Friday, April 15, 2011

Week 3: Santo contra los Zombis (Santo vs. the Zombies) 1961

          It's week three and we've finally reached a film that feels like a true Santo starring vehicle. We finally also see Santo clash with his first supernatural antagonists, a concept that would come to dominate the later part of the El Santo film series. This one feels like there might be some transitional elements at play here. We find El Santo still working with clandestine Federales, lead by a hombre simply known as "the Chief", with another hombre known as "St. Martin" (other characters formally refer to him as "Mr. St. Martin throughout the movie. It's damn strange.) seemingly working as the head field man. I say seemingly, because its pretty apparent from the get go that this whole thing is going to be Santo's gig.

           A Maria Sandoval comes to the investigators for help in finding her missing father, a professor well versed in Haitian zombie rituals. Meanwhile, a number of kidnappings and robberies occur by what appear to be zombies. COINCIDENCE! HAHA! I should clarify for those who are fans of the zombie genre that these are not the flesh eater types that are so popular amongst hipsters and emo kids today. Released in 1961, this zombie film sports pre-Night Of The Living Dead zombies. These zombies are more along the lines of the ghouls seen in films like White Zombie or I Walked With A Zombie. They don't eat people unless told to, something that never occurs in the film. They are unique in that they display the ability to use assault weapons, the weapon of choice being a strange sort of crowbar that causes objects they come in contact with to catch on fire. They also sport fashionable leather tunics. For Zombies, they're quite tasteful

Wrestling is many things, but its never, ever, gay...

           After Santo and his team have a couple exhausting physical confrontations with these characters, it becomes apparent that they're being controlled by an unseen force. Unseen to them anyway. We see him, a black hooded figure in a nefarious looking underground lab (is there any other way for such a place to look?). This masked fiend's identity is not revealed until the very end of the movie. In an effort to not be a jerk, I won't spoil it for you, in case you do actually want to see this film, even though you'll be able to figure it out from a mile away. Actually, it's Maria's "blind" uncle. There, I spoiled it for you. OOPS!


           While Los Zombies is a pulp horror adventure, it also makes a strong effort to reinforce the fact that its also a wrestling picture, headlined by a wrestler. This is hammered home from the first frame, as the film opens with Santo and an unidentified tag team partner beating a pair of unidentified heel wrestlers senseless. Then we get the opening credits. Immediately after said credits, we're treated to yet another of Santo's matches, this time a one on one match that starts off polite and professional enough, until Santo's opponent gets anxious with him, at which point Santo gives this screwhead a proper working over. I admired the film's tenacity in wanting to make its audience sit through not one, but TWO wrestling matches before even a shred of plot line has been revealed. 

Sex Appeal!

        Another admirable aspect of the film is the physicality of the antagonists. While not the now traditional gruesome flesh munchers that most hope for in a zombie motion picture, they manage to be similar to Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, in that they are eerily silent, physically imposing brutes. In more than one fight scene, they manage to physically overwhelm and exhaust Santo. It's a fine change of pace from the usual criminal element types that are less than a match for the greatest of all masked wrestlers. 

Santo likes spying on his boss...

          The threat to El Santo's prowess is brought to a climax when the Black Hooded zombie-master/blind uncle gets wind of Santo's upcoming wrestling match. He manages to kidnap Santo's opponent, zombify him, and send him back to do battle with our masked hero. Santo only manages to save himself by pulling down the man's pants (I'm not kidding...) and thus damaging the zombie's control apparatus. 

A lost scene from "the Three Stooges meet Cobra Commander"

         If I had any real issue with the film, it would be its lack of genuine risk to the heroes. We know El Santo is going to make it out alive, but the impact would be greater if we didn't also know the same could be said for his entire team. Next to no character work is really done for any of them anyway, so why not have one or two of them knocked off by a magic crowbar wielding zombie anyway? It would've given the film a sense of danger that was otherwise lacking somewhat. 

Another oddity is that both Santo and the hooded zombie-master/blind uncle both have what can only be described as "God Cameras". I call them God cameras because both men have video monitors that allow them to watch cohorts where ever they may be. Santo seems to watch the rest of his investigators this way, instead of just being in the office with them. the zombie-master is able to see car chases (these zombie can drive) from street angles and places that are entirely impossible for him to see from without his cameras having some sort of godlike power to them. I'm probably over thinking this particular issue, but it is jarring to sit there and wonder exactly how either of them is seeing all the shit they are seeing.

             While not a total reinvention of the wrestling or zombie genres, Los Zombis manages to finally give the El Santo series a proper starting point, while also establishing the universe these films take place in by including the supernatural evils that would dominate the later, zanier films in the series. It's a nice straight faced prelude to the more monster centric films to come.

Three silver masks out of a possible five.

Fun Fact: This was the first El Santo movie to be released, dubbed  into English, stateside, known as "Invasion Of The Zombies" by Murray K. Gordon, the same producer who distributed the horrible Mexican Santa Claus movie from Mexico. 

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