Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dracula and the Wolf Man/Santo y Blue Demon vs Dracula y el Hombre Lobo (1972)

‘Renato the hippie is sweating profusely.’

An elderly professor receives an anonymous death threat and asks advice from his niece’s boyfriend, the famous wrestler Santo. The academic believes the letter is linked to his family history and an ancient curse. When he suddenly vanishes, Santo calls in his old friend Blue Demon to help him investigate…

More South of the Border mayhem featuring the world’s favourite luchador tag-team, this time combining to face off against two icons of horror. Director Miguel M. Delgado referees from a script by Alfredo Salazar.

After a life spent hitting the books, Professor Luis Cristaldi (Jorge Mondragón) may have experienced the occasional difference of opinion on academic matters, but he’s certainly not used to getting threats in the mail. Unfortunately, he has reasons to take the warning seriously and is mainly concerned for his family; daughter Laura (María Eugenia San Martín), niece Lina (Nubia Martí) and granddaughter Rosita (Lissy Fields). The good news is that Martí’s current beau is none other than crimebusting, monster hunting, time-machine inventing Santo, el Enmascarado de Plata, and he’s happy to help. At a family crisis meeting, Mondragón reveals the source of his concern; 100 years ago, one of his ancestors defeated Dracula and the Wolf Man using the legendary Dagger of Boidros, which he is now gathering dust as an ornament on his bookcase.

That same night, Mondragón is kidnapped by hunchback Eric (Alfredo Wally Barrón) and taken to a subterranean cave where the disciple’s ancestors hid the coffins of Conde Drácula (Aldo Monti, reprising his role from earlier in the series) and Rufus Rex, El Hombre Lobo (Agustín Martínez Solares). Mondragón is duly hung upside down above each casket in turn, and his blood brings the monsters back to life. The deadly duo set about creating an army of vampires and lycanthropes to aid in their plot to revenge themselves against the remaining members of the Cristaldi family. Meanwhile, Santo has called in wrestling partner Blue Demon to help investigate the Professor’s disappearance, but little sleuthing is necessary. The monsters waste no time in putting their plans into action.

There’s little production information readily available about Santo’s film projects. More than 20 are credited as hitting the big screen between 1968 and 1973, but specific release dates are incomplete, even contradictory, making it nearly impossible to establish a clear order of production. It does seem, however, that there was an effort made at some stage during this period to market the great man as a star of serious horror films, beginning with ‘Santo and Dracula’s Treasure/Santo en El tesoro de Drácula’ (1969), which was even released in a version with nudity. ‘The World of the Dead/Land of the Dead/El mundo del los muertos’ (1970) and ‘The Vengeance of the Vampire Women/La venganza de las mujeres vampiro’ (1970) were in a similar vein, but subsequent projects took on a softer approach. One of the problems with trying to present Santo’s adventures in horror as dark and edgy was rooted in Mexican cinema’s obsession with the classic Universal Monster cycle of the 1930s and 1940s. Vampires in capes and dinner jackets work in a fairytale Eastern Europe of gothic castles wreathed in creeping shadows, but not so much in the sunny streets and pueblos of modern-day Mexico.

The film opens, unsurprisingly, with Santo grappling in the square ring with a white-masked fighter called Ángel Blanco, supervised by international referee Roberto ‘Güero’ Rangel (playing himself!) The commentator (Enrique Llanes) cheerfully informs us that the bout is taking place in a ‘great arena in the capital city of Mexico’, which is ‘filled up to maximum capacity’. Unfortunately, all we get is a fixed shot of the entire ring from one side with a plain blue backdrop, and the vast crowd appear on the soundtrack only. International referee Rangel can’t prevent Ángel Blanco from fighting dirty, but Santo beats him down anyway. At one stage, we cut to Barrón in a shirt and tie, carrying on in his underground cave where two stone heads belch flames at regular intervals. These fireworks are always accompanied by heavy bursts of a church organ, which often emphasise the comedy of the situation. Sorry, I mean the horror. Obviously.

Santos girlfriend Martí has an uncle who received a written death threat from a group calling themselves ‘The Avengers’ (perhaps they’re going to bore him to death with endless CGI fight scenes?) This connects (somehow?!) with the usual generational curse because, of course, one of the Professor’s ancestors tangled with Dracula and the Wolf Man and defeated them, and his descendants will bear the brunt of the king vampire’s revenge. Santo takes the news in his stride, of course, because something like this comes up in his life every second Tuesday in the month, even more often when there’s a full moon. The dagger of Boidros will deal with the monsters, so Mondragón puts it on his 8-year-old granddaughters’ bedside table for safekeeping. Nothing could possibly go wrong there. The dagger works a little like a crucifix in a standard vampire film, although the script never fully commits to this idea.

Barrón hangs Mondragón upside down above Dracula’s coffin and uses his blood to revive the vampire in a ‘homage’ to Hammer’s ‘Dracula, Prince of Darkness’ (1966). The same procedure restores his werewolf lackey, Rufus Rex. The gore is all offscreen, but Mondragón’s blood-spattered corpse is still hanging there later on, which is the only time the film approaches Santo’s more serious excursions into horror. The evil duo begin recruiting an army of vampires and lycanthropes, Barrón lining them up for the operation in the caves of their underground lair. None of the recruits looks particularly happy about it, but then no one likes to queue, do they? Surprisingly, their grand plan to target the Cristaldi family doesn’t involve a full frontal assault but stealth and strategy. Post resurrection, werewolf Solares has reverted to his handsome human form, complete with a silk shirt, and the undead Monti assigns him to romance San Martín while he goes after Fields. One would like to think that’s because the 8-year-old is obviously a much more significant threat, rather than anything else, but the implications are far creepier than the filmmakers intended.

