Wednesday, June 11, 2008

From the Lucha Diaries Vaults: Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra (Mexico, 1971)

Man, last week I must have set some kind of record for posts; there were like a million of them -- exactly a million, I think, if I calculate with both my fingers and toes. This week, though, not so much. That is because I'm currently immersing myself in the career of Filipino king of comedy Dolphy in preparation for my Teleport City review of James Batman. And that's where my recently inaugurated feature "From the Lucha Diaries Vaults" comes in. That's the feature that simply involves me lazily reposting old capsule reviews of Mexican wrestling movies from my site The Lucha Diaries. (Hey, they're new to you, right?) This week's review covers Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra, probably the worst Santo film ever made. And if you like this stuff, why not just spend your entire day browsing through the dozens upon dozens of similar reviews I have up over at the Diaries. It's not as if you have anything better do, right?


It's impossible to discuss Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra without first discussing Santo Frente a la Muerte, and, because of that, I think that a little disclosure is in order: I have a very unhealthy relationship with Santo Frente a la Muerte. It's a truly awful movie; eighty to ninety percent of Santo's scenes in it are shot with a laughably unconvincing double, it's musical score is inappropriate to the point of approaching ironic commentary, and it's obviously on-the-fly location shooting is continuously marred by passers-by gawping both at the actors and into the camera. But it's just so brazen and unapologetic in its crappiness that, I have to admit, I secretly thrill to it.

Perhaps this is because I see something in Santo Frente a la Muerte that I lack: a brash and heedless strain of self acceptance that says, "Yes, I'm crappy, but who's the idiot watching me? Oh, sorry, that would be YOU, wouldn't it?". And, lord, Santo Frente a la Muerte is crappy. So crappy, in fact, that it's hard to believe it could be any crappier than it already is. And it couldn't be, apparently. Because when they were through making Santo Frente a la Muerte, there was some crappiness left over. And they took that crappiness, stitched it together, added a bunch of new crap to it (and a lot of old, as well), and created its sister film, Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra. So, now that I've unburdened myself to you, I don't mind telling you that, while I approached Misterio de la Perla Negra with an outward display of trepidation, deep inside I wanted it to hurt me. Really bad.

Most of the cast from Frente a la Muerte returns for this one, including Santo's unconvincing double - who, for easy identification, is also wearing an unconvincing double of Santo's mask, which looks like it's made from a pair of off-white pantyhose with silver lacing up the back. One new addition to the cast is Maria Eugenia San Martin, playing a lady who makes her living dancing badly at nightclubs. This provides an opportunity for padding in the form of two lengthy examples of her act. For the first, a lavish musical production number from some film from the 1950's, complete with shots of an appreciative 1950s audience, is inserted in its entirety into La Perla Negra with clumsily added close-ups of San Martin to tell us we're supposed to think she's actually participating in the number. For the second one - and this is more what we're used to - San Martin dances solo to tinny canned music in a dank and tiny third rate basement supper club. Santo (the real one) watches her appreciatively, and we're helpfully provided with a close-up POV shot of San Martin's chest, just to make the whole scene that much more classy.

Much of La Perla Negra is made up of this kind of padding, and most of it is footage taken from other films. To add to the overall incoherence, that footage is often inserted without any rhyme or reason, as is the case with a lengthy free-for-all wrestling match between a bunch of masked female wrestlers that just pops up during the first twenty minutes and has nothing to do with the story. Simply put, if I were to randomly edit together parts of every dollar dvd I bought at Walgreens over the last year - including the cartoons and silent films -and mixed it up with some grainy vacation videos, I would end up with something with more narrative drive than - and actually quite similar to - Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra.

More simply put, Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra is furiously and irredeemably awful. Oh, the chills! In fact, people, I think it's time to break out the bubbly. I've watched all but a very small number of Santo's films at this point and I think that I can say with near certainty that this is the absolute worst. That's right, I said it.

Some people consider Samson vs. the Vampire Women to be a classic "so bad it's good" film, and they just don't get it. Because Samson aka Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro is an attractively shot and well paced film made by experienced craftsmen who cared about creating a quality product, who felt a responsibility to their audience to be entertaining, regardless of how silly the plot and characters in their film might be. Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra, on the other hand, was made by people who, while they might have had the know-how to make a better film, really didn't care to, and really didn't care if their audience knew it. You get the sense that these guys would have been happy to splice in anything that would run through a projector, celluloid or no, just to fill out the required running time, be it calcified strips of bacon or film strips made from woven human hair.

And, again, I admit it: I admire them for it. So, hats off to you, you brazen hacks, wherever you may be. Yours is truly a singular accomplishment.

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