Capulina contra los vampiros (1971)

‘The fat man has put me in a bad mood.’

An overweight layabout finds a job as the caretaker at a mansion reputed to be owned by a vampire. As part of his duties, he removes a lance embedded in the entrance hall floor and revives the undead nobleman. Aided by the building’s caretaker, he takes on the supernatural threat, hoping to claim a hidden treasure…

Comedic vampire hi-jinks from south of the border, courtesy of writer-director René Cardona and popular Mexican funnyman Capulina. Together, the two mine the well-worn tropes of horror-comedy pioneered by old dark house mysteries of the 1930s and the slapstick tendencies of ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein’ (1948).

Idle timewaster Capulina (Gaspar Henaine) is happy to while away the hours in bed reading about vampires, but the need for food sends him reluctantly to the local employment agency. There, he snags a job doing light maintenance work at the Castle De Frontenac, but dropping the name of his destination at the village tavern run by Carlos Agostí sends the locals into the expected panic. Arriving at the castle (even calling it a ‘mansion’ would be pushing the definition a bit), Henaine is greeted by black dwarf Carbonato (Aurelio Pérez), who informs him that the walls hide a fabulous treasure. The catch is that the master of the house is a vampire.

Fortunately, Count Drac de Fontenac (Juan Gallardo) is currently ‘resting’, impaled by a lance stuck in the floor many years earlier. His wife Pampita (Rossy Mendoza, doing her best ‘Lily Munster’ impression) has been bringing men to their home ever since, trying to find one who can remove the offending weapon and bring her beloved back to life. Of course, that man turns out to be Henaine, and he does the deed. Then it’s up to him to turn the tables on the undead with the aid of the trusty Pérez.

The history of cinema is littered with lame, bloodless attempts at horror-comedy. For every ‘Shaun of the Dead’ (2004) and ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ (1975), there are dozens upon dozens of almost plotless escapades leaning heavily on stock humour, signposted gags, laboured situations and endless repetition. Unfortunately, Cardona’s film ticks all those boxes with some enthusiasm, replacing wit and timing with frenetic action, mugging and a great deal of running about on its cheap sets. Part of the problem is that some horror conventions offer obvious targets for parody and attract the sort of predictable, lazy scripting in evidence here.

Cardona’s screenplay has a few scattered ideas, but they are never developed beyond their original setup. The notion of Mendoza’s search to find someone to pull the lance from the floor echoes the Arthurian legend of the ‘Sword in the Stone’, but this interesting concept goes absolutely nowhere. Similarly, Mendoza is obviously less than pleased when Gallardo wakes his harem of vampire brides from their long sleep. However, the opportunity to poke fun at their domestic situation is ignored in favour of Gallardo getting a custard pie in the face and other such creative shenanigans.

Henaine was known for his ‘family-friendly’ comedy, and although the film does not seem targetted toward children, Cardona plays it safe at every turn. Events are never allowed to become scary for even one second, and, despite the vampire brides’ appropriate nightwear, not one inch of naked flesh ever makes it to the screen. Such elements aren’t strictly necessary to make a successful horror-comedy, of course. However, the complete absence of even a suggestion of them removes a great deal of the potential for laughs.

If there is one bright spot in all this, it’s on the technical side. Sure, the sets are limited in scale and scope, but Cardona compensates with the lighting, soaking the interiors with splashes of lurid, primary colours. This look partly evokes the feel of Hammer Horror but is also reminiscent of the gothic flourishes of Italian horror maestro Mario Bava! It’s not on that level of expertise or quality, of course, but it’s interesting to speculate on whether Cardona was familiar with Bava’s work or if it’s simply a coincidence.

Henaine began his career in show business as a successful singer and musician in the 1940s. He formed trio ‘Los Trincas’ in 1946, whose combination of country stylings with boogie-woogie has been credited as a pioneer of the 1950s Rock’ n’ Roll explosion by some commentators. In the mid-1950s, he formed a comedic partnership with Marco Antonio Campos known as Viruta and Capulina. They worked extensively in theatre, radio and television, culminating in their first feature film, the horror-comedy ‘Se los chupó la bruja’ (1957). Henaine thought the film was awful, but it proved a box-office smash, and the duo went on to make a further 25 movies over the next 11 years.

The duo split somewhat acrimoniously in the late 1960s, but Henaine went from strength to strength. Sources vary, but he starred in another 40 films at least, even starring with legendary luchador Santo, the two pairing up for ‘Santo contra Capulina’ (1969), again directed by Cardona. Other fantastical projects included ‘Capulina vs The Mummies /The Terror of Guanajuato’ (1973) and ‘Capulina contra los monstruos’ (1974), which pitted him against versions of Universal’s classic monsters. He also worked with Cardona when the director stepped out from behind the camera to play the ‘Bond Villain’ opposite his incompetent hero in spy spoof ‘Operación carambola’ (1968). Henaine also enjoyed highly successful careers as a stand-up comedian, television star and recording artist.

Cardona was a veteran filmmaker with over 120 previous directorial credits before this film and more than another 20 afterwards. His work often included horror and science-fiction subjects, and he was responsible for some of Mexico’s most notable films in those genres. Examples include ‘Wrestling Women vs The Aztec Mummy/Las luchadoras contra la momia’ (1964), ‘Santo vs the Strangler/Santo vs el estrangulador’ (1965), ‘Night of the Bloody Apes’ (1969), Santo in the Vengeance of the Mummy/Santo en la venganza de la momia’ (1971) and ‘Blue Demon and Zovek in The Invasion of the Dead/Blue Demon y Zovek en La Vasion De Las Meurtos (1973). He was also responsible for the bizarre Christmas classic ‘Santa Claus’ (1959).

A weary, somewhat tiresome doodle of a comedy that’s unlikely to provoke many laughs.

The Living Head/La cabeza viviente (1963)

‘An unknown phenomenon must be responsible for this.’

An Aztec high priest and priestess accompany a slain warrior into the afterlife. Over 400 years later, a trio of archaeologists excavating an ancient pyramid break into the tomb. Ignoring a scroll detailing a curse, they remove the artefacts, including the warrior’s decapitated head and the mummy of the high priest. Shortly after their return to the city, one of the scientists is mysteriously murdered…

The dead return from beyond the grave in Mexican director Chano Urueta’s tale of arrogant scientists and ancient vengeance. It’s another horror trip from actor-producer Abel Salazar, who became the driving force behind the genre explosion, initiated by his box-office bonanza ‘El Vampiro’ (1957).

