Friday, August 8, 2008

From The Lucha Diaries Vaults: Night of the Bloody Apes (Mexico, 1968)

Okay, here's the deal: In addition to writing for Teleport City and maintaining this blog, I also have a site called The Lucha Diaries which contains more reviews of masked Mexican wrestler movies than anyone in their right mind could ever want. At regular intervals, I repost one of those reviews here -- not out of laziness, mind you, but as a service. Now, enjoy your damn bloody apes.


In my fantasy you are begging me to review Night of the Bloody Apes. "Please," you moan. "Tell us about the dirty lucha movie. The one with boobies." Needless to say, I am unmoved by your tears -- did I mention that you were weeping? -- and toy with you mercilessly. "What? You mean Now, Voyager?" "NO!", you wail. "The one that's just like Las Luchadoras contra el Medico Asesino, but with titties! Good God, man! The titties!"

It's at this point that I realize that, as much as I pride myself on being a hardened sadist, there are depths of self abasement that even I find a little nauseating. And so I relent. It's a classic control fantasy, really, one where I take all of the feelings of powerlessness and suffering that I endured at the hands of Night of the Bloody Apes and project them onto you. And seeing as you've been such a good sport about it -- I mean, you're still reading, aren't you? -- it's only fair that I give you the thing that I've imagined you asking for. Even though, in reality, you probably want it less than a sack of cold sores and Monday mornings.

The plot of Night of the Bloody Apes is one of lucha cinema's most often told tales. It made it's first appearance in 1956 in the sublime Ladron de Cadaveres, then reappeared in 1963's Las Luchadoras contra el Medico Asesino and then continued evolving downward until it came to rest within the damp confines of La Horripilante Bestia Humana aka Night of the Bloody Apes. In all three movies, monstrosity ensues when a mad scientist performs a gorilla to human organ transplant. In Ladron, only the local constabulary are available to combat the rampaging beast man, but Las Luchadoras introduces a pair of civic-minded wrestling women, with policemen boyfriends in tow, to aid in the fight. Night of the Bloody Apes, while more similar to Las Luchadoras than Ladron, strips things down by only featuring one policeman-dating wrestling woman, and, while she wears a cute devil girl outfit and appears in a couple of gingerly choreographed wrestling matches, she ultimately proves to be of absolutely no consequence to the plot.

However, it's not what Night of the Bloody Apes gives us less of that distinguishes it, but rather what it adds to the formula. It was a practice in the Mexican film industry at the time to occasionally spice up films for import release by inserting bits of female nudity that were not available in the domestic versions. Night of the Bloody Apes, the U.S. cut of La Horripilante Bestia Humana, is a rare extant example of one of these sexo versions of a lucha movie, though there were apparently others made. It strives to increase its appeal to decadent foreign interests by also inserting numerous shots of explicit gore, including some pretty nauseating footage of real surgery. These scenes are actually quite extreme for the time, though the staged shots are also laughably inept, combining the hasty, no-budget improvisation and stark utilitarian prurience of H.G. Lewis with the curiously liquid notion of bodily integrity exhibited in The Story of Ricky. Bodies break apart and separate like warm loaves of bread, an eye-gouging exposes the shockingly high foam rubber content of the human head, and, best of all, a "scalping" scene is accomplished by dragging a stage-blood-soaked toupee across the head of a Dr. Phil look-alike, revealing the grizzly horror of his male pattern baldness.

Most of these shots are inserted pretty clumsily, and the resulting abrupt transitions between them and the typically affable goofiness of the lucha movie that contains them can make watching Night of the Bloody Apes a jarring experience for those used to being lulled by the genre's familiar tropes. (The film was directed by Rene Cardona and -- when it's not shoving grue in your face -- has the same colorful production look as other of his luchadore films from the time, such as La Mujer Murcielago.) As for the nudity, as much as I'm wholeheartedly in favor of there being more female nudity in Mexican wrestler movies (and, come to think of it, maybe less of the male kind), it pains me to say that it being so inextricably intertwined with the gore in Night of the Bloody Apes makes it pretty unappealing. Other than in some boudoir scenes of star Norma Lazareno, all of the female bodies that are bared here are so done in the process of being broken. Granted, in some of these scenes there's certainly amusement to be had from the Benny Hill-like ridiculousness of the ease with which these women become relieved of their clothing in the process of fleeing or fending off the monster. But it's just not titillating.

Still, there is something bracing about the very sleaziness of Night of the Bloody Apes for me. Having become perhaps overly familiar with the formula of these movies, it was nice to see it get such a violent shake up here, and, in the process, to be reminded that all the cartoonish violence and juvenile innuendo usually on display is just a family friendly face put on some darker, more complex impulses roiling behind the camera's eye. That's the kind of thing we depend on extreme cinema for, and it's something that it often does best when it's at its crudest.


Anonymous said...

You've certainly mastered the art of the sadistic tease.

Where are the eye-gouging and titty screen grabs?!

Must I watch this movie to satisfy my prurient curiosity?

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

You make this thing sound nearly appealing. I was mostly bored watching it, and highly irritated about its failure to include a Wrestling Woman vs monster fight, or find any use in the plot for the poor woman.

Todd said...

Wow, I did? Cuz it's kind of crap. Awful, really.

Keep in mind, though, that while I was writing all of these Lucha Diaries reviews, I was watching a steady diet of Mexican wrestling movies, so the bar for quality was pretty low.

Now that I'm watching movies like Jaani Dushman and Krai-Thong, it's much higher.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

You should take care no to get too classy in your tastes and start watching things like "Inframan".

Todd said...

Inframan, in all honesty, is one of my favorite films of all time -- top ten, easily. It has never let me down.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Watching "Inframan" as a child (repeatedly, alternating with "Star Wars") is what has made my taste in movies what it is today, I suppose.
I didn't see it, own it, or even remember its title for years, until the last re-issue brought it all back to me. It's still very wonderful. Just not something you or I can use to impress people of "normal" tastes with.

Todd said...

What I like about Inframan -- other than that it makes me unaccountably, irrationally happy every single time I watch it -- is that it is a movie that is 100% successful on its own terms. Sure, you could ask that it be Grand Illusion, and come up wanting -- but if you were in the mood for a ridiculous comic book movie about a kung fu fighting superhero fighting a bunch of insane suitmation monsters, you simply could not ask for more than what Inframan delivers. It is absolutely the best at what it sets out to be as it could possibly be, which is something that I can say about very few movies of any kind.

Man, I want to go home and watch that shit right now.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

You won't hear me disagree with you there.