Thursday, November 20, 2008

From The Lucha Diaries Vaults: Santo contra los Jinetes del Terror (Mexico, 1970)

Yes, it's time for another trip down memory lane by way of lucha libre alley. If you like what you read here, many, many, MANY more reviews of Mexican Wrestling films can be found on my site The Lucha Diaries. (Seriously, there's a lot.)

Santo contra los Jinetes del Terror is a western about lepers. That fact alone is enough to draw me to it irresistibly. That it also contains Santo represents to me such an embarrassment of riches that I wouldn't be surprised if it also featured a female secret agent in a catsuit and a Taoist priest shooting cartoon rays out of his hands.

Now, exactly how Santo ended up in frontier times is not explained. There is, for instance, no reference to a time machine, or a prologue casting him as an ancestor of the modern day Santo. But I'm not going to speculate on the matter. I pledged at the outset that the words "canon" and "universe" would never appear alongside the name Santo in the Lucha Diaries -- just as I would never use the phrase "Wait for it!" -- and doing so would take me into dangerous territory. Instead, let's all just enjoy this horsey ride for what it is: an odd and reasonably entertaining oater in which Santo tracks a vicious gang who are using a group of escaped lepers to cover their crimes.

In terms of how the lepers are presented, the filmmakers really try to have it both ways. No opportunity is missed to exploit the scare value of their gruel-faced fuglitude (which is sometimes explored in such extreme close-up that I think I actually contracted leprosy through the TV screen). At the same time, great pains are taken to present them as sympathetic. So much so that Los Jinetes del Terror sometimes comes off like a leprosy themed After School Special. Santo cannot mention the lepers without pointing out how "unfortunate" or "miserable" they are, and there's even a scene in which Santo asks a doctor to explain the different types of leprosy, which the doctor proceeds to do in pretty great detail.

It's almost as if the movie was just one facet of a larger public awareness campaign regarding the disease. That's all well and good, but I must admit it's odd to see such sensitivity toward the afflicted in a genre that's so far proven to never be above the most callous exploitation of the vertically challenged. Then again, I may just have missed the movie where Santo runs around insisting that midgets be called "Little People" as he hurls them off scaffoldings and into sparking control panels. In any case, Santo's leper loving here seems to go so far as to blind him to the facts, as he promises the escapees that they will not be punished for the gangs' crimes, even though we've seen that the lepers actually agreed to take part in the scheme and even took part in a robbery in which a person was murdered. What a bleeding heart!

Another unusual aspect of Los Jinetes del Terror is how, due to Santo looking just extra weird wandering around in a late 19th century frontier town, the writers really had no choice but to have the other characters address the fact that his head is entirely covered by a silver wrestling mask. One of the bad guys even mocks Santo to his face by saying he looks like a pigeon. Then Santo kicks his ass. I myself would not tell Santo to his face that he looks like a pigeon. I'm no fighter, and while there may have been times when I have written things about Santo that weren't entirely respectful, if he were to appear before me right now I'd probably be all like, "Oh, uh, hey, Santo. I was just writing about how totally awesome you are. As usual! Heh heh..."

Anyway, Santo ultimately ingratiates himself with the townsfolk by defeating the bad guys and sparing the lepers from the wrath of an angry mob, then puts the icing on the delicious leprosy cake by delivering the good news of a cure. Unfortunately, he's a bit premature, because Dapsone, the first drug to effectively treat leprosy, wasn't introduced until the late forties (thanks Wikipedia!).


houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Whoa, Santo's carrying a rifle? Does he also wear a Stetson?

Todd said...

You know, it's been a while since I watched this one, so I'm not sure. He definitely rides a horse, though. You should check it out for yourself. It's actually pretty good. Definitely one of the better Santo movies that doesn't have any vampires, Frankenstein monsters, or mummies in it.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

The combination of a riding Santo and lepers sounds irresistible.