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A review of the Yume Pictures DVD, currently selling for about £7 on amazon.
Santo was a masked Mexican wrestler who appeared in an awful lot of films - possibly as many as 50 - from the early 60s onwards. His films combine wrestling with low-tech crime fighting. A few of these elusive superhero/sports movies have now been released on DVD in the UK. The one I happened to buy was Santo in the Wax Museum, made in 1963.
Yeah - a wax museum. That means that anyone with even a fleeting knowledge of horror or exploitation cinema will be able to guess a) what's going on; b) who the villain is; and c) (roughly) what his eventual fate will be. Waxworks have been a rich source of horror content since the silent era, but they're always used in an incredibly formulaic way.
Anyway, people are disappearing near a wax museum. A pretty young photographer is the latest disapearee (if that isn't a word it should be); her journalist colleague (who also happens to be dating her sister) tries to find her. Meanwhile, the owner of the wax museum, Dr Karol, is convinced someone is trying to ruin him - and perhaps even kill him! So he contacts local do-gooder Santo, who begins his own investigation...
Santo is a bloody weird concept for an action hero. He's kind of a superhero in that he wears a mask, but he has no powers. He never takes the mask off, even when he's alone - I've no idea if he has a back story or a secret identity. No one else in the film seems to think it's at all odd that they have to interact with a short, musclebound, bare-chested man in tights and a spangly cape. I think I would. Santo frequently has to interrupt his crime fighting activities to go and wrestle. (I think Santo was a real wrestler - it's as if someone had given Bobby Charlton his own detective series).
And god, but the wrestling scenes are dull. I'm not a huge fan of wrestling at the best of times - I find the combination of aggressive machismo and blatant homoeroticism confusing, and long since concluded that I'm not the target audience. But black and white Mexican wrestling - in spite of the masks - is interminable. We spend about 15 minutes watching wrestlers go about their manly business in this film.
And guess how Santo fights crime. With a gun, perhaps, or a sword? Oh no - he wrestles the bad guys! This idea is as stupid as it is boring, but it's funny that Santo keeps getting his ass kicked by hoodlums who are fighting normally, rather than trying to execute complex throws and holds. It's impossible to judge the little fella's performance since he's masked throughout, and he's credited only as 'Santo'. The rest of the cast do what they have to - Dr Koral is played by Claudio Brook, who was also in Dr Tarr's Torture Dungeon and the incredible, highly recommended Alucarda; he gives the best performance.
Given that there were dozens of these films, I'd imagine that this is pretty typical - they were obviously made to a formula. It's almost like the 60s Batman series, but without the humour. There's no trace of love interest for our hero. The villain rants like a proper lunatic ('Your crime is your beauty and you shall pay for it') but is fairly generic. (Although, astonishingly, it's revealed that he became evil through being tortured in Nazi concentration camps - variously Dachau or Auschwitz (!!). This is not a plot twist I can see being re-used today.)
I've no idea why this has a 12 certificate rather than a PG - it's obviously aimed at children. Perhaps the wrestling scenes are deemed to be too imitable by kids. It isn't scary at all, and apart from a few scars there's no nastiness. The waxworks themselves are great. For some reason the museum has Gary Cooper, Gandhi and Stalin next to one another. They look rubbish in the way authentic waxworks always do - you can tell who they're meant to be, but they've got them so, so wrong. The more monstrous waxworks are blatantly people trying to keep still (and failing dismally - one guy rocks back and forth like a drunkard). This rather spoils the surprise when they come to life - you'll have seen it coming from about three minutes into the film.
It's in black and white. It's very cheap (Santo's laboratory looks like someone's living room). It's made fairly competently, but it struggled to hold my interest for 90 minutes. I guess I needed to see a Santo film just to know what they're like, but I won't need to see another one.
I'm not too happy with the DVD release. The picture quality isn't great, but this might well be the best surviving print. But I don't like the way it's packaged - the 'Before Nacho Libre there was Santo!' label on the front is patronising and suggests this release is aimed at morons who like to sneer at old films. Yes, there's humour to be found here, but a funny-bad film should be celebrated, not denigrated. Given a choice between Night of the Bloody Apes and Lord of the Rings, I know which I'd go for. Marketing films as being 'so bad they're funny' almost always falls flat and shows disrespect both for the material and the target audience. Ah well, whatever sells, I guess.
The film's in Spanish. The subtitles are probably the most amateurish I've ever seen - they're riddled with typos (my favourites were 'imminent' instead of 'eminent' and 'aloud' instead of 'allow'). There are no extras.
This isn't great, but it's satisfied my curiosity. That's about the best you can hope for.