Santo, the idol of millions, is the friend of children!
It seems like all cultures have at least one of them. Japan has about fifty. Gamera, Godzilla, Ultraman, Mothra, and a bevy of zipper backed beasts and badasses seem to make up a far more important national element in their social order than government or the way of the samurai. The Russians, not well known for their non-State sponsored iconography, have such bizarro communal figures as the Frog Princess, Finist the Bright Falcon, and a stupid Little Round Bun who can't manage to get far enough away from Aesop's fables to avoid being eaten by a fox. But no one is probably more closely linked with his nation in total, from his onscreen persona to his off screen life, than El Santo, the superman wrestler media celebrity darling that rules Mexico and most of Latin America with a barrel chest, an iron will, and a silver mask. Scientist, athlete, defender of the poor, and prickly pear to the rich, our crime fighting grappler is so beloved and legendary in his home territory that upon his death in 1984, he was buried in his trademark sequined face case. Santo appeared in dozens of movies during his career, and thanks to Rise Above Entertainment, we now have a chance to view a few of them remastered and restored. And lest you think our chokehold champion only battles thieves and marauders, the two discs here show that, most of the time, Santo like his enemies on the ethereal side. So be prepared to witness the supernatural side of Santo as he battles Frankenstein's matronly daughter and a really dull "Count Alucard" in Santo Contra la Hija de Frankenstein and Santo en el Tesoro de Dracula.
Facts of the Case
Santo Contra la Hija de Frankenstein (Color, 1971): Apparently,
unbeknownst to the majority of the scientific community worldwide, Dr.
Santo is wrestling for the Middle Weight Championship when his main squeeze, Norma, is kidnapped by Ms. Frankenstein. It's all part of an elaborate plot to lure the hulky he-man to the mad madam's secret underground lair. Santo and Norma's sister, Elsa, head out to the remote village where the mad scientessa keeps her experimental jet set, trash and no star. Santo and Elsa break in. Santo fights Truxon and defeats him. Norma escapes and is recaptured. Elsa then escapes and is then recaptured. Norma is hypnotized to gouge out Santo's eyes. Santo figures out a way to un-Kreskin her and he battles Ursus. They reach a kind of draw and our hero helps the girls get away. After all three escape, Santo returns to destroy the lab. Norma and Elsa are then recaptured again. During a fight Santo wounds Ursus. Later, he helps mend the gaping hole in the monster's chest, and just like the story of Hercules and the lion, the oversized set of skin grafts takes a shine to the masked man. He helps Santo defeat Dr. Frankenstein and gets a face full of sulfuric acid for his troubles. Santo and the girls escape yet again through a secret tunnel and the lifework of Mary Shelley's illegitimate literary offspring blows up rather unceremoniously. The End.
Santo en el Tesoro de Dracula (B&W, 1969): Santo, that scientific wunderkind, has just invented the Time Tunnel, or to better avoid Irwin Allen and his Lost in Space paid lawyers, he created El Orificio del Tiempo. He needs a female volunteer to try out his weird way back machine, and it just so happens his new girlfriend, Luisa, is genetically shapely enough to do the trick. After some rote explanation about how adult women respond better to temporal displacement than men (maybe that explains why they're never on time…), Luisa dresses up in some of Judy Jetson's hand-me-downs and enters the epoch mover. She is sent back to the most cosmically important, scientifically significant era in all of time: the month when Dracula, in the guise of Count Alucard (what a norom!) came to the Americas to try Tex-Mex neck cuisine. Via closed circuit space-time continuum-cam we witness Luisa as she is bitten on the neck by the suave, vague Count and joins his unholy harem of undead debs.
All the while, Santo's arch-nemesis, the reverse KKK member Black Hood, is spying on our squared circle impresario and plotting some manner of deviant behavior. When our picture within a plot hole reveals that Dracula has a treasure that he plans to give to Luisa once he's finished doing the forbidden dance on her jugular vein, Old Hoody has his ploy and Santo has his cue to bring his wench back from the past to the future which is really the present…umm. Anyway, Santo and his gang go over to Count Backwards' crypt and swipe a medallion that is supposed to indicate the bat booty's whereabouts. But they forget the enchanted ring and before you can say "third act conflict," Blackie and his band of boobs has the finger bling in their possession. They then all agree to a really weird wager between Santo and BH's son, Atlas. Whoever wins the big wrestling match will get the decoder accessories. Well, Santo wins, Hood forks over the ring and then unleashes Cradula or Ludacra or whatever name the bloodsucker is going by today. He captures Luisa, Santo gives chase, and there is a final showdown between the wrestling hero, the hapless vampire, and the sunrise. Guess who wins in the end?
