Friday, November 19, 2021

Las vampiras (1969)

... aka: She Vampires, The
... aka: Vampires, The
... aka: Vampire Girls, The

Directed by:
Federico Curiel

Reduced to acting for the likes of Al Adamson, David L. Hewitt, Ted V. Mikels and Coleman Francis in a number of God awful films in the mid-to-late 60s, John Carradine essentially said "Fuck this!" and went down to Mexico to try his luck there. And, well, he basically ended up starring in a bunch of junk there, too, but at least this junk was a bit more fun, had slightly higher production values and was a change of pace. Plus he was always prominently billed and probably treated like the big star he was. While these films may have expanded his international appeal a bit, they don't appear to have done much for his Hollywood career since he was back acting for some of the same hacks when he returned to America. To my knowledge, none of the Carradine Mexican films ever received an official English-language release. Some did play in U.S. theaters, though; distributed by companies like Azteca Films and Columbia Pictures, but in their original Spanish language forms only. And Carradine, who did not speak Spanish, was always dubbed.

Carradine's Mexican output started with playing Satan in the ghost comedy Autopsia de un fantasma / "Autopsy of a Ghost" (1968), which also featured Cameron Mitchell and Basil Rathbone (in his final role), and the very interesting surreal short subject Los chicles / CHEWING GUM (1968), which was originally meant for a larger aborted project. He continued the following year playing a Nazi mad doctor in Enigma de muerte / "Secret of Death" (1969; also directed by Curiel), another mad doctor hoping to restore a formerly-beautiful woman's scarred face in MADAME DEATH (1969) and, you guessed it, yet another mad doctor, this time working on a youth serum, in Pacto diabólico / "Diabolical Pact" (1969). His fourth 1969 Mexi-horror, Las vampiras, at least didn't cast him as a mad doctor for the fourth time in a row, but instead as the temporarily deposed King of a vampire clan.

Carradine opens the film playing himself in an amusing, though brief, to-the-camera monologue explaining to us the ties between bloodsucking and Satanism and claiming that Edgar Allan Poe himself believed that vampires existed (which I highly doubt!) and thus so should we!

We then meet up with wrestling star Mil Máscaras (aka The Man of 1,000 Masks aka The Man Who Goes Through More Wardrobe Changes in a Single Film Than Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra) as he flies into town in his monogrammed airplane and then goes to an arena for a wrestling match against "Black Man" (he's black in case you were wondering) that lasts over 5 minutes. While driving through the country later that night, Mil and his personal assistant (Manuel Garay) witness a car accident. They find no one inside the wreckage, but a bunch of bats fly out as soon as they open the door. Later, "Black Man" disappears before a scheduled re-match and, again, bats are spotted flying out of his dressing room. Our hero begins to suspect that vampires are responsible and, since this is titled Las vampiras, he would be correct. Meanwhile, another bat witness, private eye Carlos Mayer (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.), hits the TV news to let the public know he saw bats emerging from a stolen Transylvanian airplane that recently landed in Mexico, but he's laughed out of the studio by the host.

After helping him do some research, Mil's secretary Alicia is found dead in her home; drained of blood and with fang wounds on her neck. The policemen on the case scoff at Mil's suggestion she was killed by a vampire. The wrestler then teams up with Carlos to investigate. The two start by checking out the Omega Cemetery, which is a breeding ground for all things evil because it was built by (gasp!) atheists and contains no crosses or religion doodads. They encounter more bats when they break into the tomb of Veria, the Countess of Alucard, who's been buried there since the 17th Century.

