Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Santo's Best 10 Part I

As any of my beleaguered friends will tell you, I’m very fond of trying to convince people that they need to delve into the lucha film genre. Few prove gullible enough to fall for my well-rehearsed line, but for those who do, the films of that genre’s biggest star, El Santo, are an obvious starting point. Unfortunately, there is probably no other star whose filmography is more fraught with pitfalls. Santo, over the course of his career, made over fifty films, and many of them are quite bad. Some of them are so bad, in fact, that one encounter with them would be enough to put someone off the whole project of watching lucha movies entirely. Because of that sad fact, and in the interest of sharing the joy, I have decided to perform the public service of compiling a list of those ten Santo films that I think are the most worth watching. (I’ve seen them all, you see.)

So here, in suspense-killing forward numerical order, are numbers 1 – 5, with the remainder to follow shortly.

1, Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro (1962)
(aka Santo vs. the Vampire Women)
No surprise here. This is the film that established the most surefire of Santo movie formulas (Santo + classic movie monsters + babes = awesome). It will also serve as a happy slap to those who assume all lucha movies are cheap and shoddily made. While it was certainly saddled with a limited budget, Las Mujeres Vampiro is still a well-crafted, handsomely made film, with some nice sets and moody cinematography that shows the obvious influence of Bava’s Black Sunday – not to mention good performances by a supporting cast made up of stolid Mexican genre cinema regulars. All in all, a classic B movie, and definitely among the classiest of the cinematic surroundings that Santo was to find himself in.

2. Santo contra la Invasion de los Marcianos (1966)
(aka Santo vs. the Martian Invasion)
A twist on the formula that offers a giddiness-inducing dose of mid-sixties Mexi-cinema lunacy, complete with flying saucers, go-go dancing Martian maidens and Santo in his prime as a champion wrestler, master of science, and moral example to his nation’s youth. And don’t forget the appearance of Maura Monti, certifying by her maddeningly mod presence that this is a prime slice of only-in-1966 cheese -- even if it is in black and white. Many of Santo’s most enjoyable adventures stick close to his superheroic roots in his long-running series of Mexican photo-comics, and this a prime example of that practice. One of the most fun entries in the series.

3. Santo y Blue Demon contra Dracula y el Hombre Lobo (1972)
(aka Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dracula and the Wolfman)
Okay, what part of that title do you not understand? Here we’ve got Santo AND Blue Demon AND Dracula AND the frickin’ Wolfman, for chrissakes! Not only that, but this is also one of the best of Santo’s team-ups with Blue, as well as one of the most well-executed of Santo’s films from the seventies. Granted, that last bit probably doesn’t seem like that mean of an accomplishment given what most of Santo’s other movies from the seventies look like. But, seriously, this is a nice looking picture, with a colorful, set-bound look that’s part cut-rate classic Hammer and part fifties horror comic. Plus, Nubia Marti’s Lena is the coolest Santo girlfriend ever.

4. Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos (1969)
(aka Santo and Blue Demon vs. the Monsters)
Now this one is neither classy, nor well appointed, nor well executed, but it sure is a hell of a lot of trashy fun. I’ve written a quite lengthy love letter to this particular entry over at Teleport City, but suffice it to say that it plays like a visit by Santo and Blue Demon to a particularly cash-strapped charity haunted house -- one that not only tries to make up for its lack of quality with quantity, volume and speed, but actually succeeds in doing so. A good example of how, when pulled off with the right amount of enthusiasm, some of the cheapest movies in this genre can sometimes be the most enjoyable.

5. Santo en el Museo de Cera (1963)
(aka Santo in the Wax Museum)
Following on the heels of Las Mujeres Vampiro, this is – though perhaps less iconic – another prime example of Santo’s early gothic-style horror films, complete with the earlier entry’s emphasis on creepy old-school monster movie atmosphere. A scenery chewing performance by regular lucha movie bad guy Claudio Brook as the diabolical Dr. Karol also contributes to this one being a must-see. I always like to point out that, thanks to its wax museum setting, this is the only film in which Santo shares the screen with Stalin and Ghandi. Needless to say, he holds his own.

Next time around I’ll give you numbers 6 – 10, plus isolate a few particularly stinky road apples from Santo’s catalog that are a must to avoid.

8 comments:

houseinrlyeh said...

I'm sad to report that even Santo's heroic fights against the Martian Invaders are not a surefire way to convince some people of the awesomeness of the lucha genre.
Tried that experiment on a friend, didn't work out. The world is bad.

Todd said...

Yes, so sad. What horrible state of living death is it that renders a person incapable of appreciating Maura Monti as a go-go dancing Martian? Good effort on your part, anyway.

Michael Barnum said...

If ever I needed a best of list, this is the one! I will be curious to see if I have already seen Santos' best....but hopefully there are a few treasures still to view.

Keith said...

House, if all else fails, I highly recommend you make them watch the movie while you are all wearing your own lucha masks.

Blair said...

Thankyou so much! I've needed much guidence into the world of Santo. It has been too overwhelming to know where to start.

Todd said...

You're welcome, Blair! Service is my middle name.

Anonymous said...

Santo Vs EL Hacha Diabolica is by far his best Movie.

Todd said...

I like El Hacha Diabolica, though it's obviously not among my top faves. Definitely top 20, I'd say. I think it suffers a bit from the fact that the villain, for obvious reasons, has to keep missing Santo with his axe, and so comes across as less of a threat than he otherwise might have.