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Santo and Blue Demon against the Monsters
Medium: film
Year: 1970
Director: Gilberto Martinez Solares
Writer: Rafael Garcia Travesi, Jesus Sotomayor Martinez
Keywords: low-budget, Mexican wrestler, vampires, mummies, zombies, Frankenstein, Cyclops, werewolf
Language: Spanish
Country: Mexico
Actor: Santo, Blue Demon, Jorge Rado, Carlos Ancira, Raul Martinez Solares, Hedi Blue, Adalberto Martinez, Santanon, Vicente Lara, Manuel Leal, Gerardo Zepeda, David Alvizu, Fernando Rosales, Carlos Suarez, Margarita Delgado, Elsa Maria Tako, Yolanda Ponce, Manuel Alvarado, Carlos Corona, Alejandro Cruz
Format: 85 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064932/
Website category: Foreign language
Review date: 25 December 2009
It's a Mexican wrestling film, starring the Wolf-Man, Frankenstein's monster, four zombies, a mad scientist and his hunchback midget assistant, a vampire and the female vampires he creates by biting people, a mummy, a Cyclops and an alien zombie dwarf with its brain outside its head. I think that's all you need to know, isn't it?
Yes, off you go. Just don't buy more than five or six copies, or else there'll be none left for anyone else. The disc even has subtitles!
The few reviews of this I've found all call it silly rubbish, even though they all go on to say or admit that it's also fun to watch. Personally, for what it was, I thought it was good. Silly, yes. You read my summary. The Cyclops in particular is like something out of a kaijuu film, as if children made a monster suit for Blue Peter and then put it in a movie. Anyone seeing a clip of that out of context would probably think this was the worst movie of all time. However in the context of this film's general aesthetic, it works. Anyone who likes to take their Mexican wrestling movies seriously will probably curl up and die, but personally I regard the entire package as surprisingly successful. It's certainly far better than the Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle.
Firstly, they differentiate their monsters. They're used more as an army than as individuals, but they're given enough characterisation for us to be able to tell that they're who they're supposed to be. The vampire wears an opera cloak, looks gay, keeps changing into a puppet bat on strings, bites women's necks and never walks anywhere when he can stand a few feet off the ground and hurl himself forwards as if he's about to do a rugby tackle. The mummy is under-used and the alien zombie dwarf is just a background extra, but otherwise everyone gets a chance to go off and do their own thing. The make-up also helps establish them all as individuals. The Wolf-Man looks a bit like Bela Lugosi and has an enormous beard. Frankenstein's monster (simply called Franquestain in the credits) also has a beard and moustache, but is having a bad hair day. The zombies are green. Finally the mummy's face has been left uncovered, leaving you to wonder why they cast some doddery old grandad.
Secondly, the monsters aren't just cannon fodder. On the contrary, they're badass and considerably better at their jobs than they are in almost any other movie genre. One of the first things to happen to Blue Demon is to be attacked by a zombie... who wins and carries him away to the mad scientist's castle, whereupon Blue Demon gets replaced with his own evil duplicate and spends at least the next hour of screen time trying to kill Santos. One of the more surprising things to me about these Mexican wrestler movies is how willing the filmmakers are to let their heroes be beaten. Normally you'd expect something like that zombie fight to be a mere grace note, in which the hero's triumph is as unshakeable as the moon and stars. These monsters though are indestructible. It even says so in dialogue.
Thirdly, I admire the way the film introduces its monsters. We start with the zombies stealing the mad scientist's corpse and taking it back to the hunchbacked midget so that he can resurrect it. We learn our evil duo's names, relationship and motivation. The midget is Waldo and he calls the scientist "master", while the scientist is called Otto Halder and he wants to kill his brother, his brother's niece and his brother's niece's boyfriend (Santo). He hates them because they doubted his necromantic theories and he thinks they destroyed his life, which is laid on thick enough that I went on the internet afterwards to see if this was a sequel to something. (I don't think it is.) This is probably more solid set-up than you'd get if Hollywood ever remade this film, if only because the pacing's more deliberate and the script's never trying to do two things at once.
