Saturday, April 26, 2008

9th May 2008: More Mexican Madness!

Neutron vs The Death Robots

Mexico 1962 b&w

aka Los Autómatas De La Muerte, (1962)

Director Federico Curiel Writers Federico Curiel, Alfredo Ruanova

Cast Wolf Ruvinskis (Neutron), Julio Alemán, Armando Silvestre, Rodolfo Landa, Claudio Brook, “Grek Martin”/Jack Taylor

Hola, and welcome to another double of Loco Mexicano here on Schlock Treatment. We start tonight with a rival to our regular masked wrestling hero Santo. Never forget there were scores of real life wrestlers who starred in one or more films in Mexico's ravenous pulp-mad film industry. After the incredibly prolific Santo (fifty one movies in total!) came the second tier wrestlers with their own series: Blue Demon, and Mil Mascaras, or Man of a Thousand Masks, each with twenty to thirty films to their credit. Then there's Neutron, the Man in the Black Mask, who was never a wrestling identity, rather a character manufactured for the movies and played by wrestler, actor, dancer AND magician, the Latvian-born Wolf Ruvinskis.

Neutron vs The Death Robots is the second in a five film cycle, the first three filmed back-to-back in 1960 with similar crews and featuring the amazing Dr Caronte, a mega-villain in a blank mask (but what look like bandages), his helium-voiced Dwarf Friday named Nick and his army of ape-like zombies. A series of vampire-like murders leads a police inspector to the obvious conclusion; "NO!" says international masked wrestling crimefighter Neutron – the murders have all the hallmarks of Dr Caronte, the supervillain defeated in the first film Neutron The Atomic Superman (1960), who attempted to take over the world by building a Neutron Bomb.

But grab onto your luchadore masks - Caronte is back! He returns to his lab to find his dwarf assistant Nick has been collecting bodies and storing them in drawers awaiting his master's return, and ticking off the considerable To-Do list. Step one: resurrect his army of hairy ape-like zombies. Step two: combine the brains of three dead atomic scientists into one huge Superbrain to feed Caronte their formulae for the Neutron Bomb. Of course a Superbrain needs a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood cells to keep it alive. "I need blood! Lots of blood!" Caronte screams to the diminutive Nick, who complies in a flash. Good boy. Naturally they also need Neutron's friend Professor Thomas to consolidate the three formulae, and the Professor's daughter, a night club singer stringing along THREE (count 'em) suitors, to provide one of the most complicated love quadrangles in recent memory.

In the final analysis, Neutron is just another anonymous masked wrester, no different to the scores before and after him despite his overstuffed business card: Neutron the Masked Marvel! Neutron the Atomic Superman! His opponent, however, is certifiable from behind his White bandaged face, booming voice, and endless litany of affirmations. In the most beautifully symbiotic relationship since Midnight Cowboy - better make that Every Which Way But Loose - the sight of Caronte walking hand in hand with Nick, his ambling gait making him look like a pet monkey, is almost touching, and often.

Caronte: "Nick! The world is mine!"

Dwarf: "He he he he he!"

The final confrontation between Neuron and Caronte is most memorable for their constant one-upmanship in the pompous dialogue stakes while trying to knock each other into oblivion.

Dr Caronte: "Neutron.Together we could rule the world!"

Neutron: "You cannot! My job is to destroy you!"

And if the ending seems a little open-ended, just remember the title of the immediate sequel: Neutron vs The Amazing Dr Carone. Got it? Good.

Dubbed by a rival sound lab to K Gordon Murray, their Neutron films feature some of the strangest non-specific accents I've ever heard, and with no wrestling matches to pin down the action, the narrative positively flies along. I'm sure regular Schlock viewers will agree Neutron is no Santo, but then I'm no Saint either, as I unleash another double dose of Mexican madness starting with Neutron vs The Death Robots.

The Living Head

Mexico 1963 b&w

aka La Cabeza Viviente

Director Chano Urueta Producer Abel Salazar Story & Screenplay "Frederick"/Federico Curiel, Adolfo Lopez Portillo

Cast "Maurice"/Mauricio Garces (Roberto/Acatl, la cabeza viviente), "Anna"/Ana Luisa Peluffo (Martha Mueller/Princess Xochiquetzal), German Robles (Professor Herman Meuller), Guillermo Cramer (Xihu, the high priest), Abel Salazar (Inspector Holliday)

Our second film tonight reunites the two superstars of Mexican horror, Abel Salazar and German Robles, in a Mummy film with a difference. It's an Aztec mummy minus the bandages, and a talking severed head on a plate.

The stocky Salazar and more patrician Robles were Mexico's enduring horror double act, like a local Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, or their contemporaries Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Salazar was also producer on their most popular films The Vampire and The Vampire's Coffin and 1961's Schlock Treatment favourite The Brainiac. The Living Head from 1963 was just as popular, a bizarre twist on the wildly successful Aztec Mummy series with a surefire schtick.

For a notoriously low-budget Mexican horror The Living Head looks fantastic, opening with a colossal mass ritual set amongst authentic Aztec ruins. The severed head of Aztec general Acatl is buried alongside his reluctant betrothed and his high priest, who swears to the mighty Aztec God (I can never pronounce the name - let's just call him Hisaxelotyl) to protect the head , and binds the wearer of the girl's Mighty Ring of Death to Acatl's Head in perpetuity.

Cut to 1963. German Robles, here neither playing a vampire OR undead descendent of Nostradamus, is Professor Mueller, an archaeologist who blunders into the tomb along with two fellow scientists. In the middle of looting - ahem, excavating - the tomb, the untouched body of Acatl's would-be wifey instantly turns to dust (the atmospheric pressure, explains the Professor), and yet the priest's perfectly preserved 400 year old mummy and decapitated head are left intact. Science, Mueller believes, can explain everything - not the last time he will make this mistake.

The mummy and head-on-a-plate now sit in Mueller's basement, and Mueller's daughter Martha is starting to look suspiciously like Acatl's betrothed, particularly since she's wearing the flashing Mighty Ring of Death (somehow this doesn't sound ethical, but there you have it). One by one the scientists are found with their hearts ripped out, along with bloody footprints leading to a mummy with a dripping dagger, and the hearts placed strategically on the plate in front of a severed head who opens its eyes periodically to peer around the room from under its helmet's enormous beak. Inspector Holliday (Salazar) and Mueller try to make sense of it all - THE FOOLS! - as we, the audience, shake our heads in disbelief at the whole mescalin-laced affair.

Which is not to say The Living Head, as redubbed and repackaged by K. Gordon Murray, isn't as creaky as its Mexican contemporaries. It's occasionally leaden-paced, stretching scenes long past their use-by date, and relies too heavily on shots of the Head's eyes opening and closing for dramatic effect. But as a straightfaced riff on a familiar genre with the bonus talking head and mouthwatering locations, it never outstays its welcome. So grab a plate and stay up late, muchachos, for The Living Head.

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