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Santo, from King of the Ring to B-Horror Icon - A Biography

by Mike Haberfelner

August 2007

Films starring Santo on (re)Search my Trash

 

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There are many strange phenomena in trashmovie wonderland, but Santo might still be one of the weirdest - at least if you're not into Mexican wrestling or the lucha libre-phenomenon: Santo was not an actor (and originally never planned to be one) but he went on to star in over 50 movies in more than 20 years, in most of them as the lead, but he never showed his face in any of his films (or any of his public appearances as a matter of fact until very late in his life), and his voice was even dubbed at least most of the time, yet he was extremely popular in his native Mexico. And he was first and foremost a wrestler, yet his contributions to trash-science fiction and -horror cinema are nothing short of priceless.

Interestingly enough Santo was neither the first Mexican wrestler to appear in films nor the first to combine wrestling with horror and science fiction, and he even turned down the first filmrole offered to him, based on his popular wrestling character ... yet eventually, the man would go on to become a legend.

 

Born Rudolfo Guzmán Huerta in Tulancingo, Hidalgo, Mexico in 1917 as the fifth of seven children, Santo already at a very young age was intersted in sports, first baseball and American football, eventually Ju Jitsu, and ultimately classical wrestling. Sources vary as to when Rudolfo Guzmán Huerta actually entered professional wrestling, but it was in either 1934 or 1935, but be that as it may, by the second part of the 1930's, he was an established if not yet all that popular wrestler. By then of course, Rudolfo Guzmán Huerta was not yet embodying his character, Santo, or wearing his famous silver mask, but fought under a variety of different names, including Rudy Guzmán (a rather obvious choice), El Hombre Rojo, El Demonio Negro and El Murcielago II, the last in honour of then popular wrestler El Murcielago aka Jesús Velazquez.

Rudolfo Guzmán Huerta really came into his own in 1942, when his manager Don Jesús Lomelí wanted him to fight in a new team of wrestlers he was putting together who were all dressed in silver and along with his famous silver mask, his manager gave him his name: Santo, the Saint - and thus at age 25, Santo was reborn as what would become the biggest wrestler in all Mexico, ever. The new costume gave young Rudolfo Guzmán Huerta a new boost of self-confidence, and before long, he had developed a full-fledged wrestling character along with a personal style - and would soon become a champion as a fighter as well as a favourite with the audience.

 

Soon enough, Santo proved to be in top form, and in 1943, he won his first titles, becoming both welter weight and middle weight champion of the Comision de Box y Lucha Libre Mexico. Interestingly he won the second title against El Murcielago Jesús Velazquez, the man whose stage name he had once (for a brief time) adopted.

By the end of the decade, Santo had become the superstar of wrestling, and it's in no small part thanks to him that wrestling had become such a popular sport in Mexico. Plus, until very late in his life, he never again removed his silver mask in public, earning him the nickname El Enmascarado de Plata.

(By the way, in Mexico, wrestlers' masks have far greater meaning than in the USA, and if a wrestler is unmasked during a match, his career is effectively ended - though he might reappear wearing another mask.)

 

By 1952, Santo was so big that a comicbook-series  bearing his name and likeness was published, that eventually ran continuously until 1987 - which was three years after Santo's death.

Also in 1952, the production company Filmex came up with the idea of producing a film based on the Santo-character called El Enmascarado de Plata (René Cardona) which, like the comicbook, would show Santo not only as a wrestler but also as a crimefighter. Naturally, Santo was offered the lead part. By that time however, Santo was less than convinced that the film could be a success and turned down the part, leaving it for fellow wrestler El Médico Asesino. The film turned out to be a reasonable success, and this film and Huracán Ramírez (Joselito Rodríguez), also from 1952, but released even earlier than El Enmascarado de Plata, helped to pave the way for the lucha libre genre, a genre almost unique to Mexico which comprises the films of and about wrestling heroes, as diverse as they might be, from conventional sports drama (like Huracán Ramírez) to crime drama (like El Enmascarado de Plata) to science fiction and horror (like many of the later Santo-movies).

(By the way, the directors of both El Enmascarado de Plata - René Cardona - and Huracán Ramírez - Joselito Rodríguez - would ultimately go on to make Santo films, see below.)

 

1952 was also the year of what many still remember as the greatest wrestling match of all time, Santo versus Black Shadow, a 70 minutes mask-versus-mask match at the end of which Santo defeated and unmasked Black Shadow. This triggered a rivalry between Santo and Blue Demon, who was Black Shadow's brothers in arms in their team Los Hermanos Shadow. Ultimately, Blue Demon, whose popularity almost rivalled Santo's, beat Santo in two matches in 1952 and 1953, the last costing Santo the World Welterweight title, which Blue Demon then held until 1958. Despite their rivalry, Santo and Blue Demon would co-star in a total of 9 movies in the 1960's and 70's, but allegedly Santo always saw to it that he got top billing over Blue Demon as a sort of payback, and outside the films, the two men never were close friends.

Black Shadow by the way also started a modest film career, but was mostly reduced to doing supporting roles in Santo films.

 



Moving forward to the year 1958: By this time Santo had obviously rethought his decision not to star in films, probably due to the success of both El Enmascarado de Plata and the Santo comicbook, and had himself being talked into going to pre-Fidel Castro-Cuba to shoot a couple of films, Cerebro del Mal and Santo contra Hombres Infernales (both directed by Joselito Rodríguez). Both of these films were cheaply made action flicks in which Santo actually only played a supporting character, a masked police sergeant  who's only one of a team of investigators. Why Santo wears a mask is never explained, and there is no reference made to him being a wrestler. Santo - who's never called by that name in these films - it seems just is, and the audience knowing him from wrestling and the comicbooks is supposed to accept him. Neither film was a big success at the box office, but given their modest buedgets, they might have made their money back ...

