Monday, May 28, 2012

Santo & Blue Demon vs Dracula

Four hundred years ago, Count Dracula and the Wolf Man attempted to unite the powers of Darkness but were foiled by one man, the alchemist Elco Cristaldi. Today, at the end of the cabalistic time, Dracula has risen anew and he turns his vengeful eye on Cristaldi's descendants. Except that one of them, the lovely Lina Cristaldi, happens to be El Santo's girlfriend. Sucks for Dracula.

In Mexico, professional wrestlers (or "luchadores") enjoy near mythic heights of popularity, and no one is more revered or celebrated than El Santo. Santo inhabits a special place in Mexican cinema, his more than fifty films an extension of his real life professional wrestling career. Lucha Libre is a realm in which the luchadores are nearly regarded as real life superheroes. And so it wasn't really a stretch for Santo to cross over into motion picture as a caped crime-fighter. And he never, never ever took his silver mask off. What helped to sell Santo was that he always exuded a quiet nobility. He seemed so trustworthy and solid and heroic. This translated to box office cha-ching.

In cinema the decades would see Santo come face to face with all manner of threats, ranging from spies to robots to aliens to supernatural beasties and ghoulies. DVDs of Santo's films are notoriously hard to come by, especially with English sub-titles. SANTO Y BLUE DEMON CONTRA DRACULA Y EL HOMBRE LOBO (or "Santo & Blue Demon Versus Dracula & the Wolf Man") is another surreal Santo adventure, released back in 1973. I say "surreal" because Santo's films never strived too hard to place our hero in the real world. Or in a grounded story, for that matter. It's okay. Santo's world is one in which the man never takes his mask off and no one says diddly. It adds to the charm, the Santo films' persistent dismissal of reality, and that there isn't much continuity linking the films together. Each adventure seems to have Santo with a different love interest.

This film doesn't break a sweat when it shrugs off internal continuity. Keen focus is paid on the mystical dagger of the Boidros, a weapon of which Dracula is very leery. And yet, when it comes down to it, the sacred dagger doesn't even factor into the disposing of Dracula and the Wolf Man. Still, I like the neat twist involving the dagger and the hunchback henchman. Even if it's not quite the payoff I was expecting.

There are wrestling matches, naturally, and these are rugged contests staged without the fake stuff, without the melodramatic preamble and the soap opera and the rigged referee and the breakaway chair. But it's all about Santo and his formidable (and deeper-voiced) partner Blue Demon taking on the vile forces of Darkness (as well as a troop of garden variety hoodlums). Aldo Monti, who plays Dracula, comes off as a poor man's Christopher Lee. The Wolf Man (Agustín Martínez Solares) is made less ridiculous by dint of his appearing for most of the film in his human guise. But since the Wolf Man's name is Rufus Rex and he does go around part of the time wearing a gold lamé disco shirt, he's still ridiculous. There's just no place in the world for a rico suave lycanthrope.

Radio wrist watches. Those short, short mini-skirts. That ominous yet kitschy organ music that occasionally passes for the movie score. A luchador named "Renato the Hippie." No surprise that a sense of campiness infuses this joint, but don't let that stop you from relishing a slew of fun beats. Such as Santo and Blue Demon in repose and playing chess. Or the free-for-all smackdown in the underground cavern which features a precarious catwalk hanging over a pit of sharpened stakes. Or the awesomely cheesy dialogue, such as when the Wolf Man suggests recruiting the luchadores to the infernal cause, and his hunchback lackey retorts: "It would be useless, master. El Santo is a retrograde man. He still believes in good and justice. The other masked man is also an imbecile." Heh.

The DVD's bonus stuff (which ain't much):

- The Best of El Santo - a highlight reel of Santo in action (00:02:02 minutes long)
- Rise Above Entertainment - basically clicks to one page listing several films under the Rise Above banner
- Photo Gallery

No comments: