Cult Cinema Book Review – The Mexican Masked Wrestler and Monster Filmography by Robert MIchael ‘Bobb’ Cotter

Now playing on my YouTube channel; my review of ‘The Mexican Masked Wrestler and Monster Filmography’ by Robert MIchael ‘Bobb’ Cotter. Had a lot of fun with this one – giving my editing skills a workout and using some real neat animations. I got to wear my Blue Demon mask again too! 

Gigantes Planetarios/Planetary Giants (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.

Santo Contra Los Zombies/The lnvasion of the Zombies (1962)

Santo Contra Los Zombies:The lnvasion of the Zombies (1972)‘I shot one of them right in the face. I saw the hole.’

A professor disappears on his way to deliver a manuscript to his publisher, which contains his research on zombies in Haiti. Meanwhile, a jewellery store is robbed by three strange men who act like robots and seem to be bulletproof. The police are baffled and call in silver-masked wrestler Santo to assist with their investigations.

El Santo was Mexico’s most famous Luchador, a professional wrestler who became a national icon in his native land. He was a multi-titled champion whose fame led to appearances in many different types of media, including movies, comic books and an animated TV show.  Allegedly, he never removed his iconic mask, even in private company. This feature was the third in the series of his films that ran all the way from 1958 to 1982, and finds our masked hero already tangling with supernatural forces early in his picture career. Because it’s one of the initial entries, the formula is not as set in stone as it was quickly to become, and there are no older films to lift the plot from, but there are many elements familiar to anyone who has ever seen one of his pictures.

The film begins with about two and a half minutes of footage from one of El Santo’s actual wrestling matches before we get to the credits, and we stay in the square ring afterwards, although the subsequent match is obviously staged for the film. The crowd carry on roaring, but we no longer see them, and the ring is shot from a low-angle to brilliantly disguise the fact that there’s now only a couple of dozen people watching. One of these dedicated fans is detective Jaimie Fernandez, who is dragged away from the action by colleagues Dagoberto Rodriguez and lrma Serrano. After the film is 10 minutes old.

A trio of strange men have robbed a local jewellery store, wearing tunics and tights that make them look as if they’ve wandered in from a medieval costume flick or possibly an old Hollywood serial. In related news, police Lieutenant Armando Silvestre is also dealing with the disappearance of Professor Sandoval (or is it ‘Rutherford? The subtitles disagree!) on behalf of distraught daughter Gloria (Lorena Velásquez). Could all these shenanigans have something to do with a mysterious, hooded villain lurking in a Batcave nearby? Silvestre asks Santo to help, which provides our title character with his first and only line of dialogue so far. At this point, there’s 25 minutes on the clock.

Santo Contra Los Zombies:The lnvasion of the Zombies (1972)

‘Just pop round to the shops and get me a pint of milk, would you?’

Fernandez and Velásquez go to see Santo wrestle (his third contest if you’re counting!) We assume this is so they can discuss her father’s disappearance, but they leave without speaking to him (why did they go in the first place?) Cut to a dancer being eyeballed by some shady types at a nightclub. Detectives Rodriguez and Serrano turn up to question the club owner (and notorious fence) about the stolen jewellery, which sounds like a promising line of enquiry, but doesn’t pan out as we never see him again.

Our villain wears a hood, even when he’s alone in his Batcave with his (rather small) zombie army, although it doesn’t really matter as the entire audience has probably figured out his identity within the first few scenes of the film. Remaining disguised does turn out to be a wise move, though, as it seems that Santo has managed to place a hidden TV camera in his lair as well as in Silvestre’s office. Technology cuts both ways, though, as the villain has apparent access to all the hi-def CCTV cameras that line the streets of Mexico City! What amazing cable packages were on sale in Mexico in the early 1960s! But, hang on, where is Santo? lsn’t this supposed to be his film? Oh, there he is, getting his first significant scene with dialogue with 40 minutes of the film gone. Not bad, considering the entire feature runs just over twice that length!