Most of the time, Monti’s Dracula turns out to be curiously passive, with Solares doing all the heavy lifting. The wolfman makes San Martín’s acquaintance by seeing off some supposed muggers in the street in a staged fight. Why not just kidnap her then and there? Well, because that ‘would be too easy’, of course! His oily charms soon won her over, though, and she’s not even phased by the fact that his name is Rufus Rex (yes, he doesn’t bother changing it!) Unfortunately for her, Solares is no Larry Talbot, instead being fully committed to the hairy lifestyle. Soon, San Martín is sacrificed offscreen beneath a fixed shot of the most unconvincing full moon ever committed to film, accompanied by some screams on the soundtrack. Although Santo’s cinematic adventures aren’t noted for their high production values, this effort does look better financed than most. However, this brief sequence and the bargain basement wrestling bouts feel very cheap and distinctly out of place. Also, given that blood-soaked shot of Mondragón’s hanging corpse, it is possible that the film initially also leaned toward serious horror, but these elements were removed in post-production.

Elsewhere, director Delgado displays a surprisingly acute visual sensibility. He creates some decent visual compositions rather than just pointing the camera at the action and letting it run. Unfortunately, there are still some goofy moments with rubber bats and a sequence where an old, scrawny vampire turns chatty family maid Josefina (Lourdes Batista). Presumably, this balding bloodsucker is one of the Count’s minions, but this is the first time we’ve seen him, and he doesn’t appear again. Logically, it should have been Monti carrying out the attack, and it’s interesting to speculate if the sequence was originally shot that way and later replaced. After all, he really has very little to do in the finished film.

By contrast, Martí is probably Santo’s most proactive girlfriend in the entire franchise. When the great man and Blue Demon are trapped in a warehouse and badly outnumbered, she rides in to save the day on a forklift! Mexican cinema was often ahead of the curve in portraying women in action roles, but the heroines in this series were usually little more than kidnap fodder and subjects for rescue. Also, shock horror, Santo actually gets to kiss her at one point, although, more often than not, the lovers prefer to bump noses (damn that mask!)

It’s pleasing to report that the film also has enough familiar elements to please hardcore fans of the legendary luchador’s cinematic antics. Monti and Solares show a blatant disregard for Health and Safety by having a giant pit of spikes in their cave headquarters because that seems like a good idea (clue: it isn’t!), and their army of the dead only numbers about a dozen. Mondragón and San Martín are part of this infernal task force because they are now zombies, which makes perfect sense. Barrón’s hunch and terrible facial scar both come and go and the latter moves around his face on command. Santo hilariously fails to convince us that he’s drinking a cup of coffee (damn that mask!), and events conclude with a tag team match where Santo and Blue take on El Blanco Angel and Renato the hippie, supervised by international referee Rangel. Renato fought Blue earlier in the film (against a red backdrop) and looks about as counterculture as a Sunday morning trip to your local garden centre. Both sides blatantly cheat, but the bad guys started it, and they cheat worse, so that’s ok.

Santo remains a legend in his native Mexico almost 40 years after his death, revered as a folk hero and champion of the common man. His wrestling career stretched from 1934 to his retirement in 1982, during which time he appeared in more than 50 films, battling monsters, spies, and international crimelords. Despite allegedly being the better wrestler, Compatriot Blue Demon never quite attained the level of Santo’s popularity. As well as backing up the great man on the big screen, he appeared in his own series of feature films from 1965 to 1979, often assisted by other famous luchadors of the day such as Mil Máscaras, Superzan and La Sombra Vengadora. In later life, he concentrated on passing his grappling skills on to younger fighters. Sadly, Rangel was forever typecast as an international referee and never acted again.

Truly a box of delights for the dedicated Santo fan. Everyone else? Well…just get with the programme, ok!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Santo in Anonymous Death Threat/Santo en Anónimo mortal (1972)

‘Killing a man with a bomb is never a joke.’

A jeweller who opens his shop after hours for an insistent customer is slain, but nothing is taken. An estate agent falls to his death from a balcony. Both men had received anonymous death threats in the mail…

It’s another case for the Man in the Silver Mask as Mexico’s favourite luchador locks horns with a mysterious criminal conspiracy with links to World War Two. But has Santo bitten off more than he chew by going toe to toe with a gang of Nazi war criminals?

The customer isn’t always right. That may have been the last thought that crosses the mind of a jewellery shop owner (José Mora) when he is gunned down after opening up his store to a persistent late-night shopper. Inspector Ponce (Armando Silvestre) and sidekick Rocha (Raymundo Capetillo) are baffled. The killer took nothing, leaving a fortune in gems just lying about, and the old man had no known enemies. Across town, real estate agent Campos (Armando Arriola) is pushed from a high building by a potential buyer, who vanishes afterwards. Presumably, it was a no-sale.

