El pueblo fantasma (Ghost Town) (1965)

‘Where I put my eye…I put the bullet!’

A young cowboy is looking for information about his late father, hoping to discover evidence to contradict his reputation as a vicious bandit. Tracking one of his old gang down to a border town, he finds the residents in the grip of a much deadlier terror…

An offbeat amalgamation of Western and horror from Mexican director Alfredo B Crevenna. The film was apparently cut together from a three-episode television show, but, for once, the small scale and appropriate budget are a help, not a hindrance.

Manuel Saldívar Jr (Rodolfo de Anda) is a man on a mission. Sick of hearing stories all his life about his late father’s murderous deeds down on the border, he is determined to find evidence there to the contrary and set the record straight. Unfortunately, it’s an uphill battle; peasants sing corridas in the street detailing his old man’s crimes, and he has to travel as ‘El Texano’ rather than reveal his true identity.

Crossing the desert, he saves the life of ex-convict Néstor Ramírez (Carlos López Moctezuma), who is returning home to the border town where his family still live. When they arrive, the new friends find a community living in fear. Moctezuma is surprised to find that his old nemesis, the Rio Kid (Fernando Luján), is still in residence and that a steady stream of outlaws and bandits are still arriving to test his mettle. But what’s worse than that, the corpses of the defeated gunfighters vanish after death, and the locals believe that these dead men walk the streets at night.

Mixing the supernatural and the Old West on the big screen was hardly new by the mid-1960s. Real-life ‘ghost towns’ had provided atmospheric backdrops for many a Hollywood Western in the studio era, and some had even featured fantastical elements, although these were always explained away. However, Edward Dein’s surprisingly effective B-Film ‘Curse of the Undead’ (1959) delivered an actual gunslinging vampire, and the concept was familiar enough that in the next few years, John Carradine was cashing his paycheque from ‘Billy the Kid Versus Dracula’ (1966).

The action opens in the local saloon of Crevenna’s unnamed border town where fast gun El rapido (Jorge Russek) is chugging whiskey and out to make his reputation as the man who bested the famous Rio Kid (Luján). Unfortunately for him, Lujan has a hidden ally in the film’s editor, and one quick jump cut later, Russek has been outdrawn and is on a one-way trip to Boot Hill. The same fate also awaits the brutal Rivera Brothers, Hermano (José Chávez) and Atenógenes (Guillermo Hernández), but what has the townsfolk spooked is the regular disappearance of the corpses of Luján’s victims.

A couple of factors really assist the drama in Crevenna’s film. The first is the restraint that is evident throughout. Proceedings are low-key for the most part, perhaps dictated by the limited production resources available, but ensuring a somewhat grounded result. The word ‘vampire’ isn’t even mentioned until the final act, although the bloodsucker’s physical appearance is pretty laughable, with his prominent canines more accurately described as tusks rather than teeth! A little goofy it may be, but it’s still a welcome change from the usual dinner-suited, aristocratic Lugosi template almost exclusively favoured by Mexican horror cinema since the box-office breakout of Abel Salazar’s ‘El vampiro’ (1957).

The director also knows how to marshal his resources to their best effect. There are very few location shots, with most of the drama taking place on studio sets, but it’s all quite convincing except for a couple of out-of-town scenes in the desert. It helps that most of the action takes place after dark, of course, and Crevenna can wreathe the pueblo’s narrow streets in heavy, atmospheric shadows. It also helps that we have a quietly compelling performance by Luján, who exudes a sense of evil while being rather a small, physically unimposing man.

Some of the story elements are a little trite, though, with a completely pointless semi-romance between de Anda and Moctezuma’s pretty daughter, Marta (Elsa Cárdenas). Instead, the heroine’s duties are split with singer Carmen (Julissa), who travels with her father, blind guitarist Don Beto (Rubén Márquez). Their inclusion also allows for some musical numbers, including a couple of takes of the corrida about de Anda’s bandit father, which drives our somewhat uptight hero to distraction.

As is usually the case with Mexican horrors of the era, there is little to no production information available for the film beyond its apparent genesis as a TV show. The finished product partially bears out this assertion as probably being the case. The introduction of Julissa and Márquez is rather sudden, and the three musical numbers are all clustered together in the middle of the film, which throws off the pacing. There’s also a complete lack of information regarding the vampire’s origins and only a scant explanation of what happened to all those corpses. It’s possible that those issues were more fully addressed in the original show.

Intriguingly, the film also appears to be a sequel to a more straightforward Western called ‘El texano’ (1965), which featured much of the same cast. Although sources list Moctezuma, Russek, and Cárdenas in different roles, de Anda again played Manuel Saldívar Jr, and the prolific Alfredo Ruanova is credited as screenwriter on both projects. Given those credits, it’s likely the projects were filmed back-to-back. However, there’s no production information available to suggest the exact circumstances or if the former film also originally appeared on the small screen.