The best way to approach a review of any or all of the El Santo movies is to understand that, like the Godzilla compositions, the Gamera oeuvre, or the thousands of anime titles that make their way across the Pacific and into fanboys' basement concrete block bookshelves, it is a complete and utter rarity to see any of them in their original, non-matineed or creature featured form. Dissected, bifurcated, shaken, and baked across the four corners of the globe, these fast food filmic titles were modified to fit markets, mentality, and commercial time frames. Add on top the usually atrocious dubbing, which traded on comedy and kitsch instead of true crime or horror, and the randomized jump cutting, and most Santo style foreign fantasy films become exercises in juvenile babysitting. So the chance to see these films in their original Spanish and as intact as can be expected is a plus right at the start.
But then, once we have the best possible version of the movie before us, we are stuck with what is actually on screen. That is the risk with any film considered a "cult" classic or "forgotten" gem. In someone's mind, the restored retardation of a giant turtle battling a bat faced oversized monkey man may seem like bona fide bemusement. To others who fall outside the freaky faction who finds such mad movies a must see, these experiments in poor plotting, worse special effects, and static acting will either result in a request for a membership card in the crazy club or an immediate restraining order on anyone and everyone entertained.
So you will probably have to make up your own mind about Mexico's main man. Granted, in general, the Santo films are an incredible goof. Here is the story of a superhero wrestler who basically uses pre-school WWF moves to battle all manner of evil supernatural and organized criminal elements. He is so smart that he invents hyper-technical machinery, and yet he seems easily hoodwinked by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby style adversarial ambushes. He never takes off the mask, nor does he allow himself to be photographed without it on. So that adds another layer of incredible ridiculousness to movies that are already loaded to the lechon with rubber bats, fake cavern sets, and silly putty makeup effects. Just seeing Santo speak to the police and having them take this masked mystery man seriously, nay reverentially, is worth the price of admission alone. However, just because Santo himself is a kick doesn't mean both of these movies are. Frankenstein is a kaleidoscope of colorful camp with wonderfully over-the-top acting, incredibly lame monsters, and more coincidental escapes and captures than six normal movies should have. It is funny, fresh, and frightfully funky. Dracula is 180 degrees the opposite. Struck from an old, scratched up de-colorized black and white disaster of a print, the two-fold story line only guarantees that we will be twice as bored. And since wrestling is what Santo is all about, it's sad to see him only wrestle once in this film, and it's a pretty boring match one hour into the sagging story. Every point that Frankenstein's offspring scores in her favor, Dracula literally sucks the life and fun out of.
Santo Contra la Hija de Frankenstein: If someone had to begin their exploration of the entire El Santo mythology with one movie, Santo vs. Frankenstein's Daughter would be a good place to start. Bright and colorful, a little bloody, as campy as all of Montana, and filled with lots of Santo brand flying drop and scissor kicks, this is the best of the two discs reviewed here. It is also a great introduction to the world of El Santo, since it outlines the basic principles that apply to this superhuman wrestling hero. Santo is seen (and described) as impervious to pain, made up of special, near immortal blood cells, and so just and moral as to make Jesus seem miscreant. He is the hero to a nation, the friend of children, and the champion of the poor and downtrodden. Oh yeah, and he wrestles pretty well too. The idea of mixing in-ring roundhouses with corpse reanimation and mad scientology is a crazy, creative combination. And since all the elements gel together here rather well, it's not all that important that at any and all opportunities, our three main leads are practically leaping back into the lap of capture. Anything to keep the plot from moving away from Frau Frankenstein and her unintentionally hilarious house of frights.
