Friday, May 27, 2011

Week 9: Santo contra el estrangulador (Santo vs. The Strangler, 1963)

(The copy of this I viewed was taken from a VHS recording, and that's where the screen caps come from, hence the poorer quality.)

              So we've reached week nine. Santo was rolling pretty strong there for a couple weeks, and so was I. Then we hit this dud. Honestly, I'm finding myself hard pressed to come up with anything to write about. El Estrangulador isn't really much of a movie. Clocking in at 79 minutes, its hard to even qualify it as a feature length movie. 

"everyone says he's got Santo eyes"

         Santo finds himself hunting down a Phantom of the Opera wannabe at the Variety Theatre. This dickwad likes to haunt a crappy theatre where other wannabes pretend to be Mexican pop stars and sing hits they didn't write or even compose. Imagine if the Phantom of the Opera liked hanging out on the Lawrence Welk show and occasionally murdering performers. That's how exciting this movie is. 

      Actually, its during one of these variety shows that our non-wrestling lead, whose name I couldn't be bothered getting, does a rendition of 16 Tons, in English. It's strangely arranged and performed, and comes off as somewhat Kubrickian in nature. It's just about the only interesting flare of film making the movie has. 

The Kubrickian rendition of "16 tons"

            So what is this villain's motivation, you ask! Well, its not really made clear, beyond him killing the lead female performers at the variety theatre. It seems to be how he gets his jollies for the most part. A convoluted explanation towards the end explains him away as a former magician who was horribly scarred during his act at the variety, and now takes revenge on women who had absolutely nothing to do with it. What I found odd, was that this Santo movie chose to never really give us a perspective from the Strangler. There are some vague hints to him here and there. We might see him making a phone call or something, but unlike the previous entries, he's left to be mostly an enigma until the film's climax. After a number of films where the villains are at least as strongly developed as Santo and his pals, this one felt jarring and under cooked. 

The Strangler in drag.

          Of course the film's worst choice is its decision to give Santo a kid sidekick. I don't know about you, but I always hate it when a character has a kid sidekick. It's always intended to appeal to younger fans, and it always backfires. The kid is always some obnoxious, grating shitbird-in-training. Santo's is no exception. His name is Milton, and he is horror & madness. 

Milton's intro...

       Milton is introduced as a kid orphan who stows away in Santo's convertible after one of his wrestling matches. He's decided that Santo is going to be his new dad, and since Milton won't give up the name and location of his orphanage origin, (even though Santo could probably beat it out of him) Santo just goes along with this for the duration of the movie. What is Milton's big contribution as a sidekick you ask? Well, he can kinda sing. He demonstrates this by singing a truly horrid rendition of Blame it on the bossanova. 

Jerry "Red Herring" Muscles

            El Estrangulador is one of the weakest entries in this series in some time, and possibly ever. It's boring and poorly plotted out. There are some subplots introduced, but they're so half assed that they're not even really worth mentioning, let alone examining. The similarities to the Phantom of the Opera are far too on the nose to be ignored or viewed as cute. It's just lazy. The next film is a direct sequel, where Santo fights the Stranglers ghost (SPOILER), so maybe these were intended to be a matinee double bill, hence the laziness in the storytelling. Even if that's the case, its still not an excuse. 


One silver mask out of a possible Five. 

Fun Fact: Lawrence Welk dabbled in professional wrestling during a stint in Mexico. It's unclear if he and Santo ever crossed paths. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Week 8: Santo en el museo de cera (Santo In The Wax Museum, 1963)


         Well here we are at week numbero ocho. I've been watching these movies weekly for two months now. I'm starting to notice more and more tropes as I burn through these movies. Maybe tropes is the wrong word. Some of these elements don't seem to always be on purpose, or intentional elements in the El Santo formula. 

Santo is repose.

