There’s no shortage of compelling reasons to love Mexico. Chiles rellenos. Fields of liquor-producing agave. Rodrigo y Gabriela. But most importantly: Luchadores.
Mexican professional wrestling, or lucha libre, is a beautiful, balletic, intensely unrealistic endeavor. Unlike its American cousin, it’s less about the illusion of reality and more about the cartoonish personalities and comic book zaniness. Lucha is steeped in tradition, pageantry and a closely adhered-to system of honor. And in the ’60s and ’70s, it also proved extremely fertile ground for some of the goofiest movies ever made.
To understand the idea of lucha libre films, though, one first needs to understand El Santo. To make things as concise as possible, Santo (along with his friend/rival Blue Demon) is the most famous wrestler in Mexican history. He’s like Hulk Hogan, if the height of Hulk’s fame and active ring career had stretched 40 years. In fact, in all of Mexican pop culture, there might not be another single personality so instantly recognizable as Santo—he’s that big a deal. Santo walking down a city street in Mexico City would be like Elvis Presley at the height of his fame taking a casual stroll through Memphis.
To capitalize on that living legend, the Mexican film industry churned out dozens of films starring Santo and Blue Demon in the ’60s and ’70s, often pitting the wrestlers against criminals or supernatural forces. Literally any premise was apparently considered suitable for a Santo movie. Zombies? Sure. Martians? Certainly. “She-Wolves”? I have no idea what that means, but okay. These movies are colorful lunacy of the highest order, and I knew from the moment that I started writing about the seedy underbelly of film that I would eventually have to dissect one for the sake of science. That film is 1969’s Santo y Blue Demon Conta Los Monstruos.
Why Against the Monsters rather than any of the other 52 FREAKING MOVIES (I counted) that Santo starred in between 1958-1982? Why seek out this one, not particularly easy to acquire, when the guy averaged more than two films a year for two and a half decades? Because Against the Monsters is batshit insane in its inclusiveness. Other Santo features have names like Santo vs. The Vampire Women (featured on MST3k), Santo vs. The Mafia Killers or Santo y Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein, but Against the Monsters asks “why limit Santo’s rogues gallery? Surely, if he’s such a badass, it won’t be any trouble if we throw EVERY SINGLE MONSTER against him!”
And that’s what Against the Monsters is—a nearly plotless gauntlet of cheaply costumed monsters, all themselves rip-offs of the Universal Studios classics, unleashed against Santo and a cloned Blue Demon (long story) by a mad scientist and his hunchbacked midget, Waldo.
Okay … when I describe it that way, it actually sounds slightly confusing, which is why I’d like to offer some visual aids. Because you can’t truly picture Santo y Blue Demon Contra Los Monstruous until you’ve seen it for yourself.
First, our heroes: Santo, el enmascardo de plata, and his good friend/arch rival Blue Demon.
The wrestling careers of the two were closely intertwined, but they both had a grasp on the most important thing that heroes do: Wear natty suits. In fact, they seem to have only two modes of dress in all of these films: Formalwear or wrestling trunks/capes. Style is ever the watchword of Santo’s ilk.
Now, let’s consider the monsters…
Pretty much just a regular vampire, although you’ve got to appreciate his take directly to the camera, as if to say “Should I bite him? What do you, the viewers at home, think?”
El Hombre Lobo
It’s that hobo who’s been sleeping on benches near the bus station! Except with fangs!
This desiccated old man will surely slow Santo down for a few moments before his bones crumble into dust.
This guy is my favorite by far. From the outrageous spelling of his name, to the fact that they make the same mistake of “Frankenstein vs. Frankenstein’s monster” that we make in the U.S., everything about this guy is gold. I would love to interview the makeup man for this masterpiece and suss out what the inspiration was for the monster’s horrifyingly wispy mustache and beard. I have so many questions. Was the mustache just part of some Mexican guy’s head they used to stitch the monster together? Or did Waldo (he’s the hunchbacked midget) go out harvesting facial hair suitable for a golem?
La Mujer Vampiro
Halfway through filming they realized there wasn’t a single mostly nude actress in this thing and set about correcting that injustice as quickly as possible. Thank god, they found an organic way to work her in that isn’t at all contrived.