Human sacrifice was the first order of business at the local pyramid one morning in 1525. The great warrior Acatl (Mauricio Garcés) has been murdered, and the culprit must pay. Sentenced carried out with an obsidian knife, high priest Xiu (Guillermo Cramer) concentrates on the funeral arrangements. The decapitated head of Garcés is enshrined on an altar in the tomb, and his own coffin is already prepared. High priestess Xochiquétzal (Ana Luisa Peluffo) is also coming along for the ride, but nobody asked her, and she’s not keen on the sudden trip. But Cramer gives her ‘The Ring of Death’, which binds her to Garcés until she offers up her soul to save the headless warrior. He then proclaims a curse on anyone who disturbs their resting place, and the tomb is sealed.

Fast forward almost 450 years, and the chamber gets a visit from the archaeological team led by Professor Muller (Germán Robles). It looks like a dream come true for him and colleagues Roberto (Garcés, again) and Professor Rivas (Salvador Lozano). The mummy of Cramer is so well preserved that they can’t get that pesky obsidian knife out of his grip, and Acatl’s head is in pretty good shape, considering its ancient vintage. However, Peluffo, who has apparently been standing in the corner for over four centuries collecting cobwebs, disintegrates into a pile of dust. Robles retrieves ‘The Ring of Death’ and gives it to his daughter, Marta (Peluffo, again). To say it’s big as hell and twice as ugly is an understatement, but she’s probably just wearing it to keep the old man happy.

Unfortunately, this booty comes with that obligatory curse, but Robles dismissed it as superstitious nonsense. Garcés isn’t so sure, and when Peluffo finds Lozano’s bleeding body on the roof above her balcony, even Robles has to sit up and take notice. On the case is Inspector Toledo (producer Salazar, probably saving a few quid), but what can modern policing do when faced with the curse of the ancient Aztecs? That damned ring is also exerting an unhealthy influence on Peluffo, much to the concern of her worried beaux, Garcés. Who will be next to feel the edge of Cramer’s obsidian blade?

Revenge from history and reincarnation were staples of Mexican horror at this time, and retooling classic Universal properties wasn’t far behind. The story is pretty obviously a lift from their ‘Mummy’ sequels where an unenthusiastic Lon Chaney Jr limped about while high priests George Zucco and John Carradine brewed the tana leaves. The concept must have seemed a real no-brainer to Salazar. The short series of films launched by ‘The Aztec Mummy/La momia azteca’ (1957) had been a great success, but that character was on hiatus, so why not reboot the concept and start a new franchise? If that was the intention, it failed miserably. The misdeeds of Cramer and his obsidian knife ended here.

Whatever criticisms can be levelled at Mexican horror of this time (and there are many), the films usually have one virtue that stands above everything else; they are great entertainment. However, this film is one of those exceptions that proves the rule. It’s boring. The story moves slower than a bandaged Lon Chaney Jr on his coffee break and never amounts to anything of significance. The notion of casting Peluffo and Garcés in dual roles only pays off briefly at the climax, although I guess it saved on the wages bill.

There’s also no effort made on monster makeup, with Cramer appearing just like an ordinary guy on his way to a fancy dress party. The film could have created a fascinating mythology for the creature based on a unique ancient culture but just throws that opportunity away without a second glance in favour of the usual horror tropes. Even the re-pairing of Robles and Salazar, who had starred as vampire and nemesis in ‘El Vampiro’ (1957), fails to strike any sparks.

Director Urueta was responsible for far more exciting entries in the Mexican horror cycle and ended his career in front of the camera playing supporting roles for Sam Peckinpah, most notably in ‘The Wild Bunch’ (1969). Salazar was a filmmaker with one eye on the balance sheet who rode the horror wave for all he was worth in his professional and private life. He married the Aztec Mummy’s main squeeze, Rosita Arenas, in 1960, and they remained married until he died in 1995. Their daughter, Rosa Salazar Arenas, is a successful screenwriter with over one thousand Mexican television episodes to her name. At the time of writing, it appears that Peluffo is still with us, although her last screen appearance was in 2014, the end of a 66-year career of more than 200 credits.

Given the sheer pace of production in the Mexican industry at the time, it’s perhaps no surprise that a few duds slipped through the net. A disappointing experience.

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!

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.

The Empire of Dracula/El imperio de Drácula (1967)

‘They are living dead, bloodthirsty beings.’

With her final breath, a sick woman tells her son that his father died while ridding their castle of a nest of vampires many years earlier. He doesn’t believe her story, and takes possession of his ancestral home after her death anyway. However, the undead will not sleep quietly…

Another cinematic riff on the familiar Dracula story from South of the Border, directed on this occasion by Federico Curiel. For once, Bram Stoker’s name appears in the opening credits, but the author would not recognise a great deal in this adaptation beyond the central concept and a couple of nods to his original novel.

Attending the deathbed of his aged mother (Rebeca Iturbide), young engineer Luis Brener (César del Campo) receives an unexpected legacy. Unfortunately, it’s not a family heirloom or a secret map to hidden treasure, but a true life horror story. Iturbide tells him that his long-dead father (Víctor Alcocer) met his end while destroying the vampire, Baron Draculstein (Eric del Castillo). The young sceptic doesn’t credit her tale, of course, and takes wife Patricia (Lucha Villa), her sister Lily (Robin Joyce) and servant Diana (Ethel Carrillo) along for the ride when he reclaims his ancestral home.

However, as predicted by Iturbide, the time of Draculstein’s resurrection is fast approaching. Recently deceased servant Igor (Fernando Osés) is still galivanting around the countryside in a coach and four, running down unsuspecting sightseers. Kidnapping the better half of the couple concerned, he suspends her over del Castillo’s coffin and uses her blood to bring him back to life. After all those centuries dead, he’s a might peckish and sends a driverless coach out to collect del Campo and his party when their own vehicle cracks an axle. After his order of ‘Meals on Wheels’ rolls up at the castle, the Baron selects servant Carrillo off the menu. Meanwhile, the spate of recent deaths in the district has the local Police Inspector (Mario Orea) baffled. At the same time, his friend, Dr Wilson (Guillermo Zetina), believes them to be the handiwork of a ‘Vampire-Man’.