Crevenna was a workhouse of a director who delivered around 150 films in a career that lasted half a century. Along the way, he was involved in many interesting genre projects, inevitably some featuring legendary wrestler Santo, including ‘Santo vs. The Martian Invasion/Santo el Enmascarado de Plata vs’ La invasión de los marcianos’ (1967) and ‘The Beasts of Terror/Las Bestias del Terror/Santo Y Blue Demon En Las Bestias del Terror’ (1973). He first embraced science-fiction with the highly professional ‘Invisible Man in Mexico/El hombre que logró ser invisible’ (1958) and went on to deliver ‘Adventure In the Centre of the Earth/Aventura al centro de la tierra’ (1965). Space operas ‘Planetary Giants/Gigantes Planetarios’ (1966), and sequel ‘Planet of the Female Invaders/El planeta de las mujeres invasoras’ (1966) followed shortly afterward. Other horror projects included ‘Bring Me the Vampire/Échenme al vampiro’ (1963), ‘La huella macabra’ (1963), another tale of vampires written by Ruanova, and ‘La dinastía de Dracula’ (1980). He passed away in 1996 at the age of 82.

Of the cast, it’s Julissa who is likely to be best known to a modern audience. She was a rock singer and performer originally signed to the Mexican arm of CBS records. She was also successful in producing, directing and starring in many stage musicals, such as ‘Grease’, ‘The Boyfriend’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Show’. Most fans of genre films, though, will remember her for appearing in three of the infamous quartet of Mexican films Boris Karloff shot in 1969, which were completed after his death. Fortunately for her, she does not appear in ‘The Incredible Invasion’ (1971), which is undoubtedly the worst of the bunch.

Surprisingly effective, quiet little vampire movie, which is worth catching if you’re a fan of Mexican horror cinema.

The Beasts of Terror/Las Bestias del Terror/Santo Y Blue Demon En Las Bestias del Terror (1973)

‘Your energy and blood will be used to give life to that cadaver and so discover the mystery of the central neurons.’

A small-time criminal kidnaps the sister of a millionaire with the aid of his ruthless girlfriend. Unfortunately, they cross paths with a mad scientist who wants to use the women in his experiments with resurrecting the dead. An agent investigating the case calls on the assistance of famous luchadores El Santo and the Blue Demon…

Misleadingly named Lucha libre outing for our favourite wrestling crimefighters, Santo and the Blue Demon. Rather than tackle the monsters implied in the title, their mission here is to unravel a kidnapping plot, albeit complicated by the presence of a mad scientist and his somewhat obscure mission statement.

Pedro (Aropnio de Hud) is in a spot of bother. Owing a lot of money to crimelord, Lucky (Quintin Bulnes) isn’t a good idea if you can’t pay it back, and he’s only saved from having it taken out of his hide by the intervention of pistol-packin’ girlfriend, Nora (Elena Cárdenas). Together, the two plan to pay off by kidnapping blonde bombshell Susie (Alma Ferrari), sister of millionaire Laura (María Antonia del Río). She agrees to pay the ransom but engages top investigator Tony Carelli (César del Campo) to find her sibling.

All goes well for our modern-day bandits before they are undone by that most fickle twist of fate: the plot contrivance. Stopping at the roadside to take a leak, de Hud finds himself at the wrong end of a gun barrel wielded by Sandro (Fernando Osés), who is not only a henchman of mad scientist Professor Matthews (Victor Junco) but also used to be Bulnes’ right-hand man. It seems the good Prof’s corpse wagon has a flat just down the road after a late-night expedition to puck up some raw material. Junco likes what he sees and takes the unfortunate trio back to his boiler room laboratory. You have to feel sorry for Ferrari – kidnapped twice in one day!

Fortunately, del Campo has several aces up his sleeve; first, his girlfriend Alma (the statuesque Idania del Cañal) happens to dance at Bulnes’ cabaret. She’s good at eavesdropping and provides some helpful intel, which I suppose makes a change from her job, which seems to involve wriggling her hips a little when the club is empty, which, apparently, is all the time! Better still, de Campo is on friendly terms with both Blue Demon and El Santo, and both are happy to help out, although old Silver Mask does seem a bit busy with other things.

This is an unusual hybrid of the two genres most associated with Lucha libre films and emerges as a pretty standard crime thriller with a few outlandish elements. Most of the run time is taken up with de Campo playing detective (his official status is never really established), aided from time to time by the muscles and brains of our grappling heroes. Switch out Junco’s scientist for a crime boss, and it would make little difference to the story development. His experiments are almost incidental and cheerfully vague; they involve bringing beautiful young women back from the dead by infusing them with the life force of living girls. The resulting zombies have no memory, are obedient to his will and therefore can be sold on to a sinister man in a turban. Yes, our mad scientist is not planning world domination apparently, just sex trafficking with corpses.

