Museum of Horror/Museo del horror (1964)

‘I’m learning that God made a mistake in attaching tongues to women.’

A mysterious figure dressed in black abducts a young woman walking home at night. The police are baffled by her disappearance, the latest in a series of such incidents. Their attention becomes focused on the residents of a local boarding house and a former actor who now runs an unusual museum close by…

Elements of the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Wax Museum’s horror combine in this black and white Mexican picture directed by genre mainstay Rafael Baledón. There’s also a significant ‘whodunnit?’ vibe as screenwriter José María Fernández Unsáin presents the audience with a series of clues and red herrings on the way to the mystery’s final solution.

Pretty young nurse Marta (Patricia Conde) lives with her mother, Doña Leonor (Emma Roldán), who runs a small boarding house. By day she works at the hospital with fellow resident and unofficial fiancée, Dr Raúl (Julio Alemán), but she’s attracted to the new boarder, Luis (Joaquín Cordero). He’s a once-famous actor whose career ended after an on-stage accident that left him hobbling around on a walking stick. He still owns the theatre down the street but has converted it into a museum to make ends meet. His unusual exhibition consists of life-sized figures from theatrical history, both actors and characters, but all women. Hardly a moneyspinner, you would think, but he seems to do alright.

The list of residents is completed by the grumpy Professor Abramov (Carlos López Moctezuma) and the entire company decamp for a night out at Club La Paloma. The entertainment is provided by blonde bombshell Norma Ramos (Olivia Michel), who returns their visit by coming to live at the boarding house. Meantime, Conde is giving Alemán the brush-off and cosying up to the gloomy and complicated Cordero, intrigued by his air of mystery and tragic backstory. Local police Comisario (David Reynoso) is still on the track of the missing women, though, and when Michel joins their number, he closes in for the kill.

When Mexican audiences went monster crazy in the late 1950s, film producers quickly flooded the market with appropriate products. Often, they were thinly-disguised re-workings of familiar properties, notably the Universal classic monster series. But other horror hits were also in their sights, and here, it’s Warner Brothers ‘The Mystery of the Wax Museum’ (1933) and its 3-D remake ‘House of Wax’ (1953) starring Vincent Price. Sadly, the resulting film is nowhere near as remarkable or as entertaining, coming off as a distinctly second-hand grab bag of unfocused ideas thrown quickly together.

What the film does well is keeping the audience guessing about the killer’s identity. Of course, the off-centre Cordero is our primary suspect, what with his strange line of business, expressions of self-loathing and mysterious past. He’s one mixed-up dude, that’s for sure. But, hang on, why is Alemán paying grave robbers for fresh corpses to use in ‘secret work’? And why does he have a head in a jar in his private laboratory? Come to think of it, as a hospital doctor, why does he have a laboratory at all? Old misery Moctezuma also turns out to be an authority on embalming, and he’s carrying out ‘secret experiments’ as well. He might not have a head in a jar, but he does curare in his room. As a deadly poison, that seems to have little to do with his field of research. So many mad doctors, so little time.

All these circumstances do push the suspension of disbelief, but perhaps it’s little surprise that events feel contrived, and the characters and their backstories are barely sketched out. The script is one of 17(!) writing credits attributed to screenplay author Unsáin for 1964, and the years on either side contain another 20 between them! That’s seriously impressive, of course, but the quality is bound to suffer amidst so much quantity. As a result, the denouncement here lacks emotional punch because we’re not really invested. There’s little more to the characters beyond their function to move the story along.

However, there’s still some enjoyment to be had here. The killer’s disguise looks a little like Lon Chaney in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (1925), and he has an underground workshop in catacombs beneath a cemetery. Access is gained through a crypt and an upright coffin (complete with corpse!) that opens like a door. There’s also an interesting scene where Alemán tries to win back Conde and diffuse her fascination with the melancholic Cordero. It’s very nicely played, especially by Alemán, who comes over as possessive, patronising, needy and narcissistic all at the same time! It’s a little character moment, but it does help undermine the handsome actor’s expected status as the story’s hero and reinforce the audience’s suspicion of him. Whether he turns out to be the killer or not is almost irrelevant, we just don’t want Conde to end up with him! A dream sequence also seems to exist solely to lift a few scratchy frames from Mario Bava’s ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961).

