‘Careful, daughter, that is a very dangerous substance.’
A mysterious killer targets victims vital to the nation’s economy, and the head of National Security is told to bring legendary wrestling crimefighter Santo into the case. However, before he can begin his investigation, the agency’s private television network is hacked by a man claiming responsibility and demanding ten million dollars in gold bars…
After his last few movie outings battling the dark forces of the supernatural, headhunters and undead mummies, it was time for the Man in the Silver Mask to get back to fighting aliens. In a career of more than fifty films, Mexico’s most famous real-life wrestler favoured crime lords and monsters of horror more than he did extraterrestrials. However, when he jumped into the science-fiction arena, it was usually worth the price of admission. But not always for the right reasons.
National Security Chief O’Connor (Marco Antonio Campos) is not having the best of days. A wave of murders in the capital has claimed the lives of four citizens, one a John Doe, but the other victims are essential to the economic wellbeing of the country. His superiors demand that he call in Santo, whose first request is to see the autopsy reports. Campos is happy to oblige and sends secretary Sonia Fuentes to get them. Rather than stay with our two principals, the camera follows her down the corridor instead. She goes into an office and picks up the files from a table. Then she brings them all the way back again and hands them to O’Connor. She doesn’t interact with anyone on the way, and the sequence is entirely pointless. But it does add a precious 30 seconds to the running time!
However, Santo and Campos don’t have time to sit around and chat. The agency’s broadcast frequency gets hacked, and here’s the villainous Malkosh (Carlos Agostí) appearing on the TV with his demands. Ten million in gold bars, or the killings will continue. Neither Santo nor Campos goes for it, and the 24-hour deadline expires without incident. Then top scientist Dr Chamberlain (Carlos Hennings), his daughters and lab technicians are wiped out in another incident. The government decides to pay up, and the ransom is sent via cargo plane to a remote airstrip. However, Santo is hidden on board and plans to surprise the villain when the plane lands.
Santo’s cinematic adventures were never known for their high production values, but the sudden descent into the territory of the micro-budget here is genuinely terrifying. Agostí’s pet alien killer is brilliantly portrayed by some extras or crew members flailing about under a dirty tarpaulin. Yes, it looks exactly as bad as it sounds. The last time the Earth was in such peril was when students under an old carpet menaced humankind as ‘The Creeping Terror’ (1964). And the creature is front and centre from almost the first moment of the film. Director Rubén Galindo doesn’t even bother to have it lurk in the shadows, mitigate the effect of its shoddy appearance with some clever camera angles or just keep it off-screen for a while. Nope. This is it. This is our monster. Live with it.
There are some other wonderfully bonkers examples of bad movie hilarity too. The ten million dollars of gold bars are portrayed by a stack of mismatched grey boxes in the cargo plane fuselage. If we let that pass, I’m still worried about how Agostí intends to move them, given that all he has at his disposal are three minions and a family car! I hate to think what those bars will do to the suspension. Still, the vehicle is handy as Santo runs into it and gets knocked out, waking up to face Agostí seated on a golden throne! Our villain proposes a challenge instead of killing the great man when he’s unconscious. Because, of course, he does. Combat against three mighty warriors that Agostí conjures out of thin air with the push of a button. Nice tech, Agostí!
Santo defeats the first two, both musclemen armed with various gladiatorial weapons. More issues arise with the third one, though, who turns out to be a bloke in a hazmat suit wielding a flame thrower! Kudos to the great man for this scene, as the jets of flame look like they get mighty close on occasion, and I doubt health and safety were the production’s greatest priority. It’s also worth asking exactly where this combat sequence is supposed to be taking place. The ground looks like gravel and sand, and we see what appear to be stars in the night sky. However, if it’s meant to be outside, it would probably have been an idea not to have Agostí and his minions close to the painted backdrop. Big shadows thrown across the sky tend to make it look a little bit like an inside wall.
Eventually, we discover that the monster is the creation of Dr Bernstein (Carlos Suárez), whose experiments on a lunar rock sample activated dormant micro-organisms resembling soap suds. Some of the rock falls into the hands of Suárez’s right-hand man, Boris Licur (Juan Gallardo), who explains very clearly to his pretty blonde lab assistant (Patricia Borges) that the germs will reactivate if exposed to air. As soon as he leaves the room, she removes the cover for no apparent reason and turns her back on it to do some sciency stuff at a bench. Smart move! The soap suds are on the march again. We don’t see them transform into a tarp, though, which is disappointing.
There are a few other things worth mentioning. Santo works out Gallardo’s secret location from the types of shoes one of his henchmen wears. We get one of the worst’ dummy falling from a building’ effects you could wish for, and composer Chucho Zarzosa peppers the soundtrack with random electronic noises whenever he feels like it. There are also enough examples of flagrant time-wasting to earn a dozen yellow cards from a FIFA referee. Finally, there’s a scene where Santo escapes from a room filled with empty cardboard boxes that very nearly outsmart him. He repeatedly tugs at a half-open door, not realising that one of the half-squashed cartons is caught behind it. Come on, Mr Director, couldn’t you afford just one retake?
Rubén Galindo co-wrote this film and sat in the director’s seat, and it’s a little surprising to find that he had quite a long career in both roles, stretching from the early 1970s to the mid-90s. He even crossed paths with the star again, co-helming the far better ‘Santo vs the She-Wolves/Santo vs. las lobas’ (1976). On writing duty on both projects was Ramón Obón, who enjoyed an extensive association with Mexican cult cinema, beginning with Julián Soler’s portmanteau horror ‘Panic/Pánico’ (1966). Projects in a similar vein followed, some of which attracted American star John Carradine, such as ‘Diabolical Pact/Pacto diabólico’ (1969) and ‘The Death Woman/La señora Muerte’ (1969). His association with the wrestlers of Lucha libre ran in the family as his father had created the character of masked superhero La Sombra Vengadora (The Avenging Shadow) for a movie serial in 1954. This fictional persona was adopted, with a slight costume change, by real-life wrestler Rayo de Jalisco.
It’s a little sad to see Santo reduced to such a poverty-stricken effort, but its entertainment value cannot be denied. Essential viewing for fans of the great man.