1969/1970 | Mexico
Director: Gilberto Martinez Solares
AKA: Santo el enmascarado de plata y Blue Demon contra los monstruos
God help me, I love Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos. I love it like you love a three-legged dog. Sure, my love may be tempered by pity and mild derision, but I love it, nonetheless. And hopefully, you do, too. Because, if not, we’re going to have a problem. Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos marked the 23rd screen appearance by its star, a man who entered the world as one Rodolfo Guzman Huerto, but who achieved legendary status in the world of lucha libre as El Santo, the Man in the Silver Mask. Santo was in his early fifties at this point, but, despite his prime wrestling years being behind him, his iconic status in Mexican popular culture was undiminished. In fact, he was still fairly early in his screen career at this point, with another couple dozen films ahead of him.
Contra los Monstruos was also the second of three films, all made in 1969, that Santo starred in under the banner of the production company Producciones Sotomayor. Santo tended throughout his film career to follow the money, jumping over to whatever studio could provide the fattest paycheck, with apparently little regard for the quality of the movies that resulted. In the sixties this practice lead to him going from the relatively lavish ministrations of Filmadora Panamericana (who made Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiros, a film that was arguably the high-water mark of Santo’s screen career) to more hardscrabble outfits like Filmica Vergara (who made Profanadores de Tumbas, a film in which Santo battles a lamp) and then to Sotomayor. Sotomayor had seen better days and had a production history that went back well over a decade, but by the time of making Contra los Monstruos it had hit decidedly hard times. Given that, it was pretty much guaranteed that, no matter how much Sotomayor paid Santo for a film like Contra los Monstruos, his presence was going to be just about the only visible evidence of production value on screen.
There are a couple of things that all of Santo’s pictures for Sotomayor have in common. One is that each bore a title promising content that was tragically beyond the filmmakers’ means; a promise that those filmmakers then tried to make good on to the best of their ability and with the very limited materials they had on hand. After this fashion, the first film was called Santo contra Blue Demon en la Atlantida, aka Santo vs. Blue Demon in Atlantis, a title which, if nothing else, guaranteed that no one would have to ask what Santo vs. Blue Demon in Atlantis was about. In practice, however, the film was only able to deliver on its vision of a sub-aquatic battle royal by means of stolen special effects footage from Atragon and Monster Zero. Likewise, the last of the three Sotomayor Santo films, El Mundo de los Muertos, seemed to promise that Santo would be paying a visit to Hell itself, but in the end only gave us a red-tinted state park besieged by silent-era stock footage.
The other thing that the Sotomayor films have in common is that each teamed Santo with Blue Demon. These were the first films to do so, and they sparked a successful screen pairing that would last through eight films. Most people outside of Mexico who are familiar with the screen work of Blue Demon (born Alexander Munoz Moreno) know him exclusively for these films, in which he basically plays Santo’s sidekick. But the fact is that, in addition to being an iconic star of lucha libre in his own right, Blue had, by the time of making Santo vs. Blue Demon in Atlantis, already starred in nine films of his own. These included goofy monster-fests like La Sombra del Murcielago and Aranas Infernales and groovy spy capers like Destructor de Espias, as well as the colorful Batman-inspired camp exercise Blue Demon contra Cerebros Infernales. And though he may not have been as prolific as Santo, a number of these titles were every bit as much fun as Santo’s best.
As anyone who’s seen any of these films can attest, both Santo and Blue Demon boasted a profound lack of acting ability that not even dubbing them with other actors’ voices and covering their faces in wrestling masks could contain. Still, for me, Blue Demon had a certain something that made him shine regardless; that something being the dogged determination to give one’s all that comes from being the number two guy in the Santo-shaped shadow of a — perhaps — less deserving peer. While Santo could on occasion be seen to walk through his performances and even make use of a double, Blue could always be counted on to throw himself into his performance one hundred percent, especially in his commitment to the physical action. Santo, of course, had his legendary charisma, but Blue’s eagerness to deliver made him just damn likable. This quality not only enlivens Blue’s solo film ventures, but also ensured that those films he made with Santo were far and away the most enjoyable of the silver masked man’s output during the last decade of his career.
