Tag Archives: lucha libre

Santo in the Wax Museum (1963)

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Directed by Alfonso Corona Blake and Manuel San Fernando
Starring Santo, Claudio Brook, José Luis Jiménez

Dr Karol runs a wax museum full of statues of historical figures — and, in the basement, statues of hideous monsters. When a photographer reporting on the museum goes missing, Karol calls in wrestler/crimefighter Santo to investigate. But as disappearances mount, Santo begins to suspect that it is Karol himself who is behind them. The finale is a climactic battle in Karol’s mad-science lab; you’ll be surprised to hear that the ladies are rescued, justice is upheld, and Karol is destroyed by his own twisted creations.

What’s wrong with it?

Well, it’s corny, formulaic and cheap as dirt — none of your shoddy-CGI cheapness, I’m talking about stone-walls-painted-on-plywood cheap. It’s based on a premise that hardly makes any sense even within the confines of a popcorn movie about a wrestling superhero. It keeps getting interrupted by wrestling scenes that are totally unrelated to the plot, even if they are pretty fun.

What’s right with it?

It knows exactly what it is — a Saturday-afternoon flick for a theatre full of kids hyped up on high-quality Mexican Coca-Cola made with actual cane sugar. It rattles along pretty briskly and never acts ashamed of its mad scientist lab, megalomaniacal villain or hokey monsters. It’s good clean fun with occasional flashes of inspiration.

How bad is it really?

It’s … it’s a relic of another time and place. It’s bad in the way that any Mexican wrestling movie would be bad, in that it makes no sense and was bashed out in a hurry and on the cheap.

Best bit (if such there is)?

When Doctor Karol finally gives his big villain-reveal speech, it is genuinely psychotic and over-the-top. He just starts talking about how he’s going to subject his victim to the most agony he can possibly imagine so that the combined mental and physical damage will turn them into a horrible, ugly monster, and this is the true face of humanity and blah blah blah … it’s just surprisingly full-throttle for a supervillain in a Santo flick. It’s so intense you feel bad about going “OK, wait, but what does this have to do with running a wax museum…?

What’s up with…? 

  • Doctor Karol runs a wax museum. What is he a doctor of?
  • Professor Galvan has a huge monitor thingy mounted on his wall that he can use to observe Santo wherever he is. Did he just build it himself or can you buy a Santo-Cam anywhere?
  • The Professor goes missing but Santo calls off the search because “I have to wrestle.” That dude has a work ethic.
  • A photographer and a journalist are assigned to spend several days covering the opening of the wax museum. It must be a slow news week in Coyoacan.
  • Santo fights the monsters the Doctor has created by abducting and mutilating innocent people. Once he’s given them a good thumping he throws them all in a big pile and tips the lab’s vat of boiling wax over them, presumably killing them all. I have to confess I did not expect this movie to end with Santo just straight-up murdering four people.

Ratings

Production values: 10. It looks like a Republic serial — cheap props and sets, camera standing on a box, but clean and more or less competent. Looking like a Republic serial isn’t great for 1963, but this isn’t Hollywood.
Dialogue and performances: 13. Say what you like about Santo, he can’t act, or at least not in full-face mask. Still, Dr Karol is good and everybody else is pretty OK.
Plot and execution: 13. The premise makes no sense, but the execution of that premise is pretty reasonable, apart from the occasional wrestling interlude. Lucha interlude. Interlucha.
Randomness: 17. Why a wax museum? Whyyy?
Waste of potential: 8. Like I said: for sugar-addled kids or adults who want to behave like sugar-addled kids for 90 minutes.

Overall 61%

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Santo vs Las Lobas (Santo vs the She-Wolves) (1972)

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Directed by Rubén Galindo and Jaime Jiménez Pons
Starring … well … Santo.

(Note: some sources give the date of this film as 1976 and I can’t be arsed to figure it out.)

When the fearsome Luba, Queen of the Werewolves, menaces a Mexican town, local bigwig Cesar Harker realises that the only hope is to turn to the heroic Santo. His reasoning: werewolves are vulnerable to silver, Santo’s mask is silver … erm …

But all is not as it seems, and Santo has to team up with a band of local allies to stop some kind of werewolf world-domination plot before he himself begins to become a beast.

What’s wrong with it?

  • It is cheap.
  • Every character is either an idiot or suspiciously knowledgeable.
  • If you’ve wrestled one werewolf, you’ve wrestled them all.
  • It is seriously about an hour too long. Honestly, if you’re going to make trash, you need to make lively, fast-paced trash. And yet I can’t bring myself to hate the length completely, for reasons I explain below.

What’s right with it?

  • It is surprisingly effective. There’s something about the whole grungy, slow, incoherent thing that produces a kind of weird off-kilter tension. One reviewer has described it as “a fever dream,” which is a charitable man’s way of saying “makes no fucking sense,” but the imagery is so … bizarre … that nonetheless it works on some level.
  • It has some reasonably good jokes, as when Santo’s not-well-explained sidekick Gitano (Carlos Suarez) finds himself under social pressure to down an endless series of shots at a party.
  • Santo has some amazing outfits. Behold:
Think style ... think Santo.
Think style … think Santo.

How bad is it really?

It’s not good, but it’s really enjoyable. I recommend putting this on in the background while you’re having a party or something. Unless you speak Spanish, you won’t gain anything by having the sound on anyway.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Harker sends a private investigator to persuade Santo to come and help. He tells Santo about the werewolf problem, and Santo reacts as if he’d just told him about a groundhog infestation, just completely unfazed. After all the crazy stuff Santo’s seen, I guess that’s not surprising. 

What’s up with…? 

Oh, where to begin…

  • Cesar Harker dying and being replaced by his identical twin (who doesn’t wear glasses)? It seems like it could have been left out altogether.
  • The whole character of Gitano? He just kind of appears out of nowhere and becomes Santo’s trusted ally. Maybe Mexican audiences would know who he was already.
  • OK, I know I’ve said this before, but really:

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Ratings

Production values: 14. It’s got lots of extras and some fights, but it’s a low-budget Mexican wrestling movie, and not from the golden age either.
Dialogue and performances: 10. I’m giving this one a pass because I don’t speak Spanish and Santo wears a mask.
Plot and execution: 14. Pretty slapdash.
Randomness: 19. Dreamlike.
Waste of potential: 8. Does pretty much what it says on the tin.

Overall 65%

Bad Movie Superstars: Santo!

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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.

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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.

Enjoy!