A Double Dose of Santo and Blue Demon

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.

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Be Careful What You Wish For

Horror films based on Jewish folklore and Talmudic literature are not that commonplace but one of the early classics of silent cinema was based on a 16th century tale of a rabbi, Judah Low ben Bezulel, who brought a hulking clay figure to life to protect the Jewish community from anti-Semitic forces. German director/actor Paul Wegener was so taken with the legend that he made three films based on it, a 1915 version, which only exists in fragments, a 1917 parody entitled The Golem and the Dancing Girl (now considered a lost film) and the 1920 version, which is the most famous. There were other remakes in later years, including Julien Duvivier’s 1936 sound version, but a new variation on the menacing title creature from the Israeli filmmaking team of Doron Paz and his brother Yoav, takes a decidedly different approach to the famous legend, courtesy of Ariel Cohen’s screenplay. Continue reading

Himansu Rai’s 1929 Indian Epic

At the 23rd San Francisco Silent Film Festival (May 30-June 3, 2018), the Castro Theater played host to a diverse program of silent era masterpieces accompanied by live music, performed by either solo musicians, small ensembles or orchestras. Some of the new restorations screened included Ernst Lubitsch’s Rosita (1923) starring Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton’s Battling Butler (1926), the 1928 version of The Man Who Laughs with Conrad Veidt and a 1929 German version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, directed by Richard Oswald. As always, the festival also unveils several lesser known titles and rarities such as a magnificent new restoration of Prapancha Pash (aka A Throw of Dice), a 1929 Indian epic produced by Himansu Rai and directed by German filmmaker Franz Osten. A key pioneer effort from the early silent years of Indian cinema, A Throw of Dice holds up beautifully after almost ninety years with its exotic mix of adventure, romance, pageantry and sensuality. And it is an excellent entry point for any silent film beginner. Continue reading