Horror was a highly popular genre in Mexican cinema in the late 1960s and an almost sure winner at the box office. So it is perhaps inevitable that some examples lack quality in the flood of productions that reached theatres at that time. Curiel’s film is little more than a scribble of a movie, trotting out the familiar vampire tropes via a slapdash script from industry newcomer Ramón Obón. There is insufficient establishment of the story’s basic set-up, logical inconsistencies, and several elements that feel unfinished. The most obvious example of the latter revolves around Joyce’s character being mute. The only discussion of her condition is some passing dialogue delivered by del Campo to the effect that a change of scene may encourage her to speak again. No cause for her impairment is ever given, and it has almost no impact on the plot whatsoever.

Aficionados of Hammer Studios will also recognise a couple of obvious lifts from ‘Dracula: Prince of Darkness’ (1966) in the story as described above. The arrival of the driverless carriage and Osés’ method of resurrecting his undead master are the most direct. There is some effort to create new lore, though, with mandrake substituting for garlic and the crucifix as a weapon to fight evil. Helpfully, Alcocer had planted a garden with it before his death, but holding out a fistful of drooping greenery to ward off the undead is somewhat less impressive cinematically than using a holy relic. There’s also the unusual conceit of the vampiric Carrillo passing through a mirror to move between chambers in the castle and a nice callback to Stoker’s original novel in the film’s final scene.

However, where the project really falls down is in the execution. In the flashback sequence at the start of the film, we see Alcocer and del Castillo in the throes of their climactic deathmatch. Despite being bereft of garlic, holy water, crucifix or mandrake, the portly, older man repeatedly fights off the vampire as they grapple around the castle, even pushing him to the ground at one point. Eventually, the dying Alcocer tears down a curtain and bathes the room in sunlight. Rather than attempt to escape, del Castillo cowers in the corner under his cape, waiting to be staked! Later on, after his resurrection, he flees from an altercation on the road. Rather than escape by changing into a bat or vanishing in a puff of smoke, he runs off into the woods in a shot that Curiel holds for far too long. All of this doesn’t really sell him as an overwhelming supernatural threat.

First-billed Villa (playing the hero’s wife, in case you’ve forgotten) is entirely surplus to requirements, with her character fulfilling no role apart from occasional exchanges of inessential dialogue. Del Campo’s hero is wonderfully stupid, simply dismissing every supernatural occurrence with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders before doing a complete 180 after a five-minute chat with Van Helsing stand-in Zetina. Also, puffing smoke in front of a model of a castle does not make it look any less like a model, although it has to be acknowledged that it’s a long way from the worst miniature in film history. But perhaps the biggest talking point of the film is why has ‘Dracula’ become ‘Draculstein’? It’s not down to the English subtitles; the Spanish dialogue is clearly using that name. It would be tempting to put this down to a legal issue of some kind; only the film’s Spanish title uses the original name. Perhaps shooting took place before the necessary permissions had cleared.

The film’s only quality element proves to be an outstanding score by composer Gustavo César Carrión. Opening with some appropriately brutal gothic piano, elsewhere, he favours a minimalistic approach that evokes the atmosphere completely lacking in Curiel’s flat direction. The orchestra bursts into life during the action scenes in an attempt to inject some urgency into the rather flaccid proceedings, and, if not totally successful, it’s a valiant effort. Carrión had an output that rivals legendary workaholic Ennio Morricone, with almost 350 film scores to his name, over 100 in the 1960s alone. Other work included ‘The World of the Vampires/El Mundo de los vampiros’ (1961), The Witch’s Mirror/El espejo de la bruja’ (1962), ‘The Brainiac/El barón del terror’ (1962), ‘Blue Demon Versus the Infernal Brains/Blue Demon contra cerebros infernales’ (1968) and ‘Santo and the Blue Demon vs. the Monsters/Santo el enmascarado de plata y Blue Demon contra los monstruos’ (1970) as well as other more mainstream projects.

Curiel began his career with ‘Neutrón, el enmascarado negro’ (1960), one of the earliest pictures to pit a masked wrestler against the forces of evil. Subsequent projects included more in that series and some projects starring the nation’s favourite warrior of the square ring, El Santo. These included some of his more grounded earlier adventures, such as ‘Santo in the Hotel of Death/Santo en el hotel de la muerte’ (1963) as well as more outlandish escapades like ‘The Vengeance of the Vampire Women/La venganza de las mujeres vampiro’ (1970). Screenwriter Obón also featured in the future of wrestling’s ‘Man in the Silver Mask’ contributing scripts for the rather embarrassing ‘Santo vs. the Killers from Other Worlds/Santo contra Los asesinos de otros mundos’ (1973), the far better ‘Santo vs. the She-Wolves/Santo vs. las lobas’ (1976) and working on late entry ‘The Fist of Death/El puño de la muerte’ (1982). He also wrote several films featuring other well-known luchadors, including Blue Demon, Mil Mascaras and La Sombra Vengadora.

A weak and disappointing effort, enlivened by an excellent musical score but not much else.

La Invasion de los Vampiros/The Invasion of the Vampires (1962)

‘You do not make tribute to the hospitality of Mr Marqués disturbing his habits.’

An alchemist is sent by his master to a remote region to investigate reports of vampires. When he arrives, he finds the populace in thrall to tales of the spirit of the murdered Contessa Frankenhausen, who lures young men from the nearby village down to the lagoon of death…

This is a direct sequel to writer-director Miguel Morayta’s previous film ‘El Vampiros Sangriento/The Bloody Vampire’ (1961). Abel Salazar’s ‘El Vampiro’ (1957) was a recent box office bonanza, and Mexican movie theatres rang with the cries of ghosts, monsters and werewolves, but, most of all, with vampires.

The full moon rises and brings with it not the howl of the werewolf but the ghostly shade of the Contessa Frankenhausen (Erna Martha Bauman) in a see-through nightgown. Young bucks in the local village seem unable to resist following her down to the isolated shoreline where she disrobes, and they end up dead with a telltale love bite. Handsome young occult scientist Dr Ulises Albarrán (Rafael del Río) arrives just in time to see the latest would-be lothario being carried back home by torchlight, a pale, lifeless cadaver.

