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.

El pantano de las ánimas/Swamp of the Lost Souls/The Swamp of the Lost Monster (1957)

‘I’ll give you a hand; you’re wetter than soup.’

A victim of cholera is ferried across a haunted swamp to his final resting place. However, his stepson arrives unexpectedly at the funeral service and demands that the coffin be opened. The corpse has vanished. The young man rides for help but is shot along the way, dying in the arms of his best friend, who vows to investigate the mystery…

A showcase for renowned horseman and bullfighter Gastón Santos, this murder-mystery comes with a dash of the outlandish, courtesy of director Rafael Baledón, screenwriter Ramón Obón and a rampaging swamp monster. Horror and fantasy were just beginning to take off at the Mexican box office, and this was one of the earliest mash-ups that placed a real-life celebrity against unusual forces of evil.

Doña María (Sara Cabrera) stands weeping by the river bank when her dead husband’s coffin is brought to their estate. She is consoled by her brother-in-law, Don Ignacio Mendoza (Manuel Dondé), and the peons look on, hats in their hands. Cabrera insists on accompanying the coffin to the remote burying ground, even though the route crosses the infamous ‘swamp of lost souls’, which the locals believe is populated by the spirits of the dead.

The journey passes without incident, and the casket is opened at the gravesite so Cabrera can get one last look at the dearly departed. The burying begins but is interrupted by Cabrera’s son, Adrian (an uncredited actor). He demands the coffin be opened once more, and the body is gone. Rather than seek help from the authorities, he tears off to get Santos instead. If this seems an odd decision, then it’s worth remembering that Santos solved the mystery of the missing rag doll belonging to his cousin Julieta (Manola Saavedra) when they were children. With a track record like that, he’s obviously the man for the job. But, inevitably, given his lack of billing, Adrian is almost DOA after being shot on the way and breathes his last in Santos’ corral.

Back at the ranch, Saavedra is worried about her aunt and living in a house ‘filled with mysteries and secrets.’ Local quack Dr Morales (Arturo Corona) is concerned about the infectious body going AWOL and enlists the help of Dondé and all the townsmen to search for it. But why does the new head of the household have a secret telegraph machine hidden in his desk, and what is Cardera’s ‘horrible secret’? Above all, why the hell is a humanoid swamp monster hanging about and knocking off some of the locals?

It’s a real three-pipe problem for Santos and ‘comedy’ sidekick Espergencio Godínez de la Macorra (Pedro de Aguillón), whose ride into town is interrupted when the former is shot by a gunman hidden by the side of the road. ‘Tis only a flesh wound, though, and doesn’t bother our handsome hero again after a quick patch up, especially during another shooting incident in the tiny neighbourhood tavern where dozens of bullets fly with deadly intent but hit no one at all.

What undercuts all this drama and intrigue is the sight of our unfriendly visitor from the swamp lumbering about, firing a spear gun at our hero, using its own secret telegraph machine and generally looking ridiculous. The plot involving insurance fraud is tired and unimaginative, and the complete lack of any police or authority figures in attendance begs an obvious question. Why bother with all these contrived shenanigans at all? There must have been a dozen simpler ways for the villains to achieve their ends. As for the swamp, well, it bears a remarkable resemblance to a stretch of open river and is about as spooky as an afternoon trip down to the supermarket.

The film’s one creative touch concerns the resolution to the mystery of the vanishing corpse at the gravesite. The explanation is very contrived, but it does make sense, and, to the best of my knowledge, it is unique. Unfortunately, the answers to everything else that’s happening are both predictable and rather silly. The fight scenes are poorly staged, and the comedy is often painful. The action culminates in an endless slapstick routine where our cut-price Shaggy and Scooby dump the villain’s gang into a cellar filled with hay one after another until it seems they must have incarcerated the entire town.

Despite a brief running time of 75 minutes, things begin to drag badly in the final act. Gustavo César Carrión’s strangely disconnected music doesn’t help either, but it may have been sourced from another production. The composer is credited with scoring ten films in 1957 and over 90 in the 1950s. Director Baledón was also responsible for seven features released during the year in question, over 30 in the decade and, when he wasn’t calling the shots, he also acted in quite a few others!

Special credit should go to the unnamed stuntman who did the underwater swimming sequences in the monster suit. It’s obviously oversized to accommodate breathing equipment, but the whole ensemble probably weighed a ton beneath the surface. Also, spare a thought for second-billed Rayo de Plata, who plays Caballo. His presence was confusing to me because there didn’t seem to be any character of that name in the film, man or woman. Why? Because it turned out to be Santos’ horse!

The son of the former governor of the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí, Santos travelled to Portugal as a young man to train as a rejoneador. This was the original form of bullfighting where a fighting animal is pitted against a man on horseback. At that time, the practice had been eclipsed by the toreador on foot with his cape, but Santos’ popularity helped to spark a revival. In the ring, he was usually accompanied by his Lusitanian horse, Rayo de Plata (Silver Ray), which, of course, explains the animal’s second billing in the film. Santos made a series of movies from 1956 to 1962 for Alameda Films, usually Westerns. He retired from the screen after a cameo in a 1971 production and turned his attention to breeding and training horses.

