Friday, April 1, 2011

Week 1: El Santo Contra El Cerebro Diabolico (Santo Vs. The Diabolical Brain, 1961)

             So here we are, the first El Santo movie. I'm really not sure what to make of this one. There's so many vagaries afoot in it. I don't think this can be blamed on poor subtitling either, since they seemed to make things pretty clear. The gist of the movie, as far as I can tell, is that federales (I think that's what they are) are in the midst of busting up a criminal ring, led by what appears to be Christopher Lee in his Fu Manchu make up. Fernando and his partner, who's name I never got, but who I'll refer to as Kangaroo Kick (I'll explain the nickname later...) are debriefing when Fernando receives word that his troublesome reporter girlfriend has gone undercover deep in some criminals empire. 


Nothing says "NOT undercover" like a white denim suit...

             Fernando and Kangaroo Kick fly into action, and by that, I mean they dress as cowboys and slowly ride horses to a rural village where Fernando's lady friend was last seen. They arrive at a Bar/Brothel where they ask around about the local magistrate, who is apparently so corrupt and evil that a stranger vaguely asking around is enough to cause a bar fight, the silliest goddamn bar fight in cinema history. How silly is this bar fight? Amidst all the chaos, one man stands alone in the center of it all, shadow boxing himself. A random extra has the good sense to finally smash a corona bottle over this poor slobs head, putting him, and me out of misery. During this bar fight, we finally get our first glimpse of El Santo. Apparently the heroes have secret watches that they can talk back and forth to HQ with. This is revealed to us when a pair of creeps ruffle through Fernando's underwear in his hotel room and accidentally turn the watches on. El Santo is there, in full wrestling regalia, just chilling out with a character only referred to as "the Boss" when the creeps voices come through on their bat-cave surveillance equipment.

Just another day at the office.

         The local Magistrate shows up to break up the melee in his establishment (apparently this guy owns the town). This character had a real name too, but his uncanny resemblance to Orson Welles has forced me to refer to him as Mexican Orson Welles. You can tell right away this kat is the villain, because he wears a hat like the guy on the Quaker oats carton, only he wears it cocked, and he looks like Orson Welles. 

Mexican Orson Welles!

          At this point, we're about 30 minutes into the movie already, and it decides to come to a dead stop, so that El Santo can go have a wrestling match. A full scale wrestling match, complete with fans going ape shit. Santo is the face wrestler, and he lets the heel wrestler get the spectators thoroughly riled up. He's a hideous site to be sure. Part George "The Animal" Steele and part your skeevy uncle John, who scared you at family get togethers but thankfully died before you were old enough to be molested by. Santo comes in and makes short work of him, stomping the living shit out of this repellent screwhead. Its sort of a jarring experience, this weird wrestling insert, but keep in mind this is essentially a wrestling movie, the kind Barton Fink was suppose to write. There has to be some kind of meat and potatoes wrestling in there for the fans who came out. The Boss is in El Santo's corner, so it obviously wasn't something filmed separately and inserted during post. Maybe if some of the modern day wrestlers who tried to make the transition to Hollywood had inserted random wrestling matches into their otherwise shitty films, their movie careers would fare better. Imagine if that shitheap The Tooth Fairy ground to a halt, so that the Rock could splatter some unfortunate jobber's brains all over the squared circle. The Rock certainly wouldn't be slumming it in Fast Five this summer.

           I should probably take the time to explain Kangaroo Kick. You see, Mexican Orson Welles figures out that Fernando and KK are Federales. He sends two assassins to their hotel room to ventilate them with sharp objects while they sleep, but the boys are no slouches and are ready for these clowns. A hilariously choreographed fight ensues, in which KK uses a kangaroo kick on his assailant. What is a kangaroo kick you ask? Well, its when a kangaroo sits on its tail and kicks outward with its legs. You'd probably try to tell me that Kangaroos can't actually do that because it defies the laws of physics, but you'd be wrong. Kangaroos can do that, and so can Mexicans. KK sits on the bed and kicks out, knocking the wind out of his assailant. He then proceeds to bounce back and forth from the parallel beds, fighting with a style I can only describe as "Bed Fu". 

        The fight spills out into the bar downstairs, where Mexican Orson Welles sends his arch henchman Roque with twenty armed goons. El Santo suddenly appears on a rafter overhead and dive bombs into the crowd of henchmen, easily overpowering all of them. You'd think an unarmed man in a silver mask and cape would be no match for six guys wielding rifles, but you'd be dead wrong. 

         A lot of fans dismiss this film as not a "true" El Santo film. In way, they're right. El Santo isn't so much the protagonist as he is a designated hitter. Better yet, he's sorta like the Thing in the Fantastic Four. The other members of the team deduce the villains diabolical schemes, and then he comes in to breaks some heads. To El Santo's credit, when he's not on screen, the movie is more or less a grass growing contest. Fernando is about as bland a hero as they come. If he were ice cream, his flavor would probably be water. 

      Mexican Orson Welles is also a poorly defined antagonist. Aside from having more small town henchmen than all four warring clans in Yojimbo and A Fistful Of Dollars combined, he doesn't do anything super nefarious until the end of the movie, where he tortures Fernando and KK and then tries to have his way with Fernando's girlfriend Virginia. Before that, he's just sorta creepy. What's his criminal bag? Drugs? White slavery? Medicare fraud? How exactly does he pay the salaries of all these inept henchmen?

              Kangaroo Kick is the only other character, save El Santo, who really gets to do anything compelling, and most of that is mugging while getting some of the sillier fight sequences. He tricks a henchman who is beating the shit out of him to take a phony phone call. When the henchman goes for the receiver, KK caves his face in with it. He also gets to grab another by his hair, hold him in place, and then punch him repeatedly, causing the henchman to spin in place. Most of his gags are definitely three stooges inspired. 

             The film reaches its climax as Santo rescues Fernando and KK from being thrown to their deaths from a cliff. Instead, Santo gets to hurl arch henchman Roque off said cliff. El Santo then runs (!) after Mexican Orson Welles' escape plane, managing to catch up, and stop it, mostly through sheer will power. Fernando then gets to spank his girlfriend violently while El Santo rides off into the sunset. Ah misogyny... 


           My biggest issue with this movie is its title. El Santo vs. The Evil Brain? Is Mexican Orson Welles the titular evil brain? I think "evil brain", I think of a rubber brain monster that eats smaller brains and has a scary laugh. A more appropriate title would've been "El Santo vs. Corrupt Saloon Owner" or "El Santo vs. His Co-worker's Ineptness". I'd recommend this one to only the truly most die hard fans. For anyone else, its just sort of a curiosity, like a band's early indie albums. 

Two Santo masks out of a possible Five. 

Fun Fact: This film and next week's were filmed in Cuba, with principle photography wrapping mere days before Fidel Castro took power.




1 comment:

  1. Wow. That ending was awesome, crazy but awesome! lol Y the spanking? Did he think she was WILLINGLY running away? ANyway, this series should be good, haha!