The film mostly gets by on the brisk direction of veteran Baledón and a cast stuffed with names from the heyday of Mexican horror. Cordero played ruthless scientist Dr Campos in ‘Santo vs the Evil Brain/Santo contra cerebro del mal’ (1958), the first film starring the legendary masked wrestler. He doubled as lead villain and monster in ‘The Hell of Frankenstein/Orlak, el infierno de Frankenstein’ (1960), messed about with Yetis in ‘The Terrible Giant of the Snows/El terrible gigante de las nieves’ (1963), werewolves in ‘La Loba’ (1965), zombies in ‘Dr. Satán’ (1966) and its sequel, a killer robot in ‘Wrestling Women versus the Murderous Robot/Las luchadoras vs el robot asesino’ (1969) and tackled a ghost in ‘The Book of Stone/El libro de piedra’ (1969).

Alemán starred in the 1959 vampire serial ‘The Curse of Nostradamus’, which was compiled into four feature films in the early 1960s. He also joined luchador Neutron in ‘Neutron the Atomic Superman vs the Death Robots/Los autómatas de la muerte’ (1962), repeating his role for ‘Neutron vs the Amazing Dr Caronte/Neutrón contra el Dr Caronte’ (1964). Reynoso enjoyed supporting roles in many horrors and genre vehicles and, most memorably, backed up luchador Blue Demon in ‘Blue Demon Versus the Infernal Brains/Blue Demon contra cerebros infernales’ (1968) and ‘Blue Demon vs The Diabolical Women/Blue Demon contra las diabólicas’ (1968).

Moctezuma had a supporting role in ‘La Llorona’ (1960), and the next version of the same folk legend ‘The Curse of the Crying Woman/La maldición de la Llorona’ (1963). He had his own encounters with luchadors Neutron and Santo in ‘Neutron Battles the Karate Assassins/Los asesinos del karate’ (1965) and ‘Santo vs the Strangler/Santo vs el estrangulador’ (1965) and the direct sequel ‘Santo vs the Ghost of the Strangler/Espectro del estrangulador’ (1966). Further horrors followed with ‘Night of the Bloody Apes/La horripilante bestia humana’ (1969) and ‘The Vampires of Coyoacan/Los vampiros de Coyoacán’ (1974) which starred two other luchadors, Mil Máscaras and Superzan.

A slightly anonymous horror-thriller that mixes familiar genre tropes efficiently enough for some decent entertainment.

Orlak el infierno de Frankenstein/The Hell of Frankenstein (1960)

Orlak el infierno de Frankenstein/The Hell of Frankenstein (1960)‘I have managed to replace it with a very sophisticated watchmaking machinery which makes the vital organs operate continuously and without interruption.’

Professor Frankenstein is sent to prison after being caught lifting corpses from the local cemetery but breaks jail with the help of an ex-cell mate. He resumes his experiments and fits his creature with an electronic brain that will accept mental commands. Unfortunately, his new criminal associate has his own ideas about how to use the Professor’s work…

The Mexican film industry had received a massive shot in the arm from the runaway success of Abel Salazar’s ‘El Vampiro’ (1957), which kickstarted a domestic craze for screen horrors. But whereas that movie had been a very traditional take on ‘Dracula’ patterned closely on the 1931 film with Bela Lugosi, here director Rafael Baledón chooses to ignore Mary Shelley’s novel and put his own spin on the Frankenstein mythos, albeit heavily inspired by various themes and story threads from the classic Universal monster series.

Things go distinctly pear-shaped for dedicated scientist Professor Frankenstein (Andres Soler) when he gets his collar felt by the agents of Johnny Law. Shame he was indulging in some quiet grave robbing at the time. Life in jail means sharing a cell with killer Jaime Rojas (Joaquín Cordero). We never really find out what the old boy had been banged up for, but apparently, he’s in for a long stretch. Not so with Cordero. Despite the belief of Inspector Santos (Armando Calvo) that he’s guilty of multiple murders, the miscreant has only pulled a term for assault and is due for an early release. Once out, Cordero links up with old partner Gastón (David Reynoso) to pull a quick jewellery heist before Reynoso returns the favour by helping him break Soler out of jail.