          This week, our movie finds Santo investigating disappearances around a popular Wax Museum. People are being snatched off the street and Dr. Karol, the wax museum's curator, suspects he's being set up to take the fall. The only problem is that Dr. Karol is obviously behind the disappearances. Museo de Cera is mostly a knock off of the Vincent Price version of House Of Wax, mostly. One of the movie's strength's is that it knows its audience isn't stupid enough to be fooled into believing Karol might be innocent, the actor playing him is far too dashingly sinister for that, and so not only reveals elements of Karol's machinations halfway through, but plays with the audience for most of the first half. A scene involving Karol will begin with him announcing something in an over-the-top horror matinee voice, only for us to find out that he's speaking about something mundane, like bragging about how great his new wax Jack The Ripper exhibit is. It sets you up for the reveal you know is coming, only to dash your expectations. It's an amusing and knowing element, and never becomes obnoxious, mostly because its dropped by the second half. 

Dr. Karol being a Snoop!

        By that second half, the jokes are dropped in favor of a cat and mouse game between Karol and Santo. Santo becomes involved in the case when his bonehead friend Professor Talran, or whatever the hell his name was, talks to Santo on his magic video communicator in front of chess buddy Dr. Karol. He doesn't ask him to leave the room, or let Santo ring off, or anything. Dumb. Karol then asks for Santo's aid in proving his innocence, something Santo is too smart to accept at face value. Just because he's a wrestler doesn't mean he's stupid.

         Another strength of this entry is that due to the cat and mouse game between Santo and Karol, most of the other useless protagonists fall totally out of the story until the climax. They're there to get Santo involved in the proceedings, and then they just drop right out of the story until its time for Santo to save their asses. They're not there to drag the story down, uncovering the villain's plans very boringly and leaving Santo to have to run to their rescue. It's all on Santo to do the investigating and the fighting, and its refreshing. 

Wax Gary Cooper abides.

          Of course this being a wrestling vehicle, Santo has to bring the story to a dead stop to participate in a wrestling match. This happens three times! By the third time, he's almost got Karol dead to rights, as he catches him spying on him in his lab, and he forgoes apprehending the man, so that he can go wrestle a French guy. What made this particular match all the more amusing is that this same French guy got catcalls about being a cowardly frog. Even Mexicans hate the French! 

State of the art technology...

          It's during this particular match that I finally noticed one of the tropes mentioned earlier. During these long matches that pop up in the second and third acts of these movies, the editors tend to use cut away shots of the house lights above the ring as a transitional element. It's not a transitional element to get us from this scene to the next either. They'll happen in the middle of the match, and then we come back to the same match. I'm not sure what its suppose to infer either. Is it the passage of time? This isn't a boxing match. Every match involves the winner being determined by two out of three pins. How long can something like that go on for? The matches feel like they play out mostly in real time. Perhaps its just something to break up the monotony, since the entire event is mostly shown from one static wide shot. I'm unsure, but I'm guessing its the latter.

             Getting back to Dr. Karol, the entirety of his evil plans aren't fully revealed until the climax of the movie, which is interesting as a viewer, as a lot of the pieces didn't make much sense until then. Watching it play out, it felt like it was just a riff on House of Wax, and while it mostly still is, the movie deviates enough to make it sort of its own thing. Its revealed that Karol was a prisoner at Auschwitz, where he suffered extensive torture at the hands of Nazi scientists. While going through this, he somehow discovered a way to chemically alter people's genetic make up, making their bodies more malleable to remolding. He then turns people into monsters that he puts in suspended animation and hides in plain site in his wax museum. His ultimate goal from this nonsense? Well aside from torturing people, his only other joy in life has been working towards his "masterpiece", turning a living, beautiful woman in a "panther lady"....

Detailed schematics for the "panther lady"...

Oh, he's also made a couple of pigmen. I'm not sure that's what they're actually suppose to be, but that's what they look like.

Dr. Karol's Pigman!

         Museo de Cera manages to be one of the better films in the series so far. It's still bogged down by the usual nonsense, such as excessive amounts of wrestling. The film could stand to lose at least one of the matches. The villain's master plan, while wonderfully deranged and unique, is still a bit muddled and could be clearer. There's a bunch of things I didn't get a chance to cover, like Santo downsizing from his faux batcave to what appears to be a loft, and everyone having these God cameras that can do things that modern cameras and things like Skype can't even do. Overall, its one of the better entries, mostly due to Santo getting a proper amount of screen time finally. 


