Saturday, 4 December 2010

Wrestle Martian Mania

Santo VS The Martians aka
Santo The Silver Mask VS
The Invasion of the Martians
1967 Mexico
Directed by Alfredo B. Crevenna
Kit Parker Films/VCI Entertainment Region 0

One of the great things about watching poorly made movies which you know are going to be bad is that your viewing choice for the next couple of hours could go either way. It could be boring, unentertaining drivel which will barely hold your interest enough to stop your eyelids from perpetually fluttering at half mast as your body struggles to stay conscious during the ordeal... or it could be so cheesy and stupid that you will just be smiling from ear to ear as the onscreen antics get more and more wild and unhinged. I’ve now seen 10 of the 52 Santo films made in Mexico between 1958 and 1982 (11 if you count the unofficial Turkish entry into the series, Captain America and Santo VS Spiderman) and I have to say that in my experiences with the movies, this entry not only falls into the latter category... it’s also my favourite Santo movie to date.

Rodolfo Guzm├ín Huerta aka Santo (or El Santo to give him his proper name) was a Mexican luchidor (wrestler), folk hero and actor and he plays the Santo character in all those films... although continuity between the films can sometimes be a bit disconcerting. For instance, while he is a professional wrestler in most if not allof these, he can sometimes be also a brainy scientist while at other times his wits are a little duller and he’ll have a scientist friend (as in this movie, in the form of Professor Ordorica). He usually has a romantic (and very pure in heart ) leading lady as a girl friend and they usually survive to the end of the movie where its implied that they will be marrying Santo very soon. However, they’re more often than not replaced in the movie and another future marriage proposition has usually taken their place at the opening of the next one. Little things like this mean you can never really watch the films in one continuity... unless the ones I’ve managed to get hold of are all really badly placed from one another... but I don’t think that’s the case in respect to this.

You never see Santo without his mask and he will even wear it out to dinner with his girlfriend in a posh restaurant. In the movies where you do see him unmasked, he usually is wearing an exact replica of that mask underneath to further protect his identity (likes in this one as it happens). He is usually pitted against various nefarious villains such as Dracula, the Frankenstein monster or the Mummy and he often goes it alone but sometimes shares the action and billing with a similarly masked wrestelr friend, the most prominent of whom is Blue Demon (in titles such as Santo and Blue Demon VS Dracula and the Wolfman and Santo and Blue Demon in the World of the Dead).

And they almost always feature a load of professional wrestling matches in them somehow. Most of the movies start and finish on one and then have at least one contained within the narrative. One set in Western times (one of Santo’s scientist friends does invite a time travel machine in the series but this is not mentioned in that particular movie if I recall correctly, leaving the viewer to wonder why Santo is running around in the Wild West) where Santo goes up against a desperado group of outlaw lepers, had a wrestlling ring set up in the middle of town so they could still get the wrestling scenes in (I kid you not).

This adventure is not quite as run of the mill as some of the other entries in the series as it doesn’t try to jam a leading lady into the plotline... figuring, I guess, that Santo won’t be having any ideas in the romanticising department when he has to singlehandedly fight a menacing horde of Martian invaders... and when I say horde I mean maybe 11 or 12. Also, the professional wrestling in a ring and training sequences aren’t as blatant or completely incoherent in their relationship to the plot in this one (well, at least they tried) and nor are there as many of them... although they are quite lengthy and protracted when they do crop up... as usual.

The film starts with the Martians riding to earth in their flying saucer. In this sequence it has been explained that although they are about to talk to the entire world, they have decided to speak Spanish because it is the native language of Mexico which they realise would be the best place to spearhead their “peaceful” mission with humanity (I promise you... watch it for yourself if you don’t believe me). All of the martians are blonde. Their men (except maybe the oriental actor) have big Olympian costumes and they all wear a big blond wig. They are the warrior class and, basically, they all look the dead spit of the Marvel comics character The Mighty Thor (except maybe that oriental guy). I wonder if they were not perhaps modelled on this character. The women also all have blond wigs and also some improbably sized and shaped bosoms... seriously, the word “torpedo-boat” may pass through your mind here when you see some of these gals in profile. You just want to shout at the screen and warn them in case they have someones eye out when they turn around. The girl’s role is to seduce the earthling menfolk so they can be enslaved and returned to the Martian homeworld (which is completely out of keeping with the plot but I’ll ignore that for now).

