Curvaceous, scantily clad female aliens from Venus. Monstrous beings from other galaxies. A robot with a soft spot for children. Singing cowboys. Norteño music. And lots of fighting. What could be better? La Nave de los Monstruos (aka The Ship of Monsters) has it all and is one of the more exotic genre hybrids that emerged from Mexico in the early sixties, mixing sci-fi, horror and Western elements into something uniquely original. A long sought after favorite from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, La Nave de los Monstruos (1960) was remastered to DVD by Lionsgate for the Spanish language market in 2009. It is part of a double feature tribute to the popular Mexican singer/actor Eulalio González who often went by his nickname El Piporro and includes the 1966 crime comedy La Rata. Both are sharp, exceptionally attractive transfers of two movies which had only been previously available on VHS and on poor quality bootlegs. Unfortunately, there is no English subtitle option on either but in the case of La Nave de los Monstruos you shouldn’t have any problem following the narrative.
El Piporro may be less well known in the U.S. than Cantinflas but he and Tin-Tan (Germán Genaro Cipriano Gomez Valdés Castillo) were easily among the top five most popular singer/comedians of their era. But El Piporro is not the main reason to see La Nave de los Monstruos.
In fact, he’s the least interesting aspect of this madcap fantasy. The more eye-popping attractions are former Miss Universe contestants Lorena Veláquez and Ana Bertha Lepe as man-stalking Venusians and the completely bizarre/goofy monster mash on display which will have you wondering why this title is not as well known as something like Santo vs. Las mujeres vampiro (1962), which also featured Miss Veláquez in an iconic femme fatale role.
With a less than minimal understanding of Spanish, here is my take on La Nave de los Monstruos, which I think is a great introduction for kids to Mexican fantasy cinema. Two women emissaries from Venus, a planet where the male species has apparently died out and all the female inhabitants dress in outfits that are like glorified one-piece bathing suits, are sent to Earth. Their mission: find some suitable male specimens and return to Venus to repopulate the planet. During their journey to Earth we learn that Gamma (Ana Bertha Lepe) and Beta (Lorena Veláquez) have already visited other galaxies because one of their specimens – a frantic, furry looking critter – gets loose and tries to enter the control room. Once they land on Earth, they transfer their cargo of potential breeders to a nearby cave and encase them in transparent cubes.
Maybe on their own planets, these male specimens were considered GQ models of their race but to us, they are super freaky scene-stealing actor-in-costume monstrosities that exert their own unique charisma.
It’s hard to pick a favorite though the one who looks like a cross between an exposed brain and a Gremlin is pretty darn cute. I also like the spider-like alien with the extendable arms whose face looks like an arachnid version of Marty Feldman with dual potato noses.
There is also a talking animal skull head and a big-eared Cyclops-like creature which looks inspired by Ray Harryhausen’s one-eyed wonder in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958).
In addition, there is Tor the robot, Gamma and Beta’s loyal servant, who could give Robot Monster a run for his money in terms of bizarre construction. Is that a diving helmet and what do you suppose his shoe size is?
As the two gals prepare to go hunting for Earth men, we are introduced to our hero, Lauriano (Eulalio González), riding his horse in the moonlight and singing a song. For a brief moment, it’s as if the projectionist mixed up the reels and put on a cowboy musical but we know we’re back on track when he spots the Venusians and falls off his horse in surprise (he falls off his horse a lot in this movie). The first exchange between Lauriano and the alien women, where they run through a variety of Earth languages before finally identifying Spanish, is typical of the film’s humor. What makes it even more fun are the clunky sci-fi gadgets they use to their advantage such as a stop-motion ray gun that freezes its victim in mid-sentence, allowing the two women to discuss their potential specimen privately. Wouldn’t Earth women love to have one of these around the house, especially during football season? There is also a large transistor radio-like device with a video screen that provides a 10 second history of Mexico for Gamma and Beta’s quick edification.
Without going into a more detailed synopsis I’ll just say that one of the Venusians falls in love with Lauriano and the other one turns out to be some sort of vampire. There is also some very odd interplanetary flirtation going on between the Venusians and their monsters and, in the end, even Tor finds an unlikely love mate.
The pacing, except for the two scenes in the bar where Lauriano tells tall tales nobody believes, is relatively brisk and you get more monsters and more action than you do in most Santo films, including a great brawl at the end where a slingshot comes into play (a nice ooey, gooey effect).
La Nave de los Monstruos has experienced an upsurge of interest in recent years due to retrospective screenings of it at film festivals in the U.S. such as the 15th Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival in March 2008 and one in TriBeCa in October 2008 (which was where I first learned of it). It was also presented at the BRIC Arts center in Brooklyn in 2009 with “ETHEL, the nation’s premier rock-infused, postclassical string quartet, and the avant-squonk art-rock wild men of Gutbucket,” providing a live music score.
At the San Diego screening of the film, Lorena Veláquez even made a personal appearance and gave an interview about it, in one instance discussing her scenes with the monsters in charmingly fractured English: “In Saturn the men are monsters. For example I said [to] one of them, “You’re so beautiful.” And you can see [he’s] a monster! And in the other planet we have another man, another monster, he doesn’t have a head, he has just the big brain, not hair, not nothing. I have to kiss one of them. And this is a real experience let me tell you because they….I don’t know what they have in their mouths. They look like they are sweating, they have something in the mouth that when I kiss him, oh my god! What am I doing? But I was so young…maybe it’s water or something but it looks like Jello. Like jelly or something.” The kissing scene in question is indeed memorable mainly because it is presented in such a casual, offhanded manner and you really feel that Beta feels a sexual attraction to the bug-eyed brainiac. Now that is great acting.
Ms. Veláquez, who is close to 80 years old now and still looks beautiful, was first discovered in the mid-fifties by actor/director Rene Cardona, whose is best known to U.S. audiences for Survive! (1976), his exploitive version of the famous 1972 Andes plane crash survivors’ ordeal; his son, director Rene Cardona, Jr., is probably even better known in America for such infamous exploitation films as The Night of a Thousand Cats (1972), Tintorera (1977), and Guyana: Crime of the Century (1979). Ms. Veláquez has amassed over 100 film credits to her name and her stunning face and body have graced some of Mexican cinema’s most popular genre films such as The Rape of the Sabines (1962, aka The Shame of the Sabine Women), Doctor of Doom (1963), and Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy (1964). As of 2015 she was still acting and making occasional appearances in Mexican television soap operas. Ana Bertha Lepe, her voluptuous co-star in La Nave de los Monstruos, had an equally prolific career though it appears she retired from the profession in 2001 after an appearance in the mini-series telenovela, Navidad sin fin. The most unusual detail about her, culled from dubious internet sources, is that in 1960, the year she made Monstruos, her fiancé Agustín de Anda, was shot and killed by her father!
If the above has piqued your interest, what are you waiting for? Of course, you can view the entire film on YouTube but it could be withdrawn at any minute so why not just buy the DVD which is a steal at $8.99. You’ll be transported to some nutty universe where Mexican cowboys, norteño music, beautiful Venusian women and monsters from outer space get mixed up in a blender and served up as the most delightful visual margarita you’ve ever had.
Other links of interest: