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!

Blue Demon vs. The Satanic Power/Blue Demon vs. El Poder Satanico (1966)

‘Magnificent! Now to the morgue, and soon I will be free!’

An aristocratic serial killer is sentenced to hang but is found dead in his cell on the morning of his execution. In reality, he has assumed a catatonic state and is planning to wake later on, but instead, he is buried alive. Fifty years later, graverobbers disturb his tomb, and he is free to continue his murderous rampage…

The phenomenal big-screen success of Mexican wrestling legend El Santo paved the way for more luchadors to strut their stuff before the cameras, and a series of films starring Blue Demon was almost an inevitability. After all, he was the man’s great rival in the square ring, and the box office potential was obvious.

It’s 1914, and mysterious nobleman Gustavo Fernández (Jaime Fernández) has been convicted of the murders of several young women. The authorities might not have uncovered his secret lair, but they have the man and summarily sentence him to be executed. However, he has a plan which he helpfully explains to a fellow resident on death row the night before he’s due for the chop. He’s going to use his mental powers to play dead, wake up in the morgue and then make his escape. His scheme unravels when the authorities decide to take him straight to the burying ground instead. Luckily, after a half-century of watching the worms crawl by, he’s sprung from his prison by graverobbers looking for jewels, and he’s back in business.

The world may have moved on in the fifty years since his incarceration, but some things never change. His secret headquarters has remained undiscovered in all that time and, although the housework may have fallen behind, it’s still the perfect bachelor pad for this suave serial killer. Really, the Mexican authorities do have to get better at uncovering these places; almost every mad scientist, supervillain, criminal mastermind finds his secret laboratory/headquarters intact after he gets out of jail or returns from the dead. Perhaps they should set up a special unit to track these criminal lairs down. It would save a lot of trouble in the long term.

Anyway, Fernández picks up right where he left off, sending beautiful women into a trance, taking them to bed and then ordering them to walk into his household furnace. I guess he’s not a guy for long relationships. Unfortunately for him, one of the women he targets is the girlfriend of the cousin of top wrestler Blue Demon and, when the cousin is left dead at the scene, our grappling hero vows to bring his killer to justice. After some encouraging words from Santo, appearing courtesy of a brief cameo, Blue begins to investigate as Fernández continues with his reign of terror.

This was Blue Demon’s second starring picture after taking his bow as a leading man in ‘Blue Demon: El Demonio Azul’ (1965), and yes, that title does translate into English as ‘Blue Demon, the Blue Demon.’ Predictably, the filmmakers behind the series were many of those involved in Santo’s movies, most significantly producer Luis Enrique Vergara. By all accounts, the personal and professional relationship between Vergara and Santo was rapidly disintegrating by this time, so it made perfect sense for the producer to look for another star, and Blue Demon was the obvious candidate. Unfortunately, what emerged in this instance was a low-budget, patchwork adventure painfully cobbled together in a way that did little to hide its limited ambition and resources.

At first, events follow the familiar pattern for these types of escapades. The plot sets up our main villain and provides the audience with sufficient exposition regarding his history and method of operations. This is all quite promising, although it soon becomes clear that Fernández is only using his impressive mental powers to pick up chicks and get laid. Yes, that’s it; no bizarre scientific experiments, no plans for world domination; he just wants to get his rocks off. So while Fernández visits nightclubs picking up girls (a couple of them lip-synch a full-length pop song first, so I’m guessing they were singers with records out?), Blue is busy wrestling at the arena. And that’s the first half of the film. We also get Santo taking part in a match before his cameo, but this is footage lifted from ‘Santo vs. el Rey del Crimen/Santo vs. the King of Crime’ (1961).

In the second half of the film, Blue begins to investigate, but this mainly entails him sitting in a darkened room, reading a book, which I like to think was called ‘How to Defeat a Supernatural Hypnotist in 10 Easy Lessons.’ According to the English subtitles, this weighty tome also includes details of the disappearance of Fernández’s corpse and the murder of the graverobbers. Handy. All this research somehow enables Blue to locate Fernández’s hideaway (no one else could manage it in half a century, remember!). So our hero makes a quick visit to confirm his suspicions and then goes back home to ring the police. Having realised that Blue is on to him via his wonderfully unspecified powers, Fernández turns up at Blue’s home with ten minutes of the film left. Everything is set for a final epic showdown, but it turns out to be little more than an extended staring contest.

If it wasn’t for Blue and Fernández appearing in the same shot a couple of times near the end of the film, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was an example of new footage being added to an abandoned, unfinished film. Hero and villain have almost no interaction over the 78 minutes of running time; it’s padded out with pop songs, punters throwing shapes on a nightclub dance floor and Spanish-speaking VoiceOver Man filling us in on what Blue is reading in his book. Ok, Fernández does watch one of Blue’s contests from the cheap seats but it’s only because he’s hypnotised opponent Fernando Osés (who also wrote the film’s original story) to kill our masked hero, so it’s just reaction shots when his scheme fails.

But, despite all those telltale signs of something cobbled together, apparently, this was not the case. Perhaps its shortcomings speak more to an evaporating budget during the shoot? After all, the early sequences set in the past and those of Fernández stalking his prey are well-shot by veteran director Chano Urueta and boast plenty of supporting players in the nightclub scenes. However, in the latter half of the film, we get only our two principals and a couple of faceless cops. The film doesn’t even establish a heroine for Blue to save from Fernández at the climax.

Blue Demon enjoyed a movie career of over 20 titles and was often partnered with Santo. Sadly, the two did not enjoy a friendly working relationship. Blue bested Santo in a series of matches in the early 1950s to win the NWA World Welterweight Championship but never achieved his opponent’s unprecedented level of popularity in the country, something he apparently found difficult to accept. He carried on wrestling until 1989, retiring from the ring at the age of 67. He spent the final decade of his life teaching younger grapplers his skills and died in 2000.

A rather feeble entry in the Mexpoitation genre. Fortunately, Blue Demon was better served by later projects.

Santo will return in ‘Santo vs. The Martian Invasion/Santo el Enmascarado de Plata vs ‘La invasión de los marcianos’ (1966)

Cult Cinema Book Review: ‘Santo, the wrestler with the silver mask – A guide to all his films’ by Felix Hahlbrock Ponce

Here I am back on YouTube with a new ‘Cult Cinema Book Review’!

This week I’m discussing ‘Santo, the wrestler with the silver mask – A guide to all his films’ by Felix Hahlbrock Ponce.

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