Our young hero is a disciple of the Count Cagliostro, who has sent him to the region to investigate these strange happenings. He comes with a letter of introduction to local bigwig, the Marqués Gonzalo Guzmán de la Serna (Tito Junco), an old friend of his master. Junco lives in the rambling ‘Villa of the Spirits’ with old retainer Frau Hildegarda (Bertha Moss). Some years before, he married his daughter Eugenia (Erna Martha Bauman) to the mysterious Count Frankenhausen (Carlos Agostí). The newlyweds left for the city as soon as their daughter Brunhilda was born, leaving the child in Junco’s care. Recently they returned, but Agostí vanished, and Bauman’s corpse was found at the lagoon. Since then, she’s haunted the woods nearby, and villagers have been dropping like flies.

Further investigations convince del Río that the family hacienda holds the key to the mystery, especially after he encounters Bauman one night in the library. Junco tries to put him off but eventually comes clean; the supposed apparition was the grown-up Brunhilda (Bauman again, of course). She’s kept under lock and key because he fears she has inherited some unfortunate tendencies from her father. Meanwhile, Moss keeps a comfy coffin available for Agostí in a secret room in the hacienda, where he rests in his animal form as an outsized rubber bat.

Despite the familiar setup, Morayta adds a few welcome wrinkles to vampire lore, although they are mainly carried over from the first film. Victims of the vampire remain in a cataleptic state, only rising after their master is staked. Something may have been lost in translation because this doesn’t fit with Agostí’s talk of conquering the world with his hordes of the undead. This expansion of the vampire’s usual mission statement beyond drinking the blood of village maidens is a tiresome cinematic cliché now, of course. Still, it’s refreshing to see it expounded in such an early example of the genre.

Most pleasingly, del Rio proposes to defeat the vampires using science, or what passes for it anyway. Explaining that staking a vampire isn’t always enough, he clashes with the village priest, Father Victor (Enrique García Álvarez), when he proposes to burn the bodies of all Agostí’s victims. Threatened with ex-communication from the church, the alchemist backs down and decides to inject them with Boric Acid instead. This chemical can be synthesised from black mandrake, a rare variation of the plant root that ‘grows only on Vampire Lands’. No explanation is offered as to why it only grows there, and this is confusing when it stands in for the more traditional garlic later on in the film. Credit to Morayta for his new ideas, but a little clearer definition would have helped.

The film’s other strong aspects include Morayta’s ability to conjure a spooky atmosphere, especially with the fog-wreathed exteriors early on. The scenes where the vampires (with stakes in place!) wander about and surround the hacienda at the climax are also oddly reminiscent of George A Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968). The sound design is excellent, too, with Luis Hernández Bretón expanding on his work in the first film and delivering a score with even more emphasis on discordant music. The music helps to reinforce the separate, other-worldly feel of the drama and the isolated location where it takes place.

There are a few less impressive aspects of the production, however. Agostí’s animal form bears a passing resemblance to Lugosi’s ridiculous creature from ‘The Devil Bat’ (1940) and is about as convincing. Agostí also gets far less screentime. Whether this was due to problems with the actor’s availability or was an effort to heighten suspense is unclear, but he does seem strangely absent from the action at times. Our hero is also saddled with the inevitable ‘comedy sidekick’ in the form of a cowardly villager, Crescencio (Fernando Soto), although his presence is thankfully limited. Curiously, several of the principal cast from the first film do not make an appearance. Villains Agostí and housekeeper Moss are present and correct, Bauman plays her original character’s daughter, and mute servant Lucero is here, but none of the heroic protagonists. Ultimately, this is a good thing as del Rio makes a far more convincing leading man than his equivalent in the first film, and Bauman is a more appealing heroine.

The original film did an excellent job of foreshadowing the events of this sequel, but Morayta assumes a little too much prior knowledge of the story here. An audience unfamiliar with the first chapter could be forgiven for being a little confused by the setup here, particularly regarding Junco’s relationship with granddaughter Bauman. Apparently, he’s been keeping her hidden in the hacienda for her entire life and, in a passing aside, mentions that he’s been feeding her on a diet of blood! This history is never developed further, beyond an inference that Boric Acid can wash away her dodgy inheritance. All I can say is that she seems like a remarkably well-adjusted young woman, given that kind of an upbringing!

Overall, this is a stronger film than the original with more depth to the conflict, even if the ultimate brawl between del Rio and Agostí falls prey to some laughable monster FX. Why Agostí needs to hypnotise Bauman to pose as her mother and act as a honey trap for him is also a puzzle. Is he too lazy or incompetent to hunt down his own victims? Considering that his housekeeper procured servants to become his brides in the first film, perhaps he is that hopeless.

Bauman was a former beauty queen who had a short career on the big screen before switching television in the late 1960s. However, her credits include several notable genre pictures, including René Cardona’s take on the legend of ‘La Llorona’ (1960) and ‘El mundo de los vampiros/The World of the Vampires’ (1961). She’s also assigned an uncredited bit in Cirio H Santiago’s ‘Vampire Hookers’ (1978), but, as that was filmed in the Philippines and she was all but retired by then, it’s quite possibly a misidentification.

Another tale of Vampires South of the Border with enough interest points to engage a receptive audience and stand out from the crowd.

El Vampiros Sangriento/The Bloody Vampire (1961)

‘Ah, and a bit of Venus’ navelwort, so they have good dreams.’

Count Cagliostro studies vampires in secret, always searching for the family of Frankenhausen, whose bloodline is cursed with the taint of the undead. Meanwhile, the housemaids of a neighbouring Count are prone to sudden disappearances…

After Abel Salazar’s ‘El Vampiro’ (1957) was a runaway success, Mexican film producers hurried to embrace the supernatural, particularly stories involving the undead. Few of the wave of vampire movies that followed strayed far from the 1931 Lugosi template, which Salazar had adopted, but occasionally some new flourishes and ideas emerged.