The only connection between the two victims seems to be that both had recently received an anonymous threat, complete with date of death. The story breaks in the papers, and it’s a cause for concern to businessman Mario Gaos (Xavier Massé), the latest recipient of such a promise. His other half, Ester (Sasha Montenegro), suggests the police, but he has a better idea: call in a crime-fighting wrestler. Yes, Massé happens to have Santo’s number in his Rolodex and gives the great man a ring. Santo takes the case as, these days, he seems to be a wrestling private eye rather than a monster hunter, a spy or living in the Wild West. He even has his own investigative team; handsome hunk Pablo (Gregorio Casal) and pretty blonde Yvette (Tere Velázquez).

Unfortunately, Massé ends up wallpapering his office, and not in a good way, courtesy of a bomb detonated when Velázquez is distracted by a visit from Montenegro. Working with the police, Santo discovers that all three men testified at the trial of Nazi commandant Paul von Strubel after the war. He identifies possible future victims as wealthy industrialist Henkel (Ivan J. Rado) and research biologist Dr Fournier (Joaquin Bauche). Worse still, he realises that the Nazi Party is alive and well and operating in Mexico City.

If the idea of ‘Santo vs the Nazis’ sounds like a lot of fun, then think again. This entry in the great man’s long-running film series is a damp squib at best and bares the telltale signs of an even smaller budget than was usual for the series. It’s no surprise to discover that it was originally made for television, something which may explain its apparently belated big screen release in 1975. Everything about the film is small scale, the majority of the action being little more than a series of conversations in boring offices capped by some lacklustre fighting in cramped service tunnels in a factory basement somewhere.

Of course, our hero gets to strut his stuff in the square ring a couple of times. Unlike in some of the entries in the series, these two sequences are not stock footage of the great man, nor are they bouts staged in a studio. Instead, it appears that the crew set up shop in the wrestling arena to film Santo in action in actual matches, placing other members of the cast in the watching crowd. In the second fight, Santo grapples with real-life wrestler Ignacio Gómez, who fought under the name of El Nazi with swastikas on his boots (ah, the 1970s – the decade good taste left behind). When the bad guys attempt to kill Santo, it’s his opponent who takes a bullet to the head.

The film’s script and plot mechanics feel barely sketched out, with character motivations as simplistic as possible. There’s no sense that the Nazis are a credible threat, as their grand plan seems to involve nothing more than settling a few old scores with a handful of individuals who have settled into civilian life. The villains aren’t colourful or exciting, and the climactic fight scenes are underwhelming at best. There’s little production information available, of course, but the overall impression is of a project knocked out in a couple of days with most of the participants keeping one eye on the clock, waiting for quitting time.

There are slim pickings even for serious fans of the series. The chief bad guy’s fate is nicely ironic. Velázquez was the younger sister of Lorena Velázquez, who shared the screen with Santo on several occasions, most notably as the Vampire Queen in ‘Santo vs the Vampire Women/Santo vs. las mujeres vampiro’ (1962). Elsewhere, Santo and Silvestre agree to pool their resources, but it’s a one-sided arrangement. The Inspector provides full details of his investigation, but the great man promptly holds out on him. Is he arrested for impeding the police? Of course not; are you insane? He’s Santo! Also, the two wrestling matches are supposed to be taking place on different nights, so it probably wasn’t the best idea to feature prominent shots of the same crowd members dressed identically on both occasions. But squeezing any enjoyment out of what’s on screen is a hard ask, even for fans of bad movies.

This was the first assignment in the director’s chair for actor Aldo Monti who had made his debut in front of the cameras almost two decades earlier in ‘Noche de milagros’ (1954). His work over the next fifteen years was mainly on television, with the occasional big-screen appearance, most notably in horrors ‘Mysteries of Black Magic/Misterios de la magia negra’ (1958), ‘Panic/Pánico’ (1966) and Carlos Enrique Taboada’s classier ‘The Book of Stone/El libro de piedra’ (1969). He took on the role of the immortal Count for ‘Santo and Dracula’s Treasure/Santo en El tesoro de Drácula’ (1969) and repeated duty on ‘Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dracula and the Wolf Man/Santo y Blue Demon vs Dracula y el Hombre Lobo’ (1973)’. In between, he faced off against the Man in the Silver Mask once more as a mad medico in ‘The Vengeance of the Vampire Women/La venganza de las Mujeres vampiro’ (1970). Subsequently, he mainly acted on television but moved more into direction, delivering about half a dozen features before his death in 2016.

Nothing here for anyone but the die-hard Santo fan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Santo vs. the Killers from Other Worlds/Santo contra los asesinos de otros mundos (1971)

‘Careful, daughter, that is a very dangerous substance.’

A mysterious killer targets victims vital to the nation’s economy, and the head of National Security is told to bring legendary wrestling crimefighter Santo into the case. However, before he can begin his investigation, the agency’s private television network is hacked by a man claiming responsibility and demanding ten million dollars in gold bars…

After his last few movie outings battling the dark forces of the supernatural, headhunters and undead mummies, it was time for the Man in the Silver Mask to get back to fighting aliens. In a career of more than fifty films, Mexico’s most famous real-life wrestler favoured crime lords and monsters of horror more than he did extraterrestrials. However, when he jumped into the science-fiction arena, it was usually worth the price of admission. But not always for the right reasons.

