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. 

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