Meet Count Valsamo de Cagliostro (Antonio Raxel), a descendant of the original occult scientist whose fame spread throughout the royal courts of Europe in the 18th Century. Although history doesn’t record his run-in’s with the undead, it was a large part of his work, particularly after his second wife was burned at the stake after an encounter with the notorious ‘Vampire of the Moon’. Raxel has dedicated his life to tracking down this creature, establishing that vampirism is a curse passed down to each first-born son of the House of Frankenhausen. Aiding him in his quest are his own ‘Scooby Gang’; daughter Inez (Begoña Palacios), her betrothed, Dr Riccardo Peisser (Raúl Farell) and chamberlain, Justus (Pancho Córdovam, here billed as Francisco A. Cordova).

One of their near neighbours is Count Siegfried von Frankenhausen (Carlos Agostí). He has kept his invalid wife, Countess Eugenia (Erna Martha Bauman), locked up in the house since their marriage and return from the country, leaving daughter Brunhilda behind to be raised by her grandfather. But getting good help seems to be their main problem as housekeeper Frau Hildegarde (Bertha Moss) spends most of her time procuring new housemaids from tavern owner Lupe (Lupe Carriles). The only qualifications they need to possess are good looks and no close family ties. No red flags there, then.

Coincidentally, it turns out that Córdovam’s best drinking buddy is Lazaro (Enrique Lucero), the personal servant of Countess Bauman. When she has a funny turn one night, he fetches Doc Farell, and the gang realise that Agostí just might be the vampire that Raxel’s been looking for all these years. Unfortunately, the occultist is off on a trip somewhere, so they decide to investigate themselves. Fortunately, Córdovam and Lucero drink in Carriles’ bar (it’s a small world!), and it’s an easy job to get Palacios installed as the Frankenhausen’s new housemaid.

Writer-director Miguel Morayta was a veteran filmmaker with no prior credits in the horror genre. However, he does bring some new ideas to the table. There are two kinds of vampires; the ‘living’ and the ‘dead.’ Agostí is an example of the ‘living’ kind, active and feeding. The ‘dead’ are his victims, laying in their graves in a cataleptic state, rising only when their progenitor is despatched. This is an interesting concept if a little awkward. Despite having less than a handful of vampire brides, Agostí talks of wiping out humanity with his army of bloodsuckers. Yes, I guess everyone has to start somewhere, but given that his followers can only take up arms once he’s been finally staked, it seems strange that he’s so enthusiastic about the idea.

Raxel also advocates a scientific approach in eliminating the waiting dead. According to his research, their blood contains a substance called Vampirina that destroys red blood cells, which need to be replenished for the creature to survive. This substance can be eradicated with Boric Acid, made from the roots of the black Mandrake. This notion is a neat tie-in to folk myths about the plant, addressed in the film’s opening sequence when the Scooby Gang harvest the roots from the ground beneath a hanged man. None of this informs the main action in any significant way, but it’s nice to see such attention to detail in the script and an effort to put a new spin on such familiar lore.

What drags the film down is the second act when Palacios goes undercover in the Frankenhausen household. The gang spend an awful lot of time trying to establish Agostí’s bloodsucking credentials. This is a problem because the audience knows he’s the vampire from the get-go, and it’s not that exciting waiting for our heroes to catch up. Also, it’s so blindingly obvious! Bauman as good as tells them so, but Farell prefers to entertain Agostí’s contention that his wife is mad. And just how many ‘Frankenhausen’ families are there in Mexico? Is the name the country’s equivalent of ‘Smith’ or ‘Jones’ then?

Morayta excels when sowing the seeds for the sequel ‘La Invasion de los Vampiros/The Invasion of the Vampires (1962), providing just the right amount of information, so it’s not clumsy or obvious, but pays off in the next film. There’s also good cinematography from Raúl Martínez Solares, which helps mount an impressive introduction to our supernatural antagonist. While on their expedition to collect the roots, our heroes are interrupted by the passage of Agostí’s horse-drawn coach. The vehicle passes in slow-motion and silence; not an original idea by any means, but stylishly handled, and Morayta doesn’t make the mistake of returning to the device again and again. There’s also an unusual soundtrack from Luis Hernández Bretón, who mixes discordant music with passages of choral singing to produce an unsettling effect.

Morayta began his directorial career in the 1940s but hit his stride with the social commentary of ‘Vagabunda/Tramp’ (1950) and biblical epic ‘El mártir del Calvario’ (1952). Work in many other genres followed, such as comedy, romance, adventure and musicals before entering the horror arena. Later on, he delivered the memorable escapades of ‘Dr. Satán’ (1966) and horror-comedy ‘Capulina contra los monstruos’ (1974) featuring the popular Mexican comedian. He left the industry in the late 1970s and died in 2013 at the age of 105.

While it may observe genre conventions pretty faithfully, moments of invention and professionalism make this offering a definite cut above many of its contemporaries.

The Witch’s Mirror/El espejo de la bruja (1962)

‘The satanic rays of the moon will return to death what belongs to death.’

After killing his first wife, a handsome doctor remarries, unaware that his housekeeper knows the truth and is planning vengeance. She invokes the victim’s spirit, and the subsequent supernatural occurrences culminate in a horrific accident to the murderer’s new wife, sending him further down the path of crime and punishment…

A rollercoaster of horror from director Chano Urueta that brings to the brew a heady mixture of witchcraft, murder, grave robbing, satan worship, animal transformations, premature burial, a mad scientist and ghostly visitations over 75 minutes of glorious madness. Although some Mexican genre pictures of the period could be accused of being a little light on plot, that’s certainly not the case with this screenplay by Alfredo Ruanova and Carlos Enrique Taboada.

The film opens with Voiceover Man doing his best to convince the audience of the immemorial existence of witches and their powers. This helpful information is relayed over drawings that look rather like they’ve been executed by Heironymous Bosch. It all proved a tad too strong for the US distributor who cut this prologue entirely, flinging us straight into the action. Concerned young wife Elena (Dina de Marco) has gone to godmother and old family retainer Sara (Isabela Corona) for some advice, knowing that she is a witch with the power of prophecy. Our first clue that the housekeeper may have moved beyond such commonplace talents is the size of her scrying glass. Rather than a shard or sliver, it’s a full-length dress mirror that fills with smoke and a weird, demonic figure.

