Monday, January 31, 2011

Santo Y Hyper Dave Vs El Cerebro Del Mal

Well, in an attempt to do the almost inconceivable, I've decided to watch all the "Santo" films in order (that is to say all I can lay my sweaty little hands on). I'll either learn Spanish by osmosis or go insane with wrestling fever, or possibly both, but either way you'll get some choice ringside commentary as amusement. Since there's 53 or so, depending on if you count walk-ons and cameos, and I do one a week, I should be certifiable a year from now.

As far as I know, there wasn't a fotonovela of this, so I got busy, and illustrating this drivel are some pages that I extracted from an alternate dimension with the old datajunkie cross-probabilty multiversal artifact scoop [Patent pending]. Yes folks, when I call this a cut-price brain emporium, I'm not speaking metaphorically - so on that note - let's begin.
The first film, "Santo Vs El Cerebro Del Mal" (1958) is shot in Cuba, not Mexico as this gringo assumed, so already I'm hoping my preconceptions and expectations may indeed be wrong.

The picture starts with 3 ubiquitous thugs putting the whammy on Santo and bundling him unconscious into the back of a boat of a car and driving off with our insensible hero out cold in the back seat. I can only assume that three hoods cruising around with an unconscious masked wrestler in the back seat was not the oddest thing one might have seen in pre-Castro Cuba, as nobody gives it a second glance.
After the obligatory driving around sequence accompanied by some overly familiar stock music cues, we arrive at the standard-issue disused warehouse, containing the obligatory mad doctor, complete with compulsory lab coat, rack 'o' test tubes, bunsen burner and of course the mandatory hypodermic needle in hand. We're only 8 minutes into this, and already MY cerebro is feeling more than a little mal. The usual mad lab routine ensues.

Cut to el doctor dining out at the la Roca cafe, as we are introduced to our squeaky clean leading couple, Cornelius and Elisa, all teeth and hair. There's some chit-chat about a mysterious "Dr. Lobo" and some coy business about whether the evil doctor needs protection from his alter ego. "Me?" he says, gesturing to himself with his pre-requisite pipe, as though we haven't seen this bit a million times before.
Meanwhile, two of the henchmen, skull-whacked stumblebum Santo in tow, enter the grounds of a Dr. Lowel's estate and make short work of the two plain clothes men in attendance, abduct the good doctor, and it's back to the warehouse we go.
Later, the Police Commissioner (or Chief of Detectives) chews out his bruised flatfoots, who offer the very plausable defense that they had the upper hand until that pesky masked wrestler appeared. Seems reasonable to me. After this there's some back and forth in a very Republic serial style, the doc and the leads back to the cafe, him and his henchmen back to the warehouse where they give the brain zap to another victim while Santo mooches around like a needy puppy.

Things pick up when another wrestler in a black mask and tights ("El Incognito") prowls around some rooftops with what looks like a voltmeter until he finds the lab. When the doctor dispatches the goon squad to investigate after the lucha libre detector goes off, he hides on a handy roof and they of course, in best potboiler tradition, think that a stray cat has set off the alarm. When they're gone, he splits.
Senor Loube, the latest addition to the doctors army of zombies (OK, it's two guys), hightails it to the bank where he is manager, and while the doc and his crew watch him on TV, he absconds with the loot. Insert expository newspaper headline here, then cut to interminable flamenco number, followed by another scene with the mad doctor and the two clueless love interests blathering away.
But things do pick up when our black masked wrestler friend gains skylight egress into the mad lab and absconds with the oh-so-vital bit 'o' paper (evil brain juice antidote no doubt), and they slow right down again when we cut back to the doc and his thick-headed companions leaving the nightclub "Casino de Capri". Too much flamenco obviously.
Things become livelier when it becomes certain the henchmen are going to put the snatch on Elisa. The way the doc has been stroking her hand every chance he gets makes this a foregone conclusion, plus it's mad doctor trope #7. The ensuing fight as they pound on our hero and grab the girl has a very Ed Wood feel - all one long shot, with sound added after and really bad day-for-night. Later in the Chief of Detectives office, the hero gets hot under the collar, the chief asks some obvious questions, and the doctor overacts. Cut to obligatory shot of henchmen playing cards - hoods always play cards between jobs, right? We cut to our black masked wrestler protagonist returning to the lab, only to be discovered by Santo. A fight ensues - finally! THIS is what it's all about, masked guys tussling in a secret laboratory! Yeah man! Blackie K.O.'s Santo and administers the antidote, but the hoods are on the way back! Santo snaps out of it as his recuer flees just in time to escape detection, and Santo departs with the henchman, playing the role of the brainwashed puppet.

