Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In short: Santo Contra La Magia Negra (1972/3)

In his part-time job as an agent of Interpol, most heroic masked wrestler El Santo (El Santo!) is given the mission to travel to Haiti and protect a certain Professor Jordan (Guillermo Galvez) and his new-found formula to transform uranium into something "worse than an H-bomb" from The Enemy.

As soon as Santo arrives, he is attacked by zombies. The local evil secret voodoo priestess Dejanira (Sasha Montenegro) - for inexplicable reasons called Bellamira in the subtitles - has thrown in her lot with foreign agents (as played by good old Fernando Osés and good old Carlos Suárez) and now tries her damndest to get rid of Santo, acquire the professor's formula, and dig up a lot of uranium.

Did I mention the Professor has a daughter played by good old Elsa Cárdenas? Well, you know what will happen to her in the end, though Dejanira does not use her to blackmail the scientist - she prefers her scientists zombified. Turns out dead people can do science pretty well.

In theory, the idea of El Santo, the idol of the masses, travelling to Haiti and fighting against zombies, an evil white voodoo priestess - there's a also good black(!) voodoo priestess -, and agents of what the dubious subtitles call "the orient", is one to let my heart beat a little faster with joy.

Alas, veteran director Alfredo B. Crevenna's film isn't the awesome pop cinema concoction I dreamt of. Rather, it's one of those movies where the film crew seems to have taken the opportunity of an international co-production to get in some choice vacation time - producing a film seems to have been a mere secondary affair. Expect a bunch of shots of Haiti, then another bunch of shots of Haiti, then a scene of Santo looking tired and bored, then a scene of a mock-documentary styled voodoo ceremony with a real animal killing (classy), then a minute of sped-up action, then Osés and Suárez being very relaxed, and then some more hot voodoo ceremony action, and so on, and so on.

I'm all for shooting a film like this on location and giving it a certain amount of authenticity and local colour, a sense of place, but Crevenna overshoots that goal with way too many scenes of dancing and the carnival in Haiti, until "look at this awesome place!" turns into more of a "let's take a long, long look at my vacation pictures!" situation.

It sure doesn't help that most of the actual action of the film is so pedestrian. Fights between a masked luchador and zombies just shouldn't look so damn disinterested.

On the positive side, there's some damn frightening 70s fashion worn by Montenegro and the horribly underused (yeah, I know, it's her vacation) Cárdenas, some Mexican-Haitian funk on the soundtrack (for once just possibly not library music), and at least half a dozen scenes that have the pleasant goofiness that is all I demand from my lucha movies - I'm especially fond of the zombie professor. It's just unfortunate that these joyful elements are buried under the nastiness of the unnecessary cruelty to a goat, and Crevenna's holiday videos.


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