De Marco is aghast when Corona explains that someone is trying to kill her, and things get worse when she’s shown the culprit in the mirror: her husband, Dr Eduardo Ramos (Armando Calvo). At first, she refuses to believe it but fears the worst when he prepares her a nightcap. Staring into his eyes, she drinks the poisoned milk and falls dead to the floor. In short order, he brings home wife number two, Deborah (Rosita Arenas), but the family home is still filled with de Marco’s favourite tuberoses, and Corona has vowed vengeance. Rather than just being a witch, she can hit up Satan (or one of his demons) for a quick catch-up, turn herself into an owl or a cat and walk through walls.

It’s not long before things are going bump at all hours of the day in the Calvo household with the piano playing itself, Arenas’ flower arranging plans falling prey to time-lapse photography, and de Marco going walkabout from her open grave, which is conveniently visible from the house! This all results in her manifesting to Arenas via the mirror, the increasingly frantic Calvo breaking the glass with a naked flame and his young bride being engulfed by the resulting fireball. Although this might be supposed to be the film’s climax, we’re only halfway through by this point. Arenas survives the immolation but with a hideously scarred face and hands. Then, without any foreshadowing whatsoever, the audience discovers that Calvo is a brilliant plastic surgeon and research scientist! Only he can restore Arenas’ beauty, but the road to recovery is littered with corpses, black magic and other inconveniences.

The Mexican horror craze of the mid-20th Century was spearheaded by hard-headed actor-producer Abel Salazar, who delivered a succession of such pictures after hitting box-office gold with Dracula remake ‘El Vampiro’ (1957). All contained standard horror elements and devices, inspired mainly by the success enjoyed by the classic Universal monster cycle but rarely were so many combined in one film. Early events suggest supernatural horror with Calvo’s murder foreseen by witch Corona who pleads unsuccessfully with her dark master to intercede on behalf of her goddaughter. It’s no dice, and the following scene is arguably the best in the film, at least by usual filmmaking standards. De Marco drinks her poisoned milk while staring into Calvo’s eyes, hoping it’s not poisoned but suspecting that it is and accepting her fate if he no longer loves her. She really sells this moment, and it would provide an excellent grounding for Calvo’s subsequent mental deterioration if we were in an ordinary movie.

After that, we’re quickly into ghostly goings-on as Calvo brings new love Arenas to the house, having evaded the law somehow. The film never tells us how he manages it, as de Marco’s death seemingly has no consequences except the supernatural ones that befall our main protagonists. Director Urueta doesn’t allow these shenanigans to overstay their welcome, though, as we move swiftly into ‘Eyes Without A Face/Les yeux sans visage’ (1960) territory. Yes, Calvo and new assistant Gustavo (Carlos Nieto) take regular trips to the graveyard and dig up the fresh corpses of young women so the doc can use their skin to repair the damage to Arenas.

But the film isn’t finished yet. Not by a long chalk. One convenient case of catalepsy later, and we’re on a nodding acquaintance with Maurice Renard’s science-fiction/mystery novel ‘The Hands of Orlac’, which was most famously filmed as ‘Mad Love’ (1935) with Peter Lorre. Throw in ‘The Beast with Five Fingers’ (1946), dead girls propped up in a walk-in fridge and Calvo failing to notice that large owl perched just below the ceiling of his backroom laboratory while he operates and there you have it. The plots of several different films and horror stories vigorously mixed into a mad cocktail of Gothic terror.

However, it’s not just the disparate collection of different horror plots crashing together that makes the results so enjoyable. What’s key to the entertainment value is that the film has no sense of its own absurdity; it’s all played completely straight without any trace of a wink at the audience. Urueta delivers some elegant camera moves, and he and cinematographer Jorge Stahl Jr create some quite stunning gothic imagery using little more than shadows and smoke. The score by Gustavo César Carrión is solid, and the production design is excellent, cluttering Corona’s satanic altar with an impressive array of folk art and curiosities, including a large, slow-moving spider that provides no story function, only atmosphere. Rather than being a product of factory filmmaking, it seems some genuine technical care and attention was given to the project.

Similarly, the cast is all good. The stand out is Corona, who is imperious as the witch, with a nice line in sly glances and dry humour when required. Often the essence of her character is not conveyed by the dialogue, rather the manner of her delivery and facial expression. Calvo is also fine in his role, which betrays more depth than the average movie mad scientist. At first, he appears to be a simple, heartless killer, but after the deed is done, we discover that he and Arenas were not actually lovers but in love and that she knows nothing about what he did to bring them together. His love remains constant, too, even when she is disfigured; everything he does is for her. Considering what happens to Arenas, it all seems rather unfair; after all, she’s not to blame for anything; she just has lousy taste in men. She is even disgusted when she finds out what her husband has done, although her moral outrage does take a backseat once she realises that he’s been successful and she has her looks back!

Producer Salazar liked the movie so much that he married leading lady Arenas, and she left the big screen the following year. Before his death after a long illness in 1995, she appeared in several roles on Mexican television, beginning in 1987, but retired permanently afterwards. Calvo was the son of award-winning Spanish actor Juan Calvo and split his career between Spain and Mexico. He’d already appeared as the Police Inspector in ‘The Hell of Frankenstein/Orlak, el Infierno de Frankenstein’ (1960) but became most familiar in Spaghetti Westerns such as ‘Ringo’s Big Night/La grande notte di Ringo’ (1966), ‘Two Crosses at Danger Pass/Due croci a Danger Pass’ (1967) and ‘Django Does Not Forgive/Mestizo’ (1971). There were also notable supporting roles in films based on Italian fumetto (so-called ‘black’ comics) that included ‘Kriminal’ (1966) and, as another Police Inspector, in ‘Satanik’ (1968).

For sheer extravagance in plotting and some surprising technical accomplishments, this is one of the most entertaining Mexican horrors of the period and is thoroughly recommended. Great fun.

The Mummies of Guanajuato/Las Mommias de Guanajuato (1972)

‘Girls, in case of a Mummy’s attack, stay calm…’

One hundred years after being defeated in the ring, a wrestler returns to life as a mummy to take his revenge. Commanding the undead thanks to a deal with the devil, he targets local wrestlers in the hope of drawing out the descendant of the legendary fighter who bested him all those years ago.

