‘I’ve told you already; the red switch is there to blow up the lab if we’re discovered.’
The daughter of renowned scientist Dr Frankenstein needs the blood of silver-masked wrestler El Santo, for her rejuvenation experiments. She kidnaps the sportsman’s girlfriend so she can lure him to her secret laboratory and plans to use the creatures she has created to subdue him…
It’s time to head south of the border again with everyone’s favourite luchador as he confronts yet another mad scientist in the name of truth, justice and the Mexican way. Showing no sign of slowing down after ten years and more than 30 movies, el Enmascarado de Plata teams up with new director Miguel M Delgado to deliver the usual mix of monsters, fights and fun in a surprisingly efficient package.
Freda Frankenstein (Gina Romand) has a pretty decent work ethic. She’s stitched together one creature from the parts of seven corpses, created another by injecting a man with gorilla blood and kept herself and her colleagues alive for centuries with an anti-ageing serum. But she’s got problems. Truxon, the gorilla-man, is reverting too far to his simian roots, cut and paste Ursus won’t get up off his slab, and she needs her rejuvenation serum more and more often as she’s been using it for a very long time.
It’s this last problem that’s the most pressing, but there’s a solution at hand. Many years earlier, the doctor was ringside at one of El Santo’s matches and managed to harvest a sample of the great man’s blood. On analysis, it proved to contain the TR Factor, a super healing element that aids in the restoration of damaged tissues. Romand believes she can use it to spice up her special serum and who can argue with that after we see him despatch Argentinian opponent El Toro in the square ring? It’s an impressive victory considering that the cheat slips on an iron ring and beats our hero with it. The referee does take it from him (eventually!) but doesn’t bother with a disqualification or anything like that. Hell, he doesn’t stop the fight for a few seconds to give the man in the silver mask a chance to recover! But, no matter, Santo is unstoppable and wins the bout, which was an elimination for some world title or other.
Being an evil fiend, rather than just asking El Santo for his help, Romand kidnaps his excitable girlfriend, Norma (Anel). She plans to lure the wrestler to her secret hideout and keep him in check with Ursus and Truxon (both played by Geraldo Zapeda) and her gang of henchmen, led by One-Eye (Carlos Suárez). El Santo races to the rescue, of course, accompanied by Anel’s bossy sister, Elsa (Sonia Fuentes) and the usual madcap mixture of action and grappling follows, accompanied by the inevitable exploding lab equipment.
The Santo series had descended into a well-worn and predictable formula by this point, and Delgado’s film, written by regular contributor Fernando Osés, rings very few changes to it. However, the film possesses an energy that’s quite a contrast to tired entries such as ‘Santo Faces Death/Santo frente a la muerte’ (1969) and the rather shabby (if hilarious) ‘Santo and the Blue Demon vs. the Monsters/Santo el enmascarado de plata y Blue Demon contra los monstruos’ (1970). Delgado gives the movie a very brisk pace, and there’s plenty of incident and action. Also, there’s a sense of decent production values here, with any budgetary limitations well concealed for a change. Interestingly enough, it’s one of only five entries in the series where El Santo himself has a producer’s credit.
One of the film’s main virtues is Romand’s performance as the mad medico. She’d already made an appearance in the series way back with a leading role in ‘Santo vs The Infernal Men/Santo contra hombres infernales’ (1961), one of the two films shot back to back in pre-revolutionary Cuba that kickstarted the whole franchise. Here, she seems to be revelling in the nastier aspects of her character. Having granted her followers a much-extended lifespan, she holds the withdrawal of the serum over their heads as the ultimate threat, keeping it from one of them as an example to the others. Of course, he ages rapidly and becomes an instant mummy, being interred upright in an open coffin beside the remains of others who had presumably displeased her. She even recruits new followers by administering her concoction to old men desperate to regain their youth. Rather than chew the scenery, she plays it entirely straight throughout and, although that means fewer laughs, it does give the drama more grounding than usual (if you can use that term about a Santo movie!)
Strangely enough, the film was thought lost for many years and only resurfaced around the Millenium. Director Delgado was a veteran filmmaker who had previously specialised in comedy but went on to take the megaphone for some of El Santo’s subsequent adventures: ‘Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dracula and the Wolf Man/Santo y Blue Demon vs Dracula y el Hombre Lobo’ (1973), ‘The Vengeance of the Crying Woman/La venganza de la llorona’ (1974) and ‘Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein/Santo y Blue Demon contra el doctor Frankenstein’ 1974). Screenwriter Osés has many ties to the series and was an ex-warrior of the square ring himself. He wrote and or acted in more than 20 of them and performed the same function for El Santo’s hombre, The Blue Demon, during his parallel movie career. Going further back, it was Osés who played masked hero La Sombra Vengadora (The Avenging Shadow) in a quartet of films in the early 1950s, which are generally regarded as paving the way for the whole Mexican Masked Wrestler movie phenomenon.
An entertaining 90 minutes in the company of everyone’s favourite silver-masked luchador. Yes, it ticks all the usual boxes in precisely the way you expect, but it has a lot of fun doing it and takes the audience along for the ride.