The Rider of the Skulls (El Charro de las Calaveras) (1965)

The Rider of the Skulls (1965)‘I don’t understand you. You’re as dumb as a mole.’

A masked cowboy rides the range dispensing vigilante justice with fists and six-gun. Outside a small village, he finds a werewolf lunching on a farmer, and gets involved with a local family who seem to be under particular threat from the beast. Further travels bring him face to face with a vampire and later on he encounters a headless horseman.

Silly horror western hybrid from the Mexican side of the border. Our hero is Dagoberto Rordiguez; a two-fisted masked avenger with a handkerchief wrapped around the lower part of his face. The first task on his superhero shopping list is to deal with a wolf man wearing a check shirt and a rubber joke shop mask. Old hairy seems very interested in one local family; specifically the wife and young teenage son. Hubby is apparently not on the menu but makes frequent trips to his sick-bed with ‘his pills’ instead, which is not suspicious at all. There’s also an endless succession of full moons which defy the laws of planetary physics and an old friend of the family to provide tiresome comedy relief. Luckily, there’s a cackling witch on hand to unravel the mystery, getting a recently interred corpse to sit up in its coffin and reveal the beast’s true identity. The revelation shocks our dimwitted hero but is no great surprise to any of the audience who are still reasonably sober and over the age of 5.

Case solved around the half hour mark and our hero blows town along with two new companions; the teenage boy and the tiresome comedy relief. A quick cut later and the Rider has donned a full head mask and the boy has a different face! According to the U.S. dub, the original lad has ‘gone off to school!’ Considering the jumbled and disjointed nature of proceedings, this looks very much like 3 episodes of a TV show edited down and spliced into a 90 minute film. The second ‘episode’ finds a strange-looking vampire with the ability to turn into a rubber bat at the flick of an editor’s scissors. There’s lots of ‘day for night’ shooting, fisticuffs and cheap SFX.

The Rider of the Skulls_(1965)

Bela had seen better days.

All through the film, I’d taken it for granted that this was a period piece but, suddenly in the Headless Horseman ‘segment’, we get modern motor cars and contemporary fashions. We also get a rubbery head in a box that talks! The Rider sorts it all out again– just so long as it doesn’t involve anything too cerebral then he’s fine!  Things have become rather predictable by this point and the execution is rather flat throughout.

Although this remains just an original idea that never develops, it’s one of the earliest mash-up of the western and horror genres. Similarly, the ‘monster of the week’ format was brilliantly revisited in the early 1970s by ‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker.’ That TV show had an episode featuring a headless motorcycle rider killing people with a bike chain. It was written by a young Robert Zemeckis, slightly better known these days as the director of the ‘Back to the Future’ (1985-1999) series, ‘Forrest Gump’ (1994) and ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ (1988). Was Zemeckis acquainted with ‘The Rider of the Skulls’? We’ll probably never know…


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