Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Santo y Blue Demon Contra Los Monstruos (1970): or, Now THAT'S a Main Event!

More and more these days--as Time's Winged Chariot drags me inexorably closer to the shadowy bourne of that Undiscovered Country, and the vistas of Future Possibility shrink and close around me like the heavy gray walls of an Inquisitor's tomb--I find myself wishing that I'd come into contact with certain things earlier in my life. For instance, I was fully fifteen years old before I first read Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a book that would have stood me in much better stead before I'd followed the philosophical dead ends of its protagonist Raskolnikov. (I ended up getting my watch back, though, so no lasting harm.) Similarly, I discovered the cinema of Paul Naschy as a slightly past middle-aged adult (if we calculate the middle as half the "threescore years and ten" of verse)--a fortunate discovery, but one, had I made it earlier, would have afforded me that many more years of grinning, face-beaming joy.

In recent years I've added another item to that "wish I'd met you earlier" list: Lucha Libre movies. One of the unique cultural contributions to Western society of the great nation of Mexico, the Lucha Libre subgenre grew out of the immense populatity of professional wrestling south of the U.S. border, and the colorful, larger-than-life characters that peopled its ring. Many (if not most) of the professional wrestlers in Mexico are traditionally "los enmascarados," or masked men. While many of the masked wrestlers in US wrestling tend to be "heels" or villains, in Lucha Libre they are more generally like superheroes, their glittering capes and colorful cowls symbols of their commitment to justice and fair play. In the comic books and films that these characters inspired this commitment is taken to the logical (?) extreme, as los enmascarados do battle against gangsters, aliens, mythological creatures, and yes, b-movie monsters.

El Santo Rocks the Turtleneck
When I was a kid, I was heavy into both professional wrestling and the Universal horrors, so it's a damn shame I didn't discover this combination back then, this Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of awesomeness that combined the two great tastes I loved. But then I might have changed my life goals and tried to become a crime-fighting luchador instead of a priest of obsolete video formats, so maybe a greater Plan was at work, after all. Maybe it's best, in a way, that I'm only now seeing Santo y Blue Demon Contra Los Monstruos (1970, dir. Gilberto Martínez Solares) for the first time.

But I kinda doubt it.

The most famous of the film luchadores is without question El Santo, the Man in the Silver Mask. In a ring career that spanned five decades, Santo became the most famous and beloved luchador in the history of the sport, and between 1958 and 1982 starred in over 50 feature films. In many of these he was paired with his in-ring rival but filmic mejor amigo Blue Demon, and together they comprised the most dynamic crime- and monster-fighting duo Mexican cinema has ever seen. The films range from quickies that seem to have been shot in a single weekend between matches to well-lensed, respectable b-features, but all share a mix of grappling, intrigue, and contagious glee that's hard not to respect and enjoy. (The films are also pretty family-friendly as a rule, so if you've got a monster-loving kid who's sick of Godzilla movies, the genre is a good next step.)

Blue Demon: These Nipples Don't Run
Santo y Blue Demon Contra Los Monstruos begins with what amounts to a main-event introduction, as the music plays and the principals come out with their names plastered across the screen, a low-angle shot making them all look 10 feet tall and bulletproof. In this corner, El Santo, posing on a hill in a forest in full ring attire (like you do) and his tag-team partner, Blue Demon! And in the other corner, the cavalcade of monsters!

  • La Momia! (The Mummy, looking more like an elderly burn victim than a resurrected pharoah!)
  • El Ciclope! (The Cyclops, a hulking brute with a flashlight eye and a puppet head!)  
  • Franquestain! (Frankenstein's Monster, Mexican version, complete with pencil-thin bandito moustache!)  
«El fuego es malo...¡MUY MALO!»
  • El Hombre Lobo! (The Wolf Man, a barefoot homeless dude with fangs! Or as I like to call him, El Hobo Lobo!)  
  • El Vampiro y La Mujer Vampiro! 
  • And of course the Mad Doctor Bruno Hadler, the man responsible for all the carnage we're about to witness.
It's not a diss to say the plots of most of the lucha libre movies I've seen have a certain "childlike" quality, as if two movie-loving, hyperactive playground buddies were sitting behind the typewriter pounding out everything that entered their sugared cereal-addled brains. Symbol stands in for substance--there's no need to establish the wrestlers as heroes, since they're CLEARLY heroes, and likewise the monsters and mad doc as villains. These groups are in the same movie, so they're gonna fight, right? So what are we waiting for? Let's get ready to rumble!