In line with this development, which is covered in a couple of brief scenes, the film attempts to adopt a more adult (i.e. sleazy) tone at times. Junco lusts after Cárdenas, having her whipped by Osés before declaring his undying devotion to her. His deformed assistant also feels frisky, but the object of his attention is Ferrari, and she has to play up to him as part of an escape plan. Add to this the fact that both actresses are in hot pants throughout, and director Alfredo B. Crevenna chooses to end the first scene with an unapologetic zoom into Cárdenas’ chest area, and you get the idea. Neither Santo nor Blue Demon is involved in any of that, of course, but producers were making a conscious effort to try and broaden Santo’s appeal since the late 1960s and were attempting to target a more mature audience.

The film also demonstrates why Blue Demon fostered a bitter resentment towards his silver-masked colleague. Once again, he gets more screen time but is portrayed as incapable of resolving anything without the great man’s help. Early on, the clueless de Campo walks into a trap and is beaten up by the crime lord’s goons, but, never fear, Blue has his back. Only there are too many of them for him, and he gets the tar kicked out of him too until – you guessed it – Santo arrives like the proverbial cavalry and drives the thugs away. Seconds later, he blithely announces he’s off to get a plane to Mexico, leaving the picture for most of the second act and dumping the whole mess into Blue’s lap. Thanks, mate! Of course, he returns for the climax because God knows you can’t trust Blue to resolve anything without his help. Also, despite far less screentime, we see Santo in the ring twice and Blue only once. These sequences are pretty obviously real matches edited in because of the difference in picture quality and the fact that, during Blue’s bout, a title card pops up announcing the second round!

Osés, a former wrestler himself, not only appeared as Sandro but wrote the screenplay (as he did for many of these films) and served as executive producer. Cárdenas, who appeared with Elvis in ‘Fun In Acapulco’ (1963), guest-starred on Ron Ely’s ‘Tarzan’ TV show and had a small role in Sam Peckinpah’s ‘The Wild Bunch’ (1969), was also a familiar face in the series. She had leading parts in ‘Santo Faces Death/Santo frente a la muerte’ (1969), ‘Santo vs. The Vice Mafia/Santo contra la mafia del vicio’ (1971) and ‘The Mummies of Guanajuato/Las momias de Guanajuato’ (1972). In 1973 alone, she appeared in two further entries before switching to television, where she enjoyed a highly successful career of more than four decades. Mad scientist Junco starred in one of the films that started it all; ‘El enmascarado de plata’ (1954), which was originally intended as Santo’s big-screen debut. Of course, he also turned up in several other legitimate entries in the series and alongside Blue Demon in a couple of his solo ventures.

Unsurprisingly, director Crevenna was also closely tied to the series and had a long career in Mexican fantastic cinema anyway, taking a bow with the surprisingly sober ‘Invisible Man In Mexico’ (1959). Before his first assignment with the man in the silver mask, he worked with rival luchador Neutron in a series that included the wonderfully titled ‘Neutron Battles the Karate Assassins’ (1965). His science fiction pedigree also included ‘Adventure at the Centre of the Earth’ (1965) and ‘Planet of the Female Invaders’ (1966), but he’s best remembered for his work with El Santo and some of Blue Demon’s solo outings. These included the much loved ‘Santo vs The Martian Invasion/Santo el Enmascarado de Plata vs ‘La invasión de Los marcianos’ (1967) and ‘Blue Demon Versus the Infernal Brains/Blue Demon contra cerebros infernales’ (1966).

A rather makeweight entry in the series but enjoyable nonetheless, although the title is inaccurate unless you want to apply it to our two grappling heroes!

Santo y la Tigresa en el águila real/Santo and the Tigress in ‘The Royal Eagle’ (1973)

‘Let’s see if the wrestlers have as good stomachs as the biceps.’

After two attempts on her life, the wealthy owner of a prosperous hacienda calls on famous wrestler Santo for help. She suspects a rival landowner is behind the plot, but as the man in the silver mask investigates, he begins to suspect that the culprit may be closer to home…

As a welcome break from fighting vampires, extraterrestrials, and the like, famous luchador El Santo occasionally faced off against more commonplace opposition. This vehicle finds him running down a murder plot under the safe guidance of veteran series director Alfredo B Crevenna.

