Saturday, June 26, 2010

Gilberto Martínez Solares's El mundo de los muertos (1970) versus Julián Soler's Santo contra Blue Demon en la Atlantida (1970)

Entering first into El mundo de los muertos (1970) is cinema's greatest superhero, El Santo, El Enmascarado de Plata, under the direction of Gilberto Martínez Solares, who previously directed the legendary luchador in the same year in Santo el enmascarado de plata y Blue Demon contra los monstruos. Also released the same year (with the same production crew) and entering second is cinema's greatest superhero, El Santo, in Julián Soler's Santo contra Blue Demon en la Atlantida. Notice the word contra in the latter title. Yes, Santo must fight against his friend and rival only in the ring, legendary luchador, and cinematic superhero, Blue Demon, in both films. (Do not worry. Blue Demon created an entire body of cinematic work in which he was focal and a brave hero which I will chronicle in future posts.) Like Santo or Blue Demon against his opponents, I will dispense with the fun, theatrical prose, because it is beginning to annoy me (or perhaps because both films have a little bit more intensity than in other El Santo cinema). The three films previously mentioned would make a great triple-bill at any drive-in, as all are in some ways very similar (same creative people behind the camera) and at the same time have notable differences.
When I witnessed this scene within El mundo de los muertos, my heart began to race and I was seized with fear. Santo is in the arena and has entered the ring to face off against his opponent. His opponent is large and muscular and has this odd, gangrene-ish hue about his skin, as if he is not quite human. Nonetheless, the two square off when the bell rings. Santo's opponent is fierce, and soon the high-flying, theatrical lucha-style wrestling moves into intense brawling. What was once a sporting competition turns into a fight for his life as Santo encounters not one but two additional oddly- and deathly-colored fighters. The three attack Santo, and in a wince-inducing stunt, Santo is thrown against the ropes. The top rope gives away and slackens, and Santo tumbles to the hard floor of the arena. Alone, the courageous wrestler returns to the ring to face his opponents. The sickly-looking trio subdues Santo and introduces a foreign object into the match: a dagger. One plunges it directly into Santo's heart. I thought cinema's greatest superhero, the multitude's hero, was dead.Despite it being a shocking moment, the subsequent scene El mundo de los muertos is, in some ways, representative of the ethos of both films under review. Santo is rushed to the emergency room and open heart surgery is performed. The surgery scene doesn't match the celluloid of the dramatic scenes; and it is clearly an actual depiction of open heart surgery. The surgery scene is stock footage (presumably made for scientific audiences or medical students); and Solares and crew have really made effective use, in a commercial sense, of it. Reminiscent of Johhny Depp's lines as Ed Wood in the film of the same name, "I could make a whole film out of this footage, if given the chance." Well, Solares and Soler do not, but the stock footage serves as a serious impetus for their creativity. It is doubtful that Solares and company would be so audacious as to actually conceive and create a scene in which Santo is stabbed in the heart. But it worked, in an odd, possibly exploitative way. Santo contra Blue Demon en la Atlantida begins with stock footage of wartime shots, mushroom clouds, and space exploration (I do not really know what footage is genuine but it does not appear to match the bulk of the film), and this opening montage of footage drives the themes of the film. An evil, James Bond-ish villian is going to take over the world, causing an international catastrophe, using rockets and related technology. The historical footage also provides a historical background for the villains, as Greek mythology and the titular "Atlantis" theme also play into it. Jesús Sotomayor Martínez (the producer of all three films mentioned above) and crew probably went a little overboard with the conception of Santo contra Blue Demon en la Atlantida, as it really functions as a cool, late-sixties spy flick: not wholly benefiting from its contrived background but from the secret agent, spy action. When Santo has to make a trip into the title in El mundo de los muertos, the underworld setting is enhanced by natural scenery footage, altered with a blood-red hue, which colors the entire trip. The sequence rivals Coffin Joe in its hellish nature and is, like Coffin Joe cinema, bizarre, compelling, and totally fun. Provocative is a relative term, and while both El mundo de los muertos and Santo contra Blue Demon en la Atlantida do not reach the heights of other cinema in the decade of the 1970s, each is fairly provocative compared to previous El Santo cinema in terms of sex and violence. Beyond the blood spilled over Santo's chest from his stabbing, El mundo opens with an Inquisition scene of torture wherein the witch-hunters give some nasty lash marks to the nude back of a bound female. As with most of the sex and violence in both films, its provocative nature is not in its graphic depiction, but rather in its overall, uncomfortable intensity. In the first-act battle between Santo and Blue Demon in El mundo, these two wrestlers really go at each other. There is an energy driving these two performers seemingly beyond their characters. The action appears sped up beyond twenty-four frames a second, and neither wrestler appears to be pulling punches. In a fantastic sequence in Santo contra Blue Demon en la Atlantida, Santo returns to his apartment in the evening after his wrestling match with Blue Demon. Waiting for him is a super-sexy woman, donning matching underwear and see-through, sheer fabric gown. She begins to seduce Santo and quickly has Santo under control. An evil agent appears just as Santo is about to get some loving, and the two men square off. The light-hearted, clumsy, tumbling battle does not ensue. The fist-pummelling is relentless, like two fierce animals fighting to the death. Oh shit. I've realized that I've hit my customary thousand-word mark and have not detailed a synopsis of either film. This will be remedied in a future post or with a viewing by curious, thrill seekers of cinema's greatest superhero, El Enmascarado de Plata, the multitude's hero, El Santo.


Aaron said...

Awesome as usual. Looking forward to your Blue Demon posts! Wasn't there one or two movies with Demon, Santo, and Mil Mascaras?

P.S. I just talked to Will from the GGTMC yesterday and he sends his regards. He also said he's waiting for you to do the Strike Commando 1 and 2 episode of the show.

Hans A. said...

Thanks, Aaron. Yes, there were a few with the trio. One of Santo's (if not his) last films had all three of them in it. Thanks also about the head's up with Will. I'll try to get in touch with him soon.