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Lucha Libre!: A Top 10 Mexican Wrestlers Films
by Octavio Ramos Jr
I grew up during the late 1960s and early 1970s, a time when families would go to the local drive-in every weekend for a night of entertainment. My family was a little different in that my parents had emigrated from Mexico into the United States, so instead of going to an English-speaking drive-in, we would go to one that played Mexican movies.
As a child, I watched all kinds of genre cinema from Mexico, from Capulina slapstick comedies
(back when he had a partner by the name of Viruta) to bizarre horror films. One of the genres
I most fondly remembered, however, involved the luchadores, or freestyle wrestlers. The most
famous of these were the enmascarados, or the masked wrestlers. Key figures among these greats
were Santo (Saint), Blue Demon, and Mil Mascaras (Man of a Thousand Masks). The nostalgia I
felt when I learned that some of these films were finally available on DVD was overwhelming,
and I quickly ordered a few to see if the films would hold up.
Astonishingly, these films did indeed hold up. Yes, these movies were cheaply produced, the acting wasn't the best, and the effects were laughable. But there on the screen were the heroes I grew up with - there they were, fighting mad scientists, hideously deformed rat-men, and midgets with machineguns. More importantly, I watched the films with both my young daughters, who were as wide-eyed as I was back then.
Assembling a top 10 listing of such films is difficult, given that some of the better titles are not yet available. Perhaps the number one film of this genre would be Las Momias de Guanajuato, which starred Blue Demon, Mil Mascaras, and Santo. Sadly, this film is not yet available internationally; which is strange, given that it is the most popular of the genre.
Los Campeones Justicieros - The Champions Of Justice (1970)
Los Campeones Justicieros not only featured the 'big three' enmascarados but also several lesser-known wrestlers, including El Rayo de Jalisco (Jalisco's Lightning Bolt), El Medico Assessino (The Medical Assassin), and Tinieblas (Darkness). When not taking on rudos in the ring, the wrestlers did battle with 'La Mano Negra' (The Black Hand), a mad scientist whose masked midget wrestlers he has enhanced with the strength of 10 athletes, first through chemical means and later with the help of metal bracelets.
There are action sequences galore, as when Blue Demon and a pilot jump out of an airplane and battle on the way down or when Mil Mascaras encounters the villain's modified vehicle, which has machineguns up front and ejects oil from out the back. The plot is threadbare, with La Mano Negra intent on freezing victims so that they become his willing slaves, kidnapping dignitaries for ransom, and ultimately enslaving the enmascarados so that they can help him take over the world!
In addition to action, there are lots of full-figured and bikini-clad women to look at (some of the victims are participating in a Miss Mexico beauty contest), plenty of wrestling footage, and hilarious wrestling matches between the enmascarados and the little people, who are dressed in bright red tights, masks, and cloaks.
Note: this film is in Spanish and comes with no English dubs or subtitles.
Vuelven Los Campeones Justicieros - Return Of The Champions Of Justice (1972)
In Vuelven Los Campeones Justicieros, the enmascarados are back, this time facing a masked female adversary who uses rat-men (the little people dressed in Halloween-like rat costumes - no, really!). New wrestlers on the team include El Fantasma Blanco (the White Phantom, who is the scientist of the group) and El Avispon Escarlata (the Scarlet Wasp).
Once again there are lots of fights, action sequences (mostly when the rat-men attack in the dark), and full-figured women in scanty clothes to stare at. The plot is similar to the first film, with the female seductress kidnapping dignitaries (including a lounge singer, mind you) and attempting to capture the enmascarados to turn them into rat-hybrid minions so that they can help her rule the world. In this film, the mythology of the enmascarados is much more refined, with Blue Demon leading the team from a 'Justice League' central, complete with sophisticated radio and video equipment.
Note: this film is in Spanish and comes with no English dubs or subtitles. Los Campeones Justicieros and Vuelven Los Campeones Justicieros are available on a dual-sided disc.
El Castillo de las Momias de Guanajuato - The Castle Of The Mummies Of Guanajuato (1977)
Okay, this movie does not have any of the 'big three'; instead, second-stringers Superzan, Blue Angel (looking a lot like Captain America), and Tinieblas (Darkness, whose costume is really cool) tackle the mummies of Guanajuato. This time, it's a mad scientist suffering from leukemia who uses superscience and black magic to reanimate the dead. He then sends out the mummies to capture local townsfolk, who are then tortured to create a special elixir that keeps the doc alive. Also helping out the good doctor are several midget henchmen whose first task is to capture a rival scientist and force him to perform an operation on the mad scientist to keep him alive long enough to carry out his diabolical plan.