Orlak el infierno de Frankenstein/The Hell of Frankenstein (1960)

‘What are you in for again, Doc?’

Back at the old homestead, Soler’s secret lab is not only intact, but his last experiment is still lying frozen on the slab. Disfigured assistant, Eric (Carlos Ancira) is still on the payroll, but Soler decides to expand his workforce by taking on Cordero. Bad decision. Soler’s creature is soon up and about, even if he bears an unfortunate resemblance to a medium-sized actor with a crate over his head. Presumably, this is to house his electronic brain which can receive orders via a radio transmitter. Unfortunately, a supply of fresh blood is required to make him tick (literally!), and Cordero is prepared to meet the demand with the aid of Ancira. Soler thinks it’s coming from a condemned man, but instead, our gruesome twosome are killing young women. For some reason, they are taking the blood from the necks of their victims and, inevitably, the press label the rampage as ‘Vampire Murders.’

If all that wasn’t enough to be going along with, Soler decides to give his creature a name, Orlak, and a human face. The face of Cordero. Why he picks that face, in particular, makes absolutely no sense and his motivation for doing it is never explained. Perhaps he was just trying to accommodate Baledón and his co-scriptwriters Alfredo Ruanova and Carlos Enrique Taboada. It doesn’t even make sense from Cordero’s point of view. It’s plain that he’s going to use Orlak to wreak bloody revenge on those who put him behind bars, but is a lumbering creature who looks exactly like him really his best option? Of course, Cordero always makes sure he has an iron-clad alibi for every murder but why draw attention to himself in the first place? Calvo and his officers are already looking for any excuse to grab him again.

Orlak el infierno de Frankenstein/The Hell of Frankenstein (1960)

‘Well, err, don’t this the wrong way, Doc, but…it needs a bit more work.’

To be fair, though, Cordero is a borderline psychotic and chronic narcissist who enjoys baiting Calvo, especially when one of his unshakeable alibis turns out to be pretty dark-haired Elvira (Irma Dorantes). She just happens to be the daughter of Judge Dávalos (Antonio Raxel) who is further down his kill list. Later on, Soler gives Orlak a human brain so he can control him via telepathy, enhanced by wearing a pair of specs with a built-in antenna. Other victims include Cordero’s ex-girlfriend Estella (Rosa de Castilla) and her new beau Victor (Julian de Meriche), and Reynoso ends up on the short end too.

If this all sounds like a lot of fun, then it is, although it does lack the style or flair to rise to the next level. Cordero is excellent as the scheming sociopath, but his performance as Orlak never really engages audience sympathy. Yes, the monster gets a good payoff but, by then, we’re too used to seeing him as a robotic killing machine. A few quieter moments with him would have gone a long way. On the bright side, the pace is swift; the cast plays it straight, there’s plenty of action and the scenes between the arrogant Cordero and his official nemesis crackle with mutual loathing. And it always good to spend time with a scientist who doesn’t keep his lab up to code and doesn’t care if visitors stumble into machinery and get instantly electrocuted.

Orlak el infierno de Frankenstein/The Hell of Frankenstein (1960)

‘Hang on, I think I’ve lost a contact lens.’

Baledón was very active in Mexican fantastical cinema and laid some of the foundations for the monster-wrester mash-ups of later years. He was the man behind the megaphone when ex-grappler Fernando Osés starred in a series of three films as masked avenger La sombra vengadora, beginning in 1956. A quick trip to the ‘Swamp of the Lost Souls’ (1957) followed, and he also took on ‘El hombre y el monstruo/The Man and the Monster’ (1959). After his go-round with Frankenstein, he delivered a spooky version of the La Llorona legend, ‘The Curse of the Crying Woman’ (1964) and visited the ‘Museo del horror/The Museum of Horror’ (1964). These are only a handful of his total credits as he worked in many other genres; making comedies, westerns, dramas and mysteries. He was almost as active on the other side of the camera, amassing nearly 100 acting credits in total, often in leading roles.