 

Santo's third picture though, the Mexican-produced Santo contra los Zombies/The Invasion of the Zombies (1961, Benito Alazraki) is what one could call the first real Santo movie: Santo is established not only as a hero fighting for justice but as an actual wrestler, and he is the undisputed lead of the film. As for the plot: The title is a dead giveaway, when searching for a professor who has disappeared after his return from Haiti, Santo runs into zombies, and even gets to fight a zombie wrestler - played by Fernando Osés, who co-scripted this film (like many later Santo-films as well) and who also was in Santo's two Cuban adventures. Another (non-zombie) wrestler Santo gets to fight in this one is actually above-mentioned Black Shadow.

Santo contra los Zombies actually set the tone for pretty much all Santo-films to come: Santo was the wrestler in the silver mask which he never removed (not even while sleeping) who did some crime fighting on the side (and to this end had a handy crime-lab at his home), and no matter if the opponents were natural or supernatural or even extraterrestrial, Santo would always come out on top and save whatever there is to save, be it a damsel-in-distress or even the world. And quite a few times, at the end of the film, he would arrive at the sports arena to fight and win yet another wrestling match ... now does any of this sound silly ?

Well, actually all of it. But if you can accept its inherent silliness and are in touch with your inner child, the Santo-formula is also easy to love, and the films are usually naive, innocent and often a bit trashy genre films that are often unintentionally hilarious or so-bad-they-are-good, and some of them are actually even quite good in their own right. The films are reminiscent of B-pictures and serials of the 1930's and 40's, with later films also adding 1950's science fiction, James Bond-like espionage elements, martial arts and a bit of sex to the mix.

As for Santo himelf: He wasn't much of an actor, and appeared a bit wooden even when hiding behind a mask, plus he was routinely dubbed by another, real actor, but somehow thanks to his physical presence he managed to carry his films nevertheless.

 


Other than Santo contra los Zombies, Santo's next film Santo contra el Rey del Crimen (1961, Federico Curiel) did not feature any supernatural elements, but it did feature an origin-story (something most other Santo-films consciously avoided) in which a little boy learns that his crippled father (René Cardona) once was the legendary fighter for justice Santo, as have been the men in his family for a good many centuries, and now dad hands over the Santo mask - and the responsibility that comes with it - down to his son ...

Years later the boy has grown up to be a man, and has become a wrestler, and a quite successful at that, but when he remembers his father's words, he renounces his career, dons the mask (as a wrestler, he did not wear a mask but could only be seen from behind) and becomes ... Santo.

Soon enough, he puts up shop in his Batcave-like hideout that's filled with computers, gadgets (including the customary wristwatch radio) and other things you might need while crimefighting. To carry the similarities with Batman even further, Santo is in this film aided by his butler, as played by Augusto Benedico. The rest of the film is a rather routine crime drama about a group of gangsters rigging sports events, that is, until Santo interferes. Of course that means that Santo, during the course of the story, returns to being a wrestler, just to make sure there is some ringside action - among others, Santo fights Fernando Osés once again in this one. (Note: In the brief bit in which Santo plays the wrestler without a mask, there is no fight and - as mentioned above - he is only seen from behind)

 


Santo en el Hotel de la Muerte (1961, Federico Curiel) is an old dark house-style murder mystery set in a hotel next to some pyramids, that once again lacks any supernatural elements (even though it features a few macabre touches). Actually, Santo is only a supporting character in this one, leaving center stage to cops Fernando Casanova and Beto el Boticario and girl-reporter Ana Bertha Lepe, all of whom have also played the same roles in Santo contra el Rey del Crimen. Somehow the scriptwriters managed to squeeze a wrestling match into the plot in which Santo defeats Black Shadow (once again).

 


Fernando Casanova, Beto el Boticario and Ana Bertha Lepe all return in their respective roles for the next Santo-film, Santo contra el Cerebro Diabólico (1961, Federico Curiel), like the two previous films produced by Peliculas Rodriguez, and again Santo is reduced to supporting character status, leaving most of the plot and action to the three of them while appearing as a sort of deus-ex-machina. But of course, there is still a wrestling match squeezed into the plot despite the fact that the plot concerns our heroes fighting a villain mercilessly ruling a small desert town. The best scene has Santo preventing a plane from taking off - bare-handed.

(By the way, several sources claim this film to be about a mad scientist, which is simply untrue.)

 


While the previous three films were produced by Peliculas Rodriguez, the next Santo-film Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro/Samson vs Vampire Women (1962, Alfonso Corona Blake) was, like Santo contra los Zombies before it, produced by Filmadora Panamericana, and it showed quite a change of pace to the previous trio: Santo was once again the primary hero (even if he doesn't appear until relatively late in the film), gone are any other ongoing characters, and the plot once again features supernatural elements which noone cares to ever completely explain away. As for the plot itself: the title pretty much gives it all away, Santo, crimefighter and wrestler, is pitted against a cult of vampire women who are trying to get their hands on one of his friends, played by María Duval. In the end though it's not Santo but the sunrise that saves the day ...

Lorena Velázquez and Ofelia Montesco play the lead vampire women while Fernando Osés, who also co-wrote this one, plays their male servant. Other wrestlers in this film include Black Shadow (yet again), Lobo Negro and Ray Mendoza.

Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro eventually turned out to be one of the most successful Santo films and one of the films the 1960's import king K.Gordon Murray dubbed into English and brought to the USA, where it became a hit with the kiddie crowd - for whom the film was originally intended - and the midnight movie crowd alike. For some reason, Santo was rechristened Samson in all of Murray's imports.

 


Santo en el Museo de Cera/Samson in the Wax Museum (1963, Alfonso Corona Blake), once again produced by Filmadora Panamericana, followed hot on the heels of Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro: Once again, Santo is the upright crimefighter who is pitted against supernatural foes and has to do a little bit of wrestling on the side. This time Santo's adversary (not in the ring) is a mad wax sculptor (Claudio Brook) who abducts visitors to his wax museum, turns them into monsters and puts them on display in his museum - so naturally the gallery of monsters is the highlight of his museum. Thing is, from time to time the monsters come to life, and ultimately they kill their own master ... so this film doesn't only show traces of Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933, Michael Curtiz) and its maybe more famous remake House of Wax (1953, André De Toth) but also of H.G.Wells' novel Island of Dr. Moreau - but that doesn't keep Santo en el Museo de Cera from being enjoyably silly and entertaining in its own right ...

Once again, the film was imported into the USA by K.Gordon Murray.

 

Santo's next two films were produced by Alberto López - who also produced his Filmadora Panamericana-films - for Estudios América - which also co-produced Santo en el Hotel de la Muerte and Santo contra el Cerebro Diabólico - and Cinemátografica Norte. The films in question are Santo vs el Estrangulador and El Espectro del Estrangulador (both 1963, René Cardona), and both are a bit of a mess rather than anything else, mixing up a murder mystery with some gruesome horror overtones, plenty of wrestling (naturally) and quite a number of song-and-dance routines. Actually, some of the musical and wrestling scenes seem so out of place in the films that suspicion arises if they were not shot to stretch the footage Santo did for only one film out into two films. Accordingly, both films are (rather ill-adviced) Phantom of the Opera-take offs, sharing most of the characters, sets and even the narrative structure.

 

After these two films for Estudios América and Cinemátografica Norte, Santo parted ways with producer Alberto López for good and moved on to Filmica Vergara.  López then tried to start another masked wrestler-series, El Enmascarado de Oro, starring later Mexican superstar Jorge Rivero (and non-wrestler) in his earliest role, but the series just didn't catch on.

 


Filmica Vergara was able to pay Santo about double the salary that López was willing to pay him, however apart from that, the studio was strictly small-time, which meant a lower budget and lower production values for Santo's Filmica Vergara-films - which did not necessarily work to the disadvantage of these films.

Santo's first appearance for Filmica Vergara was nothing more than a cameo in a Blue Demon-film, Blue Demon vs. el Poder Satánico (1964, Chano Urueta), which features a wrestling match between Santo and Fernando Osés (guess who wins). Some time later Santo visits Blue Demon in his dressing room and promises to support him whenever he needs help fighting crime. When Santo leaves the dressing room again, he leaves the picture altogether, and 5 years would pass before another Santo and Blue Demon-team up.

 

The four films Santo made for Filmica Vergara as a lead were Santo en Atacan las Brujas/The Witches Attack and El Hacha Diabolica/The Diabolical Axe (both 1964, José Díaz Morales), Profanadores de Tumbas/Grave Robbers and El Barón Brákola (both 1965, José Díaz Morales). All four of them were rather cheaply made horror films, but the lack of budget resulted in less extravagant but out-of-place scenes and fancy but unnecessary gadgets and a plethora of supporting actors. Instead we get stringent storytelling and atmospheric filmmaking to cover up the budgetary restrictions.


    Flix.com


    Flix.com

  • The best of the four films is probably Santo en Atacan las Brujas, in which Santo saves a lovely young woman (Maria Eugenia San Martin) from a witches' coven. Actually the film is not so much a wrestling movie (even though it features a wrestling match between Santo and - once again - Fernando Osés) as it is a genuine horror film. That said though, it can't be overlooked that the film at times borrows heavily from the earlier Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro - which shouldn't come as too much of a surprise since writers Rafael García Travesí and Fernando Osés worked on the scripts of both films.
  • El Hacha Diabolica - like Santo contra los Zombies before it - claims that the Santo mask has been handed down from father to son for centuries, and now in the 20th century, a demonic axe murder (Fernando Osés) from the 17th century wants to have his revenge. The film also features a silly but funny time travel sequence.
  • Profanadores de Tumbas is probably the wackiest of the four films, a story about a mad scientist hell-bent on creating life from the dead - until he realizes he needs the heart of a superman, Santo of course, to achieve his goals.
  • El Barón Brákola once again takes us back in time, this time to the year 1765, where one of Santo's forefather's, the Caballero Enmascarado de Plata, fights crime and injustice. Other than the Santo of today though he doesn't wear a full facial mask but a mask rather in the style of Zorro - except of course that the mask is silver. (Santo's forefather in this one though is quite probably not played by Santo himself.) After having spent some time in the past, the film returns to the present, where Santo has to fight a vampire (Fernando Osés) the Caballero Enmascarado de Plata killed all these years ago. The film might not be great but at least it's hokey fun ...

Again for a higher salary, Santo left Filmica Vergara in 1966, to join up with Producciones Cinematográficas, where he remained for two films, Santo vs la Invasión de los Marcianos/Santo vs the Martians and Santo vs los Villanos del Ring (both 1966, Alfredo B.Crevenna).

