Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The 10 best lucha movies that don’t star Santo

So now you’ve watched a couple of Santo movies, and you’re beginning to think that this whole lucha movie thing just may be for you – that it may, in fact, be just the thing you need to help you get your life back on track. And now you’re sitting in front of your computer in your ill-fitting homemade mask and tights thinking, “What next?”

Here’s a list of the 10 best lucha movies that don’t star Santo.

1. Blue Demon contra Cerebros Infernales (1966)
(aka Blue Demon vs. the Infernal Brains)
Though it’s unlikely that anyone behind the scenes was taking things all that seriously, it’s still true that Santo’s films very rarely gave the appearance of dealing in intentional camp. The same cannot be said for those behind this, Blue Demon’s first entry into the wonderful world of color – who included director Chano Urueta, the man also responsible for the unhinged classic El Baron del Terror, aka The Braniac. The Batman TV series is the obvious jumping off point here, and Cerebros Infernales gets right into the spirit of things with some eye-popping, primary-hued pop-art sets, a maniacally over-the-top cackling bad guy turn by the ever-dependable Noe Muriyama, and, of course, lots of go-go dancing. All of this ends up being a perfect showcase for the always game Blue Demon, who at times appears to be having as much fun as we are at home.

2. Las Vampiras (1968)
(The Vampire Girls)
Mil Mascaras hit his stride big time with his third film, thanks in large part to the participation of horror icon John Carradine, who steals the show here as an insane, scenery-chewing vampire king. Or, at least, I should say, he steals the show as much as is possible in a film that also includes a tribe of vampire girls who apparently double as a modern dance troupe, and that also features the lustrous Maura Monti as Mil’s main squeeze.

3. Neutron contra los Automatas de la Muerte (1960)
(aka Neutron vs. the Death Robots)
The Neutron series is pretty spotty overall, but Automatas de la Muerte just happens to hit all the right notes. This is in large part due to it being graced with a great villain in the person of the wrestling-masked mad scientist Dr. Caronte, as well as a great villain sidekick, by which I refer to Caronte’s freaky, uni-browed dwarf assistant-and-maybe-boyfriend Nick. And let’s not forget the titular Death Robots, a bunch of hash-faced zombies that Caronte appears to bake into life in giant pizza ovens. Add in the fact that this second entry in the Neutron saga boasts that great, black and white, part Republic serial and part classic Universal horror picture look that marks the best of early lucha cinema – in addition to action that is literally non-stop – and you have the makings of a genre classic.

4. Las Luchadoras contra el Medico Asesino (1963)
(aka Wrestling Women vs. the Killer Doctor / Doctor of Doom)
The first entry in the Wrestling Woman series – featuring the classic line-up of Lorena Velazquez and Elizabeth Campbell -- is a classic Saturday matinee thrill ride, complete with hooded villains, wild fights, and last minute escapes from spike-walled rooms. It also features a pair of women who really know how to throw down, which, for its time, was not so old fashioned at all.

5. Ladron de Cadaveres (1956)
(aka Body Snatchers)
This classic is pretty much lucha cinema ground zero, not a star vehicle for an established wrestler, but rather a densely atmospheric horror film set in the gritty world of lucha libre. As such, it established the unique combination of tones that would so successfully serve Santo and others during the genre’s golden age. Not only that, but the film – as directed by Fernando Mendez – is beautifully shot, overloaded with stunning black and white compositions and thrilling, expressionistic plays of light and shadow.

6. Blue Demon contra las Diabolicas (1966)
(Blue Demon vs. the Diabolical Women)
Honestly, how could anyone get enough of Blue Demon contra Cerebros Infernales? And so, here we have what is essentially part two, obviously shot back-to-back with the first film, with the same cast and many of the same sets, as well as the same commitment to color, camp, and wall-to-wall go-go dancing. Needless to say, it’s the type of second helping that there’s always plenty of room for.