One of the best-remembered of the Mexican Wrestling horrors, director Federico Curiel delivers the first teaming of arguably the three most iconic fighters in the history of lucha libre: Santo, Blue Demon and Mil Máscaras. Tying them in with the real-world bonanza of a famous cultural phenomenon didn’t hurt the box office either.

Diminutive tour guide Penguin (Jorge Pinguino) funds his liking for the liquor by showing holidaymakers around the exhibit of the Mummies of Guanajuato. Although most of them are sealed behind glass, one group of six are free-standing on a bench in the corridor. The most striking of these is Satan (Tinieblas), a giant standing seven feet, two inches tall. The story goes that he was a famous wrestler in the latter part of the 19th Century who made a diabolical pact after being defeated by an ancestor of legendary luchador, Santo. This deal promised resurrection one hundred years later to the day, and Pinguino suddenly realises that the clock runs out today! One of the women in the party faints dead away.

Returning to the exhibit alone, Pinguino also thinks he sees the mummy move and passes out, but the watchman assumes he has been drinking. So he goes to the Sante Fe Club to do just that, arriving too late to catch the pointless musical number performed by real-life popular singer Martha Angélica. He tries to convince top of the bill Lina (Elsa Cardenas) and friend Alicia (Patricia Ferrer) of what he’s seen, and when they return to the exhibit, Satan has gone for a little walk. However, the mummy’s strange disappearance fails to persuade Cardenas’ boyfriend, flamboyant wrestler, Mil Máscaras, that anything’s amiss. His compadre Blue Demon is even more sceptical, dismissing the possibility out of hand, which is interesting considering his many encounters with the supernatural in previous films.

However, it’s not long before the corpses start piling up in the streets of the town in apparently random acts of mayhem. Satan then blindsides Blue Demon and steals his mask and clothes, passing them to one of his undead crew. This fake Blue Demon then murders a passer-by, the killing witnessed by police inspector Juan Gallardo, who’s on hand thanks to a note attached to a rock thrown through the window of his office. Who throws this rock and how he knew where to throw it is not important. What does matter is that Blue Demon is wanted for murder, and Santo must race to the rescue!

Screenwriters of the world, look away now! Although it has to be acknowledged that scripts for Mexican Wrestling movies were never outstanding models of logic or credibility, rarely has one left the audience with so many questions. We only receive the most cursory details about our main villain for a start. No information about his original death or how he came to be mummified. Was that part of his deal with the devil? Why would he want to visit his vengeance on the descendant of the man who defeated him anyway? Why not the man himself? Who are his mummified friends? Why do their numbers seem to increase as and when required?

The answers to these (and many other questions!) perhaps lie with a production decision made late in the day, apparently after shooting had begun. Initially, the film was intended as a vehicle for the double team of Blue Demon and Mil Máscaras. However, the producers suddenly decided to bring Santo on board, presumably for his box office clout. This does explain why he only appears in the last 20 minutes of the film (a brief flashback aside), but it must have given scriptwriter Rafael García Travesi a few grey hairs. In the end, what we get is the faithful old ‘generational revenge’ chestnut delivered in an exposition dump by Pinguino at the start of the film. As for what was originally scripted (and perhaps even filmed?), we can’t know, but it probably filled in a few of the film’s gaping plot holes.

As it is, we’re never clear why Satan fixes his attention on Blue Demon. Some kindly commentators have suggested that framing him for murder is a device to get Santo’s attention, but that’s never stated in the film. Indeed, Santo doesn’t even mention Blue to his manager Carlos Suárez as they’re driving into town! In effect, Santo shows up in the final reel to ‘save the day’ when the situation is seemingly beyond Blue and Mil Máscaras. Cardenas even delivers a line at the end of the picture where she ventures the opinion that if they’d called in Santo earlier, then there would have been no problems! Ouch. Blue was not happy about all this, and his resentment was still evident in interviews toward the end of his life.

Despite these production issues, the results are undeniably entertaining. Our three heroes facing down a horde of the living dead with flame-throwing pistols is undoubtedly one of the iconic moments of the entire genre. The monster makeups by veteran Carmen Palomino are surprisingly effective too, which is perhaps not too surprising given earlier credits on the ‘Aztec Mummy’ series. The action is brisk, and there’s plenty of it, and the ridiculous nature of developments result in several priceless moments for fans to enjoy. I’m still wondering who threw that rock through Gallardo’s window.

The real-life Mummies of Guanajuato were bodies exhumed from a cemetery when town officials enforced a tax on ‘perpetual burial’, which lasted from 1870 to 1958. If you couldn’t pay, your loved ones were exhumed and stored in a warehouse! Environmental conditions led to the mummification of the corpses, and the public started paying to see them as early as the late 1800s. However, international attention quickly arrived after the establishment of a museum to house them (‘El Museo de las Momias’), in 1969. As well as ensuring their permanent place in Mexican popular culture, the resultant media ballyhoo attracted the interest of film producers who recognised a good thing when they saw it.

Although never as famous as his compatriots in the film, Mil Máscaras also enjoyed a long career on the silver screen, debuting in ‘Los canallas’ (1968), apparently as a substitute for the injured Blue Demon. Two horror films co-starring Hollywood legend John Carradine closed out the 1960s before he first teamed up with Blue and other luchadors for ‘The Champions of Justice/Los campeones justicieros’ (1971). His name translates into English as ‘Thousand Masks’, and he wore a different, brightly coloured mask on every occasion. These were usually colour-co-ordinated with the rest of his gaudy outfit, and on this occasion, he even sports appropriate headgear to match his lime green dune buggy!

The success of our trio’s encounter with the Mummies led to quick sequel ‘Robbery of the Mummies of Guanajuato/El robo de las momias de Guanajuato’ (1972). This time neither Santo nor Blue was on hand, so Máscaras had to beat them off with the aid of lesser grapplers Blue Angel and El Rayo de Jalisco. All of the trio passed on ‘The Castle of the Mummies of Guanajuato/El castillo de las momias de Guanajuato’ (1973) but Máscaras was happy to face ‘The Mummies of San Angel/Las momias de San Ángel’ (1975) shortly afterwards. Those last two films featured Tinieblas, who plays Satan here, and he was happy to stay on board for ‘The Whip Against Murderous Mummies/El latigo contra las momias asesinas’ (1980). But, by then, it seems that the Mummy horror craze in Mexico was well and truly over.