One problem that the makers of the Sotomayor Santo/Blue Demon films had to negotiate was the fact that, while Santo and Blue Demon had each starred as the heroes of their own series of films, they were rivals in the ring. (Blue Demon had, in fact, famously defeated Santo during their first match way back in 1952.) A way had to be devised for both to appear on screen as good guys while still treating the audience to the spectacle of them beating the piss out of one another. Thus was born the gimmick of the “bad” Blue Demon, a means by which, in each film, Blue Demon would come under the influence of some evil force that would make him turn against his pal Santo. This was accomplished by having Blue Demon become hypnotized by the Atlantian Nazis in Atlantis, and in El Mundo de los Muertos by having him become an unwilling pawn of Satan. In Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos the problem is solved by having the villain capture Blue and substitute an evil duplicate in his place — a turn of events that actually puts the lie to the title’s suggestion that we’re going to be seeing Santo and Blue Demon fighting side by side, at least for the most part.
Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos begins, like most of these movies do, with an eight-minute wrestling sequence — half of which doesn’t feature either Santo or Blue Demon. So let’s skip that. The story of Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos, then, begins with Santo and his Blue Demon pondering the fate of a recently vanquished foe. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you might think that Contra los Monstruos was a sequel, because we’re basically treated to a verbal recap of a nonexistent prequel, one in which the evil scientist, Bruno Halder (Carlos Ancira), has been killed, apparently at the hands of Santo and Blue Demon. Before dying, Halder has sworn to take vengeance upon the two luchadors, as well as upon Bruno’s do-gooder brother Otto (Jorge Radó) and Otto’s daughter Gloria (Hedy Blue), who happens to also be Santo’s girlfriend (we’re in that later era of Santo cinema now in which the swinging, more liberated Enmascarado de Plata had to have a girlfriend in every movie—a far cry from the early Santo films, in which he basically served as muscle for the traditional romantic lead without ever getting the girl himself.)
Santo has reason to be concerned about Bruno, because it seems his specialty was raising the dead, and Otto has somewhat stupidly followed his brother’s wishes and not had the body cremated. And sure enough, Bruno’s faithful hunchbacked dwarf assistant Waldo (Rafael Muñoz), aided by a covey of burly, green-faced zombies (in other words, wrestlers with green spackle on their faces), is in the process of exhuming Bruno as Blue and Santo speak. Still, Blue Demon teases Santo for worrying about Gloria too much, stopping just short of making the sound of a whip cracking, and then pisses off on his vacation.
However, on his way to wherever it is he’s vacationing, Blue, driving in his groovy red sports car, just happens to pass by Bruno’s creepy castle at the very moment that Waldo and his zombie slaves are carrying the mad scientist’s corpse inside. Call it a hunch, but sensing that something is amiss, Blue follows them inside and witnesses the resurrection of Bruno amid much showering of sparks and flashing of lights. Promptly thereafter, Blue is captured and strapped to a table, where he’s subjected to the evil cackling and diabolical proclamations of Bruno and Waldo before being placed in a machine that makes an evil duplicate of him. After which it’s time for Bruno and his minions to get down to the real business at hand.
We’ve learned in the opening exposition that Bruno hails from Transylvania, a fact which is given as the reason for him having an interest in monsters in all their wonderful variety. Putting this hobby into practice, Bruno — with zombies, Waldo and evil Blue Demon in tow — goes about breaking into all kinds of crypts and haunted houses, gathering up every monster he can find in very short order. Soon his infernal army of God forsaken creatures of the night is assembled in his lab and ready to commit acts of unspeakable evil: The Vampire! Frankenstein! The Wolf Man! The Mummy! Um.. Cyclops! Not to mention, after the Vampire has a chance to get bitey with some strippers, the Vampire Women!
Now, before you get too excited at the prospect of all of your old Aurora monster models and a Cyclops coming to life and having it out with a couple of colorfully garbed Mexican wrestlers, let’s have a look at those monsters. Because, as many trash film fans already know, they’re a notoriously shabby lot. So much so, in fact, that it’s difficult to single any one of them out as being the most poorly executed.
THE VAMPIRE, for starters, is a nonthreatening-looking bald guy with spock ears and vampire teeth whose wardrobe appears to have been borrowed from Jose Marins of Coffin Joe fame. Like the rest of the monsters in Contra los Monstruos, The Vampire looks like the type of thing you’d come across in a charity haunted house put on by a local church group or PTA. Such haunted houses, like Contra los Monstruos, are limited by their budget and materials, but have the added restriction of needing to make sure that nothing looks too scary, which in their case would excuse them from blame for a creation of The Vampire’s underwhelming caliber. In that circumstance, The Vampire would be played by the suburban dad who decided to pitch in, and much like that dad, when The Vampire in Contra los Monstruos wants to be scary, he jumps up with his arms outstretched like bat wings and goes “RAAAR!” Which is about as scary as it sounds.