When one hears about the basics of an El Santo film, Frankenstein is the kind of movie they envision. There is lots of good wrestling material (Santo really earns his paycheck on the canvas battlefield) and the monster movie machinations are all in place. About the only area where the movie misfires is in the whole "youth serum" scheme. Our main menace injects several elderly villagers with her special sauce and then…nothing happens. We never witness them change or mutate or whatnot. Sure, we hear their blue murder moans as the elixir boils their blood, but the whole issue just seems like a ruse, a subplot excuse to involve Santo and have some mummified bodies around. The big attraction here is old El battling the monsters, and these fights are classic bits of stuntman silliness.
Rise Above is to be commended for locating a quality color transfer of this film. The restoration job is first rate, if far from perfect. There are still scratches and edit errors, but compared to the dreadful Dracula, it's like a brand new motion picture. The original Spanish soundtrack is also a winner (even if it sounds like our hero is dubbed) and the English subtitles are clear and occasionally hilarious in their literalness ("his acceptability to his multitude of admirers appreciates no limits"). For tons of Full Nelson freak show fun, Santo Contra la Hija de Frankenstein is a real winner.
Santo en el Tesoro de Dracula: On the opposite end of the entertainment spectrum entirely is this tired, trite entry into the continuing Santo versus the various monsters of Movieland mentality. Everything that is ludicrously luscious about Frankenstein is MIA in this boring neck biter bilge. The main problem here is the set up. The first half of the movie unfortunately forgets all about our man in tights and instead favors a near by the book reworking of Bram Stoker's by now familiar tale. Instead of insane Mexicali grappling or wonderfully warped diabolical dastardliness, we have to suffer through another serving of that suave bloodsucker tormenting a couple of girls until he is undone by a vampire hunter with "Van" as part of his surname. And then when we enter back to present day, we get the stupidly vague Black Hood who looks like the critical trumpeter from Sabado Gigante and his non-descript plans for feloniousness. The whole treasure trek is just an excuse to get old Drac back into the mix and then they drop the whole loot scoot for a revamp (revamp—get it?) of the Dracula/Luisa/long lost love story. In the end, Santo feels like an ancillary character is his own movie, just one of the meddling bunch whom thwart Hoodie and Count Chocula, Scooby-Doo style.
But as bad as the movie is, the print and image are worse. This is a horribly fuzzy, faded monochrome transfer that makes the entire film look like it was lensed through gauze and processed in a paella. There is very little definition and even the close-ups reveal blurry edges and contrasts. Nothing is black and white here—it's all shades of light gray. And when we have the unfortunate luck of witnessing a scene in daylight or with heavy lighting effects, we experience the snow blindness version of El Santo. Equally muffled is the soundtrack. Thankfully, the movie is in the original Spanish, so unless you're cribbing for your midterm in Español, you'll be more than satisfied with the English subtitles. Not that there is much verbal wit or intrigue to experience here.
More than Frankenstein, Dracula is stagy costumed crud melded to random scenes of faux fighting and indecipherable intrigue to equal unsatisfying Santo. Our hero is only a secondary character here. We spend more time with his retarded comic relief Perico or watching Black Head's beefy son work out than witnessing superhuman suplex goodness. Santo en el Tesoro de Dracula may have sounded like a good idea at the time, but in the execution it's too little of our Mexican megastar and too much Transylvanian time travel trash.