El Fappo Grande
We open, as we almost always do in lucha films, with a good 5-10 minutes of in-ring action. In this case we watch a tag-team match between female mascaradas, which has some pretty priceless narration from the TV announcer on call. ("The physical strength is primitive to man...the elasticity of the movements and that feline agility in these beauties!") Santo watches from the backstage area, a scholar of the sport as well as a master. After the brawlin' beauties finish, Blue Demon and partner take on a couple of punching bags and make short work of them, establishing BD as one tough little hombre, and not a person upon whose Cerulean mask you'd be well-advised to tug.

Moving into the story proper, we find ourselves at the funeral of Bruno Hadler, a mad scientist of the first order who had successfully resurrected dead bodies by means of brain transplantation! (Why this was not a Nobel Prize-winning discovery I can only guess--perhaps he had yet to publish his findings in a peer-reviewed journal prior to his death.) Bruno's brother Otto is an upstanding member of the community, and also the father of Gloria, who happens to be la novia del Santo. Apparently Santo and Blue Demon had something to do with the mad doctor's misfortunes, since upon learning of his death Santo worries that he "made a promise before he died," one he might yet make good on.

He died as he lived: with a Cuisinart on his head

Of course he's right to worry, as the funeral is crashed by a gang of muscled-up thugs in badly applied green grease paint, obviously the doctor's zombie minions! They rush the shrouded corpse back to the lab, where Bruno's right-hand man Waldo--a scoleosis-stricken dwarf, naturally--fires up the ol' 12-volt and brings the doctor back to life! As a side note, along with Waldo and the zombies in the lab is this intriguing character:

Your guess is as good as mine

If you're waiting to find out what sort of monster he is, what his powers are, and how he's integral to the Mad Doctor's plan...well, don't. He just hangs out in the lab the whole movie and never does anything. Maybe he's a friend of the landlord's or something.

Thinking about what Santo said, Blue Demon decides to go on a little reconaissance mission, and of course drives directly to the huge Spanish castle/fort that the doctor is using for an inconspicuous hideout. BD batters down a drawbridge through sheer brute force and enters the subterranean dungeons (why? BECAUSE THAT'S WHERE THE MONSTERS ARE, of course!), and has a quick scrap with the zombies, who somehow manage to subdue him. Waldo wants to "experiment" on the luchador (ooer!), but Doc Hadler has bigger plans--he slaps BD into his tanning bed/human Xerox and runs off a perfect copy of Blue Demon, one that will follow his every command without question! THE FIEND!

It was at that moment--with a Hulk-beast to his left, a dwarf to his right, and an unconscious luchador right at crotch height, that Dr. Hadler finally understood what true happiness meant.

Out on a drive in the Silver Santomobile, Santo and Gloria are interrupted in the second chorus of "Besame Mucho" by the Doc's roving gang of zombies. This allows Santo to show off his fighting skills for the first time in the flick, tossing the zombies around and even executing a splash off the hood of his shaggin' wagon! It must be said that the choreography of the fights is a bit more realistic than in the kung-fu genre, which is to say it's less like a duel/showdown than a giant clusterfuck. Still, it feeds the need for ACTION--Gloria is kidnapped, Santo rescues her, and then we're able to move on.

In a sequence reminiscent of Assignment Terror, Blue Demon 2 and the zombies are dispatched on a nationwide monster hunt, and surprisingly make quite a haul. In a nondescript crypt somewhere or other they find the happiest Vampire in the World--a guy in evening clothes, cape, and London After Midnight-style top-hat who just cannot stop grinning. Thereafter they go to another crypt and find A FREAKIN' MUMMY--which I can only assume is of the Aztec variety, given the locale. Back at the lab Dr. Hadler has somehow acquired a block of ice containing The Cyclops, which he melts with a life-giving acetylene torch. Then they pull Franqestain and El Hobo Lobo out of their ASSES, because suddenly they're just there. A quick blast with the mind-controlling ECT machine, and Los Monstruos are ready to do the doctor's bidding!

