Though we often see Santo in a laboratory setting in his movies, I always thought that Santo's lab, much like the Bat Cave, simply contained equipment that aided him in his crime fighting activities. It never occurred to me that he was doing any actual R & D in there. From El tesoro de Dracula, I learned that Santo is not only a bona fide scientist, but a bona fide scientist of very high standing in the scientific community. And rather than just eavesdropping on police calls on his ham radio, he's been spending his time in the lab building a time machine - a time machine that runs on the scientific principle of reincarnation. This is just a fair entry in the Santo saga, though it does contain one of my favorite recurring Santo motifs: Characters standing around talking about how great Santo is. Even the villain can't keep himself from gushing about El Santo's exceptional character at one point. There are also some hilariously terrible scenes of people transforming into big, wobbly plastic bats (though not as hilariously terrible as in Los Vampires de Coyoacan, which is really the standard bearer for hilariously terrible plastic bat transformations). The high points here, I think, are the time machine itself, the effects used to represent the experience of time travel, and the metallic cat suit that Santo's girlfriend wears to partake in that experience. Oh, and the comedy relief character who wears a giant gold dollar sign medallion, jumping the gun on Yo! MTV Raps inspired accessorizing by a good twenty years (unauthorized trips in the time machine perhaps?). Despite his fairly regular appearances in these movies, Dracula seems like an odd choice of an opponent for a masked wrestling hero. As he's presented here, I suspect that it's his aristocratic pedigree, more than his vampirism, that's the true source of his villainy for Santo, the peopleís hero, and his intended audience (in that spirit, Santo's goal here is to deprive Dracula of his treasure for the good of those in need). But, as such, he's too effete and dandified for any kind of physical confrontation with our hero to provide any excitement. In fact, a whole subplot involving a gang of crooks competing for the treasure has to be introduced so that Santo has somebody to grapple with. (This subplot leads to one of the rare, plot-driven wrestling sequences in the Santo filmography; a major plot point is actually resolved by the outcome of the match!) Still, Drac's presence here provides an opportunity for lots of fun, carnival spook show atmosphere and, of course, a bevy of big haired, negligee-wearing vampire brides. This film will also always hold a fond place in my heart because it is the first Santo film that I was able to convince my fiancť to watch with me. Judging from her reaction, I will have to subsist on the memory of that experience for a very long time.
El Tesoro de Moctezuma is the second half of the swinging Santo spy saga that started with Operacion 67. Since it was filmed back to back with Operacion, it boasts the same relatively swank production values and sleek cosmopolitan look. Santo's pretty boy co-star Jorge Rivero returns here, as does Noe Murayama - who, judging from this and Blue Demon contra Cerebros Infernales, was Mexican cinema's go-to guy of 1966 for maniacal. The criminal gang from the first film are also back this time around and, in combating them, the secret agent team of Santo and Rivero are commendably more proactive, not just taking the "let's hunker down and wait for them to start trying to kill us" tack that they did in the first film. Like Blue Demon's adventures from the same period (and seemingly every action/adventure movie made in any country in 1966), Moctezuma is as much influenced by the cartoonish campiness of the Batman TV series as it is by the Bond films. Nothing reflects that more than the freezing ray that the gang uses, a device that forces actors dressed in security guard and police uniforms to act frozen in place while expending great effort not to blink or noticeably breath. I seem to have a limitless capacity to be amused by this particular kind of colorful mid-sixties silliness, and movies like Moctezuma seem to reach right into the part of my brain that houses whatever damage that's the result of. The film then goes further to ingratiate itself with me by including Maura Monti in the cast (I'm considering updating my symbol key so that I can flag any film that Monti appears in, perhaps with a 8), and then seals the deal by setting its climax in my beloved home town of San Francisco. Of course, the Chinatown in which the climactic action takes place doesn't quite resemble the Chinatown I'm familiar with, and the Chinese New Years celebration that's depicted incorporates some elements, more suitable to Mardi Gras, that I don't recall from such celebrations that I've attended. Still, I've got to give the filmmakers credit for doing their best - by way of tight shots, the use of actors in traditional masks, and quick cuts - to hide the fact that they had absolutely no Asian extras on hand. As for Santo, though the film doesn't provide him with any dalliances of his own, it does, by way of association with Rivero's prolific debaucheries, continue the revocation of his sainthood that started with Operacion 67. He even engages in a few instances of jokey guys' guy business with Rivero, showing a looseness appropriate to the swinging lifestyle that he's on the cusp of. After this pair of films, it seems like we rarely see Santo in a film where he doesn't have a love interest or girlfriend (and sometimes those girlfriends even get to do stuff, like in El Tesoro de Dracula and Santo y Blue Demon contra Dracula y el Hombre Lobo). If there was ever a testament to the irresistibility of Santo's sex appeal, this is it, since the price of being his main squeeze was inevitably the less welcome attentions of assorted werewolves, vampires and mummies.