Times have been tough of late for ranch owner Irma Morales (Irma Serrano). After the recent death of her brother, with whom she’d inherited the hacienda from their late father, she’s almost joined him after a brake failure on a mountain road. Sabotage seems to have been involved, and her status as a walking target is confirmed when she has to dodge a couple of bullets. Fortunately, a quick telegram brings her father’s old friend, famous wrestler El Santo, who brings assistant Carlitos (Carlos Suárez) along for the ride. Serrano suspects the culprit is one of the neighbouring rancheros and is particularly suspicious of the arrogant Manuel Villafuerte (Jorge Lavat). Her only protection until now has been her pet eagle, also called ‘Serrano’ in an obvious in-joke.

As Santo and Suárez settle in, the latter is quickly enamoured with maid Alicia (Dacia González), despite the fact she seems to be firmly in the sights of ranch foreman Raymundo (Juan Gallardo). Also on hand are hunchback Alejandro (Jorge Patiño) and his wife Felisa (Inés Murillo), who were particular favourites of Serrano’s late father. Santo doesn’t like the wine’s fragrant bouquet that night at dinner and gives it to the housecat instead. It’s poisoned, of course, and the unfortunate moggy takes a one-way ticket to the pet cemetery. The next day Serrano is thrown from her horse when out riding, thanks to a dart fired from a blowgun. Later, she wakes up to find that she’s sharing a bed with a large, poisonous snake. By then, Santo has also tangled with a giant wild man (Domingo Bazán), who is actually getting the better of our hero before the eagle intervenes.

If it seems that our mysterious villains are remarkably single-minded in the pursuit of their murderous intrigue, then the explanation is simple. It’s almost the entire plot. There’s an attempt on Serrano’s life; she survives thanks to Santo; rinse and repeat. There’s also some aggro with the cowboys that work on Lavat’s ranch, Santo fighting in a tag-team charity match at the local arena and some vaguely sexist comedy courtesy of Suárez. Apart from that, there’s lots of local colour. This includes a big party at the hacienda, a visit to the state fair and a public cockfight. Yes, you read that correctly; a public cockfight. It’s not presented graphically, but it was probably real given the practical difficulties of faking such an enterprise for the cameras.

Unfortunately, the cockfight isn’t the only instance of animal cruelty in the film. Serrano’s pet eagle is stuffed roughly into a bag, and our heroine bags a rabbit when out shooting. The worst instance occurs during the flashback showing her brother’s death. He meets his end, tumbling down a steep gorge with his horse. Now, it’s impossible to say whether they used a real animal or not; it could have been a mockup of some kind, but if so, it was a remarkably good one. If it was flesh and blood, though…well, no horse is getting up after that. It seems scant consolation to note that the cat’s apparent immobility after drinking the poisoned wine was most likely down to laziness rather than anything more sinister. All this is an unpleasant surprise, given the lack of similar incidents in Santo’s other films and Mexican cinema in general.

The best thing about the cockfight sequence (now there’s a sentence I never expected to write) is the preamble which features Serrano and Lavat’s wife Paloma (Soledad Acosta) hurling insults at each other via the medium of song. These brief back and forth exchanges are delivered with lung-busting power and signpost the way to Serrano’s later solo number, a love song directed at Santo during the hacienda party. Songs were nothing new to the films of El Santo or Mexican genre cinema in general, and they are far better integrated here with the story than usual.

However, the film’s main issue is that the mystery element feels a little out of place, perhaps because Crevenna presents the region’s everyday life in such a natural, unforced manner. Giant wild man Bazán also bests Santo on both occasions they meet, and the great man is off camera during the climactic resolution. This may have been part of the more realistic tone the film seems to have targeted, but it’s hardly likely to satisfy fans.

Serrano was born into wealth and privilege in 1933 and defied her parents to pursue an artistic career. She began as a dancer, but her powerful voice won a contract with Columbia Records in 1962. Success followed almost immediately, and she quickly became one of Mexico’s most celebrated exponents of folk music’s ranchera and corrido genres. At the same time, she was pursuing a second career as a film actress, making her screen debut in a significant supporting role in ‘Santo Contra Los Zombies/The lnvasion of the Zombies’ (1962). In the late 1960s, she starred in her own comic book as ‘Le Tigresa’ (‘The Tigress’) and adopted the name professionally. Around this time, rumours suggested that she was having an affair with married Mexican president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, a fact she confirmed in her autobiography many years later. The story goes that when he finally broke it off after five years, she slapped him so hard the blow detached one of his retinas.

Film projects became less frequent in the 1970s as she bought a theatre and concentrated on stage work, producing, starring and sometimes co-writing and directing a series of highly popular productions. These included Emile Zola’s ‘Naná’, which ran for four years from 1973 and caused significant controversy because of its erotic content. Although success continued throughout the 1980s, Serrano left showbusiness to pursue a political career and was elected to the Mexican Senate in 1994, where she served four years. She’s rarely been out of the newspapers since, thanks to a series of relationships with young actors, accusations of property fraud, lawsuits, and a high-profile arrest in 2009 for supposedly waving a gun around and threatening to kill someone. In 2004, she became a mother for the first time using a surrogate and frozen sperm from ex-lover businessman Alejo Peralta who had passed away six years earlier.

