Saturday, April 2, 2022

La venganza de la llorona (1974)

... aka: Revenge of the Crying Woman, The
... aka: Santo and Mantequila Napoles vs. Vengeance of Llorona
... aka: Santo in the Vengeance of the Crying Woman
... aka: Santo y Mantequilla en la Venganza de la Llorona
... aka: Santo y Mantequilla Napoles en la Venganza de la Llorona (Santo & Mantequilla Napoles in the Vengeance of La Llorona)
... aka: Vengeance of La Lorona, The

Directed by:
Miguel M. Delgado

After showing off all his patented moves, like the flying leg lock, the arm-and-neck lock, the Irish whip, the arm whip take down, the hammer hold, the suicide drop and even the back-breaking Mexican surfboard, in a televised wrestling bout against Dragon, Santo is called into the office of Professor Esteban Lira (Alonso Castaño), who wants to hire him to raid an ancient tomb, find a mummy and remove a medallion from it. The medallion contains a map leading to the whereabouts of a valuable treasure of 100,000 gold doubloons (worth 80 million pesos in 1974), which had once belonged to the King of Spain. However, Santo is outraged at such a proposal since desecrating graves and robbing the dead go against his upstanding moral values. Once the professor adds that all of the money will be donated to the Mexican Children's Welfare Institute to build hospitals and save the lives of thousands of children, Santo (always a softie when it comes to kids) has a change of heart. The professor further eases his conscience by adding that it's only desecration if the grave is recent and since this one is 300 years old it counts more as an "archaeological investigation." To-may-to. To-mah-to.

As for the grave in question, it belongs to one Eugenia Esparza (Kikis Herrera Calles), who committed suicide by poison in 1678. According to the legend, Eugenia had lived with her lover - Juan de Gonzaga - for ten years and had three children with him. However, Juan had strung her along all that time and never committed to actually marrying her. After a decade of false promises, he then decided to abandon her and run off and marry a wealthy Spanish aristocrat instead, with hopes of taking their children with him.

The spurned and bitter Eugenia then sought the assistance of a Satanic envoy (Marcia Montes) to get revenge. That involved poisoning their children, killing herself, stealing money belonging to the King and framing her former lover for the theft in hopes he'd be publicly shamed and executed. But, just in case Juan was acquitted and survived (which is exactly what happened), part of the Satanic blood pact enables her to rise from her grave to torment the family. Ever since then, a mournful female ghost nicknamed La Llorona ("The Crying Woman") has sporadically haunted the area.

As centuries have passed, every first born male child of the Gonzaga bloodline has been mysteriously killed. That's of particular interest to Professor Lira because he IS part of the bloodline and has already lost a child to this curse. He hopes that by finding the treasure and using it to save the lives of other children, the Satanic pact of La Llorona will be broken and her soul can finally rest in peace. While Santo is skeptical of the tale Lira is spinning (though I'm not sure why since he's already dealt with vampires, ghosts, werewolves, aliens and all kinds of other supernatural and otherworldly creatures up to this point!), he agrees to find the medallion anyway just for the fact children will be helped either way.

Santo goes to the gym and recruits his buddy Mantequilla (José Ángel Nápoles), who has an interest in the occult and supernatural, to accompany him and Professor Lira to the cave tomb housing the remains of Eugenia. The three are trailed there by two different vehicles. The first contains Lira's grown, bell-bottom'd nieces Lilia (Ana Lilia Tovar) and Sonia (Sonia Cavazos), who are starstruck when it comes to Santo (one even makes a sexual pass at him right in front of her grandfather!). The second vehicle has a bunch of thugs led by the scar-faced One-Eye (Carlos Suárez) and working for crime king Severo Segovia (René Cardona), who have been tipped off about the treasure by Professor Luis Alvarez; one of Lira's backstabbing colleagues. The medallion is taken, La Llorona is resurrected and she decides to go after ALL of her descendants. That puts Lira, his nieces and his young grandchildren, Carlitos (Jorgito Rodríguez) and Martita (Alejandra Murga), as well as some heretofore unseen randos (the first victim is some woman just sleeping in bed) in danger.

Well, we definitely got some great 70s fashions going on here with Santo's collection of over-sized jackets and dad sweaters and Mantequilla's maroon turtleneck ensemble and purple and orange karategi. Aside from that, this is a very typical Santo action cheapie, which means that it's basically the filmic equivalent of watching wheels spin for 90 minutes. There's set-up after endless set-up of our heroes and the villains clashing, the bad guys getting beaten unconscious, our heroes walking away to go do something else and then, 5 to 10 minutes later, the same set of characters running into each other again to repeat the same exact scene.