This one just barely squeaks in here. For starters, it's not a Mexican film, or even a Spanish language one, but rather one of the most well known examples of copyright-flaunting 1970s Turkish pop cinema. It also doesn't star Santo, but instead has a Turkish actor playing the role of Santo - who appears here alongside Captain America and an evil, rapacious Spiderman. When I first saw 3 Dev Adam, I felt that it really tested the limits of how deep an enthusiast of Z grade cinema should plumb for new thrills. Seeing the handmade title cards flash across the screen, it occurred to me that the only thing that separated this film from a super 8 movie made by kids in their back yard wearing blankets for capes is the fact that, at one time, people were actually expected to pay to see it. Of course, since then, I've seen Vuelven los Campeones Justicieros and Superzan el Invencible, and have adjusted my standards accordingly. I've also watched 3 Dev Adam again, and I think that I hadn't been entirely fair to it (though, don't get me wrong, I did enjoy watching it the first time around). I think that one thing that really gets in the way of assessing the actual skill behind 3 Dev Adam is the extremely distressed and faded condition of the existing prints (film preservation not being a big priority in Turkey - and, were it otherwise, I don't think 3 Dev Adam would be first in line), which makes it look a lot more primitive than it really is. Within it's technical and budgetary limitations, it's actually very successful at what it sets out to be, a fast-paced and entertaining action film. And, like the type of childhood home movie super heroics I refered to earlier, it approaches its subject with a lot of enthusiasm. That is not to say that it's child friendly, however. Unlike the Mexican luchadore movies, which were basically intended for a family audience, 3 Dev Adam has a patina of sleaze to it. This is apparent from the very first scene, in which we see the evil Spiderman introducing a captive woman's face to a running outboard motor. Later, he introduces someone's face to a giant Habitrail, and the face-eating hamster within. That last part isn't sleazy, just stupid - and really funny. As for Santo, other than his costume, the version of him that's presented here is not very faithful to the one we see in actual Santo movies. He's more of a traditional super hero who switches back and forth between his masked and civilian identities - and, as such he's not all that interesting. I do, however, like the decidedly less white bread version of Captain America that's presented here. He has a sexy female sidekick and, between missions, he's always at the bar with a highball in hand. Regardless of how the characters are portrayed, though, it's the concept that's the real draw here - that concept being the one embodied in the film's alternate title, Captain America and Santo vs. Spiderman. If you're like me - and you haven't already seen this movie - there is nothing anyone can say that will stop you from seeking it out. That title really says it all.
I donít know how black holes work. Iím not smart that way. But I think that they may work in the same way that Campeones Justicieros movies work. The fact that these movies feature a team of the biggest stars in masked wrestling, and they suck, makes it tempting to say that they are less than the sum of their parts. But to even say that there is a ďsumĒ, that there is any kind of accumulation of anything, would be somehow, inexplicably inaccurate. For, no matter how many elements you throw into a Campeones Justicieros movie, you always end up with nothing but deficit. Itís a phenomenon that fills me with awe and wonder, while the movies themselves fill me with sleepiness and the desire to drink. This one takes place in a circus, and it does star Superzan (unlike Vuelven los Campeones Justicieros, which I only thought starred Superzan) along with Blue Demon, El Fantasma Blanco and Elsa Cardenas as a female campeon named Venus. I must say that putting Superzan in a circus setting certainly serves to normalize his appearance. Unfortunately, no one else Ė least of all the viewers Ė benefits from the change of scenery. Some people seem to enjoy these movies for their wacky elements, but when you can see those same elements in other movies that are actually a lot better (in Los Vampiros de Coyoacon, for instance, you get pitched battles with vampire midgets plus an energetic narrative and production values that donít reek of negligence) I donít see why anyone would bother.
