Wednesday, October 30, 2013 Halloween Countdown: El Santo!

He is the king of the luchadors! He is the national hero of Mexico and a pop icon worldwide! He is a complicated man, and no one understands him bu- no, wait that's someone else. He is El Santo, and if judged by longevity and sheer diversity of opponents, he might be the greatest monster hunter of them all!

Rodolfo Guzmán began his wrestling career in the mid-thirties but it wasn't until he adopted the El Santo persona in 1942 that his career began to take off.  Originally working as a rudo, Santo's growing popularity led him to make a face turn and he worked as a technico for the rest of his career.

In 1952, Santo became the first superhero luchador when he received his own comic strip.  A B&W mix of fumetti-like photographs and line art, the series was published thrice-weekly and, according to some reports, was selling half a million copies per issue!  This was where the wrestler's career began as a teratonomist and he would do battle in these pages for over thirty years, fighting monsters, gangsters, and whatever else the strip's writers could dream up.

Knowing a good thing when the saw it, Mexican moviemakers invited Santo to bring his superhero persona to the silver screen.  He turned down the offer as he was not confident in the project and felt a cinematic flop could do serious damage to his career.  Santo would not star in his own motion picture until 1958, after the luchadaor genre was an established success.

Though he was late to the party, Santo hit the ground running and never looked back.  (Mixed metaphors are perfectly acceptable when talking about someone as awesome as El Santo.)  He would appear in a whopping 52 films; the only other actor I know of that has played the same character in as many films is the legendary Kwan Tak-hing.  

The Santo films would play across all manner of genres, from horror to comedy, and feature the hero confronting everything from serial killers to cattle rustlers. However, it's El Santo's battles against the forces of darkness that we most remember.  Werewolves, vampire women, Mexican mummies, La Llorona, Frankenstein's daughter, and even Dracula himself - Santo has suplexed 'em all!

The Santo films reflected their times.  In the Batmania 60's, no attempt was made to give Santo a backstory or personality other than that of a 24-hour crimefighter/pro westler.  He would often race straight from match to crime scene in full costume, leaping out of his convertible to deliver forearm smashes to vampires, aliens, and enemy spies.   By the 70's neo-realism had taken root; Santo would usually be seen in street clothes (albeit masked) and was as likely to battle drug dealers as he was monsters.

I recently picked up a couple of UK DVDs of Santo films not available in English-friendly versions here in the States. 1963's Santo in the Wax Museum is a classic typical of era; Santo is a mysterious force for good popping in and out of the film as needed, leaving the young romantic leads to drive most of the story.  1972's Santo vs Las Lobas is a different animal (hah!) entirely. This version of  Santo much more human and is capabable of fear and despair in a way that would have been unthinkable even five years earlier.  If Wax Museum is an attempt to invoke the feel of a Universal horror, Las Lobas is squarely in the downbeat mode of Al Adamson and other early Seventies drive-in fare.

Both discs were released by Yume Pictures in an attempt to cash in on the Nacho Libre mania that never materialized, and sadly the third release in the series was canceled. I was pretty lucky to score the out-of-print DVDs for cheap and would recommend them to any fans of the genre.

Today's treat is a English-subtitled version of Santo vs. Las Lobas, ripped from my DVD, hosted in several chunks on YouTube, and subject to the usual complicated access issues.  The first part is embedded below.  Enjoy!