A vaguely interesting amalgamation of Western and monster movie from a time when Mexican cinema was still only taking baby steps into the world of the fantastic and supernatural. There’s some enjoyment to be had, but it’s really for hardcore fans only.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What are you in for again, Doc?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Maldicion De La Llorona/Curse of the Crying Woman (1963)

Curse_Of_The_Crying_Woman_(1963)‘I found her fascinating life in these books…’

A pair of newlyweds decide to visit the bride’s aunt, who is her last living relative. The woman has supposedly lived alone for years in an isolated, gloomy mansion. There have been a series of gruesome murders in the district, and it’s not long before the couple begin to suspect a supernatural origin to the brutal crimes…

We’re taking another trip south of the Rio Grande into the world of the Mexican horror film, and who better to accompany us on our journey than some old friends; for example Abel Salazar? Here, he’s still making hay while the moon shines after his breakout success in ‘El Vampiro’ (1957), both producing and starring in this murky tale of witchcraft and murder. Our leading lady is Rosita Arenas, who’d already waltzed around the floor a couple of times with the Aztec Mummy and battled Haitian voodoo in ‘Curse of the Doll People’ (1960). And wrapping up the whole package for an English-speaking audience is legendary film distributor K. Gordon Murray, bringing it straight out of his Miami studio complex with the usual fairly random dub track.

Actually, this is one of the most effective straight horrors to come out of Mexico at the time. A lot of that is down to the performance of Rita Macedo, who thumps a mean pipe-organ as the demented old granny and moonlights as a daughter of the night. There are also some surprisingly effective chills, courtesy of director Rafael Baledon, and fairly impressive interiors, including a massive bell tower. Most of the mystery is jettisoned after a half hour though, which doesn’t help with the suspense, and a mad killer is crowbarred into proceedings in rather a clumsy fashion. But luckily, the gothic atmosphere and Macedo are sufficient compensation, and, despite a few obvious model shots, the destructive climax is quite well realised.

Curse_Of_The_Crying_Woman_(1963)2

‘Ta-Da!’

Macedo’s daughter also appears in an early scene as a frightened girl on a coach, and it was the shape of things to come for the actress Julissa, whose long and varied career included appearances opposite Boris Karloff in 3 of the 4 Mexican horror pictures he shot in his final days that were completed after his death with less than outstanding results.

It’s noticeable here how Salazar was already moving away from performance; his nominal hero frequently taking a back seat to Arenas and Macedo. He was presumably more interested in what was happening behind the camera by this point.

There’s no evidence here of the skewed sensibility which makes later products of the Mexican horror industry so entertaining to a modern audience, but instead we have a straight, decent picture that delivers an adequate level of chills and a few memorable visuals.

El hombre y el monstruo / The Man and The Monster (1959)

‘Crazy,El_hombre_y_el_Monstruo_(1959)_2 you say? It’s a monstrosity!’

A promoter visiting a reclusive concert pianist finds a dying girl who has apparently been killed in a mysterious road accident. Then the musician seems to be more interested in promoting his protégé than appearing on stage himself. The plot thickens when a strange hairy creature starts running amuck…

Fright film ‘El Vampiro’ (1957) was a massive domestic hit in Mexico and, despite being a fairly standard riff on Dracula, kick-started a whole decades worth of home-grown cinematic horror. Leading actor Abel Salazar rode the wave for all he was worth, starring and producing a whole series of pictures in the same genre. He usually took the romantic lead, rather than playing any children of the night, and the results never wandered too far from their main inspiration: the Universal classics of the 1930s and 40s.

The plot of this one is fairly transparent after about five minutes or so, as is the main inspiration behind the story: ‘The Wolf Man’ (1941). Having a classical music motif means there are some variations of course; a deal with the devil and an old corpse sitting in a chair. That’s not the only faint echo of ‘Psycho’ (1960), except mother takes a much more active role in developments here.

El_hombre_y_el_Monstruo_(1959)

Teen Wolf was finding it difficult to face up to the death of the American Dream…

The SFX are predictably poor and the wolf man/demon makeup rather hard to take seriously. Of course, we always have to bear in mind that this is the U.S. version, imported by that legendary film distributor K. Gordon Murray and redubbed in his Florida studios. In this case, obviously without a great deal of care and attention as, although we clearly see Martha Roth’s hands on the keyboard (so she could obviously play) what we hear on the soundtrack bears very little resemblance to her hand and finger movements.

Even by 1962, Mexican horror was beginning to incorporate some more outlandish elements; robots, wrestling and Brainiacs (Salazar again!), so it’s quite possible that this film already looked a little old fashioned, even on release. Certainly, when viewed today, it’s nothing special; an overly familiar non-mystery with predictable plot development and absolutely no surprises.