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Friday, October 9, 2015


Just another day for El Santo.

Mexican horror from the early1960's is a cornucopia of atmosphere, cheesiness, and sheer weird craziness that at times feels like it spewed forth from the mind of a child who was out of his mind during a serious fever. Heavily influenced by the look and feel of the classic Universal horror cycle and more than a little of the then-current Italian flavors, these south-of-the-border shockers overflowed with vampires, lycanthropes, Frankenstein-esque man-made-monstrosities, mummies, mad scientists, random cutlery-wielding madmen, and malevolent space aliens, and on many occasions those baleful ne'er-do-wells were righteously opposed by luchadores, Mexico's signature masked professional wrestlers. Those heroes brought a distinctly Mexican cultural angle to the proceedings and created a popular sub-genre that positioned them as the country's go-to defenders against the forces of diabolical evil. Mil Mascaras, Neutron, the Blue Demon, and numerous others put their boots up the asses of the malevolent and beastly creatures but none took to the challenge with the diligence and longevity of El Santo ("the Saint"), or simply Santo for short. 

El Santo.

El Santo was real-life pro wrestler Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta (1917-1984) and by far the most famous and popular wrestler in Mexico, so his expansion into entertainment areas outside of the squared circle was inevitable. The leap was made to the cinema and El Santo headlined 49 (!!!) films between 1958 and 1982, with only three making it to the States in dubbed form, with the masked hero re-christened as Samson. The most well-known Santo movie in the U.S. is arguably SANTO VS. LAS MUJERES VAMPIRO, aka SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN, and when weighed against the quality of much of Santo's filmography, it's hands down one of his best. (NOTE: The Santo movies are all cheesy, to varying degrees, so take the praise I bestow upon this film with that in mind.)

The titular vampire women.

When a cabal of female vampires awaken after two centuries, their queen, Thorina (Lorena Velázquez), dispatches her minions to complete a goal that was interrupted two-hundred years previous by an ancestor of El Santo. (NOTE: Depending on the film, Santo is something of an Eternal Champion type, an old presence reborn in each era to fight a never-ending battle against diabolical forces.) Their objective: Find the reincarnation of a woman who had previously been chosen to take over from Thorina and also become the bride of Satan himself. The modern day incarnation is the daughter of a respected professor who's absolutely not down with his little girl becoming the thrall of Hell, so he calls in his old pal El Santo to put much wrasslin' boot to undead suckface ass.

The rest of the story plays like a live-action installment of SCOOBY-DOO, WHERE ARE YOU?, only with real monsters and the Scooby Gang swapped out for a badassed Mexican wrestler in a silver mask. The vampire women and their male slaves get up to all manner of shenanigans that Santo  inevitably thwarts in a kid-friendly way — the scares are mild and largely atmosphere-driven, and there's no gore — but there are a few truly memorable visuals to be had. There's a great bit where one of the vampire slaves is fleeing the scene of some evil that he committed, only to come face-to-face with a huge cross mounted in a churchyard that spurs him to use his cape in a futile attempt to shield himself from its influence, but to no avail. He bursts into flames, falls over, and burns out on the sidewalk. But the true highlight is when one of the vampire slaves takes the place of a wrestler who's slated to take on Santo in the ring, and when it becomes clear that Santo's going to come out the victor and remove the evildoer's mask — the ultimate defeat in Mexican wrestling culture — when mask comes off, the vampire is revealed as...A WEREWOLF!!!

What would Rowdy Roddy Piper have had to say about this?

The werewolf/vampire then proceeds to go buck wild in the ring and the mayhem is indeed glorious in its sheer ludicrousity.

SANTO VS. LAS MUJERES VAMPIRO was only the seventh of the Santo films and being of such a relatively early vintage, it had yet to become the kind of lazy, ultra-low-budget, rote time-waster that the majority of later entries became, and sitting through it feels like watching a slower-paced south-of-the-border analog to the old school Universal monster flicks. Best known nowadays for the treatment it got on a 1995 installment of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, the film is totally worth sitting through in its straight version, if for no other reason than to experience the kind of kooky monster-laden fun of the kind they just don't make anymore. VIVA EL SANTO!!! 

Poster for the original theatrical release.

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