Three silver masks out of a possible Five

Fun Fact: This film was released Stateside as "Samson And Wax Museum", and is one of the few Santo films to be dubbed in English. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Week 7: Santo vs. las Mujeres Vampiro (a.k.a. Santo vs. the Vampire Women 1961)

       Week 7 is here, and we've come to one of the more famous entries in the El Santo oeuvre. This time out, the makers behind this entry decided quite gracefully to once again ditch the standard criminal antagonists for more supernatural fare. While last time it was zombies, this time out its Vampires, sexy, man hating female vampires at that. Another element ditched, at least for now, is Virginia, Fernando and Conrado. Their absence is not felt, nor is it missed...

         Once again, the film is mostly told from the point of view of the antagonist, the female vampires, embodied by their High Priestess "Tundra". Apparently their gimmick is that this vampire sorority is only loosed on the earth every 200 years to plague mankind (emphasis on "man"), only this time out, their Queen, Zenza is going to return to Hell to become the Devil's bride. Before this momentous occasion can occur, a successor must be found from the human race. This job is Tundra's responsibility, and it seems like a high stress job. Luckily for Tundra a successor has already been foretold to them. Professor Olaf, who seems to be a really inept Mexican version of Van Helsing has a daughter turning 21. This has all been prophesied in some random manuscript that Olaf found, so obviously its true for all in involved. The only problem for Tundra and her goons (there are some male vampires who work for her as muscle) is that they tried to take one of Olaf's ancestor's as their queen previously and failed due to the intervention of a "masked interloper". 

Mexican Vamps have a bad tendency towards Alligator skin.

          So now Santo's fate is conveniently wrapped up in this vampire nonsense, due to his ancestor's intervention (remember Santo is a title past down through generations), he's now also prophesied to be a player in the outcome of the Vampire Queen's wedding. Of course this news isn't delivered to Santo until AFTER he's brought the movie to a dead stop to have a protracted tag team wrestling match with his some time foe Black Shadow, who I'm pretty sure was turned into a zombie in contra los zombies, but I guess we're not suppose to remember that. This match is made even longer by it being a best out of three deal, something which appears to be sort of standard in mexican wrestling. 

The priestess Tundra...

         This match occurs a good 30 minutes into the movie, and that's the first we see of El Santo in the proceedings, which leads me to my main complaint of the movie, one I've had about previous entries, which is the lack of El Santo in an El Santo movie. It's like making a Batman or Godzilla movie and forgetting to put Batman or Godzilla in it. He doesn't really involve himself in the plot until the end of the second act, and even then its only after Tundra and her vampire gal pals send a wolfman to wrestle Santo to death. This is even after being told that he is prophesied to fight the vampires and possibly die. He still insists on honoring his match dates. That's some serious OCD.


    I previously mentioned the male vampire muscle at work for Tundra and her friends. These guys are the most hilarious element in the film. All three of them are obviously wrestlers or stuntmen or both, as they're huge hulking jerks. It's made sillier by their mexican vampire get ups. They're shirtless like Santo, but sport black capes, with huge "jizzed on my pants" collars. when they flee from Santo's body slams, they run full speed while holding their capes out like they're going to take off. It makes them look like woefully inept male ballerinas and its seriously amusing. 


         Mujeres Vampiro is one of the more interesting Santo films thus far. It's got a early Hammer vibe to it that helps tone down the absurdity of the concept of a mexican wrestler combatting vampires. There's still a bit of camp, intentional or no, to laugh at though.  The vampire women aren't the greatest adversary Santo's dealt with, but there is a historical backstory to them and him that makes their conflict more interesting. Santo could benefit from being a greater element in the story than just the guy called in to break bad guy skulls and rescue the damsel. As is, he's essentially a weapon called in for the climax of the story, like Voltron. This problem is accentuated by the lack of other lead protagonists to help carry the story. Oh, also, apparently Mexican Vampires have reflections, and they're really ugly in them. 


Three silver masks out of a possible five.

