Saturday, 2 May 2015

Santo contra los zombies (Santo vs The Zombies, 1962)

Although Mexican wrestling star and pop culture icon had appeared in a couple of earlier movies it was Santo contra los zombies (Santo vs The Zombies) that really started the Santo movie craze. Santo would eventually appear in 52 luchador (wrestling hero) films.

Santo was actually Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta (1917-1984) and he played a large role in making professional wrestling into a major sport in Mexico.

The Santo movies all follow pretty much the same formula. Santo is a legendary masked wrestler who in his spare time is a daring masked crime-fighter. He fights not only criminal gangs but monsters, vampires, invaders from outer space and in this particular film, zombies.

The plot can be disposed of fairly quickly - if you’re watching a Santo movie for the plot then you’re missing the point. A professor has disappeared mysteriously. He had an interest in the subject of voodoo and zombies. As it happens zombies are being employed in a series of robberies. There is of course a diabolical criminal mastermind at the back of all this.

The police are baffled. The police chief decide it’s time to call on Santo’s help. Fortunately he has a direct radio-television link from his office to Santo’s headquarters. The professor’s daughter and her boyfriend are also involved in trying to find her missing father.

The zombie bad guys make an attempt to kidnap children from an orphanage, the children presumably to be used in experiments on zombification. The diabolical criminal mastermind knows that Santo is on his trail because he has a special television viewer that allows him to keep an eye on anything that he might need to know about.

It’s all just an excuse for lots of action. As in all Santo movies the action includes quite a lot of wrestling scenes but in this case at least one of the wrestling matches does serve an important plot purpose as Santo has to fight a zombified wrestler.

Needless to say at some point the bad guys kidnap the missing professor’s beautiful daughter, intending to turn her into a lady zombie. Can Santo find her in time to save her from this awful fate?

The feel of the movie is very close to that of Hollywood serials of the 30s and 40s and in fact the plot could have been lifted from one of those serials. Given the worldwide popularity of the Hollywood serials and the love of Mexican audiences for action adventure stories it’s fair to assume that those serials were very popular in Mexico and that this movie is very consciously modeling itself on them. And it does so very successfully.

The acting is of passable B-movie standard. Santo may not have been much of an actor but he has plenty of physical presence and enough superhero-type charisma to carry him through.

Director Benito Alazraki doesn’t try to get too clever (he would have had neither the time nor the money to do so) but he knows how to keep the action moving long nicely. and he does throw in a couple of dutch angles late in the film. This is obviously a low-budget film but the sets are quite serviceable, there’s some fun silly scientific paraphernalia in the mad scientist’s laboratory and the remote viewing televisions are handled quite well.

The Mexican film industry was always pretty good at achieving spooky atmosphere on very low budgets and Santo contra los zombies has some quite effectively moody scenes.

The Cinematográfica Rodríguez Region 1 and 4 DVD offers a very decent transfer, in Spanish with English subtitles.

Santo contra los zombies has no ambitions to do anything other than offer great fun-filled entertainment and it succeeds superbly in doing just that. This film is pure enjoyment. If you’re never seen a Santo movie this is as good a place as any to start and if you’re a confirmed fan you’ll certainly love this one. Tragically only a small proportion of the Santo movies are available in English-friendly editions but among those that are you’ll certainly want to check out Santo in the Wax Museum (1963), Santo Versus the Martian Invasion (1967) and Santo and Blue Demon vs. Doctor Frankenstein (1974).

Highly recommended.

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