masked hero's adventures. It lends the proceedings an air of romance and mystery that a film like Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruous, for all its other, admittedly threadbare charms, never even whispers of. La Sombra Vengadora even hints at some promising monster action with it's villain, The Black Hand, who appears to his victims as a pair of flashing, disembodied eyes. This, sadly, turns out to be smoke and mirrors, but there's still no denying that this is a film that works hard to entertain - a factor which for me always generates a great deal of good will where these pictures are concerned. Now, if only it had Maura Monti and some go-go dancing Martians in it, we'd have a true classic on our hands. But, alas, the world would have to wait another ten years for that.
Wow. I feel bad for Superzan. Based on the movie appearances of his Iíd seen previous to this - in which heíd spent most of his screen time staring at the back of either Blue Demonís or Mil Mascarasí head Ė I would have thought that a starring vehicle like this would have really afforded him his day in the sun. But this is really terrible - and I don't mean that in the good way that I usually do. It's like a one film compendium of movie badness. For starters, it exhausts itself with the effort of padding out its length. It opens with an exceedingly long wrestling sequence (and I'm not new to lucha cinema, so I mean exceedingly long even by those very relaxed standards). This is followed by two complete musical numbers (one of which features a singer in a wrestling mask, which I have to admit is moderately cool). Wrapped around the musical numbers is a scene in which Superzan appears to be judging a beauty contest. Frequent recycling of footage adds a perfume of monotony to the tedium and, to compound the shoddiness, all of the special effects footage is lifted from an older black & white film, and no effort is made to match that footage with the new color footage. What plot there is appears to be lifted from that episode of the old Superman TV show with the little mole men in it, except here the peaceful-but-woefully-misunderstood midgets are extraterrestrial rather than subterranean. And, like Superman - and unlike Superzan in other movies Iíve seen - Superzan has super powers, like the ability to fly and stop a freight train with his bare hands. This doesn't stop him from getting into the ring with apparently normally abled wrestlers and, as I indicated earlier, taking an extremely long time to defeat them. (The original title card actually reads "Superzam el Invencible", so perhaps, rather than playing himself here, he's playing a fictional super hero with a very similar name and an identical costume, which would be kind of brilliant.) The scenes in Superzan's headquarters look like they were shot in a high school computer lab. He does, of course, have a sweet muscle car (a sweet muscle car for the hero being the first budget item in every one of these masked wrestler movies, even if it sometimes meant that there was only enough money left over for film stock). I did like that the flying scenes were apparently accomplished by dragging a dummy behind a helicopter; I'd never seen that before.
Okay, I donít feel so bad for Superzan anymore. This is a vast improvement over Superzan el Invencible. Still, itís amazing how something can be a vast improvement and still be so shoddy. But, to be fair, unlike its predecessor, Superzan y el nino del Espacio manages to tell a coherent story while keeping the padding to a minimum, and the special effects sequences, though modest, are original to the film rather than stolen from others. The sets are passable, and they even built a full-size Ė though cramped looking Ė mock-up of the alien space ship. The filmís story concerns Superzanís efforts to rescue a benevolent alien who has been captured by an evil human scientist. The scientist wants to use the alienís technology for nefarious purposes, and by far the most nefarious piece of technology on display is a machine that outfits whoever stands under it with a sparkly cape and giant Ming the Merciless collar. (It also turns a simple farm girl into Kelly Osbourne, so I guess itís good we have Superzan around to put a stop to such things.) Superzan still has super powers in this one, and the flying effects this time are simply achieved by rigging him to the back of a truck. As a result, we never see him flying more than four feet off the ground. These films have a different feel to them than other lucha films Iíve seen, which I think is due to them skewing slightly younger than other wrestler movies (and before you Santo fans start feeling like youíre all sophisticated, I mean that they target 6-8 year olds rather than 10-12 year olds). They could be compared to Power Rangers, if you could stand the thought of comparing Power Rangers to something that would make it seem relatively tolerable and interesting. Like I said, this is better than Superzanís first solo effort, but Iím really glad they didnít make any more of them.
All text content © Copyright 2007 Todd Stadtman. All rights reserved.