Wait, what’s a Ciclo—OH JESUS, WHAT IS THAT?!? The “cyclops” seems to be this film’s attempt at replicating the Creature From the Black Lagoon, which is the only major Universal monster missing. Presumably they simply couldn’t find or make a decent-looking Gill-Man suit, so we got … this thing … instead. There’s a line halfway through implying that it came “from the lagoon,” which is either intentional lampshading or a line left over from a script where Gill-man was officially present. Who cares? EL CICLOPE has more charisma in his inexplicably glowing, single eye than Gill-Man has in his entire body! He’s also highly resistant to being pounded 20 times in the head with a branch.
That was an actual edit at the end of that clip—it cuts directly from El Ciclope being stabbed to an operating table, where the mad scientist is working feverishly in surgery to save the one-eyed beast’s life. It’s a bizarrely grave bit of business for what is ostensibly a piece of children’s entertainment, but it’s hardly alone. At one point, the werewolf even murders two parents in front of their screaming child, who is strongly implied to have been torn asunder by the werewolf as well. Who was this potential audience again? Even most modern horror movies wouldn’t dare imply that a werewolf had torn a small boy to bits, and yet here it’s never even mentioned again.
It all clashes hilariously with the combat style of the film, which is typical of luchadore movies in its hyperkinetic clumsiness. Both a brainwashed Blue Demon and the team of monsters he enlists in attempting to destroy Santo move in a way that can only be described as “ungainly.” It’s one of the hallmarks of the style, an almost total lack of traditional choreography that American audiences will undoubtedly find jarring. There’s no rhyme and reason to any of the dozens of fights, just costumed and masked combatants moving as fast as possible, winging punches and forearms, falling down, rolling in the dirt and constantly leaping back up to their feet in a careless-looking maelstrom that continues unabated until one combatant falls over, unconscious. You thought perhaps “El Vampiro” or “Franquestain” would have their own fighting style or special moves? Nope, just PUNCHING PUNCHING FALLING ROLLING PUNCHING. There seems to have been a concrete commitment to getting every action sequence done in a single take—perhaps Santo, the star, mandated this in his contract?
Despite it all, though, Santo still finds time to take in the daily news, in a photo that I find incredibly hilarious for reasons I can’t fully explain—something about the absurdity of his mask, juxtaposed with his expensive suit and casual demeanor. He wears an expression that says “Well, I need to get going if I’m going to make it to my 2/3 falls match with El Vampiro in time, but let me just check the pork belly prices and futures market index real quick…”
And honestly, that’s all there is to this movie, and by extension most of the luchadore genre. The fights take up most of the film’s second half, and do little to distract the viewer from pointing out the laughably bad filmmaking on display, especially when it comes to continuity. In particular, this movie can’t ever seem to decide if it’s day or night—in one scene, things begin at night, then transition to broad daylight during an outdoors chase, then end at dawn with Blue Demon noting “the sun is rising.” Later, there’s an amazing shot progression that cuts directly from Santo brawling with Blue Demon in a castle dungeon to them fighting in the middle of the woods, with no explanation how they managed to teleport out there. Best not to question it.
I will close with the one nagging question that plagued my friends and me during the viewing. During some of the “mad science” scenes, featuring the evil Dr. and his hunchback little person assistant (who I believe I mentioned is called “Waldo”), there’s another … thing … in the background. And it’s insane.
WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THING BEHIND WALDO?!? Moreover, how do you have this guy walking around in the background of several scenes while never acknowledging its presence? That’s seriously what happens—the people viewing this film in my apartment sat in stunned silence, waiting for someone, anyone to call attention to the squat little brain monster scuttling around in the background. Nope. Never. Not ONCE. He’s just that little brain guy who hangs around the lab, I guess. By the end of the movie, we decided he was a former resident of the castle who simply never moved out. Note to film directors: If you have a crazy-ass monster wandering around in the background of your film but nobody ever bothers to comment on its presence, we’re going to make up a backstory of our own.
At this point, you may feel compelled to go track down a copy of Santo y Blue Demon Contra Los Monstruous, to which I can only say, “good luck with that.” This is hardly the easiest of the Santo oeuvre to come by, but in reality it really doesn’t matter, because most of these films are so similar as to be practically indistinguishable—comparing Santo movies is like comparing store brand Mt. Dew knock-offs. As long as you’re able to wrangle up some combination of Santo, monsters, criminals, evil wizards, extended wrestling and dance sequences, falling, natty suits, sports cars and PUNCHING PUNCHING PUNCHING, you’re doing great. Pour yourself some fermented agave, kick back and prepare to lose brain cells on multiple fronts at the same time.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor and resident bad movie expert. He’s reasonably certain he could take La Momia in a fight. You can follow him on Twitter.