First up is René Cardona's Santo en la venganza de la momia (1971) in which cinema's greatest superhero, El Santo, is the bodyguard to an archaeological expedition, led by Professor Romero (César del Campo) with crew in tow, headed deep into the jungle to uncover the tomb of Prince Nonoc. Entering second is Alfredo B. Crevenna's Santo contra la magia negra (1973) in which cinema's greatest superhero, El Santo, is saboteur under the reaching hand of Interpol into Haiti where two professors have gone missing and one, Professor Jordan (Guillermo Gálvez), has a secret formula for a destructive, uranium-fueled weapon. Santo's opponents are the mummy of Prince Nonoc and the gorgeous, voodoo queen, Bellamira (Sasha Montenegro), respectively. Let us see how these flicks fare in Santo fashion, two out of three falls.Crevenna seems to have a tough gig in front of him with Santo contra la magia negra. According to the final frame of the film where FIN appears, it is a co-production between Mexico and Haiti, shot on location in the latter. A huge, festive carnival was happening in the city, and obviously Crevenna and crew believed it would make an excellent backdrop for the film. Unfortunately, a lot of the festival footage is shot for coverage. Likewise, there are numerous dancing sequences, over which Bellamira presides before executing her voodoo magic, and these sequences are also shot for coverage. Finally, when Santo takes on a group of reanimated corpses, not Romero's gut-munchers but corpses-cum-puppets under Bellamira's voodoo strings, these sequences are also shot for coverage. By coverage it is to mean that it appears Crevenna shot everything wide, and more often than not also static, with the film becoming wholly uninteresting on a visual level. Santo contra la magia negra is like a cracked mirror, appearing documentary-like instead of Dogme. The contrived, dramatic scenes appear more artificial when offset by the coverage footage. As Crevenna could rarely manipulate the film's on-screen action, he is left with what is given to him...save when he films Montenegro's Bellamira.
Cardona does not fare any better with Santo en la venganza de la momia. The first act is hampered by the archaeological crew's journey into the jungle. Cardona spends the first third of his film with the exposition and dramatic set-up which could have been boiled down to a few minutes. The descendants of Prince Nonoc's people continue to live in the outside region; when Santo attempts to hire a local guide and crew, he is met with derision. City folks should not come where they are not welcomed and profane the tomb of one of their ancestors, even if it is under the guise of science and "civilization." Professor Romero and crew do not believe in curses and the like, so they are going to profane the tomb anyway. Tomb profanation is kind of inherent in the title of the film. Isn't it?Cardona's film does shine, perhaps in reflection, by creating a film where Santo is almost wholly ineffectual. When Prince Nonoc's mummy does rise, it begins systematic killing of everyone. Santo is a spectator instead of a bodyguard, as he mostly runs in on corpses while other on-lookers debate as to whether a mummy could have committed the crime. Interestingly, this plot shows our hero as more human, and there are two interesting scenes which emphasize this. The local guide's grandson, who accompanied the crew, is orphaned after the mummy kills the guide. The boy is crying alone, and Santo consoles him while also teaching him what it means to be a man. Likewise, during all the commotion, not knowing if they would live or die, Santo has to take a moment to express his burgeoning love to Susana (Mary Montiel), a photographer and journalist. Susana is touched by the gesture and feels the same. Both are seen ringside at the end of the film cheering on Santo in his wrestling match...only after they escape from the jungle, having buried almost everyone. Sasha Montenegro, as Bellamira, in Santo contra la magia negra has hypnotic beauty. When her character is described as having a profound influence over the country's populace, beyond her supernatural powers, it is believable. Crevenna's continued static shooting when it is of Montenegro gives the voodoo queen an angelic and reverent air. When she enters frame, regardless of the frame's other inhabitants, Montenegro's Bellamira becomes focal. She radiates charisma. Santo contra la magia negra should have dumped its perfunctory plot and become more minimal. As in Crevenna's later Santo y el aguila real (1973) with Santo and Irma Serrano, he should have focused almost solely on Montenegro and Santo and built the film around them. Montegro's Bellamira and Santo do have an understated final confrontation over a basket of poisonous snakes.Cinema's greatest superhero, El Santo, Enmascardo de Plata, the mutitude's hero, is cool. Although I did not appreciate Cardona dropping a seemingly sedated panther on Santo's head in Santo en la venganza de la momia, so Santo could roll on the ground with it in mock battle. He picks the animal up by the throat and throws it. The panther deserves a rematch. I never tire from watching a Santo wrestling match within a film and I cannot immediately think of one where it is absent. How amazing it must have been in Santo's heyday to go and watch him wrestle in a large arena and then on the weekend watch Santo battle bigger-than-life, supernatural foes on the big screen. Watching the crowd carry Santo on their shoulders or hearing the crowd shout his name in the arena is emotional. While neither Santo en la venganza de la momia nor Santo contra la magia negra is great cinema, El Santo is still cinema's greatest superhero.