Not one of Santo’s more memorable adventures but one of his best in terms of filmmaking quality. Not for animal lovers, though.

Adventure In the Centre of the Earth/Aventura al centro de la tierra (1965)

Adventure In the Centre of the Earth:Aventura al centro de la tierra (1965)‘When the substance enters a body it makes a big sleep.’

A top scientist and a crack group of experts investigate an underground cave system after a young couple from a tourist party are attacked by a strange creature. The deeper they penetrate the underground caverns, the more evidence they find that evolution there has taken a different path…

Black and white underground monster shenanigans from Mexican director Alfredo B Crevenna as a team of scientists tangle with some rather odd examples of subterranean evolution. Human conflicts within the group also conspire to cause disaster in an adventure that never strays too far from a juvenile feel but features some surprisingly gory moments.

What could be better than a 90-second text crawl providing some generalised (and vague) information about Darwinian theory? A conducted tour of a system of vast underground caverns, of course. Even better is sneaking off from the tourist party for a bit of hanky panky. Unfortunately, the romantic plans of the young lovers in question come unglued when they fall through a hole in the rock floor. Then the man has his throat ripped out by the claws of a mysterious, unseen creature. The woman is rescued afterwards but is too traumatised to tell her story. The only evidence left behind at the scene is a strange animal footprint and, rather than have the matter investigated by the police, it falls to portly zoologist Professor Diaz (Jose Elias Moreno) to take on the job.

Adventure In the Centre of the Earth:Aventura al centro de la tierra (1965)

‘I that’s your hand, I’ll knock your block off!’

Moreno assembles the usual ragtag crew to take on the mission. There’s his pretty assistant Hilda (Kitty de Hoyos), lead geologist Laura Ponce (Columba Dominguez), her writer buddy Dr Rios (Javier Solis), handsome young doctor Pena (Carlos Cortes), the famous hunter and spelunker Jaime Rocha (David Reynoso) and some assorted expendable red shirts. These characters are drawn in typically broad strokes with little shading or development. Of course, it’s not that kind of a movie but a few personality traits as well the all-too-familiar roles of ‘boffin’, ‘young hero’, ‘pretty heroine’ and ‘greedy villain’ etc. might have helped us care a little more about their respective fates.

To prepare his team for what they might face, Morena presents a film show which includes ‘a number of known species from the zoological ladder, but strange in some way.’ This turns out to be our old friends the fighting lizards from ‘One Million BC’ (1940) ending their long career in the movies as stock footage heroes by taking a trip to the backwaters of low-budget Mexican cinema. We also get some cave men from that movie plus a shot of the arthritic Tyrannosaurs from ‘Unknown Island’ (1948). In the English subtitles, Morena never provides any explanation for the origin of these clips, leaving the audience unclear as to whether this is supposed to be some kind of (inaccurate) recreation of prehistoric life, or whether the film camera was invented a few million years ago.

Adventure In the Centre of the Earth:Aventura al centro de la tierra (1965)

‘I’m looking for this guy named Sinbad…?’

Initial penetration into the cave system seems uneventful until de Hoyos wanders off on her own to take some photographs and almost falls into a pit of snakes. What they are doing there isn’t explained, but it’s ok because our heroes douse them with gasoline and burn them alive. They were obviously a clear and present danger being at the bottom of a pit one hundred feet deep. After all, why respect all forms of animal life when you can just kill them instead? Meanwhile, Dominguez has recognised that the caves are a potential diamond mine of limitless potential and shares her knowledge with Solis. He wants to report it to the authorities, but she persuades him to keep it quiet with the promise of fringe benefits to follow. Unfortunately, their conversation is overheard by the slimy Reynoso, which puts the couple on borrowed time.

The Professor starts to believe that evolution has taken a different path in the caves, but it’s kind of hard to understand how these local conditions would have produced a cyclops! Yes, it’s a one-eyed human/monster hybrid that attacks the group, and kills one of the red shirts when it’s chased deeper into the caverns. The group then spend a lot of the film’s running time tracking it down, although it’s unclear whether they are doing it for scientific purposes or just to kill it in revenge. Given this bunch, my money’s on the latter. After they fail to gas it, they decide to blow it up with some dynamite! The Professor sets the charges, and everyone seems perfectly happy with the idea, despite the obvious risk of everyone being buried alive in a massive cave-in. I guess it just goes to show that if you need to blow something up safely, then get a Professor of Zoology to do it.

Adventure In the Centre of the Earth:Aventura al centro de la tierra (1965)

It never rains but it pours.