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John Carradine fathered an acting dynasty, was an accomplished Shakespearean actor and appeared in such film classics as Stagecoach and The Grapes of Wrath. But all of these were just minor stops on the road that lead him to Las Vamipiras, a film in which he shared the screen with Mexican wrestling legend Mil Mascaras. Now, we can talk about career low points, but anybody who has even a glancing familiarity with trash cinema knows that Carradine had plenty of those - and I don't think anyone had a gun to his head here. (Also, the old guy just obviously really liked to work.) In fact, the appeal for him of appearing in a film like Las vampiras is pretty clear. Since none of his cast mates here were going to set the acting bar very high, Carradine had an all-access crazy pass, and, believe me, he uses it. In his role as Las Vampiras' vampire king, Carradine leaves teeth marks not only on most of the cast members, but also every inch of the scenery. And, when he doesn't look just plain confused, he appears to be having a great time doing it. If all his mugging, gnashing of teeth and bellowing (in dubbed Spanish, of course) were Las Vampiras' only attraction, that would be enough, but, happily, the film also delivers pretty much everything else you'd want from one of these movies. Mil Mascaras is his usual charismatic self, and he here faces off against a gang of leotard clad vampire women who are apparently also a modern dance troupe. (The scene where the Vampiras go all Alvin Ailey in their lair is not only a highpoint, but also the second time that a scene from a Mil Mascaras movie has reminded me of a cash-strapped recreation of one of the production numbers from Showgirls.) Are there poorly realized scenes where the vampire girls transform into incredibly fake looking plastic bats? Why, yes, there are lots and lots. And there's also a scene in which Mil Mascaras and his sidekick are trapped in a pit with a swinging spiked ball that's accompanied by ice rink organ music. In fact, the only thing I can really fault Las Vampiras for (okay, in addition to recycling some footage from Los Canallas), is that it features one of the most disappointing uses of Maura Monti I've seen thus far. Why, in a film where you have numerous roles for scantily clad, suggestively dancing vampire women, would you cast Maura in a relatively chaste, woman-in-peril role? The mind reels.
I like Mil Mascaras. He's a serious neckhead, and that exaggeratedly sculpted build of his enables him to sell his super heroics a bit more convincingly than some of his more stocky compadres. Also, that move he did in Los Campeones Justicieros where he removed one mask while putting on another in one continuous movement was really cool. In this movie he's paired with Superzan. While by this time other wrestling heroes were affecting a more casual look, wearing their street clothes or at least a more basic wrestling ensemble with their masks, Superzan in the field always wore a complete, head-to-toe super hero outfit complete with cape, sparkly skin-tight body suit and boots. When paired with a comparatively less flamboyant wrestler, this made him look kind of like the kid who insists on wearing his costume to the grocery store the day after Halloween. Anyway, Los Vampiros De Coyoacan is basically a simplified retelling of the Dracula story (with wrestlers and midgets, of course) and it's very entertaining. While a lot of it is quite competent and effectively atmospheric, its greatest achievement for me is the spectacular ineptitude of its human to bat transformation sequences. The technique used is the same one seen on Bewitched, where the camera is simply stopped and the actor moved out of frame, except without the "ping" sound effect to sell it. What the actor is replaced with is a large fake bat so stiff and immobile that the prop master's frantic jerking of its strings produces more of a toppling end-over-end than anything resembling a flapping motion. There is a rich cinematic history of outrageously fake looking bats in horror films, but I submit Los Vampiros De Coyoacan as the film that should take home the prize. It's hard to tell why this is, though, because as I mentioned, other effects are done quite competently - especially the make-up for the bat-headed look the vampire affects towards the end, which is quite creepy.