What's especially annoying here is that for a film involving such an interesting character as Llorona, whom they spend time actually setting up a backstory and mythology for (and name the bloody film after!), for them to then stick her on the back burner and concentrate instead on the far less-interesting Severo and his goon squad, is just unacceptable. Even worse, Severo simply disappears from the film never to be seen again after barking out a few final orders. There's no satisfying comeuppance for this character, nor his thugs, who get beaten unconscious for the hundredth time but we can assume will simply just get back up and go about their business again.

This also suffers from obvious budget cuts, which are most glaring when it comes to the (boring) staged fight scenes. Back in the day, Santo wrestling matches were filmed before an actual audience. A HUGE one. Sure, they were poorly filmed with static camerawork, but at least they felt like some kind of spectacle and the energy of the crowd helped these along. But, even by this late stage in the series, the filming of these scenes hadn't improved any (they're still unimaginatively shot from outside the ring) but with the added insult of being set in front of a blank wall, with only the wrestlers and ref visible and looped-in sounds of cheering hilariously failing to convince there's a live crowd watching.

With nothing new to really offer audiences, this entry tried to capitalized on some stunt casting in order to lure people in. That's most obvious in the presence of Nápoles (who passed away in 2019); an internationally famous Cuban-born Mexican boxing champion who won numerous world welterweight titles in the 60s and 70s and was an inductee into both the International Boxing Hall of Fame and World Boxing Hall of Fame. This is his only known acting role and it's easy to see why given his hilariously terrible, glassy-eyed 'deer in headlights' performance, plus the fact he looks really bored most of the time. Nápoles, who also gets some boxing footage shoehorned in to further pad out the running time, is billed under his professional nickname Mantequilla, which means "Butter", as in smooth as.

The most interesting casting decision was actually Kikis Herrera Calles as the titular character. Born into one of the wealthiest families in Mexico and granddaughter of former Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles, Kikis bucked her socialite upbringing by refusing to be a housewife and proper society lady. According to an article on Univision with input from one of her close friends, she drank, smoked, refused a chauffeur, studied theater and hung out in smoky nightclubs at night, where she'd play pool and poker with the men and perform songs.

In a world where her privileged peers were already settled into domestic life, Kikis had several failed relationships and divorces (cause for scandal back then for someone of her status), which included a short-lived and heavily-publicized romance with famous singer José José, who was 20 years her junior and at the very start of a career that would see tens of millions in album sales and 6 Grammy nominations. It also put her front-and-center in the tabloids and turned much of the public, her friends and family against her. Still, she'd continue to land some acting work, especially on (what else?) soap operas. Kikis appeared in this Santo film (and, truth be told, she's wasted here) at the height of her notoriety; just a year before her divorce from José José became official. In 1983, she died after being run over by a freight train late one night. Because her car was found with almost no damage on it yet her body was found mutilated underneath the train, many suspected foul play. Numerous books, movies and TV shows were made about her life in the aftermath of that tragedy.

To my knowledge, this wasn't given any kind of English release until Rise Above Entertainment issued a full frame DVD of the film with English subtitles in 2003. Later, VCI released a widescreen restored print with new English dubbing.


Santo contra los jinetes del terror (1970)

... aka: El Zorro la belva del Colorado (Zorro: The Colorado Beast)
... aka: Los leprosos y el sexo (Lepers and Sex)
... aka: Santo contre les chevaliers de la terreur (Santo vs. The Knights of Terror)
... aka: Santo in the Riders of Terror
... aka: Santo vs. The Riders of Terror
... aka: Santo vs. The Terror Riders

Directed by:
René Cardona

Putting Mexico's favorite silver-masked wrestling star in one of Mexico's most popular genres at the time is perhaps one of the most no-brainer green light concepts ever, but "Santo in a western" isn't quite as interesting or outrageous as it should have been. After a guard is shot during a botched hold-up, six hideously deformed and highly-contagious lepers escape from their leprosarium and descend upon a small western town. There, they peek in windows, break into homes, steal clothing and food and scare the hell out of the townsfolk just with their general appearance. Sheriff Dario (Armando Silvestre) and Dr. Ramos (Carlos Agostí) try to calm everyone down, instill in them that the lepers mean no harm and dissuade them from harming them, but the locals want blood, especially after learning that everything the lepers have come into contact with must be destroyed or else the contagion will continue to spread. That means burning everything the lepers have come into contact with, including entire homes, which further incenses the locals. Thief Camarino (Julio Aldama), desperate to find the means to "leave this cesspool of a town," decides to use the leper situation to his advantage to go on a robbing and killing spree.