As the film progresses, the story develops in a number of silly and cheerfully illogical ways. The zombies attempt to kidnap Serrano (why?) and the villain ‘beams’ them out when Santo turns up like they are the ‘away team’ on an episode of ‘Star Trek’. Having failed with that baffling tactic (just what was he trying to achieve?), our hooded menace zombifies the wrestler due to take on our silver-masked hero in an upcoming title fight. This is done with a huge syringe containing various bubbling liquids and a lot of electrical ‘Frankenstein’ noise going on in the background. What’s actually making this racket is anybody’s guess!

Santo Contra Los Zombies:The lnvasion of the Zombies (1972)

‘I told you to get those Health & Safety concerns addressed!’

Luckily, Santo foils this plan by yanking on the wrestlers belt so that smoke comes out of his trunks during the match and he falls down (really dead this time). The villain counters by kidnapping Velásquez because she’s trying to decode some of her father’s notes, although how he knows she’s doing that is as much as mystery as how everyone just turns up at his secret lair for the finale. Perhaps they all had the same excellent cable provider!

None of this is to be taken remotely seriously, of course, but it is interesting how little actual acting the script requires of its star. Beyond the action in the ring, pretty much all he does is take part in some of the ponderous fight scenes and deliver a few lines of explanatory dialogue at the close, although these are very telling. Apparently, the villain’s complex motivation was ‘wealth and power’ and justice will always triumph in the end. How the maniac managed to raise the dead, reverse the signs of decomposition, what the Professor had to do with it and just what the fiend’s long-term objectives were anyway are questions that director Benito Alazraki obviously didn’t believe were worth our time.

It is interesting to see Velásquez playing the helpless heroine here, rather than throwing a mean right hook as one of the ‘Wrestling Women’ or doing a song and dance in hilarious monster-comedy-horror-science fiction-musical ‘Ship of Monsters’ (1965). Although she’d amassed over 30 career credits by this point, she had only been in the industry for six years, so perhaps her talents were still unrecognised. She is the only cast member who delivers any kind of performance, though, and her next assignment proved to be ‘Santo Vs. The Vampire Women’ (1962), a film that shares quite a few of the same cast members as this one and gave her a much juicier role as the Vampire Queen. Rather brilliantly, as of 2019, she is still working with a couple of projects awaiting completion and release.

Classic 1930s and 1940s Hollywood cast a long shadow over the Mexican film industry of the 1960s, producing an odd cocktail of the Universal monsters and Saturday morning serials, filtered through a unique, ‘anything goes’ sensibility. If you’ve ever seen one of Santo’s films, you’ll pretty much know what to expect here: goofy monsters, nonsensical plot, low production values and lots and lots of wrestling.

Santo Against the Witches/The Witches Attack/Atacan las brujas (1968)

Atacan_Las_Brujas_(1968)‘Up! Down! Yes! Yes! Yes! Santo! Santo! Rah! Rah! Rah!’

Mayra, the Queen of the Witches, needs to appease the Lord of the Shadows with a human sacrifice. After choosing a likely young maiden for the job, she unwisely decides to invite silver-masked wrestler Santo to the party. This proves to be a serious tactical error.

On his way to becoming the Mexican ‘James Bond on a budget’ here we find wrestling legend El Santo in one of his earlier films; complete with a private eye’s office, desk and filing cabinet. He’s investigating the strange activities perpetrated by the gorgeous Lorena Velázquez and her coven of provocatively-clad homegirls, in particular their interest in pretty Maria Eugenia Sanmartin.

Velázquez was an old hand at these shenanigans; having already played the Queen of the Vampires in ‘Santo Vs The Vampire Women’ (1962); a film to which this bears a very slight, almost unnoticeable, and completely coincidental resemblance. Although curiously, these witches can only be killed by daylight or the sign of the cross. Oh, well.