La Venganza de la Llorona is the first and only of Santo's monster movies to feature a monster derived from Latin American folklore - that monster being La Llorna - or "The Crying Woman" - the vengeful ghost of a jilted 17th century woman. But it's mainly just a mummy movie where the mummy is a lady. This time around Santo calls on his pal, famous Cuban-born boxing champ Jose Mantequilla Napoles (played by famous Cuban-born boxing champ Jose Mantequilla Napoles), to aid in the fight. If that makes you think you're going to be thrilling to the sight of two burly athletes bouncing their fists off of a mummified old lady, you would be sadly mistaken. In fact, the running gag of La Llorona is that Santo spends the whole film arguing against the existence of ghosts while every member of the cast but him ends up encountering La Llorona firsthand. Instead, Santo and Napole have a more earthy encounter with a crime boss who's competing with them to find a substantial treasure stashed by La Llorona before her death. The crime boss' method of dealing with Santo and Napoles is a classic gambit tested by numerous crime bosses in Santo movies since the dawn of, well, Santo: Just keep sending the same six guys - which must include either Fernando Oses or Carlos Suarez (here it's Suarez) - to beat them up over and over again, despite the fact that they all get clobbered every time. You'd think that, over the course of the film, the boss might try to augment his gang's number with a super robot or a fighting gorilla or something, but the inspiration just isn't there, so the film's climactic battle between Santo, Napoles and the six guys, while exciting in itself, has a pretty predictable outcome. Of course, predictability never stood in the way of a Santo movie's greatness, and, despite that, La Venganza de la Llorona is a plenty fun and engaging little picture. It's definitely one of those Santo movies that's targeted even more toward the kids than is usual, but it succeeds because it leavens its horror elements with a general tone of amiable goofiness, rather than by making lame attempts at broad comedy. While Napoles is no Olivier, he has a cheerful presence that suits the silliness of much of what he's required to do, and there's a nice chemistry between him and Santo. My favorite bit of business between them is when a young boy in their charge, wanting to know which one of them would win in a fight, pesters them into staging an impromptu backyard match; What starts out as a good natured tussle ends with Santo pinning Napole and punching him in the face - and the both of them so absorbed in the brawl that they don't notice La Llorona spiriting away the kid they were supposed to be protecting. Definitely a low point in Santo's heroic career - but a high point for... hilarity! As for the kids, well there are some, and one of them has one of those screechy dubbed-by-an-adult voices that makes you hate living in a world that would allow such a thing. But I at least found it refreshing that these kids weren't portrayed as precocious, but rather as quite stupid, like actual children. All in all, I quite enjoyed La Venganza de la Llorona, and it made me wonder why there was no second pass at a screen pairing of Santo and Napoles. After all, the two were obviously free of the flamegun-wrought baggage that Santo and his previous partner, Blue Demon, were saddled with. It could have been something beautiful, man.
Clearly Santo contra los Cazadores de Cabezas left me with some PTSD, because seeing Santo in a safari outfit again in la Venganza de la Momia gave me the shakes. Still I soldiered through, because I want to put all of these mummy movies behind me. After this one, I think I just have Las Luchadoras contra la Momia and Las Momias de San Angel left. Las Luchadoras I'm looking forward to, but San Angel is an Agrasanchez production, so it will not only be a mummy film, but also threadbare, midget infested, and filled with incongruous light jazz. Anyhows, la Venganza de la Momia isn't a terrible film at all. The mummy here is less hands on than most, eschewing the standard approach of slowly lumbering up to and strangling his victims in favor of taking them out from a distance with a bow and arrow. He does do a bit of lumbering, but only when he has the leisure to do so, because when pursued he can really haul ass. Now, you might be lead by these things to doubt that this is an actual mummy, but that would make you a horrible person. What happened to your childlike sense of innocence and wonder? Are you just too cool for suspension of disbelief? Jerk. Oh, but wait. Santo seems to have his doubts, too. In fact, he keeps going on about how the dead can't rise again, which is just weird. Hadn't he already had repeated encounters with vampires and zombies by the time he made this film? I'm just asking - and, if you expect me here to start talking about the Santo "Universe" and argue passionately about which films belong or don't belong in the Santo "Canon", you better be prepared to fucking kill me right now. Back in the universe of la Venganza de la Momia, Santo takes time out from the mummy hunt to woo one of the fine ladies who's part of the expedition - and he really comes on strong. Of course, it works for him, and she comes back at him with a line that, despite whatever onscreen mediocrity might have preceded it, makes me really glad I watched this movie: "Any woman would be happy if a man as manly as you would love her a little." That line, and the promise of more like it, are what will get me through Las Momias de San Angel. La Venganza de la Momia, like many Santo movies, is bracketed by two full-length wrestling matches. As usual, these are accompanied by excited narration by an off-screen announcer, whose job it is to instruct us about all of those things - such as the splendor of the arena, what great physical shape Santo is in, the overwhelming size of the crowd, the viciousness of the blows, etc. - that the evidence of the eye might contradict.
My favorite scenes in any Santo movie are those in which we get to see Santo at home. And the best part of seeing Santo at home is when we get to see him asleep in bed with his mask on. It just never stops being good. In La Venganza de las Mujeres Vampiras, our glimpse of Santo in slumberland comes as a prelude to a sequence in which the main vampire woman sneaks into Santoís room at night. She tries to stab him, but Ė psyche! Ė itís the old pillow dummy trick. Santo appears behind her, laughing heartily, and says that heís used to attractive women coming to his bedroom, but not for the purpose of murdering him. The vampire woman, doing what most women would wish they could do upon hearing a line like that, turns into a bat and flies out the window. As the camera follows her flight across the room, we see that on Santoís bedroom wall he has a framed portrait of Santo. Ladies and gentlemen, Santo at home. La Venganza de las Mujeres Vampiras has more to offer than this fine scene, though. Itís actually a pretty swell little entry in the series.
