Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Las mujeres panteras (1967)

... aka: Panther Women, The

Directed by:
René Cardona

Crime has run rampant in their city and a professor friend (Jorge Mondragón) has just been murdered by someone or some thing, so it's up to Las Luchadoras (The Wrestling Women); Loreta Venus (Ariadna Welter) and The Golden Rubi (Elizabeth Campbell), to put a stop to it. Joining them in their quest are macho police captain Arturo Diaz (Eric del Castillo), his cowardly comic relief sidekick Leocadio (Manuel Valdés) and mysterious, masked male crime fighter / wrestler El Ángel, who has an A on his fire-resistant cape and all kinds of special gadgets to use. Their main adversary is evil witch Satanasa (María Douglas) who hides out in a cave with her minions and uses black magic to resurrect a scary-looking, skull-faced zombie. Satanasa is also involved with local gangsters and presides over a cult of panther women. One of those panther women, Tongo (Yolanda Montes), is a nightclub performer who periodically transforms into a silly-looking were-woman monster (or would that be cat-woman monster?) complete with razor claws, plastic fangs and pointy ears. In one scene, she even eats a poor little girl's pet bird. Eventually, a wrestling match is organized with Loreta and Rubi facing off against two of the panther women, who transform into monsters mid-battle, then kidnap the little girl and take her to the zombie's lair. Only an ancient sword can stop the undead menace.

A middling follow-up to DOCTOR OF DOOM (1962), WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1964) and She-Wolves of the Ring (1965; a drama that won't be covered here), this juvenile little horror-adventure was made by the same team (director Cardona, producer Guillermo Calderón and writer Alfredo Salazar) and follows the same formula of the first two films very closely. Though some of the names (and actors) have changed, the film contains the same female wrestler characters, same detective and same goofy, bumbling sidekick found in the others. There are three separate wrestling bouts, gun fights and fist fights, plus a lengthy (and not very exciting) car chase. The cave / crypt sets are pretty good (there's even a cool flame-throwing panther statue), though the makeup is highly variable (the panther women look ridiculous, but the zombie looks pretty good).

The cast has a few interesting faces, and many familiar ones. The pretty, Amazonian Campbell was born in the United States but was fluent in Spanish and became a star in Mexico thanks to her appearances in many of these Luchadoras films. She was usually cast alongside Lorena Velazquez, who must have been busy when they made this one since Welter (the female lead in THE VAMPIRE and its sequel, The Vampire's Coffin) plays her role here. Professional dancer Yolanda Montes, who was also born in the U.S. and sometimes billed as just "Tongolele," isn't much of an actress but she looks pretty cool with her large eyes, exotic bone structure and a trademark white streak in her hair. She's go on to play a voodoo priestess in SNAKE PEOPLE (1968), one of the much-hated final films of Boris Karloff, and other such roles.

Nathanael León, who has a minor role as the facially-scarred gangster Cain, would also go on to appear in other Luchadoras, Santo and Neutron action-horror hybrids, as well as make an appearance in several of the movies John Carradine made south-of-the-border in the late 60s. Ángel Di Stefani, who plays Eloim the zombie, had previously appeared (also in full-makeup) as the mummy Popoca in the Aztec Mummy series. Male lead del Castillo remains an extremely prolific actor in his home country, having appeared in over 300 films and television shows since the late 50s. Whoever played El Ángel isn't credited, though that was a common occurrence in these films since Mexican wrestlers often hid their identity.

Unlike the first two films in the series, The Panther Woman was never officially released in America, and thus was never dubbed or subtitled. It also hasn't made its way onto R1 DVD yet, which is a bit peculiar considering the previous entries have something of a cult following here in the States. The version I watched (an OK, though somewhat dark-looking, print) came from a television broadcast on the Spanish-language movie channel "La Pelicula Clasico," whose annoyingly big logo was in the top right hand corner the entire time. I don't know much Spanish, but the film is easy enough to follow even if you don't.

The five-part series concluded with Wrestling Women vs. the Killer Robot (which featured a whole new cast and wasn't released in America either) in 1969.


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