Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Atacan las brujas (1968)

... aka: Attack of the Witches
... aka: Santo Attacks the Witches
... aka: Santo in the Witches Attack
... aka: Witches Attack

Directed by:
José Díaz Morales

The overlong pre-credits sequence involves a hysterical woman going on a voice-over rant and then Santo attempting to sneak into a castle. He then engages in combat with two black-clad men in scenes often too dark and poorly shot to even see. I finally could make out that the bad guys got the upper hand on our hero, wrapped a rope around him, knocked him out and then drug him into a castle. When he awakens he's tied down to a table in a dungeon next to rant girl, blonde pointy-bra'd “maiden” Ofelia (María Eugenia San Martín), and they're just in time to take part in a Satanic ritual. Some scantily-clad women file into the room. One of them, Priestess Medusa (Edaena Ruiz), scatters ashes about, chants and then resurrects Mayra, Queen of the Vampires (Lorena Velázquez) in a cloud of smoke. Mayra, who'd been sacrificed 300 years earlier, wastes no time immediately calling forth the “Lord of the Shadows” (a caped guy wearing a devil mask) and asks for his protection as they attempt to take over the world. Just as they're about to plunge the knife into Ofelia, Santo breaks his chains and then...

Ofelia awakens in bed. Only a nightmare. Apparently being in a gloomy old mansion for the upcoming reading of her parent's will is getting to her. Or perhaps her nightmare about evil forces being out to get her and a silver masked hero saving the day is going to turn out to be prophetic. One odd thing about her recurring dream is that Mayra is a dead ringer for Elisa Cardenas (Velázquez again), her parents' former secretary. Elisa makes sure to let Ofelia know that a stipulation of the will states she must live in her parent's mansion for an entire year before she can claim her inheritance. Then again, the lawyer (Crox Alvarado) who oversaw the will reading also looks suspiciously like one of the warlocks from her dream...

Ofelia's fiance Arturo (Ramón Bugarini) has been looking into matters on her behalf. He discovers the parents' secretary supposedly died 15 years earlier of pneumonia, which may make the current Elisa, who looks far too young and beautiful to be 50-years-old, an impostor. The problem is, she also looks identical to the younger Elisa. Arturo goes to Santo and lets him know all of the strange things that's been going on, so he decides to help take a closer look. His first trip to the dungeon finds him getting ambushed by three henchmen, but he escapes after fighting them off and making a cross shape out of his body.

Naturally, Ofelia isn't crazy and Elisa really is a witch with designs on sacrificing both her and Santo to the Lord of Shadows. In an attempt to snare Santo, she sends out the voluptuous Medusa to try to seduce him. Medusa lures him into a home and strips down to a bikini but he's so upstanding and virtuous he's able to kick open the door and leave without falling prey to her charms. When she gets pissed, a crow, a lizard, spiders and a chicken (!) suddenly appear. Eventually the witches use their powers to force Arturo into a car accident, kidnap him and hypnotize him. And as if the director has no clue where else to go from there, Santo and Ofelia keep getting kidnapped, tied up and almost sacrificed before escaping over and over again.

The fight scenes are ineptly shot and unfortunately there are over half a dozen of them. They clearly used two different cameras to film all of this action. The problem is that the one used for long shots is properly lit but too far away while the other used for closer shots is so dark you can't even see what's going on. The film then inserts a random five minute Santo wrestling match before a live audience into the film, which is shot, lit and edited so much more competently than the other action scenes one has to assume it was stolen from another source. His opponent in the match is Fernando Osés, who also plays one of the warlocks / henchmen working for Mayra, which further supports the theory this scene wasn't shot for this particular movie.

As poorly done as some aspects of these early Mexican horror films are they almost can't even help themselves in regards to atmosphere. There's something nicely primitive to the crude black-and-white photography that recalls early silent cinema even in a movie made at the tail end of the 60s. This also has another big plus in the statuesque and lovely Velázquez, who makes for a great villainess. What ruins the entire experience is the minimal plot being stretched out with dull padding and just how repetitive the whole thing gets after awhile. Interestingly, at the 23 minute mark there's a title card that reads La Bruja Maldita (“The Damned Witch”) and announcing the second episode is about to begin, which hints this started life as a serial. It must have been a really short serial seeing how there clearly wasn't enough material originally shot to make a feature.

Wrestler Guillermo Hernández aka 'Lobo Negro' is also in the cast. This was first released in the U.S. on home video by Something Weird (their tape was Spanish language only) but there's now an English subbed print.

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