National Security Chief O’Connor (Marco Antonio Campos) is not having the best of days. A wave of murders in the capital has claimed the lives of four citizens, one a John Doe, but the other victims are essential to the economic wellbeing of the country. His superiors demand that he call in Santo, whose first request is to see the autopsy reports. Campos is happy to oblige and sends secretary Sonia Fuentes to get them. Rather than stay with our two principals, the camera follows her down the corridor instead. She goes into an office and picks up the files from a table. Then she brings them all the way back again and hands them to O’Connor. She doesn’t interact with anyone on the way, and the sequence is entirely pointless. But it does add a precious 30 seconds to the running time!

However, Santo and Campos don’t have time to sit around and chat. The agency’s broadcast frequency gets hacked, and here’s the villainous Malkosh (Carlos Agostí) appearing on the TV with his demands. Ten million in gold bars, or the killings will continue. Neither Santo nor Campos goes for it, and the 24-hour deadline expires without incident. Then top scientist Dr Chamberlain (Carlos Hennings), his daughters and lab technicians are wiped out in another incident. The government decides to pay up, and the ransom is sent via cargo plane to a remote airstrip. However, Santo is hidden on board and plans to surprise the villain when the plane lands.

Santo’s cinematic adventures were never known for their high production values, but the sudden descent into the territory of the micro-budget here is genuinely terrifying. Agostí’s pet alien killer is brilliantly portrayed by some extras or crew members flailing about under a dirty tarpaulin. Yes, it looks exactly as bad as it sounds. The last time the Earth was in such peril was when students under an old carpet menaced humankind as ‘The Creeping Terror’ (1964). And the creature is front and centre from almost the first moment of the film. Director Rubén Galindo doesn’t even bother to have it lurk in the shadows, mitigate the effect of its shoddy appearance with some clever camera angles or just keep it off-screen for a while. Nope. This is it. This is our monster. Live with it.

There are some other wonderfully bonkers examples of bad movie hilarity too. The ten million dollars of gold bars are portrayed by a stack of mismatched grey boxes in the cargo plane fuselage. If we let that pass, I’m still worried about how Agostí intends to move them, given that all he has at his disposal are three minions and a family car! I hate to think what those bars will do to the suspension. Still, the vehicle is handy as Santo runs into it and gets knocked out, waking up to face Agostí seated on a golden throne! Our villain proposes a challenge instead of killing the great man when he’s unconscious. Because, of course, he does. Combat against three mighty warriors that Agostí conjures out of thin air with the push of a button. Nice tech, Agostí!

Santo defeats the first two, both musclemen armed with various gladiatorial weapons. More issues arise with the third one, though, who turns out to be a bloke in a hazmat suit wielding a flame thrower! Kudos to the great man for this scene, as the jets of flame look like they get mighty close on occasion, and I doubt health and safety were the production’s greatest priority. It’s also worth asking exactly where this combat sequence is supposed to be taking place. The ground looks like gravel and sand, and we see what appear to be stars in the night sky. However, if it’s meant to be outside, it would probably have been an idea not to have Agostí and his minions close to the painted backdrop. Big shadows thrown across the sky tend to make it look a little bit like an inside wall.

Eventually, we discover that the monster is the creation of Dr Bernstein (Carlos Suárez), whose experiments on a lunar rock sample activated dormant micro-organisms resembling soap suds. Some of the rock falls into the hands of Suárez’s right-hand man, Boris Licur (Juan Gallardo), who explains very clearly to his pretty blonde lab assistant (Patricia Borges) that the germs will reactivate if exposed to air. As soon as he leaves the room, she removes the cover for no apparent reason and turns her back on it to do some sciency stuff at a bench. Smart move! The soap suds are on the march again. We don’t see them transform into a tarp, though, which is disappointing.

There are a few other things worth mentioning. Santo works out Gallardo’s secret location from the types of shoes one of his henchmen wears. We get one of the worst’ dummy falling from a building’ effects you could wish for, and composer Chucho Zarzosa peppers the soundtrack with random electronic noises whenever he feels like it. There are also enough examples of flagrant time-wasting to earn a dozen yellow cards from a FIFA referee. Finally, there’s a scene where Santo escapes from a room filled with empty cardboard boxes that very nearly outsmart him. He repeatedly tugs at a half-open door, not realising that one of the half-squashed cartons is caught behind it. Come on, Mr Director, couldn’t you afford just one retake?

Rubén Galindo co-wrote this film and sat in the director’s seat, and it’s a little surprising to find that he had quite a long career in both roles, stretching from the early 1970s to the mid-90s. He even crossed paths with the star again, co-helming the far better ‘Santo vs the She-Wolves/Santo vs. las lobas’ (1976). On writing duty on both projects was Ramón Obón, who enjoyed an extensive association with Mexican cult cinema, beginning with Julián Soler’s portmanteau horror ‘Panic/Pánico’ (1966). Projects in a similar vein followed, some of which attracted American star John Carradine, such as ‘Diabolical Pact/Pacto diabólico’ (1969) and ‘The Death Woman/La señora Muerte’ (1969). His association with the wrestlers of Lucha libre ran in the family as his father had created the character of masked superhero La Sombra Vengadora (The Avenging Shadow) for a movie serial in 1954. This fictional persona was adopted, with a slight costume change, by real-life wrestler Rayo de Jalisco.

It’s a little sad to see Santo reduced to such a poverty-stricken effort, but its entertainment value cannot be denied. Essential viewing for fans of the great man.

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.

Santo and the Vengeance of the Mummy/Santo en la venganza de la momia (1971)

‘Since they started making those plastic glasses, I’ve had so many embarrassments.’