Morena seems very determined to reach ‘the centre of the Earth’ to solve these mysteries but, as the group hasn’t thought to bring along any specialist breathing apparatus, his mission seemed destined for failure from the start. However, with about 25 minutes of the movie left, they find the ruins of a lost civilisation and are attacked by a humanoid bat creature. So there is that. They’ve already killed the cyclops by this point, of course, because that’s what scientists do. They’ve also gone hand over hand across a river of burning lava because these are one hardcore bunch of academics. Even Morena makes it over the fiery chasm, but, of course, one of the red shirts has to fall in to reinforce the seriousness of the obstacle.

In an entirely predictable development, the bat-man takes a fancy to de Hoyos and takes her on a date. However, the evening’s menu of live rats and half a big snake fail to charm the pretty brunette. She tries to bail, eventually being rescued by the clean-cut Cortes who has a magic gun that still works after a trip through an underground river. Morena has gone for help by this point and returns in five minutes flat with what looks like half the army. He persuades de Hoyos to set herself up as bait to trap the bat-man because of its scientific value to humanity as ‘a missing link.’ A missing link to what exactly I have no idea. But it doesn’t matter too much because when it shows up, everyone just shoots at it anyway.

Adventure In the Centre of the Earth:Aventura al centro de la tierra (1965)

‘You mean I’m in the wrong film?!’

This all has the potential to be a lot of cheesy fun, but, unfortunately, there are long stretches where not much happens. Some rocks do fall on Morena’s head at one point, which I particularly enjoyed as payback for his reckless endangerment by dynamite. The bat creature is particularly fine too, with close-ups, mid and long shots all being completely mismatched. In-flight, it’s a ramshackle miniature, and on the cave floor, it’s a man in a rather shabby looking monster suit. But it’s in the close-ups that the monster really scores. The makeup is quite well done, with staring eyes, tall ears and jagged fangs. Unfortunately, the blurred backgrounds in these shots appear to be part of an indoor set, including a glimpse of what seem to be some metal stairs?! So it’s almost certain that the footage has been cropped in from another (unidentified) film.

Crevenna had a very long film career wielding the megaphone, and this inevitably included some choice cult items. His introduction to the arena was via ‘Invisible Man In Mexico’ (1958), a highly respectable, sober effort that adhered rather slavishly to the standard HG Wells template. Subsequent projects such as ‘The Incredible Face of Dr. B/Rostro Infernal’ (1963), ‘Bring Me the Vampire/Échenme al vampiro’ (1963) and ‘Neutron Battles the Karate Assassins/Los asesinos del karate’ (1965) may have exhibited fewer resources and technical expertise, but a greater level of enjoyment. This was all just grounding, however, for better-known cult items such as ‘Gigantes planetarios/Planetary Giants'(1966), its’ sequel ‘Planet of Female Invaders/El planeta de las mujeres invasoras’ (1966) and, perhaps his best-known picture ‘Santo vs The Martian Invasion’ (1967). Many further film projects involving the man in the silver mask followed, including his final big-screen outings in the early 1980s. Crevenna continued working almost right up to his death in 1996, racking up an impressive 152 feature credits.

There are some moments of genuine enjoyment to be had here, even if they do come from the project’s obvious shortcomings. Unfortunately, there are a lot of dead spots too, particularly early on, which tend to make it a bit of a plod at times but it’s worth seeking out if for fans of Mexican cult cinema.

Planetary Giants/Gigantes Planetarios (1966)

Gigantes Planetarios/Planetary Giants (1966)‘As we imagined, the gorilla throws messy bangs.’

A race of humanoid aliens carry out acts of sabotage on planet Earth prior to a full scale invasion. A heroic scientist infiltrates their covert forces, and finds himself en route via rocketship to the alien homeworld. Can he and his companions possibly stop their dastardly plan?

Dreary black and white Mexican space opera from director Alfredo B Crevenna that roughly follows the story template of the original ‘Flash Gordon’ (1936) with Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe. Yes, Earth is being threatened by an extra-terrestrial dictator, yes, an eccentric old scientist has built a starship in his back yard, and yes, our square-jawed hero takes it to the stars to fight the aliens on their home turf. So far so good, but the outlandish qualities of that movie serial are notable by their absence here. As is the fun.

Top science bloke Daniel Wolf (Guillermo Murray) is a worried man. A series of flying saucer sightings seem to be linked with the mysterious deaths of esteemed colleagues and disasters at important installations. It’s so bad that he advises some people at some meeting or other that they need to consult with renegade egghead Professor Walter (Mario Orea). This does not meet with general approval; Orea’s claims that he’s been in communication with the ‘planet of eternal night’ for many years have made him an inappropriate guest at many a scientific conference and ritzy dinner party.

Gigantes Planetarios/Planetary Giants (1966)

‘Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?’