 

Of the two films, Santo vs los Villanos del Ring is decidedly the duller one, maybe one of the dullest Santo-films there is, a crime drama with almost no supernatural elements that consists mainly of one badly-staged brawl after another.


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Santo vs la Invasión de los Marcianos on the other hand is something else, maybe the single campiest of all Santo-films: In this one, Martians - a bunch of blond musclemen and gorgeous girls in weird silver costumes - want to invade earth, but they didn't take into account earth's single most powerful defender, Santo, who defends the earth and defeats the Martians with all their fancy sci-fi weapons and teleportation devices (almost) with his bare hands. Interestingly, some of Santo's showdowns with the Martians take place in the wrestling ring, including one match in which the Martian unmasks Santo - but Santo, who has aticipated something like that, wears another mask under his mask - which would be highly unfair in real wrestling, but since Santo is wrestling Martians who try to trick him I guess it's ok. It's interesting to note that in this film, the Martians initially come to earth to bring peace, but we earthlings of course will have nothing of it ...

 



For his next two films, which were co-produced by Estudios América and Cima Film, Santo was teamed up with popular Mexican actor Jorge Rivero - yup, the Jorge Rivero who started his acting career as Santo clone El Enmascarado de Oro. The two films in question are Operación 67 and El Tesoro de Moctezuma (both 1967, René Cardona, René Cardona jr), and Santo and Rivero play James Bond-style secret agents in both of them, with all the usual genre trappings like gimmicks, gadgets, bikini-clad girls, plenty of action (besides the usual wrestling scenes) and explosions, and stories about international intrigue that might seem a bit silly - but that's a fate that espionage thrillers of this kind usually have in common. The films were quite obviously made on a higher budget than your usual Santo film, they feature higer production values and look much slicker than expected. And they are directed at a more adult audience ... there is even a bit of (topless) nudity inserted into Operación 67 - which in later Santo films only happened very rarely and primarily on the prints intended for export.

 


While Operación 67 and El Tesoro de Moctezuma were obviously aimed at adults, Santo contra Capulina (1968, René Cardona) was strictly a kiddie-affair, pairing Santo with popular comic Capulina, who was successful primarily with (young) children. The film, one of the few in which Santo doesn't wrestle in the ring, has rather little to go for it, but if you want to see something childish and silly, you might as well watch it. It might be worth noting that one of Santo's sons, Jorge Guzmán, the later wrestler and actor El Hijo del Santo, has a very early role in this one - he was only 4 years old at the time.

 


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Santo en el Tesoro de Dracula/Santo and Dracula's Treasure/El Vampiro y el Sexo (1968, René Cardona) was Santo's first film for Cinematográfica Calderón, the studio that would produce many of Santo's better-known films over the next few years.

The story of this one is silly and funny as hell: Santo has invented a time machine (!) and sends a woman (Noelia Noel) back into a past life of herself - a past life that weirdly enough strongly resembles that of Lucy out of the 1931 version of Dracula (Tod Browning). And after this trip to the past, Santo and friends see themselves fighting Dracula (as played by Aldo Monti) in the present. Santo the inventor of a time machine ? I think not.

 

In 1969, Cinematográfica Sotomayor thought it a good idea to bring together the two biggest wrestlers in Mexico, Santo and Blue Demon, for a trio of films, a pairing that was already hinted at in above-mentioned Blue Demon contra el Poder Satánico.

 


The first of these films was Santo contra Blue Demon en la Atlantida/Santo vs Blue Demon in Atlantis (1969, Julián Soler), a pretty wild film in which Blue Demon, in the middle of a wrestling match fighting Santo, is taken to Atlantis, where he is drugged and turned evil by a bunch of immortal Nazis. It's now up to his friend Santo to free him, turn him back to good and blow up the undersea Nazi hideout, thus saving the world from another Holocaust. Massive use of stock footage from Japanese monster movies like Kaitei Gunkan/Atragon (1963, Inoshiro Honda), Kaiju Daisenso/Monster Zero (1965, Inoshiro Honda) and Nankai no Daiketto/Godzilla vs the Sea Monster (1966, Jun Fukuda) was made to boost production values. That said, the film is still trashy fun.

 



The second film was Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos/Santo and Blue Demon vs the Monsters (1969, Gilberto Martínez Solares), which has Blue Demon abducted by a mad scientist (Carlos Ancira), who makes an evil clone of the wrestler and has him and his zombie army fight Santo. Soon enough, the evil Blue Demon and the zombies are joined by a handful of well-known monsters including Frankenstein's monster (Manuel Leal), a mummy (Fernando Rosales), a vampire (David Alvizu), a wolfman (Vicente Lara) and the Cyclops (Gerardo Zepeda). The film is pretty much one monster brawl after the other, but is quite entertaining at that.

 

The third Santo-and-Blue Demon film of 1969 was El Mundo de los Muertos/The World of the Dead (Gilberto Martínez Solares). The film starts in 1666 with the burning of a handful of devil worshippers by the Inquisition - and apparently, the Devil has sent a certain Caballero Azul (Blue Demon, wearing his mask even in the period footage) to take revenge, but somehow the Caballero Enmascarado de Plata (Santo, in full wrestling gear, including mask) can send him back to hell. Cut to present times: Santo's girlfriend (Pilar Pellicer) is killed by some demonic forces. Santo, who has noticed some demonic forces threatening himself (like ghost wrestlers trying to stab him in the ring), decides to go to the world of the dead to bring her back - but even in the world of the dead, he is attacked by ghost wrestlers ... but saved by El Caballero Azul/Blue Demon, who wants to make good for the evil he did 300 years ago. Of course in the end, Santo gets his girl back ... As exciting this film sounds, it was unfortunately grossly underbudgeted and thus never comes to full swing - yet it's entertaining on a trashy level nevertheless.