FRANKENSTEIN (or “Franquestain” as the liability-averse credits list him) is realized with the help of what looks like one of those Don Post masks you used to be able to get from the back of Famous Monsters, but with the addition of a snappy mustache and goatee. Frankenstein was portrayed by the towering Manuel Leal, who later became the masked wrestler Tinieblas (he also played the lead mummy in Las Momias de Guanajuato). Even though he never got beyond supporting roles in Agransanchez-produced “let’s pack in as many wrestlers as we can” pictures like Los Campeones Justicieros and Leyendas Macabras de la Colonia, Tinieblas is a favorite of mine; aside from being imposingly huge, he had a really sleek looking costume that made him look like a 70s era Marvel super hero. Definitely a step up from what he’s rocking here.
THE WOLF-MAN is just a hairy, kind of rough-looking middle-aged guy with a prosthetic nose slapped on him. No fake fur is employed, just the guy’s natural, big scruffy beard and long unkempt-looking hair. Along with the Mummy, the Wolf-Man looks like he might have been paid for his acting efforts with bottles of cheap corn liquor. I realize that this may not be the case, and if anyone who’s a family member of one of the guys who played either the Wolf-Man or the Mummy in Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos is reading this, I apologize. I’m just going by appearances. And going by appearances, they look like they might have been derelicts.
THE MUMMY is an emaciated elderly man with stubble who has been wrapped from head to toe in surgical gauze, which makes him look more like a very old man who fell down a flight of stairs than a mummy. Being that he looks so fragile, the Mummy doesn’t really present much of a threat, since it looks like the slightest amount of force would cause him to fall and shatter a hip. Interestingly, it appears that the Mummy has a stunt double, because in the fight scenes there is a conspicuously more burly individual wearing the costume. This leads to the obvious question of why they didn’t just have that guy play the Mummy.
THE VAMPIRE WOMEN are just voluptuous young Latinas in lingerie with vampire teeth, which is pretty hard to mess up. I give them alone among Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos‘ monsters an unqualified thumbs up.
THE CYCLOPS is an interesting case. His costume actually looks pretty cool. Or at least it did when it was first used back in 1959 in La Nave de los Monstruos, an earlier Sotomayor production in which Lorena Velazquez and Ana Bertha Lepe played space women who were trying to mate with a singing cowboy. The costume is a perfectly respectable suit-mation effort, like something you’d see in a lesser kaiju movie or an episode of Ultraman. The only problem with it is that, in the ten years that lapsed between La Nave de los Monstruos and Contra los Monstruos, not much effort was taken to preserve it, so, as it appears in Contra los Monstruos, it’s riddled with obvious tears, fraying, and areas where the stuffing is coming out of it. There’s also a hand puppet Cyclops head used for the close-ups which gets a real workout in Contra los Monstruos, even though it’s in just as pitiful shape as the costume.
There’s also another costume from La Nave de los Monstruos on display in Contra los Monstruos, sort of a BONUS MONSTER in the form of a troll-like creature with a giant, exposed brain. This monster just hangs out on the periphery of the laboratory scenes without anyone ever reacting or referring to him. I kept waiting for someone to notice him and have that “I didn’t invite him — I thought you invited him” conversation, but it never happened.
Though they might not be as fearsome as initially hoped, this is what the evil Dr. Halder has to work with. And so he sends his monster squad, along with the evil Blue Demon and the green-faced zombies, out to do their worst, with the idea of drawing out Halder’s arch enemy, Santo. The Wolf-Man gets thing started by slaughtering an entire family, the head of which is played by Santo’s real-life manager and frequent supporting cast member Carlos Suarez. Frankenstein attacks a couple who are having a picnic and squashes the boy’s head with his foot. The Cyclops comes up out of the swamp and attacks a guy who’s camping. The first two of these scenes are actually quite bloody, and set Contra los Monstruos apart from the Santo films that preceded it, all of which, like most sixties Lucha films in general, were fairly family friendly in their presentation of violence. Later on, we even get to see our old friend the severed head roll onto the scene, which I think is a singular event in Santo’s filmography.
After this initial orgy of monster mayhem, the rest of Contra los Monstruos unfolds as a rapid series of vignettes in which the monsters, the evil Blue Demon, and the green-faced zombies, in various combinations — though most frequently as one large and unruly group — attack Santo and try to kidnap Gloria, leading in most cases to a chaotic monster-on-wrestler free-for-all. If anyone was entrusted with the job of fight choreographer for Contra los Monstruos, that person took a very Free Jazz approach to his or her craft. First evil Blue ambushes Santo in a lovers’ lane where he and Gloria are making out in Santo’s car (Santo really gets quite a lot of action in this movie). Next he takes on the Cyclops in an awesome scene in which Santo, after finding his usual hand-to-hand techniques ineffective, picks up a piece of wood and starts repeatedly clubbing the Cyclops on his big rubbery head. This is followed by an all monster attack on Otto and Gloria’s home — a scene that is most impressive for how the negligee-clad Gloria, fending off The Vampire’s attack, somehow manages in the course of her life-and-death struggle to put on underwear. This in turn is followed by a scene in which one of the Vampire Women hops uninvited into Santo’s car and Santo makes a bee-line to the same lover’s lane where he’d been with Gloria earlier for another make-out session. Again, all of the monsters attack.
One of the most memorable scenes in Contra los Monstruos is, depending on how charitably you choose to view it, either an homage to or a complete rip-off of a famous scene in Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro. That original scene had Santo unmasking an opponent in the ring, only to reveal a snarling werewolf, who then turned into a bat and flew out of the arena. In Contra los Monstruos, this scene is set up by The Vampire taking the guise of a masked wrestler called “The Vampire” and challenging Santo to a ring match. Santo, unable to see through this impenetrable ruse, accepts, and the shit is on. Contra los Monstruos, however, true to its over-reaching nature, goes Las Mujeres Vampiro one better by having, at the moment that The Vampire is revealed and flies away, all of the monsters, including the Cyclops, jump up out of the audience and attack Santo in the ring.
So far, the monsters have been unsuccessful in their attempts to kidnap Gloria, but all of that changes at the conclusion of Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos‘ unforgettable restaurant scene. Here director Gilberto Martinez Solares does a masterful job of ratcheting up the tension, really turning the screws as we watch Santo, Gloria and Gloria’s father sitting in a cramped restaurant set, staring affectlessly off into the middle distance beyond the camera’s viewpoint. Interspersed with this we see inserted, completely mismatched footage of a relatively lavish musical production number from a completely different movie made at least ten years previous to Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos, which we watch in its entirety, punctuated by shots of Santo, Gloria and Gloria’s father staring — the suggestion being that this large stage show is what they’re actually supposed to be watching take place within the confines of the tiny restaurant, even though its obvious that the actors have no idea what they’re supposed to be looking at. Finally the number stops, at which point another number, perhaps from the same movie, but perhaps not, begins, and we start the whole process over again. Finally, mercifully, the monsters attack.
The monsters, having successfully dragged Gloria from the restaurant, all pile into their monster mobile and, with Frankenstein at the wheel, speed off toward the castle. Fortunately, Santo has managed during the fight to place a tracking device on Frank’s collar, and is able to follow them. Once at the castle, Santo takes on the evil Blue Demon and settles his hash once and for all, then revives the real Blue for a climactic battle royal with the whole motley crew — known from that day on as “The Hassle at the Castle”.
With direction and cinematography handled, respectively, by the brothers Gilberto and Raul Martinez Solares — as well as a cameo by Raul’s young son, Raulito — Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos is something of a family affair. While it would be true to form here for me to go through and critique each of the contributions of these and other of the film’s major behind-the-scenes players, I feel that to do so would be unfair, because Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos is, across the board, a mess. However, because it is the kind of fucking mess that makes you holler in idiot joy and pinch yourself to make sure that you’re not dreaming it, all of those involved deserve an equal share of praise and blame.
To truly get a sense of where Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos is coming from, you need to keep in mind that a key element in Santo becoming the phenomenon he was was that, well before even the start of his movie career, he was the star of his own very popular comic book series. In that spirit, Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos is nothing if not a true comic book movie. And the key to it being so is that, no matter how shoddy and ridiculous the goings on are, it always plays it straight. This must have taken a herculean effort on the part of all involved, because it looks like it had to have been a scream to make (I have, in fact, heard it said that this was Santo’s favorite out of all his films, though I’m not sure whether that’s true or not). Still, despite all obstacles, Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos staunchly resists the temptation to laugh at itself, and that is what really sells it. One wink, one moment of intentional camp, and it would have become unbearable, but, instead, every actor who looked upon those pitifully ridiculous monsters reacted to them as if they were the gravest threat ever faced by mankind. And bless them for it.
More from Todd Stadtman >>