Thursday, June 19, 2008

Santo in the Treasure of Dracula – review


Directed by: René Cardona

Release date: 1969

Contains spoilers

It is no secret that Mexican wrestling movies are a guilty pleasure of mine; they are just so much fun – no matter the quality. This offering is, according to the DVD liner notes, quite controversial as there was a domestic version and a foreign release (The Vampire and Sex) in which the vampire women were all naked… unfortunately this is the Mexican version. It is, however, great if stylistically mismatched in places.

What do I mean by that? Well there are essentially two films here – one is a rich gothic horror, no surprise when you realise that the film was written by Alfredo Salazar who also (uncredited) co-wrote el Ataúd del Vampiro (for all its faults), and the other is a hokey Santo sci-fi romp with comedic elements.

Santo presents his theoryThe film begins in the home of Dr. César Supulveda (Carlos Agostí), he has gathered members of the scientific community together to see a presentation by Santo. In this, as well as being a masked crime fighter, Santo is a scientist. He explains that he has made a machine that disintegrates a person and projects them through time into a past life. We should note that this is not projecting them physically, as such, but almost like a past life regression. Santo hasn’t tried the machine yet as he hasn’t got a willing subject (preferably a woman). His invention is met with derision.

After they scientist have left Santo remains with Supulveda and his daughter Luisa (Noelia Noel) – who also happens to be Santo’s girlfriend – and Santo’s friend/assistant Perico (Alberto Rojas). Perico is overtly a comedy relief character and, to be honest, I don’t think the film needed such a character. Having said goodnight to Paquita (Pili González), a little girl whom Santo took in after her parents were killed and whom Luisa now cares for, they discuss the time machine.

into the time tunnelSupulveda volunteers to be the guinea pig but Santo rejects the idea. The procedure is dangerous, Supulveda is too old and a woman would be better as they are four times more resilient than men. During this a hooded figure, the villainous Dark Hood, has broken in and spies on the heroes. Luisa volunteers; Santo rejects her offer but soon capitulates. In short time she is in a funky suit and going through the time tunnel, which spins her round until she falls (literally) into her past life – it is a lovely realised scene. The scientists watch through a time TV and it is here that the film switches into what amounts to a movie within the movie – based heavily on the standard Dracula story, with some notable lore changes.

crap bat syndromeA coach travels through the night and a man disembarks. He knocks on a villa door and introduces himself as Professor Van Roth (Fernando Mendoza). He has been summoned by Professor Soler (Jorge Mondragón) whose daughter Luisa is ill. She has the same symptoms that her friend Mara had before dying. She is pale and weak, she has had three transfusions, seems better, but then regresses. The only other symptom are two marks on her neck. A bat appears at the window and Van Roth steps forward brandishing something that scares it away. Asked what it was Van Roth explains it is mistletoe, a plant native only to Transylvania (sic) that vampires cannot stand the smell of. This is the first time I can think of that mistletoe was used as a garlic substitute.

bad dreams for LuisaLuisa comes down. She explains that the symptoms started just after Mara died. She had a nightmare, there was fog in the room and then she awoke. Each night she dreams of the fog and a pale face with red eyes. As she speaks their new neighbour, Count Alucard (Aldo Monti) enters, visiting the sick girl. He leaves the professors to their deliberations and Luisa goes to bed.

Mara, one of Dracula's vampire womenWe see a cave full of vampire women and Dracula enters. They have chained two new priestesses to slabs. He bites them both and then stabs them, causing them to turn into the undead. In an unusual scene he then ‘brands’ each woman’s neck with a bat logo – the sign of the undead. I put brands in inverted commas as it is more like an ink stamp from his ring! He sends them out to hunt and he himself visits Luisa.

Aldo Monti as DraculaVan Roth has noted a newspaper story of a woman in white luring children away to bite them – lifted, of course, from Stoker’s Dracula and the blooferlady section. Using a crayon and a mirror the hunter works out that Alucard is Dracula, who then enters. There is a mirror smashing moment, a reaction to a cut finger and a baring of fangs at mistletoe and Van Roth’s suspicions are confirmed.

He explains to Soler how Dracula arrived on a ship with six caskets of earth (native soil) and Luisa explains that she believes the lady in white to be Mara. Van Roth gives her a mistletoe necklace and orders the maid to stay with her, but the maid’s mind is controlled by Dracula. Van Roth and Solar have gone to Mara’s crypt (and stake her) whilst Dracula nicks off with Luisa.

Staking the CountHe takes her (she is now undead, having been bitten three times) to a hiding place where his treasure is – it can only be found through markers on his ring and necklace – and then back to the crypt for a daytime snooze. Van Roth has a wolfhound, however, and these can track vampires. He gets to the crypt and stakes Dracula. He is about to stake Luisa and Santo pulls her modern mind back through time – if her past counterpart had died with her consciousness still in her then she (the modern Luisa) would have died (we won’t mention the fact that she, past Luisa, is already dead, or undead at least, before modern Luisa is retrieved).

This whole section is wonderfully Mexican gothic. It is a fairly long section of film (half the movie’s running time) and makes a passable stab at the Dracula story.

Our heroes enter the cryptIn the present Santo convinces everyone that they have to find Dracula’s resting place to prove his experiment worked. Despite her concerns, Luisa leads them but they are followed by the Black Hood and his men. There is a tussle and the villains run, leaving Santo and pals free to get Dracula’s medallion. Unfortunately they forget to get the ring, which the Black Hood subsequently finds.

the obligatory wrestling matchSanto wants Dracula’s treasure so that he can sell it and help the less fortunate and the hood wants it to finance evil plans. To see who will get possession of ring and medallion the obligatory wrestling match is called, between Santo and the Black Hood’s son Atlas. Of course a three round match had to be shown and, after losing the first round, Santo is victorious. He has the ring and the medallion but the hood will not give up. As a diversionary tactic he pulls Dracula’s stake (waking the vampire women from hibernation as well). With just fifteen minutes of running time left will Santo capture the Black Hood? Will Dracula recognise Luisa? Can Santo stop Dracula and his horde of vampire women?

the Black Hood and his menThis was such good fun. Okay the sci-fi elements were hokey, to say the least, though the idea that time travel was as a consciousness projected into a past life was interesting. The past section was marvellous, though some of the supporting cast in the modern section were weak.

The film does owe much to past efforts, the Dracula similes are obvious and there is a feel of El Vampiro. Some of the modern plot owes a little to Wrestling Women Vs the Aztec Mummy.

To date this has to be my favourite Santo movie (of those I’ve seen). It is a pity that the transfer is more than a tad shoddy and that the effects were poor (even for the time). That said there is a definite atmosphere drawn around the film and you get sucked into the movie. The pace is relentless throughout.

5.5 out of 10

The imdb page is here.


sir jorge said...

i love El Santo, mainly because I grew up watching the movies with my dad on spanish television. This one is one of my favorites too.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

sir jorge, thanks for the comment.

I don't have the excuse of growing up with the el Santo movies - they are quite a recent discovery but I have to admit that I love them.

CrabStiX said...

Louisa looks lovely and not un-like an oven ready turkey ready for the oven... possibly an apt similie...?

I want to see the other version of this film, combining as it does totty and turkey in delightful combination. My two main food groups.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

crabstix, I'm sure there are many of us who'd like to see the alternate version, lol

Chick Young said...

Cheers Tali,

This is my favorite too. I agree completely with your review. It's a lot of fun and a great introduction to appreciating the Lucha Libre genre. It is a really fun film - and surprisingly, pays some real credit to Stoker's source material. More than I would have expected and MORE than certain films claiming to be versions of Dracula!

What a fun series - I love Santo!


Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Chick, good to hear from you.

Can't disagree, compared to say the 2006 make of Dracula this is absolutely accurate!