What is apparent about these three Santo-and-Blue Demon films is that Santo is the actual lead in all three of them, with Blue Demon being degraded to supporting character, and at one point turning villain in each of them, even if he turns back to good before the end of the film. Above all else that demonstrates that Santo had more drawing power than his colleague and still was the bigger star, even if at the time Blue Demon was the more successful wrestler.

 


Santo's next film, produced by Producciones Zacarías - the studio that also made Santo contra Capulina - takes our hero to the Amazon jungle: In Santo contra los Cazadores de Cabezas/Santo vs the Headhunters (1969, René Cardona), Santo flies to South America to save the daughter (Nadia Milton) of a friend (René Cardona) from the Jivaros, descendants of the Incas, who want to sacrifice her to their Gods. Interestingly, Santo has no ringside wrestling matches in this film, but he is allowed to wrestle a jaguar and a crocodile. Unfortunately the concept of Santo in the jungle does not translate as well to the screen in this film as it sounds in writing.

 


The Spanish-Mexican co-production Santo frente a la Muerte/Santo Faces Death (1969, Fernando Orozco) is a very routine crime drama (well, very routine but featuring a masked wrestler) filmed in Colombia. Add to this a low budget and sloppy direction, camerawork and editing and you have one of the most boring Santo films there are.

 


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Santo contra los Jinetes del Terror/Santo vs the Riders of Terror (1970, René Cardona) is actually a Western more than anything else, and while Santo seems a bit out of place in the film, it is actually quite ok otherwise (for a B Western that is). The plot concerns a gang of outlaws who uses a gang of lepers gone bad for their own evil ends - and while this sounds wildly exploitative, the lepers are actually treated with respect throughout the whole picture and are given a chance to redeem themselves in the end.

Interestingly, the wirter of the screen story for that film was El Murcielago Jesús Velazquez, the man whom Santo defeated to become middle weight champion for the very first time in 1943.

 


Despite the title, La Venganza de las Mujeres Vampiro/The Vengeance of the Vampire Women (1970, Federico Curiel) is not a sequel to Santo contra las Mujeres Vampiro, one of Santo's earliest successes. However, both films were co-scripted by Fernando Osés and both films have Santo fighting vampire women (as the title readily suggests). This one however goes one step further and includes a mad scientist (Víctor Junco) who hides a monster in his basement.

 


Other than La Venganza de las Mujeres Vampiro, also a co-production between Películas Latinoamericanas and Cinematográfica Flama, Santo contra la Mafia del Vicio/Santo vs the Vice Mafia (1970, Federico Curiel) is a straight crime movie that features no supernatural elements whatsoever - but that doesn't essentially make the movie a bad film. Actually it's kind of amusing to see Santo tackle all-human heroes for a change. On top of the rather serious crime story though, there are no less than four musical numbers included in the film.

 


Santo en la Vanganza de La Momia/Santo in the Vengeance of the Mummy (1970, René Cardona) was once again produced by Cinematográfica Calderón, which once again takes Santo to the jungle, this time to find an acient mummy - which of course soon comes to life and starts killing people, and by bow and arrow too ... before it is revealed to be no living mummy at all but a villain in disguise. It should be noted that this film was the last Santo-film that veteran René Cardona made as a director, the man who handled quite a few Santo films as well as films for other wrestlers - however, he would go on to appear in two more Santo films (Santo y Mantequilla Napoles en la Venganza de la Llorona/Santo and Mantequilla Napoles in The Vengeance of the Crying Woman [1974, Miguel M.Delgado] and La Furia de los Karatecas/The Fury of the Karate Killers [1982, Alfredo B.Crevenna]) as an actor. Worth mentioning is also that the film features another appearance by Santo's son, the young Jorge Guzmán (the later El Hijo del Santo), who is billed here as Nino Jorgito.

 



Santo had to fight yet another mummy in his next film, Las Momias de Guanajuato/The Mummies of Guanajuato (1970, Federico Curiel), a Películas Latinoamericanas production. The film is not about an Aztec mummy like in Santo en la Vanganza de La Momia but about the mummy of a wrestler (!?) whom Santo's ancestor defeated 100 years ago but who has struck a deal with the devil to have his vengeance on the Santo-family. However, Santo only plays a supporting role in this one, only appearing in a flashback (as his ancestor) and in the finale, while fellow wrestlers Blue Demon and Mil Máscaras - who was a very popular wrestler in the 1970's and already had a few films under his belt - handle the main story (and action). Although the film was at least in Mexico one of the most successful Santo movies - maybe due to the appearance of in all three popular wrestlers - it was not among Santo's best films.

 

Santo contra la Hija de Frankestein/Santo vs. Frankenstein's Daughter (1971, Miguel M.Delgado) is a typical Santo-horror flick produced by Cinematográfica Calderón: The plot is terribly contrived and highly derivative of the Universal horror-flicks of especially the 1940's, yet the addition of typical Mexican flavour and of course a masked wrestler make this one good fun nevertheless. This particular film is about Frankenstein's daughter Freda (Gina Roman), who doesn't only hold up the family tradition of creating the occasional monster out of bodyparts, she also tries to find the formula for a youth serum - and thinks that Santo is the solution to it because of his remarkable cphysical onstitution. Of course all of this is silly as hell and pure camp, but it's also highly entertaining and shouldn't be missed by trash fans.

