Thursday, September 11, 2008

From The Lucha Diaries Vaults: Neutron contra los Automatas de la Muerte (Mexico, 1960)

Since this week's review fare seemed to tip largely toward the underwhelming, I thought that--for this installment of From The Lucha Diaries Vaults--I'd repost a review of a movie I actually enjoyed. In doing so, I inadvertantly stumbled upon the reason why Chunaoti and The Drifting Classroom both failed to live up to their potential: Neither of them featured a wrestling superhero who looked like a lighting bolt-adorned version of The Gimp from Pulp Fiction.


To be honest, I've been avoiding Neutron ever since watching his first film, Neutron, el Enmascarado Negro. As much as I like the old black & white, early 60s lucha movies, I found that particular one a bore, mainly because it featured a whole lot of talk and very little Neutron. Still, someone must have enjoyed Neutron, el Enmascarado Negro, because the character was brought back for no less than four more features. And that fact has made Neutron a little hard for me to avoid. Finally I decided to just suck it up, tuck in, and not come up for air until I'd watched the lot of them. My starting point was Neutron contra los Automatas de la Muerte.

Now, given that Los Automatas de la Muerte is one of those instant sequels, filmed back to back with the first film and with the same cast and crew (as was the next film Neutron contra el Doctor Caronte), I had little hope that I'd be seeing much variation from el Enmascarado Negro. But the happy fact is that, because Los Automatas de la Muerte starts right where El Enmascarado Negro left off, and the previous film did all of the hard work of establishing all of the characters and situations, Los Automatas de la Muerte has the luxury of dispensing with all of that and simply cutting to the chase, which it does in fine style.

Probably the best thing about Los Automatas de la Muerte is that it affords us ample opportunity to really savor the wonder and strangeness that is Neutron's nemesis, Dr. Caronte. As perfect a specimen of a hysterical megalomaniac as you could ask for, Caronte prowls his vast laboratory in an outfit that bespeaks of a certain career ambivalence, equal parts wrestling togs and surgeon's scrubs, affectionately leading his freaky uni-browed dwarf assistant Nick by the hand as he proclaims and declaims in a booming voice about his various dastardly designs.

Caronte needs lots of human blood in order to keep alive the collection of talking, disembodied brains--harvested from captured scientists--from whom he hopes to learn the secrets of the much coveted Neutron Bomb (which, as far as I can understand, is not a bomb that just kills Neutron, but more like a regular bomb, only better somehow). To do this he will use his army of Death Robots, a bunch of faceless, ape-like zombies in coveralls that Caronte appears to bake in giant pizza ovens.

Now, granted, there's not a lot here that we haven't seen before (well except for the robots being baked in pizza ovens, which is... well, holy shit), but the fact is, when something like this is done right, you really feel like you're watching a maniacal villain in a wrestling mask having a conversation with a roomful of disembodied brains harvested from kidnapped scientists for the very first time. And, what I'm saying is, Los Automatas de la Muerte really does it right. This is quite a well made film, exhibiting all of those qualities present in the most well-appointed and technically proficient of the early lucha films: Rich black and white photography, moody night-for-night shooting, and camera work that makes the most of some impressive and atmospheric set designs--basically the same Film-Noir-meets-Universal-monster-movie look we see in great early Santo films like Santo en Museo de Cera and Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro.

On top of that, the action in Los Automatas de la Muerte is virtually nonstop--and always outlandish. My favorite scene has got to be the one in which a fleeing Death Robot, on the brink of being captured by Neutron and his pals, commits suicide by pulling off his own head. But there's a lot of competition in that department, especially when you have so many scenes featuring little freaky Nick scurrying around and barking orders at the Death Robots in a screechy, overdubbed voice (there really is something genuinely disturbing about the little dude).

Happily, the film ends on an uncertain note, cluing us in that Dr. Caronte and Nick will be back for the next installment (cluing us in further is the fact that the next installment is called Neutron contra el Doctor Caronte, so duh). That I'm actually looking forward to that, despite all of my initial ambivalence, is a testament to the amazing, life-transforming power of Neutron contra los Automatas de la Muerte.

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