For American moviegoers weaned on comic books and superheroes like Superman, Batman and The Hulk, the names El Santo and Blue Demon might not be as familiar. But in Mexico, they are major cultural icons. They were the main attractions in a popular film genre known as the lucho libre (wrestling hero movies) but had first established themselves as bona-fide professional wrestlers. In real life, Santo and Blue Demon were often rivals in the ring but they teamed up on the screen nine times and two of their most representative features together are Santo y Blue Demon vs. Dracula y el Hombre Lobo (Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dracula and the Wolf Man, 1973) and Santo y Blue Demon contra el Doctor Frankenstein (Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein, 1974), which are good entry points for beginners.
First, a little background on our heroes. Santo, whose real name was Rodolfo Guzman Huerta (1917-1984), made over 50 lucha libre movies between 1958 and 1982. Although the wrestler hero genre had already been established in the early fifties with the release of Huracan Ramirez (1953) starring actor David Silva as the masked hero and El Enmascarado de Plata (The Man in the Silver Mask, 1954) featuring professional wrestler El Medico Asesino, Santo quickly became the star of the franchise with the release of two films in 1961, both made in Cuba: Santo contra cerebro del mal (Santo vs. the Evil Brain) and Santo contra hombres infernales (Santo vs. Infernal Men).
An invincible wrestler who is never seen without his trademark silver mask, Santo stands as an incorruptible force of goodness, one who is eternally pledged to battle the forces of darkness. Over the course of more than 50 films, Santo became a box office phenomenon in his native Mexico while making mincemeat of zombies, werewolves, mummies, vampires and opponents who fought dirty in the ring.
Blue Demon (real name: Alejandro Munoz Moreno, 1922-2000), is just as famous as Santo in Mexico although he hasn’t been as prolific as an actor. He made his first appearance in 1961 in La Furia del Ring and went on to spawn his own franchise of 25 films in the lucha libre genre with Santo el enmascarado de plata y Blue Demon contra los monstruos (Santo and Blue Demon vs. the Monsters, 1970), his first on screen collaboration with El Santo.
Just like its title, Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dracula and the Wolf Man (1973) takes the tag team approach to an age-old conflict – the battle between good and evil. We’ve got our two masked heroes squaring off against a sickly looking European count (Aldo Monti) and Rufus Rex (Agustin Martinez Solares), a guy carrying the full moon curse. The plot this time revolves around the dagger of Boidros, a magical weapon that has the power to destroy supernatural evil. Dracula wants to make sure it’s removed from Professor Cristaldi’s household so he can avenge a 4,000 year old grudge (Cristaldi’s forefather had Dracula and Rufus killed and permanently sealed in coffins for eternity). Of course, there wouldn’t be a movie without their revival so we have Eric (Alfredo Wally Barron), an inept treasure hunter, resurrecting the monsters with the blood of the murdered Professor. This sequence is very similar to a sacrificial killing performed in the Hammer horror film, Dracula – Prince of Darkness (1966) – the victim is strung upside-down, and his throat slashed, with the blood draining down on Dracula’s corpse. It’s fairly gruesome for a Santo flick.
There are other creepy scenes as well such as the weird camera pan along a cave wall where we see numerous chained male and female victims, waiting to be drained of blood. In terms of monster screen time, the vampires dominate here and that includes scenes with a tacky rubber bat on a string. Rufus a.k.a. the wolf man and his hairy cronies don’t get nearly as much screen time though there’s a huge brawl at the climax beside a deep pit filled with sharp spikes. Guess who falls in?
Overall, Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dracula and the Wolf Man is quite atmospheric and there are occasional shots that mirror the work of Mario Bava (a nighttime garden sequence recalls the opening of Blood and Black Lace, 1964) and the various Hammer Dracula films. Whether you see an English dubbed version or one with English subtitles, the dialogue is hilarious either way. One of the funniest moments occurs when Blue Demon, imprisoned by Dracula, gives his whereabouts to Santo via his nifty wrist transmitter: “I am chained in a cave under the big house in the woods. You can get in through a fake cupboard in one of the rooms.” Uh, can you be a little more specific, Blue Demon? Other favorite moments include a scene where the child Rosita (Lissy Fields), is being escorted to her doom through a skeleton filled cavern and remarks rather dryly, “This is a very ugly place. Let’s go home.” And Santo, after almost being strangled by the undead Cristaldi (Jorge Mondragon), makes the brilliant deduction that the professor is “some kind of corpse behaving like a robot.”
In terms of action, Santo & Blue Demon vs. Dracula & the Wolf Man doesn’t disappoint and there’s an unforgettable scene where our masked heroes are rescued from being unmasked (a situation that almost occurs in every Santo movie) by a gorgeous woman driving a forklift. Still, it’s the quieter scenes that are often the nuttiest. What’s more bizarre than seeing Santo and Blue Demon in their full regalia enjoying a quiet, relaxing game of chess at home?
Opening with a brain transplant gives just about any film significant chops but Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein (1974) never quite lives up to this opening volley. Still, you can’t shake off the feeling that when Dr. Frankenstein (Jorge Russek) silently strolls into the opening scene wearing a bright surgical mask (he’s just emerged from his vast luminescent polished steel bunker) that, well, the Man in the Silver Mask has got some serious competition in the shiny silver obsession category. The storyline is total mishmash. Dr. Frankenstein, running a lair of thieves and henchmen, requires fresh lady victims to feed his maniacal quest – building the perfect human robot, one controlled by his evil commands. As he dispassionately experiments on beautiful females, tossing the corpses aside when finished, Santo and Blue Demon are engaged by the police to stop him.
The featured monster is a seven-foot-tall man named “Golem,” (a lame reference to the title monster of Paul Wegener’s 1920 German silent) who stumbles around killing at the doctor’s commands. The doctor also hopes to revive his hermetically sealed bride – she needs a new brain – but this delicious storyline is an unfortunate throwaway. Lots of great possibilities here but they all take a back seat to the dating rituals of Santo and Blue Demon and who can argue with that? But first, we have to endure them being paired up with two “detectives” whose only demonstration in deductive logic is their rigorous decision to wear bright pastel corduroy skirts vs. red hot pants.
Santo and Blue Demon eventually get girlfriends, though dating guys who wear masks (and never remove them) can’t be easy. The scene where Santo, Blue Demon and their respective dates have dinner at a high-class restaurant is an instant classic. In the background, the other diners appear to be oblivious to the freaks at table 5 who may as well be burn victims at a posh charity dinner. Suddenly the whole brain transplant subplot seems unimportant when you can actually see Santo and Blue Demon dining in public. It all ends up in the ring of course – as Dr. Frankenstein straps a mask on Golem and shoves him into the ring to fight Santo. The climax is disappointing, given that Dr. Frankenstein (played by Russek with sneering conviction) ends up being a poor strategist with his high-tech lair, expensive work force, and numerous technical trinkets.
Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein and Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dracula & the Wolf Man, like many of the Santo films, were produced by Cinematografica Calderon, the Mexico City company which produced such cult favorites as The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy (1957) and Santa Claus (1959). Both films have appeared on VHS and DVD in the past but the 2003 release of both films on DVD from Rise Above Entertainment are recommended and include the original language option with English subtitles. You could also spring for the 4-disc Santo Collection set entitled Santo and the Monsters and also includes Santo in the Vengeance of the Mummy (1971) and Santo vs. Frankenstein’s Daughter (1972). In terms of visual quality, the film transfer of all four films is occasionally rough in spots (print scratches, sprocket damage, bad splices) but the color is always striking and, quite frankly, it’s rare to see relatively obscure titles like these look as good as they do.
If you want to further explore the filmography of Santo, you should check out some of his early black and white features like Santo vs. the Vampire Women (1962) and Santo vs. the Martian Invasion (1967). And Santo vs. Doctor Death (1973) is especially unique since it was filmed in Spain with a European cast and is now available in a stunning color transfer with English subtitles from Vinegar Syndrome.
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