Saturday, May 25, 2013

Santo vs. Dr. Death, aka Masked Man Strikes Again (Spain/Mexico?, 1973)

I've wanted to see Santo vs. Dr. Death for a very long time. It was produced in Spain, where Santo was also phenomenally popular back in the day, and, as such, is the only Santo film not produced entirely in Mexico or the Americas. (And, while it kills me, note that I am not including 3 Dev Adam in that list, because that features Turkish actor Yavus Selekman playing Santo, but not Santo himself.) It definitely has a Euro feel to it, and gives us the pleasure of seeing Santo opposite such Eurotrash eminences as frequent Eurospy femme fatale and Horror Express star Helga Line.

But, of course, I've seen the Spanish version of Santo vs. Dr. Death -- or, as I should say, Santo contra Dr. Muerte -- but what I hadn't seen is the rare English dub of the film, which also goes under the alternate title Masked Man Strikes Again. This, in the cruel calculus of internet nerdom, makes my claims of being a Santo completist an act of egregious fraud. You see, only a small handful -- four, as far as I know -- of Santo's fifty-plus films received such treatment, with Dr. Death being the only one of his many features from the seventies to do so (the rest were gothic-tinged early sixties efforts like Santo vs. the Vampire Women). Having now seen it, I can report that it is as haphazardly looped as any European B movie from the seventies, and that that dubbing probably adds very little to the film other than the fact that I could occasionally text while watching it. Not only that, but Santo is consistently referred to as "The Saint", in an act of overzealous translation that makes me glad none of the movie takes place in Los Angeles. But, more important is the fact that I have now seen it and, as far as I know, have only to watch the nudie version of El Tesoro de Dracula to make my claims of Santo scholarship airtight.

Santo vs. Dr. Death is actually a fairly conventional Santo film -- if perhaps, under the direction of Rafael Marchant, a bit more handsomely mounted than his typical seventies fare -- though one propelled by an exceptionally bizarre plot. It begins with a very detailed depiction of what at first appears to be a daring museum art heist by a lone cat burglar, only to have that burglar, after rappelling himself into the gallery, spray one of the displayed masterpieces with acid and leave. This masterpiece is about to be handed over by Mexico to a museum in Spain, and while the obvious damage to it isn't Mexico's fault, it does seem a little careless that no one notices it until it makes its arrival across the pond. Oops!

Santo is the obvious person to call in the event of an international art scandal, and the fact that he has an upcoming match in Madrid provides perfect cover as far as his superiors at Interpol are concerned.  And, to be fair, Santo, jack of all trades that he is, seems perfectly comfortable hobnobbing with officials at the Louvre and other higher ups in the world of fine art. In fact, he asks all the right questions and quickly makes a connection that every non wrestler has so far missed. All of this while keeping up his commitments in the ring, which, in Dr. Death, amount to three lengthy bouts which are all but one filmed from beyond the ropes in that flat, undynamic style we've become so used to.

Anyway, it turns out that the man to whom the Spaniards turn to restore the damaged masterpiece is one Dr. Mann (George Rigaud, another Horror Express alumnus). Unknown to them, however, Dr. Mann has developed a formula and device -- that appears to be like a crude art xerox machine -- that can make a perfect duplicate of a painting, which he then returns to the museum, sadly informing them that what they had was a forgery all along. Mann pulled this same trick on the French -- nabbing, as it is later suggested, the Mona Lisa in the process -- but in that case murdered the actual restorer hired by the Louvre, a Professor Schwartz, and substituted his nephew Peter (Antonio Pica, of Satanik and Vengeance of the Zombies) in his place.

Ensconced in his creepy old castle with his secretary Sara (Line) and Peter, who is for some reason pretending to be blind, Mann learns of Santo's French escapades and, fearing that his murder of Schwartz will be uncovered, orders his thuggish minions to rub the masked man out. The first of these thrilling assassination scenarios takes place in a men's room at the Mexico City Airport, where a gunsel invades the sanctity of Santo's stall with a hale of bullets. Fortunately, the wily Santo has merely placed his shoes in that stall, only giving the appearance that he is taking a dump, and instead comes up and clobbers the deserving hood from behind.

And so Santo arrives in Madrid, with manager Carlos Suarez in tow -- who is, in a rare instance, actually playing Santo's manager rather than a villain or comic relief sidekick and is rocking a wig. Soon thereafter, he is introduced to his partner in spying, Paul (Carlos Romero Marchent, a regular in director Marchent's films), whom Santo initially disapproves of due to his mustache, shaggy hair and mod threads. To be fair, Paul's look is a lot more Tony Orlando than Manson, but in any case he quickly wins Santo's trust by dispatching another would-be assassin with his lightning fast knife throwing skills.