Cordero racked up over 200 roles in a screen career that lasted an impressive 67 years and he will be forever remembered for playing the villain in El Santo’s debut film ‘Santo vs. The Evil Brain’ (1961) and for appearing in its immediate sequel. He also starred in back to back science-fiction films ‘El monstruo de los volcanes’ (1963) and ‘The Terrible Giant of the Snows’ (1963) for director Jaime Salvador before grabbing a ticket for ‘Museo del horror/The Museum of Horror’ (1964) for Baledón. He also showed strongly in the title role of ‘Dr. Satán’ (1966) and its bizarre sequel ‘Dr. Satán vs Black Magic’ (1968). Reynoso should also be familiar to cult cinema enthusiasts, mainly due to his role as the Blue Demon’s policeman sidekick in a couple of the wrestler’s late 1960s outings, as well as for appearances in ‘La invasión de los vampiros’ (1963) and ‘Adventure at the Centre of the Earth’ (1965). Of course, he was in ‘Museo del horror/The Museum of Horror’ (1964) too, because who wasn’t?

There’s nothing startlingly original about this variation on the Frankenstein story. Still, it is a quick and fun monster rally with a few ridiculous elements that only make it more enjoyable.

Santo Vs The Evil Brain/Santo contra cerebro del mal (1961)

Santo Vs The Evil Brain/Santo contra cerebro del mal (1961)‘They hide their faces behind masks for the benefit of mankind!’

Top scientists are disappearing at an alarming rate, seemingly kidnapped by the same criminal gang. In a sound tactical, if somewhat obvious, move, the authorities put their two best undercover agents on the case, who, coincidentally, happen to be masked wrestlers…

Take a bow, El Santo! Yes, this is where it all began for everyone’s favourite silver-masked wrestler/monster hunter/super-spy and scourge of mad scientists everywhere! The first step in a cinematic journey that was to last an incredible 22 years and a total of 53 films. Yes, there was an earlier film called ‘The Silver Masked Wrestler’ (1954) from director Rene Cardona, but that character was a total imposter! They hired someone else to play El Santo. What were they thinking?! Although, to be fair, Santo himself had turned down the role…

Santo Vs The Evil Brain/Santo contra cerebro del mal (1961)

“I’m sorry, but if he doesn’t have insurance…’

Typically, our grappling hero is already in the thick of things when the film opens; being pursued into a darkened alley by three thugs. Rather surprisingly, they overpower him without too much trouble (l guess he was still getting used to this movie lark) and take him off to the lab of pipe-smoking bad beard Dr Campos (Joaquín Cordero).

He’s the brain behind the kidnapping of all these boffins, of course; stealing their secrets via his dastardly mind control technique and selling the information to foreign governments. Sadly, El Santo isn’t immune to Cordero’s hi-tech methods (it’s just a quick injection) and is readily recruited as mindless muscle to aid the villain in his nefarious schemes.

Fortunately, for our zombie hero, he’s not playing a solo hand. Lt Zambrano (Enrique Zambrano) has also assigned ‘colleague in tights’ El Incognito (Fernando Osés) to the case. While Cordero and his minions are off making some mischief, Osés breaks into the beard man’s lab, only to get a warm welcome from his old friend.

Santo Vs The Evil Brain/Santo contra cerebro del mal (1961)

‘Now. if i just reconfigure the polarity of the doohickeys…’

After winning out in the subsequent tussle (damn, Santo needs to get his groove on in this film!), Osés reverses the mind control process and restores our hero to normal. This gives the Man in the Silver Mask the opportunity to deliver his first lines of dialogue on the big screen! There’s only about half the movie gone, so it was about time.

As an inside man with a perfect cover, Santo decides to carry on playing the role of Cordero’s willing tool, which means he gets no more lines until the climax! Meanwhile, Cordero is about to put the moves on his innocent little secretary Elisa (Norma Suárez). She respects him as a boss, but her heart belongs to his assistant Gerardo (Alberto Insua), who is just as ignorant of Cordero’s crimes.

And Cordero is a bit of a low-rent villain, after all. His lab just looks like an amateur chemistry set on a big table, and his mind control technique is so sophisticated that a masked wrestler can work out how to reverse its effects in a matter of moments. Sure, he does have the usual secret passage behind the bookcase, but who doesn’t have one of those? I’ve even begun to suspect there might be one in my little flat somewhere! Also, his passion for Suárez is never convincing, although at the end of the story, we discover that it was his prime motivation all along. ‘They can’t do this to me; I own the world!’ he shouts as everything inevitably disappears around the ‘U’ bend.

