Santo Vs. The Zombies (1961)

This is a great movie. Oh, it's not as great as Wrestling Women Vs. The Aztec Mummy, which is one of all-time favorites, but it's as fine a slice of the Mexican-Wrestlers-Battle The Supernatural genre as I've come across.

Santo, seen here applying his wits to a tough situationSanto (referred to here as "The Saint" in the English dubbing) is a mysterious masked wrestler who helps the police solve crimes. Yep. Here, he both helps a crime-solving couple looking for a lost scientist, and the police who are being plagued by robberies committed by unstoppable zombies. There's a masked villain who is seemingly omnipotent with his little tv wall console. Whenever he watches a scene where nothing is happening for too long, he will launch an attack of his zombies. Santo, likewise, has an all-seeing tv console so that he can know when and where the zombies are attacking and then rush over and wrestle them. This gets rid of the need for any sort of plot essentials like motiviation or characterization or story development. Scenes just exist to have things happen. When the couple goes to a bar to question a seedy informer, five minutes are spent on the musical number the cabaret dancers are performing and maybe two minutes are spent on the interrogation fo the seedy informer. My favorite turn of the plot is when the masked villain tries to figure out how to get rid of "that meddling Saint." His assistant goes, "hey, look, boss, this could prove useful" and holds up a wrestling magazine! (It's just lying around on a table in the secret lab!) It has all these details about the upcoming match between the Saint and the Smashing Sanchez (my faulty memory has, alas, concocted this name. Sorry). The villain sends his zombies to go to the dressing room where the Samshing Sanchez is getting ready for the match and zombify him. The Saint wrestles Smashing in the ring. The Saint's on the verge of losing to the unstoppable zombie when he, for whatever reason, reaches into the zombie's trunks and finds the controlling zombie belt. Upon fiddling with it, the belt and the zombie burst into flame (Sadly, to this day, the "wedgie of flame" is still not an accepted WWF maneuver). This leads to some great scenes later of Santo, the masked wrestler, on his kness, furtively undoing the belts of zombie guards. No, really. Removed from context, the perversity of this image will make steam whistle out your ears.

Apart from all this fun, one of the great things about Santo Vs. The Zombies is some really staggering lighting and staging. As in Wrestling Women......, a lot of the scenes take place at night, and outdoor action is shot cheaply by just directly shining heavy light sources on the action. Although these movies were released in the 60's here, I have a fantasy that they were originally released in Mexico in the early and mid-50's and inspired the lighing in Orson Welles's Touch of Evil. Probably not true, but it has that great look in some spots. There's also a great scene of the zombies breaking into a bank safe. With the safe in the middle of the screen, zombies at either end, and the semi-darkened bank lit by the pattern of what's supposed to be ceiling skylight, the scene takes on the exacititude of a Fritz Lang film. And for more great expressionistic lighting, there are those sweaty shots of Santo undoing belt buckles..... the whole thing has an air of competence one never assoicates with crap Z-movies and, as a result, is almost as inspiring as the anti-script. If you want to spend an evening in awe of what you're watching, I can't think of a finer movie than Santo Vs. The Zombies.

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