It should also be noted that Dr. Dea... I mean Dr. Mann, is also an artist himself, and keeps a dormitory full of beautiful models on staff at the castle for this purpose. It should be further noted that these models appear to be more prisoners than guests, and that Mann occasionally kills one of them before gorily surgically extracting something from her body and dumping her into an acid pit. ("A Doctor of what?" Santo asks one of the Spanish museum officals, regarding Mann. "Art", comes the reply. "And some kind of science.") Eventually, one of the models, Ester (Night of the Skull's Maribel Hidalgo), during an exploratory visit by the two sleuths to the castle, slips word to Paul that she suspects something sinister is going on.

When a replacement model is sent for Ester, who has been given notice, Santo and Paul intercept her in transit and replace her with Susan, a convenient lookalike who is also an Interpol agent. Susan is portrayed by Mirta Miller, a beautiful Argentinian actress who boasts several Paul Naschy films on her resume, as well as, among many others, appearances in Lenzi's Eyeball and the Tony Anthony spaghetti western Get Mean. Miller ends up bearing a heavy load in Santo vs. Dr. Death, as much of the film's middle section focuses on her exploits, much of which understandably involve her running around the cobwebbed subterranean corridors of Mann's castle in a diaphanous nightgown. She nonetheless presents a tough-as-nails heroine, at one point shutting up the tremulous Ester -- who, accompanying her on one of these jaunts, protests that she's afraid -- with a terse "Oh, please!"

Throughout all this, Santo is somewhat sidelined, mainly seen waiting faithfully by his ham radio for Susan's call. When those calls stop coming, Santo, not having read The Rules, immediately sets off with Paul to lay siege to the castle. Meanwhile, we finally learn what Mann has really been up to all this time, and it's fucking weird. Throughout their captivity, he has been secretly giving the models daily injections of estrogen. This promotes the growth of fibroid tumors that in turn provide the special ingredient to his art duplicating formula -- and also clearly indicates that no woman's hands ever came within striking distance of the script for Santo vs. Dr. Death. What I do like about all this is that Mann has no grand scheme for doing this beyond just wanting to have a really amazing art collection.

And what I like about Santo vs. Dr. Death, despite its flaws, is how it neatly combines the three primary genres that characterized Santo's Mexican films of the period while seldom overlapping. Basically, by this time you either got gothic Santo, usually in conjunction with Blue Demon, in films like Santo y Blue Demon contra Dracula y el Hombre Lobo, sci-fi Santo, as in Asesinos de Otros Mundos, or, with increasing frequency, Santo as Interpol's secret weapon in spy thrillers like Mision Suicida and Anonimo Mortal. Dr. Death combines a little bit of all of these while thankfully overlooking the cinematic Atavan of Santo on the hacienda (El Aguila Real) and Santo on the border (Santo en la Frontera del Terror).

I also like that, while Santo vs. Dr. Death's story is indeed strange, it is told with much more coherence and energy than many of Santo's later exploits. For one, the film really takes its action seriously, the final act, comprised of Santo and Paul's attack on the castle, being exemplary. In quick succession, we see a number of furious fights that are both well choreographed and filmed, Santo negotiating a series of perilous booby traps in the corridors of the castle, a speedboat chase, and some nifty stunt work that involves Santo making a high dive off a cliff and later being towed in pursuit of the villain while hanging from the ladder of a helicopter, all while sporting a snazzy, leather paneled turtleneck.

Then again, perhaps my expectations have been battered into submission by other film's insistence on showing me two minute of Santo idly watching television while also showing me what he's watching on television. But, hey, I'll take whatever excitement in a 1970s Santo film I can get, and Santo vs. Dr. Death, in its vaguely appealing Euro way, delivers.

Santo vs. Dr. Death can be seen in its entirety on YouTube.


Prof. Grewbeard said...


one of my top five Santo faves!

Todd said...

Thanks, Prof! You remind me that I forgot to mention how great Gregorio Garcia Segura's score for this movie is. It's got a nice, brassy 60s spy vibe.

Mr. Cavin said...

Re: the Saint. I love it when translation doesn't know when to quit. Every time I order a beer from an English speaker in Mexico, that waiter asks me if I want a "two exes." It took me a lot longer than it should've to realize what that was.

Man, if you ever crafted a lavish and spendy book about this specific subject, à la Tim Lucas, I would totally buy it.

Todd said...

Thanks, Mr. Cavin. Not a bad idea. I've been long thinking the market has been sorely lacking a Santo book with mink lining and gold flake type.

Mr. Cavin said...

...and maybe some tear-out ads with samples of Hai Karate?

Todd said...

Capital idea.