Fun fact: This Santo flick was one of the few released in the US. Dubbed in english and retitled "Samson vs. the Vampire Women", it was eventually featured for lampooning on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 in 1995. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Week 6: Santo contra el cerebro del mal (Santo Vs. The Evil Brain, 1958)

          So I have a confession to make. I've just realized that I've mixed up two El Santo movies. El Santo vs. The Diabolical Brain should be here, reviewed this week, but I mistakenly reviewed that one first, believing it to be the very first Santo film. An honest mistake, but still a dumb one. What's funny is I never even realized that a lot of the information being given in all the films in between was out of order. That didn't seem odd enough to me to make me realize something was wrong. Oh well. I suppose it doesn't matter. It's also sort of a relief in a weird way, as there's no goddamned Fernando or Virginia in this film! 

          Cerebro Del Mal begins strong with Santo being cornered and overpowered by three thugs. He puts up a fight, but they're just too much for him. Apparently a man in a suit with a chain is just too much for the greatest of all masked wrestlers. Incapacitated, Santo is hustled off by these goons to the secret lair of Dr. Campos, the central villain of our story. It is revealed that Campos has created a hypnotizing machine, allowing him to bend people to his will. He uses it on El Santo, turning him into a muscle bound goon, called in to do the heavy damage on those who would stand in Campos' way. Santo spends the better part of the first two acts in this state. to what end does this serve Campos? Well, its also revealed that Campos is a brilliant, celebrated scientist, only he has nothing to show for his own ingenuity beyond the hypnotizing machine, which he's used to steal the inventions and discoveries of his peers. His goons kidnaps these poor beautiful minds and Campos wills their secrets out of them. He probably cheated on his math tests in elementary school too, the bastard...

The diabolical Dr. Campos.

         Most of the movie is actually from Dr. Campos' perspective. There's sort of this Hispanic Vincent Price thing going on with him throughout the movie. The movie tries to justify his megalomania by explaining it as madness brought on by a massive workload, but it comes off more as laziness and greed on Campos' part, as the secrets he learns aren't used for personal glory so much as they're sold off to foreign countries for lots of money. Campos' doesn't seem to care who claims the discoveries for their own as long as he sees a payday from it.

Mandatory Mariachis!

          There's also a subplot involving his secretary Eliza and his growing jealousy over her and her relationship with one of his peers, but it doesn't really wash. This is the 50s, and Campos is a handsome dude. I've seen an episode or two of Madmen, so I know handsome guys in suits ALWAYS got to bang their secretaries in the 50s. Campos' machinations start to unwind on him in the end of the second act as he decides to have his men kidnap Eliza. Again, it doesn't make a lot of sense, since Santo is under his control and the police seem to have no clue he's behind all the scientist kidnappings. Why can't he woo Eliza with all the monies earned from his secret scumbaggery? Why can't he just hypnotize her with his fancy machine? Instead, she spends the second half of the movie guarded by Santo, who is now undercover, having been revived from his state of mind control. 

Friends forever!

           Santo recovered from that state half way through the movie, thanks to another masked wrestler. At first I thought this was the infamous Blue Demon, a rival and sometimes sidekick who is supposed to join Santo in later movies. I didn't find out until the very end that its some other clown called Incognito. Yup, that's his name. How lame is that? When he's shot and killed at the end by Campos, I was kinda glad, but not until after I learned he wasn't in fact Blue Demon. Incognito does a lot of the grunt work in this one. I guess he's the Federales second string masked wrestler, only called in when Santo is unavailable. It's Incognito who tracks down Santo and cures him of Campos' mind control, but not before the two have a no rules wrestling match in Campos' evil laboratory.  

Santo executing some parkour maneuvers.

           Overall, Cerebro Del Mal isn't too terrible a Santo movie. It has a strong villain, who actually manages to be both a psychological and physical match for Santo, as the final confrontation between the two is harrowing. Santo's ass is barely saved by the gunfire of his federales peers. It establishes him working with other masked wrestlers to bring about justice. The central gimmick to involve Santo in the plot doesn't make a lot of sense, but it is also a wrestling picture, and thus is probably not meant to be thought over in any great detail. 


Three Silver Masks out of a possible Five. 

Fun Fact:  There is a masked wrestler currently in the WWE named Incognito. There is no known relation.