By the way, this film has a scene of Freda unmasking Santo, but his face is not shown to the audience.

 

Other than Santo contra la Hija de Frankestein, Santo's next movie, the Puerto-Mex Films-production Misión Suicida/Suicide Mission (1971, Federico Curiel) is another crime drama that lacks each and any supernatural element, instead it is about Nazi scientists who are to be turned into Soviet agents - until Santo arrives on the scene to save the day. And while this film is certainly not as much campy fun as Santo's horror flicks, and it does feature some badly executed action, as a low budget James Bond complete with gun-wielding babes, Misión Suicida isn't too bad at all.

 

The Filmadora Chapultepec-production Asesinos de Otros Mundos/Murderers from other Worlds (1971, Rubén Galindo) on the other hand is pure science fiction schlock about a mad scientist (Carlos Agosti) and an even madder all-out villain (Juan Gallardo) who want to blackmail and/or conquer the world using a blob spawned by moonstone (!). Unfortunately, the blob doesn't come across at all convincingly, but the rest of the film is trashy fun ...

 


Santo y la Tigresa en el Aguila Real/The Royal Eagle (1971, Alfredo B.Crevenna), is an old dark house mystery set in a hacienda in rural Mexico, spiced up with quite a few ranchera songs. Unsurprisingly Santo seems a little out of place in this one, but otherwise it's not too bad a film. 

Santo's partner la Tigresa is actually Irma Serrano, who had her film debut in Santo's very first Mexican film Santo contra los Zombies, but who had since become more (in)famous for being the mistress of Mexican president Díaz Ordaz. However, her notoriety led to many a film role and a singing career - and to the nickname la Tigresa, apparently. Interestingly, much later in life she was elected Senator for her home state of Chiapas ...

 


For Santo y Blue Demon contra Drácula y el Hombre Lobo/Santo and Blue Demon vs Dracula and the Wolf Man (1972, Miguel M.Delgado), Santo once again returned to Cinematográfica Calderón, and he once again teamed up with Blue Demon, in another horror movie that's reminiscent of the Universal horror-flicks of old. This time the two wrestling friends have to take on - as the title might suggest - Dracula (Aldo Monti, who also played the role in Santo en el Tesoro de Dracula) and the Wolf Man (Agustin Martinez Solares) ... guess who wins in the end. As most films Santo made for Cinematográfica Calderón, this one's trashy fun.

 


Santo contra los Secuestradores/Santo vs the Kidnappers (1972, Federico Curiel), a co-production between Oro Films, Puerto-Mex Films and Jorge Camargo, is another one of those Santo movies that lacks any supernatural elements. In fact the film is not so much a Santo-film at all but a showcase for his co-star, popular comedian Evaristo Ernesto Alban - and thus the film is a light crime comedy played mainly for the laughs. Santo's ringside wrestling matches are however quite impressive.

 


Santo contra la Magia Negra/Santo vs. Black Magic (1972, Alfredo B. Crevenna), a co-production between Películas Latinoamericanas and Cinematográfica Flama is a cheap voodoo shocker shot in Haiti with a Mexican crew. For some reason the black magic-plot though is spiced up with some science fiction and lots of drumming and dancing - to less than satisfactory results. Still,t eh film hits a few right notes on the so-bad-it's-good scale.

 

Las Bestias del Terror/The Beasts of Terror (1972, Alfredo B. Crevenna) was shot in Miami for Películas Latinoamericanas and featured another pairing of Santo-and-Blue Demon. However, the two were only the nominal heroes of that film about a mad scientist bringing the dead (all attractive young girls) back to life and selling them as sex slaves, since most of the action is handled by César del Campo, playing a private detective trying to track down one of the girls. The film was not only scripted but also executive produced by fellow wrestler Fernando Osés.

 


Santo vs las Lobas/Santo vs the She-Wolves (1972, Jaime Jiménez Pons, Rubén Galindo) was a cheaply made werewolf flick produced by Estudios Jiménez Pons Hermanos, but despite its low budget and confusing script, it's rather atmospheric and has a more adult look to it (yes, there is some gore in this one) than earlier Santo-horrorflicks.

 



Like Santo vs las Lobas, Anónimo Mortal/Anonymous Death Threat (1972, Aldo Monti) was produced inexpensively by Estudios Jiménez Pons Hermanos, but other than the earlier film, this one has no supernatural elements and rather comes across as a straight crime drama, in which Santo once again fights a Nazi conspiracy. Interestingly, Santo's co-stars Armando Silvestre and Teresa Velázquez play the same roles they play in this one in two Blue Demon-films produced at around the same time, Noche de Muerte and La Mafia Amarilla (both 1972, René Cardona).

 

Blue Demon himself once again co-starred with Santo in his next film, Santo y Blue Demon contra el Doctor Frankestein/Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein (1972, Miguel M.Delgado), another typical Cinematográfica Calderón-production, if not one of the better ones. In the film, a mad scientist (Jorge Russek) experiments with brain transplantation and transrofms innocent people into zombies who relish in murdering their next of kin (?!) - and for whatever reason, eventually the scientist realizes he needs Santo's brain to make a more successful brain transplantation (?!) ... right. Even for a Santo-and-Blue Demon-shocker the plot is a little far-fetched and downright silly - and furthermore burdened with way too many subplots that seem to lead nowhere.