Meanwhile, in best Republic serial tradition, the doctor gives his police protection the slip via a secret exit #27 (behind a swinging bookcase) There's more interminable driving, and a car chase that seems to go at about 10 MPH before the cops pull him over for a minor traffic infraction! Oh, the irony!
But wait - there's even MORE driving around - I swear, 20% of this film is just shots of traffic! And then there's some back and forth (in that Republic serial style) and yet another musical number and then the doc returns to the card-playing henchmen. The trussed up Elisa shoots him that hurt look common to all trussed-up damsels in distress. The doc sells the brain-whammy formula to yet another malefactor, who of course, makes a bee-line to our favorite cafe, la Roca (damned short on locations, this film) where of course, he bumps into our hero Cornelius (literally and figuratively) who is dining with the Chief of Detectives. Our hero and the bad guy almost do the old valise switcheroo schtick. Oh come on!
The Chief of Detectives puts a call in to our black masked wrestling protagonist, which is probably the first decent plot turn in the flick, after 50 minutes...
Clueless Cornelius goes and confides in the doc, and finally shows some smarts when he observes him heavy-handedly slip something in his drink, and after imbibing (no, wait - you're supposed to FAKE drinking it, you MORON) he plays possum while the doc blabs the whole plot! Staggering in a wildly over-acted style as the mickey finn kick in, our hero just makes it to the phone and calls the Chief, but of course, collapses before he can get a word out. LOSER!
"Police Baffled" screams the headline, or some such cliche.
Blacky finds that the henchmen's card game is still going, with Elisa still all tied up, and Santo still play-acting the loyal puppy when the mad doctor makes the scene. As the film has about 15 minutes to wrap everything up, of course the masked wrestler detector goes off, so Santo looks anxious, Elisa more so and the doctor gets that "smug evil genius look" that tells the experienced viewer that his schemes are just about to unravel in the usual way... *sigh* Somehow, I was expecting more.....

Meanwhile, the chief calls in the troops, who depart en masse (in three cars no less) to apprehend the gang. As the cavalry enter, Santo and Blacky take out the henchmen and the prof legs it with the girl. the fight scene's not much to write home about, and Santo still comes across as a bit of a stumble-bum, and is, let's face it, a bit of a disappointment, to say the least.

The doc escapes through the secret passageway to his house and comes out from behind the bookcase with Elisa, only to see Cornelius still out cold on the floor from the knockout drops he received a few scenes back. The cops and the wrestlers surround the joint, and the Chief of Detectives gives him the usual on the bullhorn. The Doc uses Elisa as a hostage while Santo slips around the back. The back masked wrestler tries to talk the Doc down, and gets gut shot for his troubles.

Cornelius comes to, his the prof once from behind (very unheroic if you ask me), and gets knocked cold again. Ho-hum. Santo bursts through the door (which looks suspiciously like the hinges have been removed) and mixes it up with the villain before the cops run in and shoot him as he tries to stab Santo. He gives with the soft focus death-bed blah blah blah - Elisa's all choked up, although why is a mystery to me. There's some airport farewells and expository dialogue and we roll credits. Wow!

Well, this was heavy going, to say the least. I needed 2 pots of depraved, weapons grade coffee to get through this one. Not an auspicious start to the series at all. This comes across like an old Republic serial, as directed by Ed Wood, in all the wrong ways. Turgid, cliched, predictable and slow moving, redeemed only by virtue of the fact that it is the masked one's screen debut. I can only give it two and a half masks in the old Santo score.

Here's some of the original promotional material from the film -

Until next time - stay off the ropes kids!

This post is dedicated with love and respect to my old boyhood chum, Mr. Des Mangan, star of stage, screen and Eurovision Song Contest - I couldn't have done this one without you mate! Big shouts out to Ashley, Simon & Judy Mac, who can tell one and all how a twisted teenager grew up to be an even more twisted adult. I know you tried your best, it's OK, it's really not your fault.... I know you did your best.....

Datajunkie - a refreshing antidote to all those overly serious blogs & bloggers out there in blog-o-vision land.....

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