Following the translation of an ancient codex, an archaeologist assembles a team to enter the Mexican jungle and locate the tomb of an Aztec warrior. The expedition is successful, but the Mummy disappears from the crypt, and group members begin to die one by one…

Riffing on Universal’s classic monster films of the 1930s and 1940s was hardly a new approach for Mexican Horror cinema by this point. Pitting legendary luchador Santo against another iteration of the Aztec Mummy, who had already had his own series of films beginning in the late 1950s, was hardly going to win director René Cardona any awards for originality.

Jumping straight into the square ring for some grappling action, the film’s opening finds our hero in the Silver Mask in some serious tag team action. His partner, the red-masked Rebel, is out for the count, thanks to the dirty tactics of opponents Angelo and Casanova, those ‘famous Italians.’ However, dealing with these upstarts proves a minor inconvenience, and he’s on time for his meeting with archaeologist Professor Romero (César del Campo). Other delegatres at this brief discussion are anthropologist Professor Jiménez (Carlos Ancira), photographer Susana (Mary Montiel), engineer Sergio Morales (Eric del Castillo) and del Campo’s secretary Rosa Bermúdez (Alma Rojo). Everyone agrees to come along, of course, and, less than two minutes after Santo’s victory in the arena, we join them all in the jungle.

The expedition has linked up with Chief Guide Carlos Suárez, and he’s recruited a bunch of rather shifty locals to act as porters, who are not at all interested in the rumours of hidden treasure at the burial site. Also joining the group are the elderly Plácido (Alejandro Reyna) and his grandson Agapito (Niño Jorgito). Reyna is initially reluctant to give the interlopers the benefit of his local knowledge. However, Montiel promises they will pay for Jorgito’s education after the old man is gone (which isn’t a red flag at all). In what must have been a major disappointment for fans of the previous entry ‘Santo vs The Head Hunters/Santo contra los cazadores de cabezas’ (1971), endless hours of our heroes trekking through the undergrowth does not follow. Instead, we flash forward to everyone safely encamped at the dig site. What’s more, engineer del Castillo has already sorted out any necessary excavations, and all that remains is the final breakthrough to the funerary crypt.

Its occupant turns out to be Nonoc, an Aztec noble who was buried alive a thousand years before. He wiled away the initial hours of his entombment by writing out some exposition on a parchment, which is helpful for everyone, especially as Reyna can translate. It turns out to be the same old story; man loves virgin, man kidnaps virgin from the shadow of the sacrificial altar. Man and virgin run off into the jungle but are captured just before he can disqualify her from her religious duties. Virgin is sacrificed, man is buried alive. It’s a familiar tale to anyone with a passing knowledge of Karloff and Chaney Jr’s adventures in bandages for Universal. It’s also hardly earthshaking that the would-be lover put a curse on the descendants of those that condemned him. This is bad news for Reyna because he happens to be one of them!

Those familiar with the original Aztec Mummy series may recall that the creature was brought back to life by removing the ‘Holy Breastplate’, and Nonoc is similarly non-plussed when the idiotic Ancira relieves him of the ‘Necklace of Death.’ That night the Mummy goes for a little walk that ends up at Reyna’s tent and exit one team member, the deadly deed witnessed by grandson Jorgito. The kid wakes everyone up, and they find the Mummy is gone from the tomb. Faced with this evidence, everyone believes his story, however impossible it might seem. Five minutes later, they find Nonoc having a quiet lie down in the girls’ tent, and the boy’s tale becomes ‘scientifically impossible’, and no one believes him. To prove that the creature is dead, del Campo drives a dagger three times into its mummified chest, thus displaying a sound knowledge of scientific protocol and an appropriate respect for ancient cultures and their dead. Nice one Professor, pick up your Nobel Prize on the way out.

The Mummy begins a reign of terror with his bow and poisoned arrows while our heroes endlessly vacillate between believing in his resurrection one minute and then dismissing the possibility as nonsense the next. Of course, the porters try to desert, so Santo gives them a sound thrashing. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t prove to be an effective man-management strategy, and they all head for the hills the moment his back is turned. Worse still, his budding romance with Montiel is derailed by a call to dinner, and he’s obliged to take care of the orphaned Jorgito. Given the number of boys he’s adopted over the series, it’s a wonder the local social services haven’t paid him a visit! Meanwhile, Nonoc displays a surprising grasp of the 20th Century by burning down the supply tent and wrecking their radio! Not bad for someone who’s been out of the loop for a thousand years.

None of this qualifies as great cinema, of course. Still, it’s undeniably entertaining, with director Cardona infusing the proceedings with far more pace and incident displayed in some of the other entries in the series. Screenwriter Alfredo Salazar can perhaps also be forgiven for straying rather close to the plot elements and scripts of the old Aztec Mummy series. It wasn’t plagiarism, after all, because he co-wrote those original films! On the debit side, he saddles us with Ancira as the tiresome comic relief. The character wanders into the movie somewhat like the ‘wacky egghead’ who dragged down many of Jules Verne’s literary escapades.

Nonoc is not too impressive as a movie monster. He gets the quiver of arrows on his back caught up in the paraphernalia inside a tent and takes some moments to extricate himself. Cardona uses the take, of course. I mean, who needs another? At the risk of engaging in spoilers, the creature’s behaviour and some of the plot’s more ridiculous developments are explained by a late twist in the tale, even if it does raise its own questions of credibility.

