Thursday, January 17, 2013

El Charro de las Calaveras – review

Director: Alfredo Salazar

Release date: 1965

Contains spoilers

Oh the joy, and that is not sarcastic. From director Alfredo Salazar comes one of the most hokey moments of Mexican cinema El Charro de las Calaveras or the Rider of the Skulls (Dagoberto Rodríguez).

The film centred on the masked hero, the rider, a man whose parents were killed by bandits and so donned a mask (because justice has no face), stitched three skulls to his shirt (to represent the three bandits, who he killed I think) and took on evil wherever he could find it. The film itself is split into three almost unrelated shorts.

the werewolf
The first sees the rider arrive at a hacienda haunted by a werewolf. The wolf makeup is as hilarious as you’d expect. Strangely, for the transformation effects, he goes from human form to a skeleton and then from skeleton to wolfman form (and vice versa). By the end of the segment the wolfman is killed as is his wife and so rider adopts their child, a young boy called Perico and their servant – the film’s unfunny comic relief – Cleofas (Pascual García Peña). He even shows them the face that lurks under the mask. In the next two segments Cleofas is still with him but Perico has gone to school and has been replaced by another young boy called Juanito.

the vampire
Part three is a headless horseman tale and so it is the vampire in part two that we are concerned with. It begins with a bat that turns into a Papier-mâché headed vampire that attacks a man and then flies back to his coffin in an abandoned house. Heading towards San Andros, where this took place, are the Rider and his companions as he has heard of strange goings on there.

A farmer and his daughter, Maria, sit by the deathbed of her mother. The farmer needs to get a doctor but Maria complains that it is night and thus dangerous. He goes anyway and has not gotten far when the vampire jumps out of a tree, causing the horse to throw the farmer. When Maria sees the rider-less horse run back she chases into the night and straight into the vampire. She faints.

the Rider of the Skulls
The vampire decides she is gorgeous and will turn her into a vampire but the Rider and his companions are coming so he hides. The vampire jumps them (Cleofas exclaims that his blood is no good as he is anaemic). As the companions get Maria away, the Rider and the vampire fight. The vampire gets the upper hand but the cock crows. The next night he gets to Maria and turns her, taking her to a cemetery so she can die and be reborn as a vampire and the Rider has two vampires to deal with…

on horse
This is camp fun. The effects are awful, including rubber bats flitting in a way only a wire could produce and the awful vampire head. A staked vampire turns into a bat and dies and his victims become human again (despite the film explicitly stating that to turn a victim has to have died). The stories are just about functional and the music mariachi. Despite the Western look, the dating is contemporary with cars in the last story.

Is it a good film? No and 3 out of 10 is awfully generous but, despite how rubbish it is, it is still fun and joyful in that really bad movie way. The DVD has no subtitles but there are fan subs on the net.

The imdb page is here.

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