Sunday, February 17, 2008

14th March 2008: Mexican Menace From Outer Space double!

Santo vs The Martian Invasion

Mexico 1967 b&w

aka Santo Contra La Invasión De Los Marcianos

Director Alfredo B. Crevenna Writer Raphael Garcia Travesi

Cast Santo (himself), Wolf Ruvinskis (Argos), El Nazi (Martian), [Felipe] Ham Lee (Martian), Beni Galán (Martian)

Our first round of Mexican madness tonight is our silver-masked hero El Santo in yet another adventure from our ongoing Festival del Santo: the outrageous Sixties retro-futurism of Santo vs The Martian Invasion.

Having already battled all villains natural and supernatural, it’s only natural for Santo to take on a menace from outside the Earth’s orbit. And WHAT a menace – a tagteam of all-blonde Martians resembling Surf Nazis, but changing their appearance mid-film to Greek gods and goddesses (so as to not attract attention in modern-day Mexico). They have the moves AND, in their silver pants and capes, they look like wrestlers because they ARE wrestlers: Wolf Ruvinskis, a popular Mexican actor, was also masked wrestler Neutron who had his own film series. Other real-life luchadores onboard include the then-superstar Felipe Ham Lee, and the curiously tagged El Nazi. Martian ubermentsch? As Nietzsche says in his book Beyond Good And Evil: “Maybe, baby.”

Our Aryan grapplers deliver a “People of Earth…” speech demanding a one-world government and a universal language (ah! Martian Freemasons!) to a TV-obsessed Mexico whom, not surprisingly, treat it as an elaborate prank from the creators of The Outer Limits. Their all-seeing Great Electronic Brain decides the Martians haven’t been taken seriously, and to labour the point, they teleport themselves to a sports stadium where Santo’s teaching non-violent wrestling to kids, and vaporize the crowd (including, I have to add, a bunch of children) with an “Astral Eye” shooting disintegration rays from their helmets. Santo pulls out some swift wrestling moves but the aliens are more slippery than a three day old bean-and-cheese burrito. In order to avoid panic, and to silence the parents of the vaporized kids, the official word: all is normal. Everyone go back to the wrestling rings.

Santo is now seen not only as the greatest wrestler in the world (a lofty opinion trumpeted several times during the movie), but as the single greatest threat to Mars in the known universe. Their invasion plans change to kidnapping nuclear physicist Professor Ordinera for his brains (even though their technology is 500 years in advance of Earth’s), and Santo for his bravery, wrestling skills, and walk-in wardrobe of spandex tights. Theirs hopes are now pinned on breeding them (hopefully not with each other) to create a new master race and conquer the universe. Two Martian handmaidens are sent to tempt Santo and he almost drops his saintly guard; the Men in Tights even invade a wrestling ring to unmask Santo, though luckily he has another mask on underneath! The Professor, it turns out, has a weakness for “the ladies”, and is surprisingly easy to catch once Santo’s not around: the four Martiano women turn up to a nightclub in showgirl costumes and snatch the Professor after an eye-popping go-go routine!

It’s one of our maddest Mexican masked wrestling hybrids yet, a wildly uneven grab bag thieving elements from scores of American science fiction movies. At this point a strange thing happens: its shameless pastiche of Fifties sci fi actually starts to resemble Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks, only thirty years its senior, with Santo as a more effectual Sarah Jessica Parker. Filled with moments of unintentional charicature – like a wrestling crowd fleeing a building screaming “Ay ay ay!!” – it’s Mexico-centric film mania at its most eccentric. People of Earth, I give you: Santo vs The Martian Invasion.

The Brainiac

Mexico 1961 b&w

aka El Barón Del Terror

Director Chano Urueta Producer Abel Salazar Writers Federico Curiel, Adolfo López Portillo

Cast Abel Salazar (Baron Vitelius d'Estera), “Ariadne”/Ariadna Welter (Bar girl), David Silva (Detective inspector), Germán Robles (Indalecio Pantoja/Sebastian de Pantoja), Rojo Reinaldo (Ruben), Rosa Maria Gallardo (Victoria)

Last month we played the 1957 Mexican film The Vampire from producer/star Abel Salazar, a minor classic of South of the Border gothic horror. That should have prepared you for what you are about to witness, but couldn’t. Words can’t describe the spiralling lunacy of our second film tonight, also from Salazar: our man in Miami, K. Gordon Murray, took the 1961 Mexican sci fi/horror film El Barón Del Terror and renamed it the infinitely more inspiring The Brainiac. What’s in a name, kids? In the case of The Brainiac, it’s all there in the title.

The 1961 reappearance of a comet marks the return of Baron Vitelius of Estera, condemned to death by the Inquisition in 1661 for sorcery and necromancy, and swearing a terrible revenge on the decendents of his executioners. He zaps down to earth from the comet’s tale in the shape of a goblin with hairy pincers and a two foot forked proboscis. Put simply, it’s the most outrageous creature in horror cinema, Mexican or otherwise. The fact he’s been hitching his wagon to a comet for 300 years… for once, words fail me.

The sinister troll startles a motorist and absorbs his suit - but not his underwear, as the Baron is clearly a gentleman. Within hours he’s set up in a tidy castle (presumably his) with his own butler, entertaining the great-great-great- great-great-great-great grandchildren (give or take a generation) of his Inquisitors. He’s so suave and debonair the locals can’t help but fall for his charms, even if he has to excuse himself every so often to tuck into a silver bowl full of fresh brains (“I’ll just go for my medicine,” he euphemises). Over the next few days, the Baron’s guests are discovered with two suckholes in the back of their necks and their skulls a hollow shell. Even the village police, and a young couple of astronomers with fancies of becoming amateur detectives, can’t see beyond the Baron’s meticulously mannered exterior as he transforms into the Brainiac, freezing his male victims with his withering stare and seducing the women before literally blowing their minds.

The Brainiac has so many plot contrivances and leaps of faith required to accept its tangential vortices, you could almost believe they’re taking the piss. If it IS a parody of Hollywood sci fi and horror films it’s a criminally straight-faced one, marked by the creaseless, bug-eyed pantomime of Salazar who plays a much better villain than a leading man, judging from his smug performances in The Vampire and The Vampire’s Coffin. Other cast members from The Vampire series make an appearance (El Vampiro himself, German Robles, and his object of affection Adriane Welter as a nymphomaniac bar slurry), and there’s even a cameo from Santo’s favourite director Rene Cardona.

I don’t believe in the concept of guilty pleasures – you either dig something or you don’t, and any amount of attached self-loathing is wasted energy – but if you are of that persuasion, the pleasures are by the bowlful. Tuck in, connoisseurs, to the strangest dish to ever come out of a Mexican filmic buffet: the 1961 The Brainiac.

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