As much as I sincerely love Santo movies, I have to admit that, when I sit down to write about them, I take for granted that I'm usually going to spend part of my review ticking off the various ways in which a particular film fulfills certain formula requirements. So, when a Santo film surprises me as much as Santo vs. las Lobas did, I really have to take my hat off and bow down. Unlike Santo's other monster movies from the seventies, which were mostly throwbacks to Universal's monster movies from the forties, Las Lobas is clearly a product of its time. It's unremittingly bleak and oppressive in the way that only a horror film from the seventies can be, and it likewise makes a virtue of it's grainy and murky photography as many such films of that era did. (There's actually one scene that reminded me in particular of the original version of The Hills Have Eyes, though Las Lobas predates that by a few years.)
It's not these stylistic touches, however, that really made me sit up and take notice of Las Lobas, as much as it was the way in which the film puts Santo in some situations I really hadn't seen him in before. Las Lobas starts with Santo being asked to come to the aid of a rural village besieged by a clan of werewolves. Having once again had his memory of countless previous encounters with wolfmen and other monsters somehow erased, Santo somewhat callously demurs, scoffing at the very notion of lycanthropy. His feelings begin to change, however, when, later that night, his efforts to escape from a pack of vicious demon dogs (I know they should be wolves, but they're even referred to as dogs in the dialog) leave him literally hanging from the rafters of a deserted arena, screaming for help. Santo is really terrorized and rendered helpless - pathetically so - in this scene, and I actually found it kind of shocking to see; I've really got to give Las Lobas props for, for the first time, leaving me unsure of exactly where a Santo movie was going. Later, when Santo goes to the village and tries to question the villagers about what's going on, they're so crazed with fear that they threaten him and tell him to butt out - then pummel him with fruit and vegetables! The final surprise comes when we learn that, having been bitten by one of the demon dogs, Santo himself will turn into a werewolf at the next full moon if he doesn't defeat the king of the werewolves. Putting added pressure on Santo is the fact that the rise of the werewolf king will bring about the end of mankind and herald an age of werewolf dominion on Earth. You know, the whole apocalypse thing.
Now, I'm so immersed in all things Santo at the moment that it's hard for me to determine if the degree to which I love Santo vs. las Lobas can be separated from the context of Santo films as a whole. It's certainly far from a perfect film. The she wolves actually look pretty terrible when seen under direct light (which the filmmakers wisely avoid as much as possible) and the fact that it manages to be so consistent in tone makes those moments when it breaks with that tone (some cheesy action music in one later scene, for instance) especially glaring. For this reason, while I enthusiastically recommend Santo vs. las Lobas, I wouldn't recommend it as anyone's introduction to Santo. I think it would be ideal to first watch something like Santo contra la Invasion de los Marcianos and then this one, thus treating yourself to two very opposite extremes of quality Santo.