The important thing is seeing our muscly hero getting to grips with the witches’ henchmen, which he does quite regularly, with one sequence taking place in semi-darkness one moment, bright light the next and then gloom again. As if someone off-screen was turning the lights on and off. Hard to see what the director was going for there. Fifty minutes in, with no preamble, we get Santo in the ring in a wrestling bout which is probably the best, and most dynamic, to feature in one of his films. It has no relevance to the story whatsoever, but never mind. By then, the narrative is wearing pretty thin anyway; just how many times can Santo and/or Sanmartin be captured, taken to the witches’ lair and then escape? Actually, a lot of the plot is foreshadowed by the heroine’s dreams, which brilliantly allows for budget-saving repeat footage!

Atacan_Las_Brujas_(1968)

Is this a breadknife I see before me?

However, there is still some level of life present; even if the series is beginning its descent into formula. Later entries reheated entire plots and scenes from earlier films, including the Aztec Mummy series, as well as Santo’s own exploits. And we do get the delectable Velázquez, who conveys unholy intent with just a slight lift of one perfectly sculpted eyebrow, and a widening of her hypnotic eyes. But her character does make a series of unforced errors, which completely scupper her evil plans.

Instead of seducing Santo herself (a slam dunk if ever there was one!), she sends one of her minions, and trying to kill him with a ridiculous fake spider is pretty lame, considering he has a ‘spider-bite’ medical kit in his bedside cabinet.

SFX are of the typically shoddy ‘start/stop’ variety, but there is a lot of Theremin on the soundtrack, which is always a plus. Another highlight is Santo doing his own climbing scenes. lt’s obviously him, because he’s so rubbish at it. Unless there was a very poor stunt crew, of course.

An enjoyable slice of ridiculous low-budget fun.

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.

Planet_of_The_Female_Invaders_(1966)

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.

Doctor of Doom (1963)

Doctor of Doom_(1963)‘Tremble, Gloria Venus! Vendetta, who I created for my use, is your destruction!’

A mad scientist experiments with human brain transplants, having already successfully transferred a gorilla’s brain into a man. He uses the ape man to kidnap a series of women, who inevitably die on the operating table. However, his latest choice of subject is the sister of wrestler Gloria Venus. This turns out to be a serious tactical error on his part as Gloria has just teamed up in a tag team with the Golden Rubi and together they take no shit from anyone…

Good afternoon, grapple fans!  More wonderfully insane action from south of the border with our favourite athletes of the square circle; the Mexican Wrestling Women. Here we get to see the first meeting of ‘Arizona Cyclone’ The Golden Rubi (the lovely Elizabeth Campbell) and Gloria Venus (the even lovelier Lorena Velásquez, here with a great hairdo). They’re BFF’s almost immediately, moving in together within 5 minutes of being introduced. And, no, it’s not like that! Gloria is soon cozying up to the handsome detective that’s investigating her sister’s disappearance while Rubi apparently likes his short, balding partner!

The villain of the piece is Roberto Cañedo. To begin with, he appears to be a serious, sober scientist, albeit with some rather dubious and obscure goals. However, he doesn’t just get a little bit testy when his plans are thwarted, he throws all the toys right out of the pram instead. In no time at all, he’s cackling like a madman and transferring his gorilla man’s strength into a new kidnap victim to create female wrestler Vendetta and he’s put just one thought in her head: kill Gloria! So the Doc pulls on a silver mask, becomes her manager and arranges the match!

Although the pace is fast and action plentiful, to be fair the story is a little hackneyed. But any shortfalls in that department are more than made up for by our feisty heroines. They go toe to toe with the Doctor’s goons at every opportunity and Velásquez certainly has a mean right. There’s no flashy martial arts combat here; the girls are just plain hard! Mess with them at your peril!

Doctor of Doom_(1963)

Girl power!

Of course this might not seem remarkable now; but fighting women didn’t appear on US screens until the 1970s and they were heroines in the Blaxploitation genre, not mainstream cinema and most were using firearms rather than fists. But there’s no such qualification here; our heroines work out at the local gym and when some muscle-bound lunkhead tries to lift their training equipment, all the other girls simply beat the crap out of him!