7. Las Mujeres Panteras (1966)
(aka The Panther Women)
I’ve ragged on this film in the past for being less of an entry in the Wrestling Woman series than it is a fake Santo film. The ladies – who this time around include Ariadne Welter in place of Lorena Velazquez, in addition to the returning Elizabeth Campbell – end up losing a lot of screen time to a very familiar seeming, silver-masked character by the name of the Angel. Still, once you put expectations aside, this ends up being an extremely satisfying genre entry, with all of those qualities that distinguished the best films from lucha cinema’s mid-sixties heyday. The Panther Women themselves, in classic fashion, are a band of supernatural sirens with a centuries old grudge to settle with mankind, and, as such, continue the fight in the genre’s inexplicable and ongoing battle of the sexes, undertaken elsewhere by such estrogen rich enemies as vampire girls, sexy female aliens, witches, harpies and, as seen above, just plain old diabolical women.

8. Enigma de Muerte (1968)
(aka Puzzle of Death)
Mil Mascaras is back. And so is John Carradine! This time Mil is an Interpol agent trying to root out a band of escaped Nazis who are hiding out in a carnival disguised as performers. It turns out that their leader, played by Carradine, is the clown. Oh, the irony! I’m of the firm belief that Nazis make for some of the best lucha movie villains, taking up a solid second place right behind monsters, and Enigma de Muerte further compensates for its lack of supernatural beasties with some thrilling, circus-themed action sequences and, of course, Carradine’s dependably over-the-top performance.

9. Los Vampiros de Coyoacan (1973)
(The Vampires of Coyoacan)
I can’t believe that I’m including a movie that stars Superzan on this list. But, really, it’s Mil Mascaras who’s the headliner here -- a fact which serves to make Superzan, in his sparkly head-to-toe superhero uniform, look all the more ridiculous by contrast (and hence more hilarious). This is definitely the best that the Agrasanchez crew had to offer, thanks in large part to it’s inclusion of a gnarly-looking, bat-faced vampire and his army of midget mini-vamps. Worth watching alone for the horrible bat transformation effects, which the filmmakers might have wisely kept to a minimum, but which, thankfully, they chose to place liberally throughout as if they were the secret weapon in their arsenal of razzle dazzle. Otherwise, Coyoacan approaches the considerable charms of some of the better of Santo’s seventies horror films (such as Santo y Blue Demon contra Dracula y el Hombre Lobo), which, considering the source, is pretty impressive.

10. Las Luchadoras contra el Robot Asesino (1968)
(Wrestling Women vs. the Robot Assassin)
Compiling this list has made me realize just how much I enjoy the Luchadoras films. Perhaps that’s partly due to the fact that their stars – in this case Malu Reyes and the fiery Regina Torne, marking a complete turnover in casting from the first film – are not athletes, but rather professional actors, and, as such, not only project a more easily accessible charisma, but also require more outlandish set-ups to compensate for their inability to contribute any credible ring action. This particular entry is essentially a remake of the earlier Las Luchadoras contra el Medico Asesino, though one that also borrows liberally from the Avengers episode “The Cybernauts” (especially with regards to the appearance and behavior of the titular killer robot). That this was the first Wrestling Women film to be shot in color makes things that much sweeter, as the explosion of comic book colors on display compliments the overheated action perfectly.


Improvedliving said...

lol some of these movies simply suck.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

I should watch more lucha movies with John Carradine, methinks.
A very fine (and decidedly non-sucky) list, of course.

Todd said...

There's just something so amazing about seeing Mil Mascaras and John Carradine sharing the screen together. My brain can barely contain it.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

It does indeed sound like a dream come true.

Anonymous said...

About Luchadoras vs Robot Asesino

It rips of "Return of the Cybernauts", not "the Cybernauts". They even repeat word for word the thing about how "a man's cadiogram is just like fingerprints", and then "It can find a man in a city of 10 million" - lifted word for word. If that's not enough it also repeats sections of Medico Asesino. Guillermo Calderon liked to recycle, that's for sure

Anonymous said...

Cool choices, Las Mujeres Panteras (1966)is not that bad, like people says.

i just watched Neutron Movies for Rosa Arenas.

Luchadoras vs Robot Asesino, is very nice Too