Now revived, Veria (María Duval) has taken up with a slew of other mujeres vampiro led by Aura (Marta Romero). Representing the Transylvanian sect of vamps are Badja, Cripta and Xenia, while Aludia, Boza and Zuedla are the Mexican reps. They all wear green, full body spandex bodysuits with wings and stand around flapping their arms up and down. The vamp chicks are all pissed off because nearly all of their ancestors have been wiped out by vampire hunters. Now there are no vampire men left... Well, except for one: Count Branos Alucard (Carradine). Though he was once "Supreme King of the Vampires," Branos is now elderly, half-senile, impotent and almost powerless due to a previous attack that left an oak splinted permanently lodged in his brain (?!) Due to his weakened state and psychological problems, he must be locked up in a cage. At least that's the story power-mad Aura is trying to sell everyone.

What's really going on is a struggle for power between Aura, who now proclaims herself "Queen of the Vampires" and Branos, who is merely faking his madness to trick her. Right now, Aura's got the upper hand since he's locked up and she can starve him and keep him weak. Branos claims he'd be just fine to lead them if only he could get a little blood. Caught between the two but more sympathetic to Branos, Veria orders a "Satan's Trial," which involves a dance of the vampire girls ritual as they leap around, spin in circles and flap their wings, which is hilarious but, to be fair, also fairly well-done as they at least hired real dancers to perform it instead of making the actresses do it. The rite concludes with Veria and Aura having to duel with torches, which unfortunately gets interrupted by more pressing matters. The girls are forced to temporarily put their grievances behind them for the good of their species.

Aura's wants to enslave men and find only the most athletic, courageous and intelligent men to transform into vampires to help them repopulate. Mil Máscaras and Carlos become targets because they were already spotted in Veria's crypt, which also puts a target on the back of Carlos' girlfriend Marian (Maura Monti). The vampires eventually acquire a posse of obedient muscle men, who are infected with some kind of virus that makes them brainless but gives them the ability to function as slaves for hundreds of years.

There's a booby-trapped room with a giant mace, a bunch of string bat attacks, a Vaseline-smeared nightmare sequence, lots of unflattering cone bras, boring scenes of a police lieutenant (Dagoberto Rodríguez) snooping around, a "tournament" where Mil and Carlos have to face off against armed warriors to prove themselves, fantastic opening credits featuring cut-outs of beautiful women's faces and blood-dripping letters and Carradine facing the indignity of trying to threateningly rise from a frilly, tasseled pink and purple coffin. The finale is weak and unexciting, but there's plenty of good dumb fun to be had before then.

I'm not aware of a single official home video release for this title, not even in Mexico. If you stumble across a DVD or DVD-R release, it's a bootleg. The version I happened to watch was recorded off Univision affiliate KMEX Channel 34 out of Los Angeles.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Santo el enmascarado de plata y Blue Demon contra los monstruos (1970)

... aka: Santo and Blue Demon vs. the Monsters
... aka: Santo y Blue Demon contra los monstruos

Directed by:
Gilberto Martínez Solares

You know you're in good hands when the opening credits not only proudly introduce our wrestling heroes and their co-stars, but also treat all of the monsters just like they're other cast members. We're then off to Arenamex for a battle royale featuring burly female wrestlers as the announcer informs us that "No one would dare face these dangerous representatives of the weaker sex!" That's followed by a tag team match between Blue Demon and his partner Juan Garza, who are facing off against "El gigante de ébano" ("The Ebony Giant") and "El Arabe" ("The Arab"). The crowd only seem to really care about Blue Demon and chant "Blue Demon! Blue Demon! Blue Demon!" over and over again regardless of who's fighting at any given time. Poor Juan Garza may as well not even be there. Needless to say, Blue pummels his black and middle eastern opponents and wins the match. So where is Santo, you ask? Well, he is strangely standing on the sidelines watching the matches and does not participate. I guess it was his day off.

At a cemetery, Otto Halder (Ivan J. Rado) and his daughter Gloria (Hedi Blue) show up for the funeral of Otto's estranged brother, Bruno (Carlos Ancira). A descendant of Transylvanians, Bruno was a brilliant though evil scientist who became world famous for bringing the dead back to life through brain transplant operations and he's passed along his secrets to his faithful hunchback dwarf assistant, Waldo (Santanón). Waldo and a bunch of obedient green-faced zombie henchmen (all former criminals brought back to life), steal Bruno's corpse, take him back to their desert castle home / lab and revive him by putting a metal cap on his head and sticking him in some kind of glass chamber called a "brainwave re-transmitter." Now back to life, Bruno is out for revenge. For what? Well, uh, basically a couple of people made fun of him and called him crazy.