After that Halder gets his zombies to find and awaken all the different monsters, who promptly go on a rampage with gore scenes. It's not the Texas Chainsaw Massacre or anything, but you've got the Wolf-Man biting out a mother and father's throats before going after their young son, then the incredibly big Frankenstein's monster kidnaps a girl (whom we never see again) while getting in a particularly nasty kill on her boyfriend. There's more blood than I expected, even for creatures from whom you wouldn't normally expect it. The mummy is seen with blood all over its fangs at one point, for instance. This was sensible from the filmmakers, since without it the monsters would merely have been Saturday morning cartoon villains repeatedly attacking Santos and his friends.
It even works visually. The film may have come out in 1970, but it looks like early sixties Star Trek or even 1950s SF. You've got primary colours, relatively bare sets and a design style of big geometrical shapes. The monsters look stupid, especially the vampire and the Cyclops, but they're stupid in an artistically coherent way.
I also liked the storytelling style, in its own low-rent way. With the exception of exposition scenes with Halder's brother or Santos, it's basically a silent film with sound effects. I don't mean that it doesn't have a soundtrack, but the storytelling is almost entirely visual. Monsters hunt victims. Santos hunts monsters. Heroes sneak into mad scientist's castle. I'm grateful for the disc's subtitles, but it needed them far less than did that Bermuda Triangle one. I thought this was both good and mildly distinctive. It's certainly a sensible approach to a movie series about masked heroes defined by their ability to do body slams and get punched in the face, not to mention probably working better than more plot-intensive James Bond style adventures in which things might happen in the dialogue scenes.
The film's biggest quirk is the way it'll randomly drop in five-minute sequences from a completely different movie. Twice we visit a sports arena for a proper wrestling match involving either Santo or Blue Demon, although the second one has him up against the vampire in a mask. I'm confused as to whether or not the fights were real, by the way. My casual internet reading had left me with the impression that Mexican wrestling used to involve actual contests rather than being pre-arranged, but this looks like the usual WWF bollocks. There's also women's wrestling, but that's less interesting than it sounds since they're wearing masks too and since they're proper wrestlers their physiques aren't noticeably different from their male counterparts'.
Then there are the dance numbers, in which our heroes go to a restaurant that appears to contain a stage the size of the Albert Hall and we see a show. It's mad. You'll have noticed that visual continuity isn't a concern with this film, as can also be seen with the day-for-night shooting. This doesn't work in Hammer horror films in England, but it doesn't work with knobs on in Mexico. We're informed that the monsters can only come out at night, which is scary since there's no way of judging from what's on the screen whether it's supposed to be night or day!
I'm not sure that Santo is the best boyfriend. He can beat up monsters, but he keeps his mask on when he kisses you and he goes for drives with female vampires.
In case you haven't been convinced yet, this film was made by Jesus! I'm talking about Jesus Sotomayor, the producer who's apparently to blame for the ridiculous monster overload even for a Mexican wrestling movie. Apparently it also has one of Mexico's greatest directors, Gilberto Martinez Solares, who'd done important work back in the golden age of Mexican cinema but by this point had fallen on hard times.
This film has all the important things. A cart drives by with burning torches in what's obviously daylight. There's a castle. There's a Creature from the Black Lagoon sequence with proper underwater footage and also the Cyclops costume, which they handle as well as they can (i.e. laughably). Cyclops's eye lights up, by the way. There's a bit where one of the zombie's heads gets knocked off, presumably because it hadn't been sewn on properly. Even the acting is surprisingly good, with everyone except the vampire exceeding my expectations. However on the downside, the film criminally misses the opportunity of letting Blue Demon fight his own evil duplicate, which I'd assumed could only be because he refused to let anyone else wear his beloved mask, but apparently someone called Alejandro Cruz (aka. Black Shadow) played Evil Blue Demon.
By its own lights, this is a successful film. I'm genuinely impressed with how it handles its insane monster overload, for a start. I'd also be quite excited at the chance of seeing it on the big screen, since it's clearly designed to deliver as a visual experience in a way that more mainstream movies like Frost/Nixon, Notting Hill, etc. aren't. Much better and more coherent than I'd expected from skipping through the DVD and seeing the silly stuff without watching it properly.