Nevertheless Murray and secretary/love interest Silvia (Adriana Roel) seek him out, and not only find that he can prove his claims but that he has designed detailed plans for an interplanetary rockstship! The aliens want this technology, however, and, in the blink of a rather large ray gun, Orea is reduced to a puff of smoke.

At Roel’s suggestion, Murray reinvents himself as a feckless playboy, hoping to entice the aliens to recruit him as an inside man. It’s such a brilliant plan that Murray is approached by off world femme fatale Mara (Jacqueline Fellay) the first time he steps into a nightclub! Told you it was brilliant! Murray agrees to hand over the rocketship plans for a wedge of cash, but the exchange goes terribly wrong when the alien’s envoy ends up getting fried in a bathtub. Ooops.

It’s then we find out that Orea didn’t just have the blueprints for a rocketship, he’d actually built it! How a discredited scientist managed to do this is not really addressed. So it’s up to Murray to go off planet to deal with evil potentate The Guardian (José Gálvez). It shouldn’t be too difficult, except his crack, trained crew of astronauts comprises girlfriend Roel (who has stowed away in the most predictable plot development ever) and heavyweight boxing champion Marcos Godoy (Rogelio Guerra) and his manager Taquito Rey (José Ángel Espinosa ‘Ferrusquilla’) who have replaced the original crew by mistake in a plot twist that is visible from several light years away.

Gigantes Planetarios/Planetary Giants (1966)

‘Mr Creosote knew he was going to finish last on Come Dine With Me.’

And here’s where the film starts to have real problems. Up until the point that the mismatched quartet leave the Earth, it’s been pretty underwhelming stuff. Not noticeably bad, but not very interesting either. However, when the spaceflight begins, everything grinds to a halt. Guerra and Espinosa provide some lame comedy (which sets alarm bells ringing), Murray has to go on a spacewalk to repair some technical do-berry thing on the outside of the ship and the audience begins to start thinking about putting the dinner on and walking the dog.

It’s not much better when they reach the alien world. Our heroes needn’t have bothered with spacesuit helmets as they just pop the visors as soon as they step outside without even making a pretence of testing the atmosphere. Every time they need to disguise themselves as one of the aliens the uniforms fit perfectly, and there’s no problem in dealing with these pesky beings anyway, as all they’re armed with is short swords! Yes, they all wear togas too, and the planet seems to have been designed by someone with an obsession for Doric Columns. Couldn’t be leftover sets from some historical Greek or Roman drama, could it?

Gigantes Planetarios/Planetary Giants (1966)

‘I’m worried we won’t be able to cope with their short sword technology.’

Gálvez is no Ming the Merciless either; cheerfully sharing his plans with our heroes and showing them his big ray gun so they can use it against him later on. One good aspect is that Guerra and Espinosa don’t turn out to be the usual comic buffoons we expect them to be (the former actually gets to do a lot of the heroic stuff) but saying that a film is not quite as bad as it might have been is not really all that much of a complement.

Crevenna had a long and active career in Mexican cinema, handling lots of different genres while running up a truly amazing 151 directorial credits! There were romantic dramas (‘Forbidden Fruit’ (1953)), other science fiction projects (‘Invisible Man In Mexico’ (1958) and ‘Adventure at the Centre of the Earth’ (1965)), and horrors (‘Bring Me The Vampire’ (1963) and ‘The Whip Against Satan’ (1979)). He also seems to have specialised in wrestling films, sitting in the canvas chair for half a dozen of Santo’s cinematic adventures, including ‘Santo El Enmascarado De Plata Vs. ‘La lnvasion De Los Marcianos’/ Santo Vs The Martians’ (1967) and the masked man’s final film ‘The Fist of Death’ (1982). He’d already cut his teeth on several similar outings back in the 1960s that featured one of the iconic grappler’s main rivals in ‘Neutron vs. The Maniac’ (1964) and the brilliantly-titled ‘Neutron Battles The Karate Assassins’ (1965).

Despite its shortcomings, the film must have met with some level of success as it got a quick sequel. Murray, Roel, Guerra and Espinosa all repeated their roles in the similarly themed ‘Planet of The Female Invaders’ (1966), again for director Crevenna. This was a far more interesting production, although in some respects it was just a rehash of this film. But the wonderful Lorena Velásquez’s alien queen made a far more deadly antagonist than the blustering Gálvez and both action and plot were far livelier.

‘Another flying saucer in Patagonia!’ screams a newspaper headline at one point. If only the film were half as interesting as that sounds. A dull slog.

Planet of the Female Invaders/El planeta de las mujeres invasoras (1966)

Planet_of_The_Female_Invaders_(1966)‘Only the oldest die, the children will live.’