This delirious movie has it all: a scantly clad and warbling lounge singer, Satanist midgets, mad doctors, and plenty of living dead who happen to have decent wrestling skills. The enmascarados aren't the best actors, but their enthusiasm and sculpted physiques ensure that the wrestling scenes are a bit more dynamic than usual. The plotline is hilarious, with the story wandering from point to point in a self-induced malaise and the audience wondering what will happen next.
The second side of this dual-disc presentation contains Misterio en las Bermudas (Mystery Of The Bermuda Triangle), which was also filmed in 1977, and was the last time the big three would appear together. Although I found the film relatively entertaining, the enthusiasm level of the stars had waned by the point, with Santo in particular simply going through the motions. The enthusiasm is garnered by the female martial artist of the film, who has a knock-down-drag-out fight with a razor-wielding heavy who also happened to be Santo's longtime manager.
Both films are in Spanish and come with no English dubs or subtitles.
Santo en el Tesoro de Dracula - Santo In The Treasure Of Dracula (1968)
One of the stranger Santo movies - and that's saying something, in that Santo is portrayed as a scientific genius who has invented a time machine (culled from the Time Tunnel television series, no doubt, down to the spiral-tunnel design). To prove that the machine works, Santo sends his friend Luisa (Noelia Noel of La Horriplante Bestia Humana, better known in America as Night Of The Bloody Apes) back to the 19th century, where she becomes embroiled in the plot of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Luisa is seduced and bitten by the nefarious count, but Santo rescues her by bringing her back to the present century (apparently, returning her to the present century 'cures' Luisa of her vampirism).
The remainder of the movie has Santo battling a revived Dracula who still wants to add Luisa to his collection of brides, as well as a hooded figure and his wrestling minions who has joined forces with Dracula. Hardcore wrestling fans will note the cameo of Guillermo 'Lobo Negro' Hernandez (The Wrath Of God and Blue Demon Contra las Diabolicas, among a great many others), who lends a helping hand at the film's rather anticlimactic ending, in which Dracula is destroyed by sunlight.
This movie is in black and white, and thanks to Rise Above Entertainment, comes with English subtitles, as well as some photo stills and trailers of other Santo movies. Another version of this film, titled El Vampiro y el Sexo, was produced for the adult market. This version of the film has Dracula's brides wandering around in the nude and contains more violence that the film presented here. The 'clean' version of this film is one of four found in Santo And The Monsters boxset - volume one, which serves as a great introduction to this genre of cinema.
Santo en la Venganza de la Llorona - Santo In The Vengeance Of The Crying Banshee (1974)
This movie has a deeper meaning to those of us who grew up in the Southwest, particularly in places like southern California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas, as many of our parents and grandparents who emigrated from Mexico brought their lore and shared it with their children. To keep kids away from ditches (used mostly to drain or irrigate crops or provide drinking water to livestock), parents often told the story of the llorona, a young woman who either accidently or intentionally killed her children by drowning them in a ditch. Because of such a foul deed, she is cursed to wander such ditches as a hideous spectre, drowning children who do not heed her hideous screams an immediately leave such desolate places.
In this film, Santo shares the screen with Cuban boxer Jose Angel 'Mantequilla' (butter, so nicknamed because of his greasy speed) Napoles, a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The two make for a great team, with Napoles selling some nice hook-cross combinations and Santo using double-kicks and takedowns with great flair during some of the fight sequences.
The plot embellishes the story of the llorona, this time bringing in a satanic witch to help Eugenia (played by Kiki Herrera Calles) take revenge on her betrothed Gonzaga, who at the last minute has dumped her for another woman but plans to take her children away. The witch agrees to give Eugenia poison, which she will use to kill her children and herself, thus denying Gonzaga any heirs. She also hides her lover's gold, which he had planned to give to the King of Spain. It is Eugenia's hope that the king will smell treachery and banish Gonzaga, leaving him destitute.