Wow. This one really didnít stick with me. I know this because my initial draft of this review stated that Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras were not in the movie Ė and that, instead, Superzan was now the leader of the Champions of Justice. Neither of these things is true, it turns out. Superzan is not even in this movie, and a simple glance at the credits reveals that Blue and Mil indeed are. Iíve now realized that this nightmarish fever dream version of Vuelven los Campeones Justicieros that I posited was the result of me confusing the filmsí details with those of the also unmemorable El Castillo de las Momias de Guanajuato. So, if you needed proof that you canít rely on these ramblings of mine for any kind of actual information about the films discussed, there you go. Having thus established my total non-credibility, there is one thing that I can say about Vuelven los Campeones Justicieros with absolute and unquestionable authority: The thing exhibits a cheapness that borders on criminal neglect. And if you donít believe me, just look at it. The mad scientist's laboratory is the inside of a utility closet, and the monster costumes are so poor that the people who made the movie - people whose capacity for shame is otherwise completely unapparent Ė were actually embarrassed enough to try to hide them with quick cuts and murky lighting. I have yet to watch El Triunfo de los Campeones Justicieros, the final entry in this series, and, in all honesty, I'm a little afraid to. For all the promise inherent in the concept of a Justice League style union of masked wrestlers fighting evil midgets, this series has so far proven to be a recipe for bitter disappointment.
The Lucha Diaries may be many things to many people: A reason to live, a sacred text, or simply a vivid and frightening reminder of what your life could have been had you not made the sensible choices that you did. However, one thing that they're certainly not intended to be is a consumer guide. Because, if, like me, you've chosen to delve into this particular corner of world cinema, you are obviously someone whose standards of quality can't be measured by the gauges such guides typically use. That said, I feel that, in the case of Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy, I must shout out a warning to the world that it is not everything it's title advertises it to be. This is unusual in the realm of lucha cinema, where a film's title usually reads like a generic list of contents; With movies like Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dracula and the Wolfman or Santo vs. Blue Demon in Atlantis, you can pretty much rest assured that you're going to see all of those elements described, poorly realized though they may be. It's not that there aren't wrestling women and a mummy in Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy, it's just that the mummy shows up so late in the film, and so fleetingly, that he comes off more as a tangent than a central part of the story. Whether the movie comes through on the "vs." part of its title depends on whether you consider the Wrestling Woman poking a couple of torches at the mummy and then fleeing in terror to constitute some form of combat. For myself, I feel that a more honest handle for this film would be The Long and Not Very Interesting Story of How the Wrestling Women Came to be Briefly Terrorized by the Aztec Mummy. As such, it's kind of a cock and bull story (the lucha film equivalent of Tristram Shandy, if you will). The actual central battle of Wrestling Women takes place between the wrestling women and two non-Asian actresses playing Japanese "Judo expert" sisters. These actresses manage to demean both the entire Japanese people and the discipline of Judo by capering around the ring like monkeys and agreeably placing themselves in positions in which they can be easily picked up and tossed by the non-professional wrestlers playing the Wrestling Women (Lorena Velazquez and Elizabeth Campbell again). Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy is definitely a disappointment after Doctor of Doom (aka Las Luchadoras contra el Medico Asesino), which had the thrill-a-minute pacing of an old serial. (Though, to be fair, the affect-challenged English dubbing of this K. Gordon Murray produced version goes a long way toward making the numerous scenes of dialog seem much longer than they probably really are.) That said, the bug-eyed and gape-mouthed Aztec Mummy, though he's a long time coming, is really worth seeing. And he even comes with a few unexpected tricks up his mummified sleeve; he can turn into a bat! (Not that that's such a unique ability for any monster - be he werewolf, vampire, or whatever - in one of these movies. If Gorgo or the Creature from the Black Lagoon were to show up in a Mexican wrestler movie, I'm sure they'd turn into bats, too.) So, consider yourself warned, consumers: Though the Aztec Mummy content of this film is of a high quality, you may not find its per-pound ratio to the size of the overall serving satisfying.
All text content © Copyright 2007 Todd Stadtman. All rights reserved.