Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Santo vs. las mujeres vampiro (1962)

... aka: Las mujeres vampiro (The Vampire Women)
... aka: Saint Against the Vampire Women, The
... aka: Samson and the Vampire Women
... aka: Samson vs. the Vampire Women
... aka: Santo versus the Vampire Women
... aka: Santo vs. the Vampire Women
... aka: Superheld gegen Vampire (Superhero vs. Vampires)
... aka: Superman contre les femmes vampires (Superman vs. Vampire Women)

Directed by:
Alfonso Corona Blake

Though Santo (real name: Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta) had already appeared in supporting roles in a couple of action films made in Cuba back in the late 50s, it wouldn't be until 1961 that the Mexican masked wrestling hero would transition over to lead roles and prove to be a huge box office draw in his home country until the end of the 1970s. In addition, many of his films would be exported to a number of other countries which gave him a bit more international name recognition. With these earlier releases though, Santo wasn't known by many outside of his homeland, so he was often called something else. In Italy, he became Argos (and Santo himself was credited as “Jimmy Pantera” on the posters), in France he was Superman and here in the U.S. he became Samson thanks to distributor K. Gordon Murray. Murray was responsible for distributing a number of Mexican horror, fantasy and sci-fi films here in America. He always had them (horribly) re-dubbed, often re-edited them and added new music and always managed to successfully sell these films in both cinemas and on network TV (through AIP-TV). In other words, a whole generation of American youth grew up watching this kind of stuff. Murray's two Santo acquisitions were this one and Santo in the Wax Museum (1963) from the same director, which became Samson in the Wax Museum.

In some catacombs beneath an old house, a dehydrated female priestess named Tundra emerges from her coffin and calls forth her equally rotten-faced vampire sisters. Their goal? Well, for starters to get enough virgin blood to resurrect “Queen of the Vampires” Thorina, who's been taking a 200-year-long slumber and now needs to find her successor so she can “return to the depths of the dark dominion” to be with Satan. The women pray to “The Lord of Darkness” and some being in the sky called Celine to give them both protection from the sunlight and restored beauty so they can more easily fulfill their tasks. The ugly Tandra then transforms into the beautiful and voluptuous Ofelia Montesco, who then raises a bunch of muscular zombie servants from the dead that also take on human form. This same group had tried two centuries earlier to find Thorina's successor with a pure and innocent girl named Rebeca but failed in their task. Now they have their sights set on another replacement named Diana (María Duval), the daughter of the incredibly dumb Professor Rolof (Augusto Benedico).

Diana's birthday's coming up and at her masquerade ball she's expected to announce her engagement to boyfriend George (Xavier Loyá), whose idea of sweet talk includes saying things like “Pretty soon you'll be using my name and I'll give the orders around the house.” Sounds great, George. Professor Rolof knows his daughter is a target of evil but doesn't want her to know that, so he asks his policeman buddy Charles Andrews (Jaime Fernández) to keep a close eye on her. According to some ancient family parchments the Professor has, Tundra will seek revenge on one of the female descendants of Rebeca (that'd be Diana) and she'll be initiated into the cult of vampire women on her 21st birthday (that'd be tomorrow). Diana also has a bat shaped birthmark on her shoulder that marks her as being the chosen one. After both Tundra and one of the zombie men pay a visit to their home and frighten Diana, the Professor hops on some silly looking contraption with a giant video monitor, a walkie talkie and an audio reel and sends a message to wrestler Samson that he needs his help.

Samson, however, is in the middle of a tag team match where he and his partner Black Shadow (Alejandro Cruz) are up against Caveman Wellington and Rod Mendoza. The match turns out to be none-too-exciting as it's all filmed from outside the ring and goes on for an excruciating 10 minutes, though Santo does get to show off one rad move leaping off the ropes and sending his head into an opponent's stomach. While they're busy fighting, Tundra and her boys beat up a cop and then ambush a young couple. The guy is knocked out, she's bitten and they're both dragged back to the ghouls' mansion where she joins the legion of vampires and he has his blood drained into a goblet that's used to restore Thorina's (Lorena Velázquez) beauty. The remaining blood is then shared among the other vampire sisters and they too become hotties in white togas instead of hags in rags.

Tundra and her undead henchman Igor (Fernando Osés, who also co-wrote the story) attempt to snatch Diana at the party but Santo arrives in the nick of time to beat them up and force them to turn back into bats and fly away. Thorina is getting fed up that her crew cannot even manage to kidnap one girl and threatens to turn them all into dust if they're unsuccessful in their next attempt. Since the vampires seem to be targeting patrons of a nightclub, the cops decide to use Diana as a decoy, sending her there with her fiance and the inspector to watch some guy warble at the piano. As that's going on, Samson / Santo is at the arena wrestling. Igor sneaks into a dressing room, kills a wrestler and then steals his identity as “The Black Mask.” In the ring, Igor uses karate on Santo and attempts to kill him, but Santo rips off his mask to reveal he's been wrestling a werewolf the entire time! Igor is shot three times by cops, but does the bat routine and flies off. Diana's finally kidnapped and Santo must then rescue her from the vampire's hideout.

This is all, of course, extremely silly and childish but it's not too terrible for a juvenile action / horror / fantasy film. I'm sure with its wide variety of creatures and dark tone, this both fascinated and freaked out little kids who caught it on one of those Saturday matinee showings. Big kids who also happen to be fans of Gothic horror will enjoy the art direction in the vampire mansion and crypt and the various make-up effects, which aren't bad at all for the time. However, whenever this strays too far from its horror elements, it tends to drag and sadly that's a bit too often. This isn't helped any by the fact the dubbed dialogue in the English version is diabolically awful, plus the print itself doesn't look so hot, which robs this of a bit of its atmosphere. (If I can find a better quality print in its original language with subtitles I'll reevaluate this.) Harming the film most of all, however, is that it's filled with so many action scenes throughout that it forgets to save any energy for its disappointing finale, which comes and goes without generating any real excitement.

Released in 1962 in Mexico City and in 1963 in Spain, this is actually the seventh Santo film. It played in U.S. theaters in a Spanish-language version courtesy of Azteca Films in 1963. After being dubbed, it was then in regular rotation on American TV starting in 1964. Hollywood Home Video and Something Weird Video both offered the dubbed TV version on video, and then there was a DVD release (also taken from the dubbed TV print) through Beverly Willshire / Telefilms International.

Many of the supporting roles are filled by real-life wrestlers like Guillermo Hernández (“Lobo Negro”) and Nathanael León (“Frankenstein”). Víctor Velázquez (Lorena's father) appears in one role as a coroner. Blake also made The Woman and the Beast (1958) and the very fun THE WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES (1961).

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