Thursday, July 12, 2012

Santo In the Treasure of Dracula (1969) review


Santo (Santo, El Enmascarado de Plata), Aldo Monti (Dracula), Noelia Noel (Luisa), Carlos Agosti (Dr. Cesar Sepulveda), Alberto Rojas (Perico), Roberto G. Rivera (Dr. Kurr), Jorge Mondragon (Professor Soler), Fernando Mendoza (Professor Van Roth), Guillermo 'Lobo Negro' Hernandez (wrestler)

Directed by Rene Cardona

The short Version: This late 60s Santo flick was originally in color, but for some reason, Rise Above Entertainment was only able to deliver a B/W version. With the level of Gothic atmosphere on display, the monochrome format fits just fine. It's yet another wacky Mexi-horror, this of the Lucha Libre school of absurdity. Santo is more than a wrestler this time out; he's a scientist who has created a time machine with which to go back in time and procure the treasure of Dracula. If only he could go and bring back the alternate sexy version of this production, the world would be a safer place.

Santo, masked wrestler, crime fighter and protector of children everywhere, has added a new profession to his resume; he's now a scientist who has built a time machine. For whatever reason, Rod Taylor wasn't available, so Santo sends Dr. Sepulveda's daughter, Luisa, back to past places instead.

Ending up in 19th century America(?!), Luisa is now part of a Mexican version of Bram Stoker's Dracula. After the Latino bloodsucker makes her his undead bride and co-owner of his vast treasure, Santo (who has been watching the whole thing unfold on his TV monitor) saves Luisa from being staked by Van Roth. Actually, the films editor rescues her by playing the film backwards. This also reverses the effect of Luisa's vampirification (Is that even a word?)

From there, Santo and friends go looking for Drac's tomb to locate his gold via his coveted medallion. How Dracula got to America, but buried in Mexico is never explained (Are they supposed to be in America the entire time?).

Realizing the vampire's ring is also required, a second trip reveals the ring has been stolen! The mysterious gangster, The Black Hood was secretly watching Santo's every move and barters for the medallion by challenging Santo to a match with his son, Atlas. If Santo wins, Black Hood forks over the ring; if Santo loses, then he has to relinquish the medallion. The Silver Masked superhero wins of course, but Black Hood brings Dracula back to life culminating in a big brawny battle above and below Drac's tomb. Yes, it's a battle royal, falls count anywhere, South of the Border Scuffle between Santo, Dracula, Black Hood and his beefcake goons and a last minute interference by Santo's wrestling pals.

Rene Cardona, that prolific director who spit out countless movies like candy being whacked from a pinata, helmed over a dozen masked wrestling movies. These were hugely popular in their native Mexico, but remain curious cult items in America enjoyed by the ragtag few who appreciate their undeniable kitschy charms. By the time he'd gotten around to shooting SANTO IN THE TREASURE OF DRACULA, there had already been about twenty Santo flicks with Cardona the mastermind behind half a dozen of them.

Judging by the movies of his I've seen, Cardona was disinterested in artistic flourishes. He seemed to prefer a wide eyed fascination towards exploitation brought to motion picture life with an energetic ineptness seldom rivaled anywhere else.

TREASURE OF DRACULA slums it about a third of the time, but the balls out craziness of the plot, like just about all Mexi-Masked Man movies, is enough to make one wonder if they heard the plot synopsis right.

Throughout his career, Santo was always a wrestler; but at any given point during his film career, the fabled Enmascarado de Plata was moonlighting as a crime fighter, a Bond style spy, and in the case of this picture, a scientist! Yes, the Silver Masked One has devised a time machine. However, his intellectual colleagues laugh at his invention.

What's interesting, or not so interesting about this movie is that Santo isn't in it all that much till the halfway mark. This is because Santo claimed a woman was a better suited guinea pig to test his theory in time travel. He never explains this reasoning, but no doubt it's really because writer Alfredo Salazar couldn't come up with a suitable scenario to send Santo instead. So he and his two pals watch precariously from the wrestlers laboratory... sorry, I had a momentary chuckle fit.

