Thursday, June 24, 2010

José Díaz Morales's Atacan las brujas (1968?) versus El hacha diabólica (1965)

Despite the fact that the IMDb lists Atacan las brujas as being released in 1968, it would appear that both films directed by José Díaz Morales, Atacan las brujas (1968?) and El hacha diabólica (1965), starring cinema's greatest superhero, El Santo, were either shot together or in near proximity. Not only do the films share its director but its sets and actors, for example. (While the cinema of El Santo certainly deserves in-depth research to inform better film criticism, these posts on El Santo are written for fun in an attempt to convey how much joy that I receive from watching the cinema. The cinema, like many across the world, comes from a unique and rich culture made by professionals with equally rich and unique backgrounds. Perhaps in a future post, I'll take a more academic look at the cinema, but until then, loosening up and having fun is the priority here.) Morales, the director, has a wonderful visual style: an old-school, almost Expressionistic feel combined with a swinging Sixties, short-skirts-are-all-the-rage attitude. Pitting Atacan las brujas (1968?) against El hacha diabólica (1965) would only result in a Pyrrhic victory, as the two films really compliment each other, making a wonderful double-feature, tag-team experience.
In Atacan las brujas, Santo sits in his office, listening to Arturo (Ramón Bugarini) whose lady, Ofelia (María Eugenia San Martín) is beset on all sides by the inequities of Elisa (Lorena Velázquez). Elisa, as Arturo tells Santo, is housing her sister Ofelia, as per their father's last will and testament, in which Ofelia must reside in their father's manor for one year to qualify as a beneficiary; and this condition is making Ofelia feel like a prisoner, under Elisa's spell. Ofelia is having dreams of a coven of brujas, led by Elisa, who want to sacrifice Ofelia to the Lord of Darkness. However, a righteous hero in a silver mask also recurs in Ofelia's dream, and Arturo has paid him a visit, seeking his help. Santo in the pursuit of justice will investigate.
In El hacha diabólica, in a fascinating, recurring theme in El Santo's cinema, Santo's ancestor has created a destiny for cinema's greatest superhero. Back in the day, just a few hundred years, Santo's ancestor was in love with Isabel (Velázquez) and his ancestor had a rival for her love: a man, after he sold his soul to Satan, who would become known as Encapuchado Negro. This rival of El Santo's ancestor would adopt the titular weapon to instill fear in all who came before him, and as long as his black hood remained upon his head, he would never die. Santo's ancestor would put down his sword and adopt a silver mask. Local mystic and wise man, Abraca (Mario Sevilla), tells Santo's ancestor that he will fight only with his fists to combat Encapuchado Negro and his mask will aid him (in the super-power department). Historically, the subsequent proceedings did not go well for Santo's ancestor, but cinema's greatest superhero, El Santo, El Enmascardo de Plata, will prevail when both Isabel and Encapuchado Negro reappear in modern day. Both stories in Atacan las brujas and El hacha diabólica are familiar, yet Santo (nor Morales) is deterred: cinema's greatest superhero is going to get into some adventures and dole out some ass-whippings, while Morales spices up the visuals and adds the occasional flourish and sequence. Atacan las brujas has a brilliant one: Elisa enlists the aid of Medusa (Edaena Ruiz), her second, to seduce Santo in pursuit of the Lord of Darkness and evil. Santo is driving in his convertible, with his cape flowing behind him, on a deserted street. Ruiz's Medusa, who would stand out in a crowd, stands alone at the side of the road. Santo stops for her, and she requests a ride to her home. It would be El Santo's pleasure. Upon arrival, Medusa disappears from the passenger seat to (poof!) reappear at the door's threshold. Santo believes this act is curious and merits investigation. Inside the home, specifically Medusa's boudoir, Santo begins to weaken. Medusa has slipped into something more comfortable (itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny bikini) and is now pouring wine. Cleverly, our hero notes something is amiss: he is being beset by an infernal seduction. (Amazingly, Santo is able to discern between an infernal seduction and a non-infernal one. Most men would succumb easily to the latter and would be defenseless to the former. Not Santo, however.) Santo fights against Medusa's strong spell and is able to destroy the lower half of the boudoir's door and escape.
El hacha diabólica has a complimentary brilliant sequence. Santo learns of his ancestor's history through his friend, Dr. Zanoni. Zanoni has a contraption which will allow its participant to separate his/her soul from its body and transcend it (e.g. go back in time). Of particular note is the vulnerability of the subject while inside the contraption. Dr. Zanoni while operating the machine is also vulnerable. Both Santo and Dr. Zanoni don electric head gear and sit before a beeping-lights, electric-wire box in the center of the room. Santo gains all of the knowledge needed, and his soul then returns to his body. With his soul and body reunited, Santo is now invulnerable, again. Encapuchado Negro only then takes this opportunity to attack Santo. While he is a fierce opponent, Santo defeats him. While this may seem that Encapuchado Negro is extremely adept at inopportune timing, director Morales needed both Santo and Dr. Zanoni to be out of the contraption for an important and dramatic plot revelation. The plot revelation overshadows any deficiencies in strategy (of course).
The rendition of Ofelia's dream sequence to open Atacan las brujas is creative and compelling. Morales adopts a dreamy style with with slow dissolves, shadows, and an effective montage of imagery. The Lord of Darkness is powerful as he appears, standing stoically and ominously. Santo wanders through the brujas' domain as if he is lost in a dream: whatever he encounters, his courage does not waver, and he fights bravely. Morales also uses religious iconography effectively, as well. The image of Santo raising his arms in a cross pose to dispatch his enemies never appears false: the sense that Santo fights for a higher power and is imbued with its energy is genuine. When Elisa and company appear, their compositions are like album covers, each meticulously placed with each actor/actress in a specific pose. Their cosmetic qualities are polarized, and the viewer is looking at their beauty and outfits.
El hacha diabólica sees Santo righting pasts wrongs in pursuit of justice. Above all, Santo's quest is a spiritual one: Isabel's soul, his ancestor's destiny, and the evil of Encapuchado Negro must all be lain to rest for the present world to be right. Morales shoots Lorena Velázquez lovingly (in both films, actually, even when she performs an evil character). Velázquez possesses natural beauty and charisma (she is a notable actress in the cinema of this period), and Morales only has to capture it. With adept shots in Atacan las brujas , Morales focuses on her hypnotic eyes effectively to show her character's sinister qualtiy, old-school style; while in El hacha diabólica, he captures her as tragic and truly vulnerable. Unsurprisingly, Velázquez stands out in both films. For cinema's greatest superhero, El Enmascardo de Plata, the multitude's hero, El Santo, both films show just another day at work for the wrestler: making the world a better place for all.


Aaron said...

Sounds like a lot of fun. Nice write-up, Hans. I'm enjoying these Santo posts and they're making me want to explore his crazy filmography sooner than later!

Hans A. said...

Thanks, Aaron. I can pretty much say that writing about Santo flicks is the most fun that I have writing. Gonna keep rolling these out. Be cool.