"I'm a vild und krazee guy!"
The rest of the plot is basically a series of vignettes of three sorts. Monsters attacking people: El Ciclope takes out some fishermen, the Vampire acquires a couple of brides, Franquestain crushes an amorous couple under his metal boots, and El Hobo Lobo takes out an entire family. El Santo tracking the monsters: he can't find the castle BD1 drove straight to, for some reason, and has to hunt through the woods and lakes aimlessly. (A sequence in which he swims through a lagoon looking for the Cyclops--his mask still on, of course, as a luchador never unmasks, even while making out with muchachas--is wonderful not only for Santo swimming, but for the LITERAL FISHTANK effects to show the Cyclops underwater). And finally: Santo vs. the Monsters and BD2, which as I say are big clusters interspersed with shots of the Cyclops' puppet-head yowling. One thing just follows right after another, and while it's not exactly coherent, it never lets you get bored.

In the most incredible (and awesome) development in the story, El Vampiro decides to take on Santo on his own turf--he challenges the Man in the Silver Mask to an actual wrestling match, right there in the arena under the lights! Of course Santo accepts, and the crowd rolls in, completely unfazed that the opponent for the night is AN ACTUAL FUCKING MONSTER. Even better, El Vampiro dons a mask for his match, even though he's never worn one previously--doubtless to cover the stunt double. But still, how awesome is that? Could it be more so?

"Get ready for The Hurting, boys."

The answer is YES: el Vampiro gains the upper hand in the match, but then is put off his game by a glimpse of the gold cross around Gloria's neck. This leads to a staple of pro wrestling, the "Run In" match ending--only in this case, instead of the heels running in to thwart the babyface wrestler's triumph, THE GANG OF MONSTERS RUNS INTO THE RING FOR AN IMPROMPTU BATTLE ROYALE! Frankenstein's Monster, the Cyclops, the Mummy, all bouncing off the ropes, fighting Santo and his friends from the locker room! If I'd seen this at age 12, my head would have exploded with glee. In fact, it might yet.

(Nota bene: I have to say, this is exactly what I was hoping for with my previous lucha libre experience, Santo y Blue Demon contra Dracula y El Hombre Lobo, but in that flick the monsters never climbed into the ring. It was a much better movie in all other respects, but I'm glad this flick righted that glaring omission.)

Of course eventually, somehow, we end up back at the lab, Santo discovers that Blue Demon has not undergone a heel turn but has just been cloned, and BD and Santo have a final confrontation with the monsters (complete with Santo braining zombies with a rubber morning star and Blue Demon wielding aGUN and a dangerous torch) that leads to a fiery cataclysm and widescale destruction of scientific machinery and historical buildings. Good triumphs over evil, the Luchadores beat Los Monstruos, and all is right with the world until next week's main event.

El Hobo Lobo

All right, so the movie has its problems. There is an awful lot of day-for-night stuff, especially when El Vampiro is on the prowl, that is among the worst such effect I have ever seen; I guess we're just supposed to assume it's night by virtue of the fact that the vampire is not going up in flames. Costumes are pretty weak, with the lower end being the embarrassing Mummy costume and nearly non-existent werewolf makeup--a hobo beard, while awesome, does NOT a wolf man make. (Though I admit I liked the ambition of the Cyclops get-up.) The score is pretty annoying bleep-bleep-bleep semi-carnival music, though my reaction to that may be more cultural than critical. Also, there's an extended nightclub/dance sequence in the last third of the film that goes on way too long, even though it's sort of entertaining in a Gene Kelley/Cyd Charisse rip-off way. And as I noted earlier, the plot developments are on a level with the 3-paragraph short story you wrote for your 2nd grade Halloween essay contest, meaning it's heavy on the non sequitur ACTION and light on poetry and character-driven drama.

But this is a genre of movie in which those latter problems can hardly be considered flaws. As in a well-choreographed wrestling match, this flick has its marks to hit, its set-pieces to execute, and it does so with a breathless energy that's easy to get swept up in. If you can turn off the adult portion of your brain, go back to your childhood and imagine seeing this on a Saturday afternoon and then going out and reenacting it all with your like-minded friends, you'll agree the scrapes and bruises would be well worth the joy.

2-Man Mob

Acting-wise, the film is pretty difficult to critique. Santo and Blue Demon are wizened performers, though their performance style is informed by the larger-than-life acting style of the wrestling ring, and thus perhaps more akin to silent movie acting than more modern methods. Still, the two have charisma to burn, even if it's obscured a little by the expressionlessness of their masks. Carlos Ancira as Dr. Bruno Hadler chews the scenery the way a Mad Scientist should, and his brother Otto, portrayed by Jorge Rado, is a good counterpoint/voice of reason, if such can be said to exist in the world of the film. Hedi Blue as Gloria is attractive but given little to do, and the dancer who becomes a vampires bride adds some welcome soft PG sex-appeal. Also, Mexican trash movie fans should look out for Santanón as Waldo the hunchbacked dwarf--the actor also appeared in one of Boris Karloff's last movies, the embarrassing to some/entertaining to others voodoo flick Snake People (1971).

Santo y Blue Demon Contra Los Monstruos is not the best lucha movie I've seen--it's easily outdone by the dramatically and cinematically superior Santo y Blue Demon vs. Dracula and The Wolf Man--but I found it an endearingly naive and fun excursion into a world of wrestlers and monsters. 2.5 thumbs, and Vive El Santo!

"Hold me, Waldo...just hold me!"
Bonus Linkage: 

Still Yet More Images from Santo y Blue Demon Contra Los Monstruos (1970):

Monsters of Acne

"Wait, whut? you know OLAF?"

Besame Enmascarado
Scary, but not in the way they intended

Collect Them All

He Only Dives from the Top Rope
Pecs of the Vampire

H.R. Puffnstuff: The Lost Episodes

Consider Yourself Pinned



Samuel Wilson said...

Priceless! I've only seen one Santo movie, in which he fends off a Martian invasion, but that monochromatic massacre, while wacky in its own right, doesn't come close to what you're showing us.

From what I've read, the reason you get so much wrestling in the wrestler movies is that lucha libre was banned from Mexican TV for many years. If Santo didn't come to your town to work live, the movies were your only chance to ply his ordinary trade, let alone take on the undead in a handicap match. I wonder if these movies spoiled the live experience for generations of Mexican marks;)

DJ Capybara said...

By far my favorite Santo film, in fact, I kind of gave up watching them after this one, figuring none of them could be this good. I loved the beatnik looking Frankenstein and the weird little dude in the lab with the exposed brain. I've seen a variation of him before in another film, but still no explanation about who or what he is.

Sanna said...

Haven't seen this one yet, looks awesome!

I actually have my own personal Santo project going on. My goal is to watch all Santo movies in chronological order! I have two down, lots to go. I'm going to write a project diary about it on my own movie blog but unfortunately that's going to be in Finnish only.

Prof. Grewbeard said...

great review, awesome grabs! in case you need a comprehensive Santo filmography-

i've been collecting lucha films for many years and there are many, many enjoyable entries in this genre, but Los Monstruos was supposedly El Santo's personal favorite because, as he supposedly put it, "it's got so many monsters in it!". the brainy little guy in the cave originally appeared in the film Ship Of Monsters as a Martian, as did the Cyclops who was also a Space Alien. now THERE'S a film you need to see!...

dfordoom said...

I saw my first Santo movie last year - Santo Versus the Martian Invasion. Great fun. But I'd already seen a couple of the Mexican lady wrestler movies - Rock 'N Roll Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Ape and Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy. They're just as much fun. It took the genius of the Mexican film industry to realise that what had been missing from B-movies up to that point was lady wrestlers.

The Vicar of VHS said...