Jorgito’s adoption by Santo takes on an interesting twist when you check the boy’s other movie credits; two appearances under the name of Jorge Guzmán, both in other films of the series. Twelve years later, he attempted to revive his film career playing one of the title roles in ‘Chanoc y el hijo del Santo contra los vampiros asesinos/Chanoc and the Son of Santo vs the Killer Vampires’ (1981). Yes, he was Santo’s real-life son and, although his screen career never amounted to more than a couple of films, he had far more success following in his father’s footsteps in the square ring.

Cardona was in the director’s chair for several of Santo’s more outlandish adventures, such as ‘Santo and Dracula’s Treasure/Santo en El tesoro de Drácula’ (1968) and was one of the leading figures in Mexican cult cinema for several decades. His career began in earnest in the 1930s, but it was more than a quarter century before he joined the horror boom with supernatural folk rale ‘La Llorona’ (1960). From there, it was a short step to ‘Doctor Doom/Las luchadoras contra el médico asesino’ (1963), ‘Wrestling Women vs the Aztec Mummy/Las luchadoras contra la momia’ (1964) and ‘The Batwoman/La mujer murcielago’ (1968) and many others, often involving Salazar on scripting duties. He also birthed a directing dynasty with son, René Cardona Jr and grandson, René Cardona III also taking up the megaphone.

One of the breezier and more enjoyable of Santo’s monster mash-ups.

Santo vs the Head Hunters/Santo contra los cazadores de cabezas (1971)

‘It seems impossible that such a thing could exist in the space age.’

A lost tribe of head hunters kidnap a young woman who is the direct descendant of the conquistador that almost wiped them out, planning to sacrifice her to their gods. Her father calls in a famous masked wrestler, and they form an expedition and head into the jungle in hot pursuit…

Legendary luchador Santo goes on a jungle movie adventure, courtesy of co-writer and director René Cardona. By this point in the long-running series, the masked wrestler had successfully tackled the Mafia, witches, Dracula and aliens, to name just a few, so how hard could an excursion through the interior to fight some tribesmen possibly be?

After near extinction at the hands of the conquistadors, the Hibaro Indians have kept firmly under the radar. Lately, however, they’ve touched base with bad man Tirso (Guillermo Hernández), who has convinced them to take action to restore their rightful place in the world. However, before they can do that, they must take their vengeance on pretty blonde Mariana (Nadia Milton), a direct descendant of their original nemesis. Conveniently, her family’s butler Husca (Enrique Lucero), is one of the tribe, and they contrive to send her a black orchid and a legendary amulet called the ‘Golden Anaconda’. Her father, Don Alonso Grijalva (director Cardona), has the relic pronounced as genuine by expert Professor Castro (Enrique Pontón), who values it beyond price. Rather than put in a museum, however, Milton wears it out on a date with boyfriend Carlos (Freddy Fernández) and is promptly kidnapped and whisked off into the jungle.

The distraught Cardona wastes no time forming a safari to run the miscreants down, bringing in guide Pancho (Carlos Suárez) and none other than Santo to lead the party. The tribesmen have a good head start already and Professor Pontón thinks that Milton is headed for a date with the sacrificial knife, but he also believes the ceremony won’t take place for some time yet. A long chase through the jungle ensues with the tribe’s witch doctor using his magical arts to place obstacles in the way, such as a river crocodile and a jaguar. Warriors also carry out a series of attacks, and the rescue party become rapidly diminished.

Santo on safari like a modern-day Jungle Jim is not, of itself, a flawed concept for a film, and the first half-hour that sets up the adventure is entertaining enough. There’s a decent pace and an opening scene of our hero seeing off some criminal types that later ties into the story, albeit somewhat vaguely. Unfortunately, a couple of minutes into their rescue mission, our heroes run out of road, and the film runs out of plot. An audience gains little satisfaction from scenes of people walking, and Cardona’s film has them in abundance. Occasionally, there’s a little bit of business to break them up, but these events come across as contrived and serve no real purpose other than to slowly whittle down the numbers of Santo’s group and place more of the heroic burden on the great man’s shoulders.

The action, such as it is, is relentlessly underwhelming. Santo makes like Johnny Weissmuller with the crocodile in the river and also wrestles the jaguar to two falls and a submission. However, both creatures look a good deal smaller and less animated when sharing the frame with our hero than they appeared initially. There’s also a ‘blink, and you’ll miss it’ attack by vampire bats and a traitor in the camp. Santo deals with the latter by throwing him into the river, where he immediately explodes because it’s filled with electric eels. Scientifically plausible, of course. Best of all, the villain’s hat meets the same fate, only for it to reappear a few seconds later, floating down the river behind the Man in the Silver Mask, looking completely undamaged. There’s also a wonderful moment when the group builds a defensive stockade. A couple of poles begin to slide slowly to the ground and collide gently with Cardona along their way. Ever the consummate professional, the actor-director simply pushes them back into place and uses the take anyway.

If it doesn’t seem like there’s much here for even hardened fans of the series, then there’s a minor payoff during the last ten minutes when our heroes finally reach the tribe’s headquarters. Santo puts the hurt on various warriors, of course, as everyone panics, but then he’s joined by Cardona. So we get a wonderful moment where the two are fighting off head hunters standing back to back on the sacrificial altar. Given that Cardona directed many of Santo’s earlier and subsequent cinematic adventures, it’s kind of an iconic moment. I guess. There’s also some amusement to be had watching the faces of the extras playing the tribe as they troop past the camera. Never in the history of showbusiness have movie stars looked so bored.

