Sunday, February 15, 2009

SAINTS PRESERVE US

Continuing my quest to watch every movie in the Los Angeles Library catalog.

Santo en la Frontera del Terror (Santo at the Border of Terror) - date of release?*

* IMDb lists 1969 as the date of release, but the cars in this movie are from the mid to late '70s. I'm guessing the stuff in the wrestling arenas was shot in '69 and combined with new material shot years later.

If you are a fan of movies strange and weird, you have heard of the Mexican films starring Santo (meaning Saint) the Masked Wrestler. Have you ever seen a Mexican wrestling film (and, no, the recent Nacho Libre does not count)? Judging by this one movie they are very, very bizarre.

Here’s your plot: Fernando wants to marry his girlfriend, the local torch singer Azucena, and get her daughter, Florecita, who is roughly the size and build of a ventriloquist’s dummy, the surgery she needs to cure her blindness. To do this he illegally crosses the border to work for Mr. Richards at his U.S. farm. Unbeknownst to him, Mr. Richard’s evil physician, a George Kennedy double named Dr. Sombra plans to sell his organs on the black market and/or turn him into a mindless slave!

So where does Santo, who never takes off his mask to show his face, fit into this story? Well, he really doesn’t. They just show him wrestling a lot then cut to their story. Want to know how Santo makes his first big entrance to save the day when our Stuart Whitman look-alike lead and his two best girls get jumped by some local hoods? The dudes are beating up Fernando (this is being generous as the fight stunt work was atrocious) when a car pulls up at the very top left corner of the frame. I thought it was some more hoods joining the fracas, but it was Santo! You think they would have filmed him in a close up or something, seeing as how his name is in the movie’s title. And you would also have thought they’d give a big time wrestler and country-wide icon a really cool black car to tool around in, but no he drives a piece of shit. Maybe Santo just needs to find a place that takes trade ins. Can you get financed wearing a mask?

I thought Santo, being a national icon and all, would be this towering Hulk-like (either comic book Hulk or Hulk Hogan) man, but he's really not. In one early scene Santo goes to the home of the singer and her daughter and he’s very small and unassuming, wearing a brownish striped sweater, slacks and brown shoes with his trademark white/silver mask. He really reminded me of Jerry Stiller from the sitcom King of Queens, with even his hand and arm gestures bringing Stiller to mind. And what a strange cast this movie has, for example a go between is used to get people across the border to America and the go between’s sidekick looks exactly like a cross between KFC’s Colonel Sanders and Yosemite Sam. I shit you not. Mr. Richard’s ramrod looks like the Hispanic Ted Cassidy. And Fernando’s best pal’s head is 15% larger than it should be, so he looks like he’s been messed with in Photoshop.

Jesus Christ but this movie has a lot of lousy singing in it. Five minutes into it Fernando's best bud sings along to a juke box tune, then we’re treated to two very blurry* sets of Azucena warbling. Later there’s a big sing-along for even less apparent reason than the singing already mentioned. And it all sounds the same!

* (I say blurry because it looked like they smeared an inch thick layer of Vasoline on the camera lens to imitate the soft focus look that big Hollywood films once used when shooting close ups of their lovely leading ladies.)

The filmmaking style is bare bones, basically just pointing and shooting at things, with the camera just sitting back for the wide shots of the fighting. The two bad guys getting ridiculously huge close ups near the end is a stylistic highlight (move over Sergio Leone). All the fight scenes, and there are many of them both large and small, are just excuses to show old Santo throwing out his famous wrestling moves like the well oiled machine he is. Not one of them was even remotely interesting or thrilling in any way. But the worst thing is the dubbing. The Spanish dubbing of the Spanish-speaking actors is all way off – it’s like watching a Godzilla movie.

The best part of the movie comes toward the end, when the evil Dr. Sombra is escaping by helicopter. "Giant Photoshopped Head Dude" grabs a machine gun and shoots at a badly scaled miniature version of the getaway chopper. It blows up, but the chopper's landing skids apparently got caught on the wires holding up the miniature as they HANG IN THE AIR after the explosion just before they cut away. Now THAT's quality special effects!

I also watched the trailer that showcased many of the other films in the Santo series, and boy, there are a lot of them. I just wish I had gotten the one with the wolf man, or the caped aliens, or the zombies, or the Flash Gordony one, and not this one.

The only way I’d watch another Santo movie is stone drunk. Tequila shots, anyone?

3 comments:

  1. Santo vs. El Zombies?" NOT WITHOUT TEQUILA! AND LOTS OF IT!

    ReplyDelete
  2. OK, whatever it takes! Name yer poison! :-)

    ReplyDelete