Some might say that no bad-movie education is complete without Santo. If so, I’m one step closer to inner spiritual completeness, having finally watched my first dose of Santo, the ultimate luchador. And I think I probably lucked out, picking one of the best possible picks (for me, at least) of all the 50-plus Santo movies from Santo Contra los Monstruos (1961) to La Furia de los Karatecas (1982). Because when it comes to cheap crappy old-school black&white B movies, gangsters are cool, classic horror icons (e.g. Frankenstein) are cooler, rubber monsters are cooler still, but space aliens trump them all. Nothing makes a sillier old movie than space aliens. Santo has fought all of these menaces and more, but I doubt if many of the others can beat Los Marcianos for laugh value.
The film opens with stock footage of the Mexican space program. Then, while an announcer intones menacingly about what might be coming to get us from Out There, it switches from our space footage to theirs. A spaceship, coming right at us! With a design that’s half flying saucer and half Buck Rogersish — in other words, it distinguishes front from back, but nonetheless is just as wide as it is long. It’s flying in front of a glittery meteoroid that, I swear, seems sculpted to suggest a fist with a protruding middle finger. (Or possibly, to suggest that which a middle finger itself suggests.) And aboard the craft... MARTIANS!!
What do they look like? Well, their appearance, as they discuss later in the film, is frightening to Earth people. Because they’re green? Scaly? Slimy? Tentacled? Slant-eyed? No, because they are physically perfect and superior. They look like us except that they all have top-notch physical development and long blond hair. The men wear no shirts — just silvery shorts and boots and capes with collars. They have physiques that look more body-buildery than Santo himself does (though nothing like a modern 'roid-monster). In short, they’re wrestlers from space. Evil wrestlers! The hair gives that away.
(See, at that time, the “heels” (bad guys) in professional wrestling very commonly had long wavy blond hair. The trend was started by “Gorgeous George” Wagner in the nineteen forties, and persisted until at least the mid seventies. Carl Reiner’s The One And Only features Henry Winkler as a fictionalized variation on Gorgeous George. Plus, in Mexico, heels are often caucasian.)
The long hair comes out from under pieces of headgear that resemble upside down teakettles, with a third eye on the front. This is called the Astral Eye and is the secret of the Martians’ devastating deadliness.
Such is the power of these Martians that merely to see them is to crack up.
Their mission? It’s sort of midway between The Day The Earth Stood Still and, I’m not kidding, Plan Nine From Outer Space! They mean to stop us from developing further nuclear weapons because we could destroy the whole solar system. To do this, they plan to use terrorist tactics: massacreing civilians until Earth’s governments submit. And they will launch their attack in Mexico because Mexico is a peaceful country that supports international cooperation and disarmament.
(Whaaaat? That make sense to you? ...just asking, never mind.)
Also, they’re communists! They plan to make us have a One World Government that shares resources. Aieeeee!
They land in a secluded model-railroading forest, and use their teleporter belts — their other big tactical advantage — to raid populated areas. After first announcing their demands on all TV channels, which the populace generally laughs off as a comedy skit, one of them shows up at a soccer stadium, in one corner of which Santo himself is teaching the art of lucha libre to a bunch of preteen boys. He appears out of thin air! He aims his Astral Eye at the crowd and the people disappear into thin air! And where there would normally be an animated flashy light effect to accompany this, the film simply has people fade in and out against a fixed background: the second-cheapest optical effect possible (a simple jump cut being the first).
Santo sees this and charges the Martian like a bull. And they wrassle! They throw each other around, they get each other in hammerlocks and break out of them, etc... and it occurs to me that the art of professional wrestling really hasn’t changed that much in forty years. Mostly all that’s different now is that they’ve increased the macho bombast and soapy histrionics surrounding the struggle by a couple of orders of magnitude. The Martian, stunned to encounter someone so powerful that he can equal the abilities of the superior Martian physique, grows alarmed and uses his belt teleporter to run away. We’ll be seeing a lot of this.
Santo, by the way, wears his silver mask even when reading in bed. It’s quite a silly mask. Bad peripheral vision, tiny earholes with Vulcan-like pointy outlines around them, so tight in the lower face that his lips protrude grotesquely.
For the next hour of film, the Martians make repeated raids. Their teleportation allows them to strike without warning and flee again without danger. And they begin kidnapping people! They are taking certain superior specimens to breed a new improved human race with. They quickly determine that el Mascarado de Plata must be part of this population — he must be captured alive. (The way they talk about him, I’m disappointed he can’t fly, or at least bounce bullets off his chest.) So they never just disintegrate him when he whups their asses — they run away to try again. They also want his friend Prof. Ordorica, a flasks-of-bubbling-colored-fluids scientist who later invents an electronic Martian detector. For some reason they never just kidnap Ordorica, they have to make him consent to come willingly. They repeatedly pop into his lab to hassle him. Sometimes Santo is there, and we get yet another wrassle — these start to get quite repetitive after a while — at other times the Prof has to fend for himself. Once he throws flaming chemicals at them.