Although Eugenia carries out her plan, her husband is not punished and does have an heir to carry on his lineage. To avenge this, Eugenia comes back from the dead and begins to kill the descendants of her husband through strangulation. Professor Lira and his grandson are her principal targets.
As she carries out these hideous murders, Santo and Mantequilla spend their time fighting the minions of Severio Segovia, who has learned that there is a treasure map on the back of the llorona's amulet. The film ends with Santo finding the treasure and giving it all to a children's charity - the good deed lifts the llorona's curse and she disappears before she can murder Lira's grandson.
The story is relatively straightforward and the scenes with the llorona are effective. The makeup for the apparition isn't bad and the audio and visual effects during her appearances are good. Santo and Mantequilla have chemistry together and the fight sequences are pretty good.
This film is one of four found in Santo And The Monsters boxset - volume one.
Santo y Blue Demon contra Dracula y el Hombre Lobo - Santo And Blue Demon Against Dracula And The Wolfman (1973)
Without doubt, the better enmascarados movies involved teams of two or more masked wrestlers, and one of the better monster team-ups consists of hunchback and mastermind Erik, Dracula (Aldo Monti from Santo y el Tesoro de Dracula), and the wolfman (whose name is Rufus Rex). The story begins with Erik preparing to revive the vampire and werewolf so that both can take their revenge upon Professor Cristaldi, his leggy daughter, and niece, and granddaughter. It seems that many years ago, archmage Cristaldi used his alchemy powers to end the reign of terror of Dracula and the wolfman, both of whom were creating armies of the undead. So what's in it for Erik? Why, the count's gold, of course.
Most of the fight scenes either involve Erik's minions, who are little more than street toughs, or Rex's wolfmen, most of whom are pretty good wrestlers. The end of both Dracula and Rex is anticlimactic, with Santo simply pushing both into a pit filled with spikes. When not fighting the toughs or the wolfmen, Santo and Blue Demon busy themselves wrestling Angel Blanco and Renato el Hippie.
The screenplay is a bit spastic, never paying off setpieces or key props. For example: a magic dagger designed to destroy all evil is used by Santo during one scene, and that action takes places off-screen as is relayed through Erik. Later, Erik dies when the magic dagger 'magically' turns on him. The underground lair of the monsters is cool and some of the costumes, such as the female vampire's red and lacy dresses, work well.
This film is one of four found in Santo And The Monsters boxset - volume one. It also can be obtained as a standalone title.
Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstrous - Santo And Blue Demon Against The Monsters (1969)
You want lots of monsters? This movie has them all, from the Frankenstein monster, a vampire, and a mummy to a wolfman, a clay-like cyclops, and zombies. The basic plot is that a revived Dr Frankenstein (killed in Santo y Blue Demon contra el Dr Frankenstein) is plotting revenge against Santo and Blue Demon. Not only does the good doctor assemble a cast of monsters, he successfully kidnaps Blue Demon and makes a replica of the wrestler, who along with the monsters battles Santo.
Much of the movie consists of the monsters killing victims or fight sequences, with Santo tackling one or a variety of monsters, as well as the replicate Blue Demon. The body count rises as Frankenstein's monster disrupts a couple's picnic, stepping on the man's face and running off with the girl; the werewolf slays another couple; and the vampire 'turns' young women into vampire servants for the ever-expanding undead army.
The climax of the movie is a little more exciting than the average Santo film in that the monsters put up a hell of a fight during the final scene. After defeating the fake Blue Demon (who at one point brandishes a blade) and throwing him over a cliff, Santo recues the real Blue Demon and they both proceed to battle the green-faced zombies and the cast of monsters before setting the doctor's lab ablaze and staking the vampire women in a rather gruesome fashion.
Hardcore wrestling fans should keep an eye out for the actor playing the Frankenstein monster, as it is none other than Manuel Leal, who went on to create the enmascarado Tinieblas, who later starred as one of Santo's villains, and subsequently became a member of the Champions of Justice.
Santo contra la Hija de Frankenstein - Santo Against Frankenstein's Daughter (1971)
On this solo outing, Santo matches wits and fists with Dr Freda Frankenstein (Gina Romand), whose goal is to use Santo's virile blood to reconstitute herself (although youthful in appearance, she is very old) and bring to life her latest creation, a half-man, half-gorilla, all undead creature known as Truxon (played by Geraldo Zepeda in makeup similar to that worn on Night Of The Bloody Apes).