 

Santo contra el Dr. Muerte/Santo vs Dr.Death (1973, Rafael Romero Marchent) was a Mexican/Spanish co-production produced by Cinematográfica Pelimex, and was shot in Spain with an entirely Spanish cast and crew. It is another one of these films that lack supernatural elements, instead it transplants Santo into the Eurospy-genre and lets him fight a clever art thief (Jorge Rigaud) who also happens to be a mad scientist together with two fellow secret agents (Mirta Miller, Antonio Pica) - while still presenting Santo as a championship wrestler. The results of this are mixed at best.

 

The 1974-film Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra/Santo in the Mystery of the Black Pearl (Fernando Orozco) is another crime drama without supernatural elements, instead it has Santo running down some diamond smugglers (curiously, no pearl smugglers, and despite the title there is not a single pearl, let alone a black one in the film) in an adventure shot in Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Puerto Rico, Spain and of course Mexico. Actually the film might have been produced way earlier than 1974 and back-to-back with Santo frente a la Muerte with which it shares much of the cast and crew. The film might have been released in 1971 in Spain as Misión Secreta en el Caribe. Curiously, some of this fim's scenes found their way into a non-Santo film, Campeones del Ring (1972, José A.Venegas), which might be further proof that the film was produced at the beginning rather than in the mid-1970's. Interestingly too, Santo en el Misterio de la Perla Negra borrows footage from Sam Fuller's film Shark! (1969) in the beginning, and if you watch sharply, you can catch glimpses of young Burt Reynolds in this one.

 


The Cinematográfica Calderón-production Santo y Mantequilla Napoles en la Venganza de la Llorona/Santo and Mantequilla Napoles in The Vengeance of the Crying Woman (1974, Miguel M.Delgado) tag-teamed Santo with (real life) boxing champ Mantequilla Napoles and pitted the two against La Llorona, possibly Mexico's most prominent and most enduring horror character, also known as the Crying Woman. The film is about and old professor (Alfonso Cstano) whose family has been cursed by the Crying Woman and who asks Santo and Mantequilla for help - but even they can't keep the professor from being killed, but at least they save his grandchildren - from both the Crying Woman and a gang of gangsters led by René Cardona who are after the Crying Woman's treasure. The film is silly of course and it carelessly throws elements of different genres at each other, no matter if they fit or not - but that's also part of the film's charm. And then there's of course the funky 1970's style costumes all of the characters are wearing ...

 

By the mid-1970's though, the interest in the masked wrestler- or lucha libre-genre has seriously faded, mainly probably because on a whole, the films were all pretty similar, and there were only so much different opponents that a masked wrestler could fight.

Santo, who has been in the movie business longer than pretty much all of his wrestling colleagues (at least in a lead role), still continued to star in films and would do so for a few more years, but even his productivity had slowed down: While he made about four to five pictures a year in the early 1970's - with a peak in 1972 when he made 6 movies - he made only two in 1974, one of which was probably made much sooner, and one in 1975. In 1976, there was not one single Santo-film produced, which hasn't happened since 1960. Plus, with Santo y Mantequilla Napoles en la Venganza de la Llorona, his successful association with Cinematográfica Calderón had come to an end, and he was now stranded with low budget producers trying to milk the last drop out of a fading trend.

 

1975's Santo en Oro Negro/Santo in Black Gold (Federico Curiel) is set in Puerto Rico and is about terrorists sabotaging oil fields using robots - but of course Santo is on hand to save the oil ... not the world anymore, interestingly. In this one, Santo for the first and only time uses fake rubber faces to impersonate other persons. Since this film was shot in Puerto Rico, Puerto Rican wrestler Carlitos Colón is featured in some ringside action, in a tag-team match with Santo.

 

The Texas-lensed Misterio en las Bermudas/Mystery in Bermuda (1977, Gilberto Martínez Solares) was the last team-up of Santo and Blue Demon, and it also featured Mil Máscaras, who also supported them in Las Momias de Guanajuato from 1970. Misterio en las Bermudas features a convoluted plot about the Bermuda triangle, a Princess (Gaynor Kote) needing protection, a little bit of karate, and of course foreign spies and their sci-fi gadgets, but this time around, the mix doesn't work too well. Interestingly, at the end of the movie, all three masked wrestlers disappear from the face of the earth, probably going up in an atomic blast - which might be seen as symbolic for the lucha libre genre as a whole.

 


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1979's Santo en la Frontera del Terror/Santo on the Border of Terror (Rafael Pérez Grovas) might sound interesting in writing - it's a blend of sci-fi elements and a story about Mexican illegal immigrants in US - but as a movie it just fails to take off. It's about a mad scientist who lures Mexican immigrants to the US just to turn them into his zombies, which sounds great, but a too low budget and a careless directing job prevent this film from developing its full potential ...

 

In Santo contra el asesino de la TV/Santo vs. the TV Killer (1981, Rafael Pérez Grovas), Santo has to fight a villain (Carlos Agosti) who always announces his crimes via television - and is confident enough about his genius that he once even announces Santo's death ... but of course in the end, Santo triumphs over the baddie. Much of the plot though is carried by Gerardo Reyes, then a popular ranchera-singer who plays a popular ranchera singer who is also a journalist, gouvernment agent and master marksman (talk about far-fetched). As a whole, the film suffers from a highly convoluted and contrived script as well as a bland direction.

