Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Santo en el hotel de la muerte (1963) versus Santo en el museo de cera (1963)

I wrote this post in July of 2010 during a weekend when I was particularly ill.  I never published it.  However, I thought I would now.  It is terrible.  Enjoy.

Two early films featuring El Santo, El Enmascardo de Plata. First is Santo en el hotel de la muerte (1963), directed by Federico Curiel, in which Santo suffers much of the same fate as in Santo contra las mujeres vampiro (1962) in the respect that Santo doesn't drive the narrative and appears sparsely (e.g. to resolve the mystery). Second is perhaps one of the best Santo films ever made, Santo en el museo de cera (1963) in which the multitude's hero faces one of the best villains in Claudio Brook with the most diabolical scheme imaginable. El museo de cera is directed by Alfonso Corona Blake who directed Santo previously in Las mujeres vampiro.

El hotel de la muerte is set in a resort hotel and is a murder mystery, so the plot has way too many characters to provide "red herrings" and twists and turns. Fernando (Fernando Casanova) and Conrado (Beto el Boticario) are police officers assigned by their chief to investigate the apparent murder (and subsequent disappearance of her corpse) of a young woman tourist at the hotel. Fernando's girlfriend, Virginia (Ana Bertha Lepe), a journalist, shows at the hotel, as well, to Fernando's dismay to catch the story. These three carry the story for the majority of the film, and while more female tourists subsequently pop up dead then only to have their corpses disappear, Fernando and Conrado struggle to make headway in their investigation. However, for the seasoned viewer of genre cinema, two notable clues appear (not clues, however, to Fernando and Conrado): an Aztec pyramid from where the hotel has a direct connection and the presence of a retired archaeologist, Professor Corbera (Alfredo Wally Barrón). Virginia logically asks Fernando early in the investigation, "Why don't you just call Santo to help?" Although Fernando is wearing his wristwatch that Santo gave him, serving as a direct line to Santo's headquarters, Fernando wants to solve this case alone. When Fernando takes a blow to the head from a fleeing suspect, Virginia wisely calls Santo from Fernando's watch. Santo has a wrestling match that evening, and then he'll cruise down to the hotel in his convertible in time for the final act.
 Claudio Brook plays Dr. Karol in El museo de cera. Brook brings to his role a Vincent Price air of elegance combined with the charisma of Bela Lugosi. Karol owns a wax museum and creates his own wax sculptures. His most popular creations reside in the basement and are reproductions of hideous historical figures, many of whom are monsters. Susana (Norma Mora), a photographer who Dr. Karol allowed to photograph his creations, goes missing one evening after exiting the museum. Susana's sister Gloria (Roxana Bellini) and her fiance, Ricardo (Rubén Rojo) believe that there is something sinister and mysterious with museum and think Dr. Karol is behind Susana's disappearance. The police think so too, because a few more young women had gone missing in the vicinity of the museum, previously. Dr. Karol thinks this is flimsy evidence (and he's absolutely right), so via his colleague, Professor Gavin (José Luis Jiménez), Karol seeks Santo's help in vindicating his reputation.
Santo is way too powerful a force of nature to be limited to appearances in final acts. While there are a lot of groovy 60s hairdos, provocative swimwear, beautiful women, beatniks, and comedic shenanigans in Santo en el hotel de la muerte, when the multitude's hero is absent from screen, I feel irked. The later Santo cinema, perhaps beginning with Santo en el museo de cera, would show Santo as more than competent in his investigative skills and doling out the ass-whippings furiously on equal footing with his ability to carry the entire film as protagonist. It is almost humorous as El hotel de la muerte hints at this: not only does Virginia hint to Fernando that Santo can help, but Fernando's reluctance to call him is really the knowledge that this is more than true. Santo will investigate the crime and dispatch the enemies in the pursuit of justice. The only thing which would suffer for the common good is Fernando's screen time.
Brook is so compelling as Dr. Karol and the story is so well written in El museo de cera that when Santo is absent, the viewer is still treated to glorious genre cinema (instead of filler until Santo arrives). Brook's museum and his displays are hideous creations; he also has a super-secret lab where he envisions new creations and a huge vat full of wax (fortuitously placed for an ideal use in later combat); he has a bizarre, contrived, and mysterious past; and above all, Brook's Dr. Karol is extremely bold: in a move that would thwart most (except Santo and Columbo), Karol attempts to play victim and surreptitiously stir Santo in his investigation away from his sinister and diabolic plan. Like a fantastic comic book, each subsequent scene in El museo de cera becomes more ludicrous yet intriguing. K. Gordon Murray released El museo de cera in the U.S. as Samson in the Wax Museum, with English dubbing (and a new name for the multitude's hero). It's fun to watch but the original version is preferable.

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