We’ve got a review of Santo vs las lobas coming up, but before I begin that, let me say a few words about Santo. I am not the world’s hugest Mexican wrestling fan, but I’m at least moderately huge. And you can’t be even a moderately huge Mexican wrestling fan — or student of pop culture at all — without hearing about Santo (real name Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta). Known as el enmascarado de plata, “the man in the silver mask,” Santo was a superstar in the world of lucha libre or professional wrestling.
Mexican luchadors often wear colourful masks as part of their ring gear, making them look like superheroes, and the Mexican wrestling movie genre takes that one step further, portraying them as literal superheroes. In the films, they play themselves as wrestlers who fight crime and monsters on the side, as if Macho Man Randy Savage were also James Bond and/or Fred from Scooby-Doo.
Sitting in my living room is this battered lobby card from 1962’s Santo vs las mujeres vampiro, a souvenir of my brother’s visit to Mexico City.
As you can see, it’s essentially a low-budget horror flick (although this was a particularly high-budget effort by Mexican wrestling movie standards) in which the protagonist is a masked wrestler instead of a slumming cowboy star with a wooden haircut.
If you think that sounds amazing, you’re not wrong.
There were lots of wrestling movie stars, many of whom teamed up with Santo himself in various films, but none of them are quite as iconic as el enmascarado de plata. As a pop culture icon, Santo is like Mexico’s Batman — instantly recognisable, reliably bankable. And prolific! Between 1958 and 1982, Santo appeared in 52 films, 46 of those between 1958 and 1977. During the peak years, that’s an average of a new feature every five months.
“Low-budget wrestling horror movies made at breakneck speed and played to crowds of hyperactive kids,” you’re probably thinking. “I bet these are cinematic masterpieces.” And they are. Oh yes, they are. They are precisely what you want from a bad movie — so bad they’re great. Ridiculously implausible plots, overacting, dirt-cheap special effects, contrived action sequences, broad comedy and lots of fighting. My only caution is that you probably shouldn’t watch more than one too close together, as they’re, y’know, pretty repetitive. But judge for yourself! Here are a few Santo films that have made it online.