Camarino and his men travel to Devil's Cave, where they find the lepers hiding out. Despite their off-putting appearance, the lepers are actually peaceful and merely want to be left alone so they can die in dignity. However, Camarino ropes them into his scheme with promises of food, booze, jewelry and money in exchange for them helping him pull off their heists. To win over their trust, he promises to bring all of their spoils to the cave and let them guard them before everything is split evenly. In reality, Camarino is planning on keeping it all for himself, making sure the lepers are solely blamed for the crimes and then having them killed or killing them all off himself if need be to cover his tracks.

Carmen (Mary Montiel), Sheriff Dario's girlfriend, and her father are two of the first robbery victims as a masked man enters their home, steals from their safe and shoots the father dead. Needing help, Dario decides to send for (you guessed it!) Santo, whom he lavishes with such OTT praise you'd think he was Jesus Christ himself ("An incredible man, amazing, legendary!") Santo arrives just in time for a charity traveling wrestling show (?!) to be passing through town and jumps in to kick a near-unstoppable brute's ass so he can win money to help save an orphanage run by nuns. Seeing a wrestling mat set up in the middle of an old western town with a cowboy audience is comical enough by itself, but throw in some nuns cheering ("Kill him!") as Santo slaps, punches, kicks and pummels his opponent unconscious just makes it that more hilarious!

Meanwhile, Camarino and his men continue their crime spree, whipping the townsfolk into near mass hysteria in the process and trying to turn everyone against Dario so he'll be fired and replaced. Camarino becomes especially angry after Santo kicks his ass in front of the entire town. After torching a house to distract everyone, the bad guys pull off a bank robbery but are forced to flee after shooting a bunch of townsfolk and have to kidnap Carmen to ensure their getaway. She's taken to the leper cave and tied up as Santo, Dario and others try to locate them. There's also a minor subplot about leper leader Jose (Gregorio Casal), who still pines for his former fiancée Lupe (Ivonne Govea) and goes to visit her so the two can reminisce about the good old days.

Seeing a wrestler in a western setting is, of course, a bit out of the ordinary, but underneath that veneer this is a disappointingly routine western without much to brighten things up. While this is competently made and watchable, and it's nice to see the lepers treated compassionately, there's barely enough plot to keep things going, forcing this into a corner where it has to repeat the robbery-fight-escape formula for most its running time.

Cardona directed quite of few of these Santo adventures, including Santo vs. The Strangler (1965), Santo vs. The Ghost of the Strangler (1966), SANTO IN THE TREASURE OF DRACULA (1969), Santo vs. Capulina (1969), Santo in the Vengeance of the Mummy (1971) and Santo vs. The Headhunters (1971). He also co-wrote this one with (former wrestler) Jesús Murcielago Velázquez. Santo himself was one of the producers and Santo film regulars Nathanael León ('Frankenstein') and Carlos Suárez also appear in small roles.

In an effort to expand the Santo brand name, this one was released theatrically in France, Italy (with the wrestling hero re-branded as Zorro!), Spain and in other countries. In the U. S., a Spanish-language only "sexy" version (which probably had some nude scenes spliced in from time to time) was distributed by Azteca Films, whose new subtitle translates to Lepers and Sex! Knowing the Euro market at the time, their release was probably also this alternate "sexy" cut, though this version doesn't appear to be in existence any longer.

This was first made available to English speaking viewers by Rise Above Entertainment, who offered an English subbed (though not remastered or very high quality) DVD. It's now being distributed by VCI in a restored print that has gorgeous, vibrant colors and new opening credits but a misspelled title screen (Santo Verses [sic] the Riders of Terror)! VCI have also taken it upon themselves to give this a brand new English-language dub, which is awkward, silly and pretty atrocious; something that may very well have been done intentionally to give this a more retro / campy feel. Also worth noting that the VCI release is missing a couple of minutes, including a scene where a screaming saloon girl gets cold cocked with a gun.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...