This is one of those rare instances where a sequel is better than the first movie; ‘Wrestling Women Vs. The Aztec Mummy’ (1964) surpassing this one in every department, but even so this is a highly enjoyable romp down Mexico way.

There were three more movies in the series, although only the first two featured Gloria and Rubi and the second of those had someone else playing Gloria (completely unacceptable!) The other was ‘Las Lobas Del Ring’ (1965) and featured Campbell and Velásquez squaring up against a cadre of villainous female wrestlers, rather than monsters or mad scientists. Rather a shame, if you ask me…

The Ship of Monsters/La nave de los monstruos (1960)

The Ship of Monsters (1960)‘This is the universe. An atom is infinitely small.’

Two sexy alien space babes in swimsuits land their rocket on earth accompanied by a cardboard box robot and some monsters. The first man they meet demonstrates ‘this Earth thing called kissing’ and they both fall for him. Unfortunately, he only likes one of them so the other turns into a vampire and lets the monsters loose on the local countryside.

Mildly deranged Mexican Science Fiction Romantic Musical Comedy Western (!) that’s only available in the original Spanish. If you don’t know the language, inevitably the story is a little confusing, but there’s still plenty of cheap fun to be had along the way. There’s wonderfully cheesy SFX, incredible monster makeups, silly costumes and a retro-fit spacecraft with big levers. And let’s not forget our alien visitors – they’re certainly not hard to look at!

The film opens with our space babes getting their mission briefing outside their rocket. It would appear they come from a ‘women only’ society and I’m guessing their intentions toward mankind are not very nice, but then I’m just filling in the gaps as best I can. The gorgeous girls are played by Ana Bertha Lepe and Lorena Velásquez and both have beauty and screen presence in abundance, particularly Velásquez. She went on to a long career in Mexican cinema (she’s still active as of 2014) and her credits include the Queen of the Vampires in ‘Santo Vs The Vampire Women (1962) and one of the title characters in the ‘Wrestling Women’ series, which, lest we forget, included the amazing ‘Wrestling Women Meet the Aztec Mummy’ (1964)!

First contact is a bit confusing for the girls as they run into Eulalio Gonzalez who rides a horse and has already given us one lusty song. One too many, if you ask me. Luckily, the babes manage to ‘freeze’ him with a ray gun, which shuts him up. Briefly. Later on, when Lepe and Gonzalez begin making goo-goo eyes at each other, Velásquez gets in a right huff and frees the monsters from a cave. She also becomes a vampire with joke shop teeth. All of this is deliriously silly of course, the monster design being especially wonderful. We get a gnarly Cyclops (who does most of the heavy lifting), a large brain (complete with pulsing veins), a moth-eaten Bigfoot type spider thing and a living skeleton that talks in a very deep voice. The skeleton in particular is an absolute triumph of SFX!

The Ship of Monsters (1960)

🎵 When your day is long / And the night, the night is yours alone 🎵

There are other delights along the way; Gonzalez and Velásquez strut their funky stuff in the ‘big dance number’, the Cyclops eats a cow (leaving its skeleton behind), Gonzalez sings a drinking song (ok, so that’s not a delight) and the girls have a big cardboard box robot that resembles Bender from the animated TV show ‘Futurama’. The robot falls in love with a jukebox (I think!) and the two sing us to the final credits with a duet proclaiming their eternal devotion! Presumably!

Mexican cinema of the 1960s didn’t boast high production values, complex storylines, subtext or gritty realism. What it did have was a glorious sense of the surreal and the audacity to put it up on the screen without apology or qualification. Whether it was the horrors of the Aztec undead, masked wrestlers fighting werewolves, or reincarnated warlocks with 6 foot tongues; it was all in the name of entertainment. Pure and simple. This film isn’t the silliest example I’ve ever seen (take a bow ‘Anatomy of a Ghost’ (1967)!), but it certainly comes close.

Camino a seguir!