Not only was Cardona responsible for more than half a dozen of Santo’s films, but his filmography is littered with other examples of fantastical Mexican cinema. ‘La Llorona’ (1960) opened the floodgates, quickly followed by the trio of films starring Lorena Velázquez and Elizabeth Campbell, which included the classic ‘Wrestling Women vs The Aztec Mummy/Las luchadoras contra la momia’ (1964). Other projects followed such as ‘The Panther Woman/Las mujeres panteras’ (1967), ‘The Batwoman/La mujer murcielago’ (1967), ‘Night of the Bloody Apes/La horripilante bestia humana’ (1969) and ‘Blue Demon and Zovek in The Invasion of the Dead/Blue Demon y Zovek en La invasión de los muertos’ (1973). He also has over 100 acting credits, which stretch all the way from 1928 until his death in the late 1980s.

Not Santo’s finest hour; this is one for the die-hard fans only.

The Body Snatcher/Ladrón de cadáveres (1957)

‘And the manner in which the veins and arteries were sewn is truly surprising.’

After his mysterious death, an athlete’s corpse is snatched from the local boneyard by grave robbers. This incident is just the latest in a wave of similar crimes. Under increasing pressure from his superiors, a police captain persuades his best friend to go undercover at a local gymnasium which seems to be the centre of the strange events…

Early attempt to merge the rapidly emerging Mexican horror film with the national phenomenon of Lucha libre (literally ‘freestyle wrestling’), a mix that would become ubiquitous over the next two decades of the country’s genre cinema. Director and co-writer Fernando Méndez’s film helped establish some of the familiar tropes of this oddest of film genres and was pivotal in its creation.

His latest case is proving to be a real two-pipe problem for young Capitán Carlos Robles (Crox Alvarado). Not only are apparently fit and healthy sportsmen dropping like flies, but their bodies are also vanishing afterwards. Alvarado suspects a connection with a local gym frequented by wrestlers. When old friend Guillermo Santana (Wolf Ruvinskis) arrives from the provinces, looking to establish himself in the grappling game, Alvarado recruits him to go undercover in an attempt to break the case.

Bad-tempered wrestler The Black Wolf (Guillermo Hernández, in effect playing himself) has already taken a fatal blade in the shower, courtesy of an old man who is always hanging around selling lottery tickets. The big man’s corpse is smuggled out of the building by a man pretending to pick up the laundry. All this happens right under the nose of Alvarado and his men. This latest humiliation makes him turn to Ruvinskis, who has almost immediately fallen in love with his friend’s colleague Lucía (Columba Domínguez).

It’s not much of a surprise when the old ticket seller turns out to be our main villain, El Profesor (Carlos Riquelme), flying under the radar courtesy of a wig and a fake beard. Unfortunately, his experiment on this latest victim proves to be another failure. Meanwhile, as part of his undercover mission, Ruvinskis has reinvented himself as masked wrestler El Vampiro. Rapidly running up an impressive list of wins in the square ring, he is soon a fan favourite and, as planned, appears on the radar of the mad medico as a prime target.

Transferring heroes from the square ring to the cinema screens of Mexico was nothing new by the late 1950s, but the procedure had only enjoyed sporadic success. The serials featuring La Sombra Vengadora (The Avenging Shadow) had generated good box office returns. However, efforts like ‘El enmascarado de plata/The Silver Masked Man’ (1954) had failed to inspire an intended series, probably due to the absence of the real-life Santo. However, everything changed in late 1957 with this film and the runaway success of producer-star Abel Salazar’s ‘El Vampiro’ (1957), which was released a few weeks later. Méndez directed both, and the latter in particular launched a craze for monsters and horror that soon brought the stars of Lucha libre on board.

Méndez gives us the mad scientist as villain, a holdover from the Hollywood movie serials of its golden age and harking right back to Universal’s ‘Frankenstein’ (1931). This film even gives us a pretty faithful take on the infamous ‘God’ speech delivered by Colin Clive when Karloff stirs on his operating table. Motivations and scientific detail were always rather vague in Mexican cinema, though. In this example, Riquelme tries to bring the dead back to life by performing a brain graft with a living ape as the donor. But, even when successful, the test subject reverts to its simian roots, growing chest hair and even fangs. But this is all audience assumption; nothing is ever clearly explained.

The script isn’t great on specifics in general. When Ruvinskis first meets Domínguez, she’s working as a secretary at police headquarters. The next time he sees her, she seems to be doing the same job at the gymnasium. Obviously, we assume she’s also working undercover, but she never actively participates in the investigation at all and subsequently only appears on dates with Ruvinskis and at her flat. There’s also no backstory on Riquelme or how many victims there are on his scorecard. And why does he leave Hernández’s corpse propped up on a street corner to be discovered by a passing prostitute? Did he do that with the results of all his failed experiments?

The film’s rousing climax does mitigate most of that lack of clarity, however. When Riquelme’s final creation goes on the rampage in the wrestling arena, Méndez delivers a very well-choreographed sequence. As opposed to just a couple of dozen extras shown in tight shots, we get probably a couple of hundred fleeing for the exits in terror. The monster also gets some attention to detail here, with his makeup steadily becoming more grotesque and bestial each time we see him.