Suspecting something is afoot at the castle, Blue Demon sneaks in to investigate. He's knocked out when one of the zombies beats him with a stick, is tied to a table and then stuck in a tanning bed-like "duplication chamber." A flick of a switch later and Bruno creates an evil duplicate of the wrestler that's "programmed to kill" and will blindly obey Bruno's every order. He hopes to use the clone against Blue Demon's best friend, who happens to be Santo, as well as his brother Otto (who previously mocked his experiments) and niece Gloria, who also happens to be Santo's girlfriend. Small world, eh?

The Blue Demon duplicate and zombies attack Santo and Gloria. The botched kidnapping ends with a car chase and the bad guys getting blow up after their car goes over a cliff and explodes. Still, they all manage to survive and are then sent out by Bruno to round up a bunch of famous monsters to help them in their schemes. They go to a cave and get their hands on bat-eared El Vampiro (David Alvizu), hit up a museum and snatch the geriatric La Momia (Fernando Rosales) and also acquire wolfman El hombre lobo (Vicente Lara), one-eyed plantigrade swamp monster Ciclope (Gerardo Zepeda) and hulking, bolt-necked. copyright-friendly Franquestain (Manuel Leal aka Tinieblas). There's also another strange monster hanging around the lab that looks like a dwarf wearing an oversized, mud-caked alien mask and with a giant exposed brain (!), though it is never named and does absolutely nothing other than just stand there.

A lot of movies make you wait forever to see the monster. This one is having none of that and throws all of its ten cent creations at you right away and gives them all their own little rampage. The wolfman goes to a hut, shreds a couple of villagers (Carlos Suárez, Margarita Delgado) and kills a little boy off-screen. The cyclops (who has a glowing orange eye) kills a fisherman, the vampire sinks his fangs into a couple of dancers (Elsa María Tako, Yolanda Ponce) and transforms them into lingerie-clad vampire brides and the Frankenstein monster attacks a couple necking in the woods, strangles the girl and smashes the guy's head with its foot! Santo is coerced into a wrestling match against El Vampiro, which hilariously ends with the vampire seeing a crucifix, turning into a bat, all the rest of the monsters miraculously materializing in the ring and everyone fighting while spectators flee in terror.

To relieve some tension, Santo, his girl and future father-in-law go to a dinner theater, where we're "treated" to three or four minutes of Adalberto Martínez and a bunch of dancers performing in scenes that seem like they were taken from another movie entirely. That's followed by another (mercifully shorter) musical number performed by three guys on a stage set. Most of the time, however, is spent on horribly-choreographed fight scenes. There's one after another and they usually end with the loser knocked out or presumed dead, springing back and then running off to fight the same cats all over again. Considering the fact this is wrestlers fighting a bunch of rubber-masked monsters we're talking about here, and these scenes are often sped-up Benny Hill style, they always generate more hilarity than excitement.

I actually enjoyed some of the previous Santo adventures non-ironically, especially the b/w Gothic ones. Of course they're all goofy and silly just by their very nature, but some of better ones aren't poorly made and are quite atmospheric. This one, on the other hand, is prime SBIG material all the way! There are a whole lotta adjectives one could use to describe this mess of a movie. Dumb, cheap, childish, plotless, poorly-made, horribly-edited, technically inept... Yet also fast-moving, charmingly daft, hilarious, busy and, best of all, extremely entertaining from start to finish. I enjoyed nearly every ridiculous second.

This was first made available on VHS by Something Weird, who only released a Spanish-language version. The DVD releases from Alter Films out of Mexico and Hannover House out of the U. S. both come with English subtitles.

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