One of the brighter examples of Mexican Wrestling cinema, although Santo’s participation is surprisingly brief.

La Llorona (1960)

‘I just stepped on a cat that didn’t exist.’

A young woman marries against her father’s wishes and gives birth to a son. However, as the child approaches five years of age, she becomes over-protective to such a degree that it threatens her marriage. It’s then that the husband learns of the curse that hangs over her family…

Remake of the 1933 Ramón Peón movie based on the folk myth of the same name prevalent throughout Latin America. There are multiple variations on the original tale, but it remains so popular that it appeared recently in ‘The Conjuring’ film series as ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ (2019). However, this take by director René Cardona stays close to the story told in Peón’s original film.

Pretty blonde Margarita (Luz María Aguilar) is tired of the single life. She wants to marry handsome Felipe Arnáiz (Mauricio Garcés) but her father, as Don Gerardo Montes (Carlos López Moctezuma) objects to their union. Father and daughter both know why, but keep Garcés in the dark. The couple goes ahead anyway and returns to live at the family home after their honeymoon. Young son Jorgito (Marina Banquells) arrives shortly afterwards, and everything should be perfect. However, Aguilar refuses to leave the child’s side and, as he approaches his fifth birthday, her mania seems to intensify. By this time, Garcés has had enough and delivers an ultimatum; they start behaving like a typical family or get a divorce.

Seeing that things have reached a crisis, Moctezuma takes his son-in-law to one side and explains the danger that threatens the family. Back in the 16th Century, their ancestor Don Nuño de Montes Claros (Eduardo Fajardo) was a soldier attached to the staff of the local Viceroy. He began an affair with a mixed-race woman, Luisa del Carmen (María Elena Marqués) that led to the birth of two children. However, his promises of marriage faded when he saw that the children took after their mother. Instead, he planned to wed noblewoman Doña Ana (Erna Martha Bauman). The news sent Marqués over the edge, and she murdered their children with a dagger after cursing Fajardo and Bauman’s children and their firstborn descendants.

Garcés remains unconvinced of the threat, even after a gust of wind from a closed window and the sudden manifestation of a black cat. So, Moctezuma follows up with more recent information. His first son drowned mysteriously in a pool as a toddler and his older brother in a riding accident at the same age. Nevertheless, Aguilar decides to put her fears aside, and she and Garcés start a more conventional life, leaving the young boy in the care of a mysterious new nanny, Carmen Asiul, who bears a surprisingly close resemblance to you-know-who.

Cardona’s film is almost a straight re-telling of the 1933 story, so inevitably, it shares some of the same strengths and weaknesses of that movie. Again, the second act flashback is very lengthy, which makes the drama feel disjointed. Cardona achieves a better balance with that, but it’s also the most substantial part of the narrative. In comparison, the climactic events are somewhat bloodless, especially as they take place when the hero and heroine are offscreen on a romantic night out! The racism angle is interesting, though, and a departure from the original where the faithless soldier’s choice of wedding partner is political rather than based on prejudice. It’s unusual to address such a theme in a genre picture of this vintage, and it’s handled with surprising subtlety, being reflected in Fajardo’s face when he sees his new son for the first time, rather than being explicitly stated.

The film also deserves credit for sticking to its guns; the new nanny is the spirit of La Llorona, and the legend is not explained away in rational terms. A little clarity about the curse would have helped, though. Yes, the firstborn must die, but why must it seem like an accident? Nanny Marqués is alone with the child on multiple occasions but, instead of just finishing off the job, she contrives to place him in harm’s way through various devices, such as rolling his ball out into traffic, tripping him up when he’s running with scissors, etc. Why is this necessary? It’s not as if she has to fear any reprisals from the authorities; she’s an evil spirit from the otherworld! Inevitably, it feels as if all this has been included simply to pad out the final third.

The main reason for tuning in is the performance of Marqués. At first, she’s swept off her feet by the dashing Fajardo, becoming his devoted partner and mother to his children. She remains steadfast in her loyalty even during his increasing absences. The scene where he tries to pay her off with jewellery, and she still thinks it’s just a gift, provides critical psychological insight into her character and lends credibility to her sudden collapse into vicious hatred and madness. She’s also appropriately sinister as the black-garbed La Llorona, conflicted by her thirst for revenge and the apparent charms of her youthful charge. Without her performance, the film would probably seem twice as long.

After almost twenty years in the business and many leading roles, Marqués must have been a familiar face to the contemporary Mexican audience, but several of her fellow cast members are also worthy of note. Fajardo was a Spanish actor who moved to Mexico in the 1950s and quickly established himself in featured supporting roles and had graduated to some leads by the end of the decade. He moved back to his home country in the 1960s, where he became almost a fixture in Spaghetti Western productions, both from Spain and Italy. He appeared in prominent character parts in ‘A Coffin for the Sheriff/Una bara per lo sceriffo’ (1965), ‘Django’ (1966), ‘Seven Pistols for a Massacre/7 pistole per un massacro’ (1967) and ‘Pistol for a Hundred Coffins/Una pistola per cento bare’ (1968), among many others. He also appeared in horror maestro Mario Bava’s ‘Lisa and the Devil’ (1973).

Moctezuma’s film career began in 1938 and, by the time he died in 1980, he’d appeared in over 200 features. These included roles opposite luchadors like Neutron in ‘Neutron vs the Karate Assassins/Los asesinos del karate’ (1965) and as the police inspector on the case during El Santo’s two run-in’s with ‘The Strangler’. He was also one of the leads in director Cardona’s rather tatty ‘Night of the Bloody Apes (1969), a film banned in the UK during the media-created ‘Video-Nasty’ scandal of the early 1980s. Bauman appeared more prominently in a trio of vampires in the immediate years following this production. There’s even a small role here for David Reynoso, who would become back-up for luchador Blue Demon during a couple of his most memorable cinematic adventures. He also appeared in many other genre and fantastical films of the 1960s.

Although improving the country’s first cinematic take on the legend, this is still a minor entry in its supernatural filmography. La Llorona herself wasn’t finished, though. Not by a long chalk. Three years later, she returned again for ‘La Maldicion De La Llorona/Curse of the Crying Woman (1963).