Santo Vs The Evil Brain/Santo contra cerebro del mal (1961)

‘This is the last time I’m coming out without a shirt.’

El Santo’s first feature was filmed back to back in Cuba with his second: ‘Santo Contra hombres infernales/‘Santo vs. The Infernal Men’ (1961). Joselito Rodríguez directed both and Cordero, Osés and Zambrano also returned for the second round, although credits are sketchy, so it’s unclear whether they reprised their roles here.

Osés and Zambrano also wrote the first film (and may have written the second, who knows?) and, although Zambrabo has no other writing credits, Osés went onto script many of the Santro series and solo vehicles for the masked man’s bestie Blue Demon. He also carried on in front of the camera, sometimes uncredited but usually as a heavy.

Cordero had a 67-year career in Mexican films and television, running up over 200 credits. His first brush with cult cinema seems to have been ‘The Hell of Frankenstein/Orlak, el infierno de Frankenstein’ (1960) where he played the title role (Orlak, not Frankenstein!) and tangling with a troublesome yeti in ‘El monstruo de los volcanes’ (1963). Then there was criminal mastermind ‘Dr. Satán’ (1966) and supernatural sequel ‘Dr. Satán y la Magia Negra’ (1967) where he returns from the dead to fight a vampire.

There are few points of interest here, and the final product comes across as an undistinguished crime picture where the wrestlers were added more as a populist gimmick than for any valid creative reason. I mean, why are the authorities employing masked wrestlers as undercover cops in the first place? Wasn’t there anyone better qualified? Perhaps they had a bit of a recruitment problem.

Doctor Satan Vs Black Magic / Dr Satán y la Magia Negra (1968)

Doctor Satan Vs Black Magic / Dr Satan Y La Magia Negra (1968)‘Zombies? Disgusting!’

Arch-criminal Doctor Satan is brought back from the dead and sent to Earth by the King Demon to foil the plans of a vampire lord who is working for Lucifer. Their conflict centres on possession of Professor Sorensen’s formula for turning base metal into gold and, after the vampire’s men murder Sorensen, it escalates into a fight to the finish…

Agreeably silly comic strip romp from Mexico featuring the return of Joaquin Cordero in the title role as criminal mastermind, Dr Arozemena. Original film ‘Doctor Satan’ (1966) had found him running a counterfeiting scam to fund his experiments with zombies, but here he crosses swords with the undead Noé Murayama after both are resurrected from the afterlife by feuding devils.

Mexican cinema of the 1960s was a fairly strange place to be, what with the exploits of masked grappler El Santo, and a seemingly never-ending roll call of aliens, vampires, werewolves and monsters. The film is a fairly typical example of this ridiculous, but entertaining, output, with an outlandish plot, cardboard characters, and plenty of action delivered with heavy gothic touches. The Eastmancolor photography is painfully garish, the sound mix is hideous and the SFX are of the rubber bat, ‘stop’& start the camera’ variety.

There are some pleasing aspects, though. Cordero enslaves two pretty young women to be his zombie sidekicks and they sleep in coffins (for some reason) in a cave behind his laboratory. There’s an amusing piece of role reversal where one of them chases Nurayama’s henchman through the woods and overtakes him when he trips over his own feet and falls over. There’s also a nice bit of business with a killing at a tea drinking ceremony. The highlight of the movie comes when Nurayama bites one of Codero’s assistants and finds her zombie flesh not to his taste.

Doctor Satan Vs Black Magic / Dr Satan Y La Magia Negra (1968)

His parents should never have got him that chemistry set for Xmas,,,

The proper authorities get very little screen-time and barely influence events in the story. Considering that both protagonists are working for dark forces, employ roughly the same methods and have the same objectives, it’s hard to care about the outcome, but that probably wasn’t something that concerned director Rogelio A González too much. He’s happy to jump from one silly set-piece to the next, with audience sympathy far more likely to reside with Nayamura (who seems to be having far too much fun!) rather than the dour Codero.

There’s little to make this stand out from the eccentric output of Mexico’s film industry of the time, but it’s still worth seeking out if you’ve been seduced by their rogue’s gallery of wrestlers, mad scientists and monsters.