The Martians take over the world's TV sets and tell the people of earth (in Spanish), pretty much a variation of Michael Rennie’s speech in The Day The Earth Stood Still. We have so many hours to disarm ourselves of our nuclear weapons otherwise we are too dangerous to continue with our scientific progress left unchecked and the Martians will be forced to disintegrate us all. The Martians await our response.

The trouble with this, and this is really interesting for this kind of movie actually, is that nobody on the planet (as represented by reactions of various families in Mexico) takes the message of world destruction seriously and assume this is some new kind of sit-com popping up on their TV sets. The martians note this and make another broadcast, which is taken with similar humour on the earth’s part.

So the Martians visit a local soccer match, where our hero, El Santo, is training up young boys to grow into good wrestlers, and start disintegrating people with their all seeing third eye disintegrator machines on their Martian helmets. Santo fights one of them off and with this their mission changes to disintegrate the humans but first capture unharmed this magnificent specimin of humanity, The Silver Masked One, so he can return with them to Mars and be dissected.

Also, the Martian leader feels their Thor-like appearance is just too different and menacing for the people of earth to interact with and so they all get into the transformation machine to make them look more like the earth dwellers and in the hope of being less mistaken as stars of various impromptu situation comedies. After some smoke and light effects, the Martains emerge from their transformation machine looking a darn sight less transformed than I expected them to be. They’ve basically just lost the blond wigs (they’re nearly all brunette now) and changed into Greek God-like robes (indeed, they then are all renamed by the commander with famous “Greek God” names) which are just as conspicuos as the first set of costumes... but they don’t really seem to notice this.

The men are all given the job of capturing Santo. This includes a later fight scene at a church where a priest is also captured and taken back to the saucer and some bizarre religious visual metaphors involving Christ on the cross are obliquely made - and during that fight I was half expecting Santo to “tag” the priest and let him in on the fight too! The women go to seduce and lure various scientists to take prisoner for the mothership (although I couldn’t work out why).

Meanwhile, Santo and his science-genius buddy Professor Ordorica are trying to work out who all these strange people who are disintegrating humans are and what they could possibly want. This is after the Martians have already appeared on TV twice and stated their malevolent intentions... these poor aliens are just not being taken seriously at all. But don’t worry... Professor Ordorica has a theory that these attackers might be here “from another world” (finally!) and luckily enough, he has just been tinkering around with a new portable invention which can be set to home in on the brain waves of non-humans. With another day of tinkering, he can set it to read Martian brain waves and Santo can use it to track the illegal aliens to the saucer.

The rest of the movie comprises of the Martian women succesfully capturing scientists, women, children and sci-fi novelists (they said what now?) and slinging them in pokey inside their mothership. Meanwhile, the Martian manhunters themselves keep trying (and failing) to out-wrestle Santo and capture him. Instead he captures one of their teleportation belts and teleports to their saucer to rescue the prisoners... which is a bit of a waste of time really, considering the Martians plan all along was to capture him and teleport him to their flying saucer... but what the hey, more non-ring wrestling action was probably needed to pad out the love interest-less script.

In a failed jailbreak attempt in the movie, the sci-fi novelist pulls a big solitary lever at the front of the control room. “No! Stop him!” says the Martian leader. “If that lever is pulled down, the saucer will explode.” If you’re getting the feeling that this subtle scene was trying to get across a vague plot point then you may be right... although why the extra-terrestrials would have a big lever which when pulled explodes their method of transport displayed prominently in their control room is anybody’s guess.

Sue enough, when Santo gets on board the mothership, he rescues the prisoners and then pulls the lever, jumping and running from the saucer just in time to get clear of the explosion which destroys all the Martians. The end is all rather understated and downplayed which lends it a certain gravitas to underline the fact that Santo had to destory these Martians ambasadors of peace (who wanted to kill us for having nuclear weapons) rather than be free to negotiate with them.

Not much I can say after all that. Out of all the Santo movies I’ve seen so far, this was the least typical but also the most enjoyable. There’s some really stupid stuff on offer in this one and if you’ve never seen a Mexican wrestling movie and have a hankering to do so then Santo Vs The Martians is a really good place to start. Tag a copy today!

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