A young boxer throws a fixed fight and he and his girlfriend are chased to a local fairground by the mob boss and his henchmen. The pursuit ends on a spaceship ride run by two women in silver dresses and pointy hats. Rather surprisingly, it turns out that the ride is real and everyone is whisked off to a low budget alien planet populated by women only.

Mexican Science Fiction comedy drama, which attempts a slightly more serious tone than usual amidst the inevitable tin foil trappings, and was a sequel to ‘Gigantes Planetarios/Planetary Giants (1966). The evil alien queen wants humans for their lungs due to oxygen-related difficulties! However, if there’s one thing that movies have taught us it’s that when there are twins involved one will be good and one will be evil. So, it is here, with her nice twin sister opposing the plan, and lobbying for a more peaceful solution.

The best news here by some distance is that these alien twins are played by the gorgeous and talented Lorena Velásquez. Her queen is haughty and imperious; her sister sweet and evanescent. Velasquez also played ‘Gloria Venus’ in the ‘Wrestling Women’ series, and there’s even better news for the audience because her tag team partner Elisabeth Bennett (‘The Golden Rubi’) is also here! She plays one of the Queen’s agents on Earth, although she doesn’t get much of a chance to shine. Also there’s no opportunity for the women to show off their grappling skills.

If audiences can ignore the Velásquez factor (not easy!) there’s not a great deal else to get excited about anyway. The film is slow, talky and the plot is paper thin. The alien world is the usual mixture of an old quarry and a few sparsely decorated rooms and corridors in the alien ‘city’. Back on Earth, the Queen’s agents fall out as Campbell begins to have qualms about their mission. The ‘comedy’ is mainly provided by chief gangster, who keeps walking into doors. Rather surprisingly, it’s not even funny the first time.


She hadn’t quite figured out how to use human vehicles.

The story is predictable and hopelessly contrived. Production values aren’t high and there’s no real build up to the rather half-hearted finale. The film also lacks the skewed ‘anything goes’ mentality of many Mexican science fiction and horror pictures of the era. It might just as well have been a straight remake of a generic American movie from the 1950s, such as the gloriously dumb ‘Cat Women of the Moon’ (1954) or the Zsa Zsa Gabor stinker ‘Queen of Outer Space’ (1958)

However, it is an improvement on the previous film, which was a weary trudge through a sub ‘Flash Gordon’ (1936) adventure without any of the fun or cheesy style. Several of the cast return here, including Guillermo Murray as heroic scientist Daniel Wolf, Adriana Roel as his girlfriend, and Rogelio Guerra and José Ángel Espinosa ‘Ferrusquilla’ bring the (banal) comedy. The delightful Maura Monti is also featured. 

But this is Velásquez’s show, as she easily eclipses the rest of the cast and effortlessly rises above the unremarkable material with her dual portrayal. We get the cruel ice queen in a long silver dress, and her goody two shoes sister in a much shorter one that shows plenty of leg. I’m sold.

Slightly lame shiny space adventure with the benefit of a leading lady who deserved much better.

Invisible Man in Mexico/El hombre que logró ser invisible (1958)

Invisible Man In Mexico (1958)Vibrates you with the most strange and violent emotion!

A scientist is wrongly convicted of murdering his partner and sentenced to life in prison. Luckily, his brother has been working on a formula for invisibility and, after a prison visit, the innocent man escapes and sets about uncovering the conspiracy and finding the real killer.

Mexican cinema of the 1950s and 1960s always tends to get noticed for some of its more outrageous output, particularly those films involving silver-masked wrestler Santo, or the wonderful Aztec Mummy. This is mainly due to the efforts of legendary film distributor K Gordon Murray, who dubbed the films into English and released them north of the border. But that wasn’t the whole story, and the proof is here with this well-mounted, professional take on the H.G.Wells’ tale of the ‘things that man must leave alone.’

Simply, it’s a remake of Universal’s ‘The Invisible Man Returns’ (1940), where a young Vincent Price found himself in a similar predicament to our hero here, played by well-respected Mexican actor Arturo de Cordova. It’s a serious drama that respects its source material (both literary and cinematic), throwing in the same creeping madness that derailed Claude Rains in the original ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933).

Invisible Man In Mexico (1958)

He’d had better days…

The names in front and behind the camera were top flight in the local industry at the time and the talent is evident throughout. The SFX are decent for the time too; footprints appear, cigarettes are smoked, cushions sink and test animals fade to skeletons in the best Hollywood time lapse tradition. De Cordova making himself visible by slathering his face in makeup reminded me of the 1970s TV show with David McCallum.

The film is well acted, with some effort made to display credible emotional crises, as well as the more outlandish details of the tale. The real problem here is that it’s nothing new and, without a fresh take on the idea, it remains a resolutely average way to spend 90 minutes, even though it’s efficiently delivered by director Alfredo B Crevenna.

A reasonable entry in the Invisible Man’s long catalogue.