Both DVDs here come with exactly the same set of extras, all of which are basically sales and merchandising opportunities for Rise Above Entertainment (have to wonder if Henry Rollins is an El Santo fan). The trailers included are not for the movie presented, but instead we get one for a modern El Santo film (obviously starring his son, El Hijo de Santo) with a really lame extraterrestrial storyline and equally laughable Apple IIe CGI effects. The other is for an onscreen pairing of Santo and his occasional associate, the Blue Demon. The Best of El Santo is really just a set of clips for the Rise Above series set to some silly music. Each DVD contains very detailed liner notes about the films offered, providing plot overviews and behind the scenes making of material. The Rise Above trailers section is just an ad for the Rise Above website link and the El Santo photo gallery is an all too short summary of publicity and personal stills from the career of this Central American hero. Together, the two films and DVD presentations cancel each other out, resulting in a wash for a recommendation. Anyone interested in Santo and his stardom should seek out Frankenstein, if just to get a taste of this cultural icon in action. It's feared, however, that using these two movies to represent the cinematic career of this God-like man/mauler will result in a lot of "so whats" from casual or non-fans. El Santo became a symbol of righteousness and power for some reason. Neither film really does the mythology justice.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Which leads to the chief complaint here. Obviously, due to rights issues and limited resources, Rise Above cannot go out and recruit the top of the line El Santo movies to characterize its entry into the Mexican wrestling film genre. Like gradients of hot saucy spiciness, it's hard to imagine what the representative El Santo movie would be. Frankenstein comes close, but fumbles around so aimlessly in its last half of the second and third acts that the wonderful setup seemed hardly worth it. Dracula is a fiasco of magnificent proportions, a movie so lost in its science/supposed literary scare plotting it drowns under the poor execution of both. Perhaps more Black Hood would do a better job of explaining the Santo sainthood to an audience already dumbfounded that a grappler in a mask could so enthrall an entire nation (albeit, a definitely third world one). At least with a Moriarity to his singlet Sherlock Holmes, Santo becomes proactive, doing the crime fighting he is so hypothetically famous for. Without that criminal mastermind, we get a silver faced figurehead who stands around and waits for stuff to affect him directly before taking action. Sure, the wrestling is pretty cool in its un-glamorized, unpolished puff and stuff. But neither Frankenstein nor Dracula, fictional legends unto themselves, help fully explain the adoration, the worship, the unswerving devotion to El Santo and his canon of craziness. Rise Above would be best advised to locate better examples of this media darling's derring-do, or risk losing an audience already eager to see what all the fiesta fuss is about.
So who is America's El Santo? Who do we blindly follow in any and all aspects of their multi-media careers. Madonna seems like a sound choice; after all, she is well known for her wrestling matches (albeit between the sheets) and has rabid retailers eagerly awaiting her latest CD/DVD/VHS/concert/magazine cover. But alas, our Italian temptress is far from the crime fighter our spandexed Spaniard is. More like a crime initiator, be it felonies or suicides. A fellow Hispanic, Ms. Jennifer Lopez, could and would make a pretty decent La Santa, considering that she's got the barrel aspect of the physique down pat (and down below in bootyville, comprende?). She is also spawning her media seed all over the map, be it in less than likeable videos, rote movies, and/or tabloid pics of her necking with Benjamin A. But then again, there's not much about the Selena siren that screams "personal integrity" and "passion for the less fortunate." Hulk Hogan took a shot at it in the mid-'80s, even though he had no real talent to speak of. As a matter of fact, he made the Mexican masked man seem downright Shakespearean by comparison. Perhaps the USA's best shot at a mega-merchandised cultural superhero already came and went, leaving his impression not only on film, but on sport and the media as well. No, we are not talking about Michael Jordan or Shaquille O'Neal. They still have their chance. But alas, "classy" Freddie Blassie left us this year. If ever there was a potential Santo for a misguided superpower, it was this specimen of human specialness. Too bad he is now bashing all the pencil necked geeks in heaven and we are left holding the decent Santo Contra la Hija de Frankenstein and the decrepit Santo En El Tesoro De Dracula as guides to potential greatness. A DVD called The King of Men vs. The King of Monsters sounds pretty good right about now.
El Santo in all his silver masked glory is found not guilty and is free to go. Santo Contra la Hija de Frankenstein is also acquitted of all charges and released on its own recognizance. Santo En El Tesoro De Dracula is found guilty of being a boring, badly transferred travesty and is sentenced to 20 years of hard labor in the secret caves of Freda Frankenstein. Rise Above is admonished by the Court to be more careful in their selection of El Santo titles to release on DVD.
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Scales of Justice, Santo En El Tesoro De Dracula
Perp Profile, Santo En El Tesoro De Dracula
Studio: Rise Above Entertainment
Distinguishing Marks, Santo En El Tesoro De Dracula
• The Best of El Santo Trailer
Scales of Justice, Santo Contra La Hija De Frankenstein
Perp Profile, Santo Contra La Hija De Frankenstein
Studio: Rise Above Entertainment
Distinguishing Marks, Santo Contra La Hija De Frankenstein
• The Best of El Santo Trailer
Review content copyright © 2003 Bill Gibron; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.