Wednesday, April 28, 2010

El Baron Brakola (1965; rel. 1967)

Beloved hero El Santo (El Santo!), idol of the masses, is attacked by the manly wrasslin' vampire Baron Brakola (Fernando Oses) - please not to be confused with other vampires of similar names.

Santo just manages to fight the angry bloodsucker off, but he doesn't know what sort of problem the undead has with him (except understandable jealousy of the great man's awesomeness). Fortunately, the local wrestling ring's night-watchman Don Luis (Manuel Arvide) turns out to be an undercover night-watchman who took the job only to be able to a) protect his daughter and b) exposit to Santo when necessary. Don Luis explains that he and his daughter Silvia (Mercedes Carreno) share Santo's vampire problem.

In 1765, the then not completely undead Brakola proposed to Don Luis' ancestress Rebeca (Susana Robles). Rebeca found her suitor to be of rather disgustingly low morals and declined his proposal. Brakola was not the kind of guy who could take "no" for an answer, and swore bloody vengeance on Rebeca and her family for the slight. The family decided to put their safety in the hands of Santo's ancestor, the Caballero Enmascarado de Plata (not El Santo!). The Caballero was of course better known for wearing an excellent hat than for being an effective fighter against evil, and thoroughly botched his hero job. Brakola turned a full vampire, kicked the Caballero's ass, turned Rebeca into a vampire and then proceeded to kick the Caballero's ass again. The talentless hero's only achievement was to stake poor Rebeca and then scratch ineffectually at the door to Brakola's sanctum, never to be able to enter. At least staking Rebeca put the vampire lord into a centuries-long sleep and made him the problem of a more heroic guy with a silver mask.

Contemporary Santo has his work cut out for him: he needs to protect Silvia and Don Luis from Brakola, find Brakola's lair and end what his ancestor was to lazy to finish.

El Baron Brakola was the last film everyone's favourite luchador hero Santo did for Vergara Productions. Most of Santo's Vergara films have a peculiar mood, wildly meandering between cheap but loveable Poverty Row pulp shenanigans and utter strangeness, and Baron Brakola is no exception. Much about the film screams "cheapness" and "shoddiness", but unlike in too many of the great man's films of later years and production houses, it is a cheapness and shoddiness produced with a certain care and love. The film's rubber bats, and artificial spider webs might be obvious fakes, possibly just leftovers from larger productions, yet they are used with flair and love, effectively producing a sort of backlot gothic (thanks to Kenneth Hite's and Robin D. Laws' Shadow over Filmland for reminding me of that term) that is very typical for Mexican pulp cinema of its time.

The film's director Jose Diaz Morales isn't one of the more flashy of his contemporaries, and I suspect him to be more influenced by Universal's horror films of the 40s than those of the 30s, unlike many of his Mexican colleagues of higher profile. I'm not too sure I'd put the responsibility for this on Morales shoulders alone, though. It seems to me a rather natural progression in the Santo films, from the slightly more costly and very much inspired by Universal in the 30s films of his Filmadora phase to the less reputable Vergara films, and to the horrors (and delights) that were still to come.

Apart from an amount of bad day-for-night-shots that reaches surrealist levels, Morales is also responsible for some pretty great/strange uses of weird camera angles. Morales has a real thing for low shots where they don't belong and very long shots in action sequences paired with sudden random close-ups that isn't exactly a replacement for the expressionistic use of light and shadow I like in my Mexican black and white cinema (although there are a few moments of that here too), but that is always interesting to watch.

For once, the action sequences in a lucha film are something to behold. Lead bad guy Fernando Oses (who wrote, action choreographed, and wrestled the good guys in more lucha films than most people would want to imagine), is in especially good form here. His fights against Santo and the guy who plays the gormless Caballero are as wild, brutal and energetic as anything you'll find in lucha cinema and work very well with Morales strange style of direction.

Brakola is an interesting bad guy when one is more used to the less physical (I don't want to say whimpish) vampires of today. Brakola is a very hands on sort of monster, the kind of guy who poses as his enemy lucha god's wrestling adversary himself, instead of using something undignified like a robot henchman to do his dirty work.

Where many lucha films tend to stop and smell the roses of filler, Baron Brakola prefers to throw another action scene in. One could get the idea that the film and its director aren't willing to use its cheap nature as an excuse to be boring.



Todd said...

My favorite part of this movie is when the Caballero, with great flourish, draws his sword against the Baron, to which the Baron responds with a summary elbow to the face, promptly knocking the Caballero out cold.

houseinrlyeh said...

Yeah, well, that or the fact that the great hero's vampire killing career ends with him scratching at a locked door.