The other notable scene is the slam down in the gym early in the proceedings between the Black Wolf and El Tigre (Alejandro Cruz, again playing himself). The two are due to fight for a paying audience, but the Wolf is told he must throw the bout. In a rage, he assaults Riquelme, who is dressed as the old ticket vendor. Cruz takes exception, and the two get into it in the ring. Their fight is more physical and convincing than any other match I’ve witnessed in Mexican wrestling cinema, even the ones that are footage inserted from real-life contests. Maybe the two of them really didn’t like each other!

Latvian Ruvinskis was also a wrestler by trade and probably the only star of Lucha libre without Mexican or Hispanic roots. He was also an adept magician and tango singer who shared the square ring with the best in the business until his career was cut short by injuries in 1950. From there, his charm and good looks took him into acting, and a lead role in Chano Urueta’s ‘La bestia magnífica (Lucha libre)/The Magnificent Beast (Wrestling)’ (1952) launched his career in earnest. He went on to play masked wrestling superhero Neutrón in a series of five films from 1960 to 1965 and, although the pictures never approached the popularity of those starring the legendary Santo, they did solid box office. A couple of years later, he got to face off against the Man in the Silver Mask himself as the alien leader in the thoroughly enjoyable ‘Santo contra la invasión de Los marcianos/Santo vs. the Martian Invasion (1966). He worked consistently as an actor with another career as a successful restaurateur until his death in 1999.

An important film in the evolution of Mexican fantasy cinema.

Santo vs the Riders of Terror/Santo contra los jinetes del terror (1970)

‘No, sir, I am not escaping from justice, nor am I a leper.’

In old Mexico, a small town is thrown into a panic when half a dozen lepers escape from a nearby sanatarium. While the Sheriff and the doctor in charge try to keep order, a gang of cutthroats take the opportunity to start a crime spree and blame the escaped patients…

Santo goes West! After battling vampires, Martians, mobsters and evil scientists, it’s time for the Man in the Silver Mask to go up against some rootin’ tootin’ bank robbers in this curious diversion in his long-running adventures.

It’s bad news for young Sheriff Dario (Armando Silvestre) when six inmates stage a midnight escape from the San Lazaro Leprosarium just down the road. The lepers raid two remote farmsteads afterwards, sending their occupants screaming into the night, and the next day, the local townspeople want an immediate necktie party. Silvestre manages to keep a lid on things with the help of Dr Ramos (Carlo Agosti), the head of the institute.

Unfortunately, things escalate quickly. After a date with Silvestre, his bride to be, Carmen (Mary Montiel), surprises a burglar, and her father is shot dead while she lies unconscious on the floor. The fugitives get the blame, of course, but it’s actually the handiwork of secret gang of cutthroats, led by local bad boy Camerino (Julio Almada). Seeing an excellent opportunity to deflect the blame, he plans a series of crimes, culminating in robbing the town’s bank. Fortunately, the clueless Silvestre happens to know a certain man in a silver mask…

Quite possibly the oddest entry in the entire filmography of legendary luchador El Santo. Director René Cardona doesn’t offer any outlandish or bizarre events over the 90 minute run time, but the film is a straight Western. Over the years, cinema has given us a long list of heroic Western archetypes; gunfighters, pioneers, lawmen, drovers, gamblers, cavalrymen, homesteaders and trail scouts. Not too many masked wrestlers, though.

Of course, the story is not entirely divorced from the tried and trusted Santo formula. Early on, there’s some square ring action as he takes on man-mountain El Toro, the main attraction of a travelling show. Triumphant, of course, the great man gives the cash prize away to three watching nuns who run an orphanage. It’s also an instant decision that the lepers are probably not responsible for the bad things happening in the area. How does he know? Because he’s El Santo, of course.

What’s open for speculation, though, is when the action is supposed to be taking place. All the characters are dressed in period or classic Western clothing, and there’s no sign of the 20th Century anywhere, not even a telegraph or railroad. So is this the late 1800s? Has Santo gone back in time? Well, I guess it’s possible, given that he invented a time machine in ‘Santo and Dracula’s Treasure/Santo en El tesoro de Drácula’ (1968).

One of the film’s few talking points is how Cardona presents the lepers. Lurching mutely out of the shadows with the camera lingering on their disfigured faces, they bear more than a slight resemblance to the popular zombie form created by George A Romero in ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968). Creepy music plays, women faint and scream and grown men head for the hills. It’s all a bit of a contrast to the scenes where Silvestre and Agosti try to explain that the lepers are just ordinary men with a horrible disease. Agosti’s words display a somewhat greater consideration of mercy than Cardona’s camera.

However, late on in the picture, when the lepers’ are allowed to appear more sympathetic, we get a strangely pointless flashback featuring the doomed romance of their leader, Jose (Gregorio Casals) and his lady love Lupe (Ivonne Govea). Perhaps this scene would make more sense when viewed in the film’s ‘sexy’ version. Yes, an alternate cut that includes female nudity did play in some territories, although no prints are currently available, and it seems lost. In another example of good taste and judgement, this version was titled ‘Los leprosos y el sexo’, which translates into English as ‘The Lepers and Sex.’

A curious and relatively anonymous chapter in the adventures of El Santo. If only he’d worn a cowboy hat.