Los Marcianos also have hypnotic powers. The women in particular use these — and apparently this power is greatly augmented by the stunning sight of their unearthly physical beauty (cough). The ladies never wrestle even once, sad to say.
Since the use of force and visible terror is not succeeding on schedule, the Martians decide to go undercover, to alter those terrifyingly perfect Martian physiques which so startle the Earth people. So they step into a transmogrifier, and emerge looking different. If by different you mean exactly the same only without long blond hair. They also give up their Astral Eyes for this disguise, but still wear their teleportation belts on the outside of their clothes (which sometimes are Earth garments but other times are still their Martian lamé-wear) where anyone could notice them. In other words, they completely get sidetracked from their original mission of terrorizing Earth into submission.
Prof tells Santo that the only way they’ll track them back to their lair is to get ahold of a belt. The Martians try repeatedly to subdue Santo, first sending their strongest man, then sending two, then sending women to hypnotize his own friends into subduing him, then substituting their own man into a masked bout, then sending the women to try seducing him hypnotically (he takes his mask off! but it’s a dream sequence, and anyway he’s facing away from the camera) then finally sending three men at once, but until the final battle, he always fends them off, and they always escape before he can take a belt. It gets pretty darn repetitive, yet somehow is still fun every time.
Each of these fights, by the way, seems to present him with an identical level of difficulty. He has automatically self-scaling super fighting ability, just like Buffy.
The rassling is pretty similar from one scene to another, but I have to describe the one where a Martian steals the outfit of another masked wrestler. It’s a “mascarado y mascarado” bout, in which the rule is apparently that the victor is he who can unlace the other fighter’s mask and expose his face. Santo realizes instantly that the other guy is a Martian, because he wears the metal belt right into the ring, but goes along with the match anyway. And the damn Martian gets so into the fight that he pins down Santo and unlaces his mask! But Santo has a trick up his sleeve... he pulls a Robert Stack on the guy, shall we say, and remains masked. Which I would think would count as cheating. Then he gets a second wind and goes all Rocky III on the poor fucker, which for some reason he couldn’t do before, and finally unlaces his mask, when he was supposed to be going after the belt. The Marsie gets away again.
By the way, one of the Martian wrestlers is played by an actor credited only as El Nazi. I kid not! I assume he must be one of those caucasian-heel wrestlers. He appeared in three other Santo films, plus one Huracán Ramírez film — this character apparently being the original pre-Santo movie luchador.
The Martians keep kidnapping prominent scientists and priests and so on, plus some completely ordinary families. (I love how the mom gathers up robes for her kids in pajamas before she’s ever told that the Martians are taking them away from home.) They do things like send four Martian women to replace a troop of go-go dancers — and by the way, TNG Klingons have got nothing on Martians when it comes to hanging out the hooters — and they grab dignitaries just by staring at them and willing them to cooperate. And I must mention that the women, after going through the de-blondeing transmogrifier, have got such magnificent teased-up and hairsprayed coiffures that I’m convinced that Tim Burton must have been influenced by this film — I’m certain it was one of the inputs to Mars Attacks.
In the final battle, against the Martians’ three best men at once in a deserted wrestling arena, Santo finally beats down one of them badly enough to take his belt. This happens because the Martians’ one weakness is that they need to eat Oxy-gum to breathe in our atmosphere. Keep them in the battle long enough and they start to suffocate, rather like Ultra-Man. This one guy gets too short of air and Santo is able to get him unconscious — they overstayed their time because the ship is low on Oxy-gum and it’s now or never for them to win the fight. Once Santo takes the belt and runs off with it (pausing to grab his cape — can’t leave without his cape!), the remaining two martians disintegrate their fallen comrade! Then, gasping for air themselves, they zip back to the saucer, and order their similarly gasping companions to launch immediately, with the captives they’ve got. But Santo belteleports in, charges into the control room, and thanks to their deoxygenated condition, rapidly (and anticlimactically) subdues the whole crowd, and frees the captives. He learns about the big lever in the control room which was installed for the sole purpose of accidentally blowing up the ship if it’s pulled, and yanks it and runs. Kaboom, the end.
The world is saved again, and who needs x-ray vision when you can defeat invading menaces by locking your ankles around their heads and flipping them upside down? Santo is clearly the explanation for why Superman usually only needed to guard the United States — the rest of the hemisphere was taken care of just fine without him.
So, to review, we’ve got:
In conclusion, there is absolutely nothing not to like. The only way they could have improved this movie would be by adding a monkey.
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