The plot here involves Freda sending her henchmen (all of whom wear bright red tee-shirts) out to kidnap Santo's girlfriend, with one of the toughs kindly leaving a note to lure the masked hero into Freda's laboratory, where she plans to drain him of his blood to create a better, longer-lasting youth serum. As the plot unfolds, Freda also brings to life Urses, a monster patterned after Karloff's makeup. Urses proves unwieldy, however, and subsequently becomes Santo's ally. Indeed, the climax of the movie has Santo and Freda battling for Urses' will. Santo wins out, with Urses strangling Freda.
An interesting side note regarding this movie is Freda's old-age makeup, which looks a lot like the makeup worn by the llorona (albeit in a more decayed state) in the film Santo en la Venganza de la Llorona. Another note is the character of Waldo, played by Rafael 'El Enano Santanon' Aldrete, whose prolific career spanned decades and included films such as Milagro en el Circo (Circus Miracle), Las Vengadoras Enmascaradas (The Vengeful Masked Women), Santo contra el Rey del Crimen (Santo vs. The King Of Crime), and The Fear Chamber.
Operación 67 (1966)
Santo's first colour film is one of the best of the non-monster Santo movies, benefiting also from solid production values and the capable assistance of costar Jorge Rivero (Rio Lobo, Warrior Of Justice, and Werewolf, among many others). Santo and Rivero star as secret agents in the mold of James Bond. The duo must stop the diabolical scheme of an Asian crime syndicate lead by Ruth Taylor.
The central plot element is that Ruth and company have stolen printing plates for currency and replaced them with fakes - the idea is to create chaos in the economy, with the syndicate cleaning up by producing the real deal. Fortunately, Interpol has caught whiff of this plot and the organisation recruits Santo and Rivero to put a stop to the proceedings.
There are plenty of action sequences and quite a few special effects. For example, Rivero uses a bazooka to shoot down an enemy plane, Santo uses the flamethrowers built into his custom car to battle enemy agents, and we even get a glimpse into Santo's cool laboratory, which has plenty of gizmos about. Unlike other Santo movies, this one has some nudity (much of it during a music number). Another interesting thing is that the fight sequences are much more choreographed, with both Santo and Rivero showing off some nice moves.
Although there are no monsters in Operación 67, fans of enmascarados movies should really check this one out. It's a shame most Santo movies did not have such good production values or such engaging plotlines.
Samson In The Wax Museum (1963)
Although not a great entry in the Santo series, this film is important in that it was one of the few Santo films dubbed for English-speaking audiences (with name change to 'Samson' for some reason). Originally released as Santo en el Museo de Cera, the film has Santo recruited by Professor Galvin to look into the suspicious activities of Dr Karol, who among other things owns a wax museum. Dr Karol does indeed have talent, as he's able to bring to live his wax creations (he brutally injects them with hypodermics), among them Frankenstein's monster, a werewolf, and rejects from Island Of Lost Souls, such as a boar/ man hybrid.
This movie is in black and white, which gives the special effects a nice touch. The monster makeup is minimal but gets the job done. As with most Santo pictures, the principal villain never engages in a fight. It's rather funny to watch Claudio Brook (Cronos and Licence To Kill, among many others), who plays Dr Karol, awkwardly stand around as his minions battle Santo during a few fight sequences. The movie boasts solid production values, particularly the wax museum, which showcases some nicely sculpted wax figures.
For those of you who may be wondering what all the fuss is about, you may wish to check out Dan Madigan's book, Mondo Lucha A Go-Go: The Bizarre And Honorable World Of Wild Mexican Wrestling. This book gives a great overview of this cult sport and provides detailed biographies of Santo, Mil Mascaras, Blue Demon, and many others.
Before you embark on exploring this genre, you must realise that it takes a certain frame of mind to enjoy films like these, given the high calibre of effects today. Fans of Japanese kaiju (old Godzilla and Gamera flicks, but more importantly Tokusatsu fare, such as the Ultraman and Super Sentai television series) and exploitation fare (notably grindhouse cinema - think Russ Meyer, Ruggero Deodato, and lesser-known Hong Kong kung fu movies) will relish these films. If you do not have the ability to suspend disbelief and enjoy a trash film for what it is, then avoid these movies at all costs. For me, the enmascarados are back in my life, and for that I am very thankful.
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