Let it not be said that the Vicarage and Duchy don't have the best, most knowledgeable, and SEXIEST commenters on the web--that is, unless you're itchin' for a FIGHT! :)

@Samuel--I didn't know that about Mexican wrestling being banned on TV, but it makes total sense! In SANTO&BD VS. DRACULA & THE WOLFMAN, there are no less than three complete matches, along with all the excellent monster action. As to these movies spoiling things for the marks, I'm going to pronounce that un-possible; these flicks can do nothing but enhance anyone's life experience!

Maybe some of our Mexican/Latino readers can weigh in?

@DJ Capybara--This is a good one, but don't stop watching lucha movies! Many are cheap and not as involving, but the two linked at the bottom of the review are WELL worth your time!

@Sanna--That's so cool! Thanks for commenting and letting me know. I've been a huge fan of Finnish exploitation cinema ever since I stumbled upon the incredible SENSUELA some months back. In fact, that's the only Finnish flick I've seen, but it's enough to earn my undying love! Are you familiar with that one?

WRT to your Santo project, thanks to Mozilla's Ubiquity and other tools, the language thing is no barrier anymore--I'll be checking out your blog!

@Prof. Grewbeard--Thanks for that awesome link! I love tha the U of Maryland is devoting scholarly attention where it's so clearly merited! Also, you rule for solving the mystery of the Brain Dude in the lab...sorta. I mean, we STILL don't know why he's there. Maybe he's an intern?

@dfordoom--Though I know them by reputation, I am sad to say I've not watched any of the Aztec Mummy movies. Clearly an oversight that needs correction! And all I can say to this:

>>It took the genius of the Mexican film industry to realise that what had been missing from B-movies up to that point was lady wrestlers.


dfordoom said...

Vicar, the Aztec Mummy movies are worth checking out. The first one is quite a decent and interesting (and fairly atmospheric) little gothic horror flick. Each sequel gets a little crazier and more outrageously camp and entertainingly silly.

Just about any Mexican horror movie is worth seeing.

Sanna said...

@The Vicar of VHS

Wow, you've seen Sensuela? Hadn't read that review before. There's so many things wrong with that movie, in the best possible way. My favourite part is the "crazy orgy party" in Hans' flat in Helsinki.

If I can think of some other out there Finnish movies, I'll recommend some to you. :D

Samuel Wilson said...

Night of the Bloody Apes also qualifies as a wrestling movie, as I recall, though the ring action there is more tangental than in most such films. Even without wrestling, that one's a monument of Mexican madness.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@dfordoom--consider it on the queue! I have reviewed THE BRAINIAC in the past, though I think I may have been in a grumpy mood when I viewed it the first time. Maybe a revisit is in order.

@Sanna--I forget exactly how SENSUELA came to my attention, but I'm so glad it did. The party at Hans' place was definitely the point at which the movie catapulted from "entertaining oddity" to "OMG SO AWESOME." And then it just kept getting better! If there are any other Finnish flicks I should know about, please do enlighten me!

@Samuel Wilson--it's true what the ancients said: the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. ;)


Another intriguing article. More great work from you guys.

I too am very unfamiliar with this genre but I have been intrigued by the lucha genre of films.

Not only has this article given me food for thought it has also given me some ideas for a story.

I put a masked wrestler in my LOCAL HEROES story as kind of a one off joke ( ) but reading this has give me some odd ideas.

Then again the writing here always givres me odd ideas.

Unknown said...

I'm curious which DVD copy you have Santo contra Los Monstruos. The copy I have is from the Lionsgate Double Feature line of lucha films, but it's unfortunately in black and white.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I hope this is not a double comment. I was originally using an old, 30lb laptop with wifi issues.

I just watched this on Galavision, en Español. No hablo Español, so I was going on instinct. This one is made of awesome, despite the cheesy effects. I am totally used to daytime vampires, as most European Vampire Titty Movies have the same flaw.

BTW, you can watch Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro on Youtube. It is in Spanish as well, but it the complete movie. On a computer you have to watch commercials, but for some reason on the iPad it went straight through.

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