Thursday, August 28, 2008

30th August 2008: Santo vs Frankenstein the Mexican Vampire!

Santo And Blue Demon vs Dr Frankenstein

Mexico 1974 colour

aka Santo y Blue Demon Contra El Doctor Frankenstein, Santo y Blue Demon Contra El Doctor Frankestein

Director Miguel M. Delgado Writers Francisco Cavazos, Alfredo Salazar

Cast Santo (himself), Blue Demon (himself), Sasha Montenegro (Alicia Robles), Jorge Russek (Dr. Irving Frankenstein), Ivonne Govea (Marta), Carlos Suárez (Henchman), Rubén Aguirre (Dr. Genaro Molina), Jorge Casanova (Dr. Mora)

Hola, bastardos, and welcome to yet another Mexican wrestling/horror double bill here on Schlock Treatment. After the break is the return of the German Robles in The Vampire’s Coffin, but first is a masked wrestling horror with a villain so dastardly it takes two masked wrestling superheroes to battle him: in Santo And Blue Demon vs Dr Frankenstein.

Our Man in the Silver Mask had already met the entire set of Universal Monsters in previous outings, including the Frankenstein monster in Santo And Blue Demon vs The Monsters (1970) AND the prodigy herself in Santo vs Frankenstein’s Daughter (1972). The producers decided it was time to meet the great man himself, and in 1974 paired long-time wrestling compadres Santo and Blue Demon against a very hip Dr Irving Frankenstein. He claims to be 113 years old yet he’s kept up with fashions – pimped out in a jacket and pink shirt, he looks more like a club owner than scientist. And, armed with an anti-aging formula most grizzled old scientists would kill to get their claws on, he plans on perfecting his brain transplant operations to resurrect his bride, stored on ice for the last 80 years.

All work and no hoy-hoy has made Frankenstein a very unstable sociopath indeed. The slew of missing girls end up dead on his operating table, but he’s fine with that; he’s just that bit closer in his experiments. Then, to rub salt in society’s wounds, he reanimates their bodies and sends them back home – like homing corpses! Frankenstein does have one successful experiment, however, and he plans to transplant Santo’s brain into “Mortis”, his radio-controlled seven foot Golem, by kidnapping Santo’s would-be girlfriend Alicia and holding him to ransom. Part of the hairbrained scheme involves a wrestling match between Santo and Mortis, with Frankenstein as his masked manager! Propped up by the nutty Professor Ruiz and a pair of undercover cupcakes, this is just one of three Santo matches, in their extended three-round glory – indulgent, to be sure, but the Mexican audiences would be falling off their seats as readily as the studio-bound crowd, while the announcer almost swallows his microphone screaming choruses of “Aye aye aye!”

This preposterous latter-day Santo adventure is as colourful as its hideous Seventies décor, with an eccentric jazz and lounge score completely at odds with the onscreen action. Lucha Libre purists prefer the classic black and white period over the increasingly silly colour films, in which atmosphere and a modicum of subtlety are traded in for rubber masks, flared collars and cheap yuks. Well, I say “pish” and “pah!” as well unfold a very entertaining chapter in the annals of Mexican masked wrestling horror cinema: Santo And Blue Demon vs Dr Frankenstein.

The Vampire’s Coffin

Mexico 1958 b&w

aka El Ataúd del Vampiro

Director Fernando Méndez Writers Ramón Obón, Raúl Zenteno

Cast Abel Salazar (Dr. “Henry Hetherford”/Enrique Saldívar), Ariadna Welter (“Martha”/Marta González), Germán Robles (Count Karol de Lavud), Yeire Beirute (“Manson”/Baraza), Alicia Montoya (María Teresa), Guillermo Orea, Carlos Ancira (Dr. Marion)

A few months ago we screened the classic 1957 Mexican horror film The Vampire, a wonderfully atmospheric Hispanic variation on the old Universal Dracula films that even beat Hammer’s hugely influential The Horror Of Dracula by a year. In Mexico The Vampire was a smash as well, prompting the producer/star Abel Salazar to crank out a sequel post-haste, and the result, 1958’s The Vampire’s Coffin, is thankfully more than just an opportunistic, by-the-numbers rehash of the original.

In The Vampire, Salazar plays Dr Henry, an undercover vampire hunter on the trail of European count Lavud (essayed with effortless aplomb by Mexico’s own Christopher Lee, German Robles), now comfortably entrenched in a Mexican hacienda with one eye on resurrecting his dead vampire brother, and the other on local beauty Martha (played by Ariadna Welter), whom he plans to make his vampiric bride for all eternity. Naturally Lavud is dispatched with a stake through his heart, Henry and Martha disappear into the sunset arm in arm, and all appears right with the world. Which, we all know, is disastrous for a potential sequel – time for us stupid humans to screw things up.

The Vampire’s Coffin opens with Dr Henry and Martha both working and both still flirting with each other in a nearby hospital. Hearing of the legend of Count Lavud, Henry’s colleague Dr Marion pays Manson, a predatory body snatcher, to steal Lavud’s coffin so he can unravel the scientific mysteries of vampirism first hand and strip back superstition - literally - to its bare bones. Manson has other ideas, however, and returns for Lavud’s clasp, draws out the stake, and is now a willing slave to his vampire master. Naturally Lavud heads straight for Martha to fulfil the promise in the first film, who he claims history has marked as his betrothed. Henry, meanwhile, has to explain to the hospital director he’s lost a cadaver AND a vampire in the one casket.

What could have been an crass and utterly unnecessary sequel thankfully expands on The Vampire, taking the action out of its village setting to a hospital, and then to the memorable finale cutting between an elaborate theatre set and a waxworks museum filled with instruments of death and torture. German Robles as Count Lavud is as coldly aristocratic as ever, but like Christopher Lee in Hammer’s Dracula sequels, is given less to do, and without the first film’s character development is in danger of becoming a one-dimensional bogeyman. It’s only a minor sticking point, as is the usually meticulous dubbing from American distributor K Gordon Murray which here borders on Hercules Returns. Ultimately it’s a fine sequel, not in the “classic” status of the original but in the hands of Salazar, Robles and co, an enjoyable romp of a Hispanic horror flick: it’s time to crack open the 1958 The Vampire’s Coffin.

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