 

In 1981, Santo also made a guest appearance in a film that was supposed to be a showcase for his son Jorge, now a wrestler in his own right and known as El Hijo del Santo: Chanoc y el Hijo del Santo contra los Vampiros Asesinos/Chanoc and el Hijo del Santo vs the Killer Vampires (Rafael Pérez Grovas). In the film, Santo has to merely hand his mask over to his yet unmasked son (who is then played not by Jorge but another actor) and ask him if he's ready to fill his father's boots concerning crime-fighting. El Hijo del Santo agrees and becomes Santo in a puff of smoke ... The rest of the film is pretty much a bottom-of-the-barrel crime movie about gangsters posing as vampires that doesn't feature any more Santo but his son, teaming up with Chanoc (Nelson Velázquez), the diver-hero of a popular Mexican series that had first hit the screen back in 1966 with the film Chanoc (Rogelio A.Gonzalez) in which the title character was played by Andrés García. Interestingly, El Hijo del Santo's sidekick Carlos Suárez, a  regular in Santo's films, played Santo's own sidekick in Santo contra el asesino de la TV and would go on to do sidekicking duties in Santo's next (and last) two films ...

 

Above all else, Santo's last two films, El Puno de la Muerte/The Fist of Death and La Furia de los Karatecas/Fury of the Karate Killers (both 1982, Alfredo B.Crevenna) - the latter being a sequel to the former - show how much time has passed since Santo's heyday: The films are a clumsy attempt to combine the then dieing down lucha libre with the then blossoming martial arts genre in a convoluted fantasy story. The films were shot in Florida and looked reasonably glossy, but the magic quite simply was gone ...

After these two films, Santo - who was at the time nearing 65 and was getting a tad old for this kind of films - quit acting, and seeing the two films as his swansong, one figures he should have quit quite a while ago ... but that's besides the point.

In 1982, Santo also decided to discontinue his wrestling career and leave the sport to the younger generation, including his son Jorge (see above), who was only 19 at the time.

 

Though officially retired, Santo continued to make the occasional public appearance, like in the talk show Contrapunto, in which he without warning removed his mask (this was reportedly the only time ever he removed his mask in public), giving his many fans a first and last glance of his face. The show was aired on January 26th 1984. Ten days later, Santo died froma heart attack in Mexico City, leaving behind a wife (he was married twice) and eleven (!) children (only one of whom, Jorge, became a wrestler) - and with Santo died not so much a wrestler and an actor but a cultutal icon. To leave the world in style, Santo was, according to his wishes, buried in his silver wrestling mask.

 


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Of course, for the jaded eyes of a modern sophisticated audience, Santo himself might seem a tad obscure and his films are easy to be ridiculed, but his influence on pop culture as a whole cannot be overestimated: More than anyone else, he made the masked wrestler/hero popular (and as a reverse himself into an icon), and there are numerous references to him in popular music and movies, most notably the Turkish film Uc Dev Adam/Three Mighty Men (1973, T.Fikret Ucak), for which the Santo character (not the actual man) was imported into Turkey to fight an evil Spider-Man alongside Captain America - the inclusion of these three popular characters in the movie was only made possible by Turkey's extremely lax copyright laws.

 


And then there's of course the animated series Santo Contra Los Clones that Cartoon Network released in 2004 that was based on Santo's classic movies and had the wrestler fighting a mad scientist and his zombies.

Another sign for Santo's ongoing popularity is that most of his films, bad as some of them may be, are now available on DVD, and at least his better, more popular ones with English subtitles.

 


And then there's of course Jorge, El Hijo del Santo, who still fights in the ring, in a costume very closely resembling that of his father, and of late, he has even dropped the "El Hijo" part of his wrestling name. El Hijo del Santo is very popular with the audiences, and many think in fighting he exceeds his father's abilities. On the screen however, he proved less successful, but - in character - has made a handful of films over the last 25 years that in their best moments resemble Santo's better films: Besides above mentioned Chanoc y el Hijo del Santo contra los Vampiros Asesinos there was El Hijo del Santo en Frontera sin Ley (1983, Rafael Pérez Grovas) - which also starred Mil Mascaras -, El Hijo del Santo en el Poder de Omnicron (1991, Miguel Rico), Santo: La Leyenda del Enmascarado de Plata/Santo: The Legend of the Man in the Silver Mask (1992, Gilberto de Anda) and Santo: Infraterrestre (2001, Héctor Molinar).

Of all these films, only the last two deserve special mention:

In Santo: La Leyenda del Enmascarado de Plata, the silver mask is again handed down from father Santo (Daniel García) to son (El Hijo del Santo) - but this time around, the son refuses the responsibility the mask comes with (shades of Spider-Man here?) and continues to wrestle as El Hombre Rojo - that is, until he is sucked into a crime plot and sees himself forced to fight for law and order as his father's successor wearing his father's mask. (Note: The handing down of the mask from father to son was also an integral part of quite a few Santo-movies, beginning with Santo contra el Rey del Crimen.)

While Santo: La Leyenda del Enmascarado de Plata was pretty much a down-to-earth crime drama, Santo: Infraterrestre is pure science fiction, about aliens living under the earth's surface and El Hijo del Santo - who is referred to in this one simply as Santo - using all kinds of sci-fi gadgetsto fight them. And to properly translate the lucha libre formula into the 21st century, all kinds of CGI-effects are used to bring the picture to life. If masked wrestlers and computer effects are a bit at odds with each other is left to the individual viewer's taste, and one or the other might argue that the lucha libre formula as a whole is terribly outdated ...

I for one am happy that Santo (even if it's not the man himself) and the lucha libre genre are still around, and hope that many others who don't take their wrestling movies too dead seriously, are with me when I say: Viva Santo !!!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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