Anyways, what makes this sequence so unintentionally humorous is that they're somehow able to see everything that's going on via television set and get so caught up in what they're watching, it's like they're catching a late night viewing of Creature Features.

Santo also gets a goofy, comic relief sidekick here in the form of Perico, a live action Tex Avery cartoon with these enormous glasses.

Some reviewers seem to have a problem with his character, but considering these movies were intended for the entire family (yes, apparently bloody stakings, decapitations and folks being tossed off buildings in various Santo movies were perfectly suitable for the small fry set in Mexico back then), he comes off like a Spanish speaking version of Shaggy from Scooby Doo without the ravenous appetite.

Carlos Agosti will be recognizable to fans of Mexi-horror. He played good and bad guys, two of the most notable being his turn as Count Siegfried Von Frankenhausen from THE BLOODY VAMPIRE (1962) and its surreal sequel INVASION OF THE VAMPIRES (1963). He's also in the typically wacky color Santo flick, SANTO AGAINST FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER (1971) among a slew of others.

Fans may also notice that Santo's fashion sense is different from past episodes. In earlier movies, he was runnin' around in his wrestling spandex and boots and flowing cape seemingly 24/7. By the end of the 60s, he was sporting a suit and tie and saved his wrestling gear for the ubiquitous squared circle confrontation; the one seen here occurring an hour into the feature.

Santo does brawl quite a lot here, though. These plentiful fight scenes in his movies make his career all the more remarkable; that he would go out and sling opponents around and get pummeled in the ring day in and day out and then beat the tar out of stuntmen and take a pounding himself on the sets of movies. Truly, Santo set the standard for famous wrestlers having an equally famous movie career. Even the highly overrated Hulk Hogan was never as popular both in the ring and on movie screens.

Somebody on this movie had a serious crush on fog machines; either that or the crew had a few poker games goin' on between takes. Nearly every scene has some foggy mist creepin' up on ya' in some way or other. There's also a bunch of spooky shots of Dracula peekin' in on potential victims through windows and big rubber bats flyin' in and out of frame.

In addition, Dracula has a harem of vampire women who put in a couple of appearances. Which brings us to what really makes SANTO IN THE TREASURE OF DRACULA of special interest. All this Gothic ambiance suits the B/W version and makes the film look like it was made much earlier, akin to the fog enshrouded examples of Mexi-horrors from the early 60s.

Towards the end of the decade and into the 70s, some of the Mexi-ploitation movies were having alternate scenes made for export audiences much like their Spanish counterparts. Cardona's NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES (1969) is a good example of this.

EL VAMPIRO Y EL SEXO was an adult version that was presumably intended for international release. Curiously, if this version was never intended for domestic consumption, why even have a Spanish title and poster?

Incidentally, it appears this racy movie, as mysterious as the Enmascarado de Plata himself, was finally exhumed and screened in its color version in Mexico. You can read about it HERE and HERE. Photos exist of the 'muy caliente' female Drac Pack lettin' it all hang out which appears to be all we're ever going to see of this alternate cut.

Rene Cardona continued directing even more wacky Mexi-movies even going so far as to lure his offspring, Cardona Jr. into the filmmaking fold with his own warped sense of movie mania. Cardona Sr. was also responsible for such TV favorites as DOCTOR OF DOOM ([1963]NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES was a remake of this), WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1964) and WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE MURDEROUS ROBOT (1969). His movies, like so many of the Santo epics, rarely made much sense but were loads of goofy fun.

Never meant to be taken seriously, this is one of the beauties of Mexi-movie madness; they're totally unpredictable and sustain themselves on sheer brainless ingenuity that belies their meager budgets.

SANTO IN THE TREASURE OF DRACULA isn't one of the best films in the series, but it's ineptly entertaining and to say it has an outrageous premise would be redundant where this genre is concerned.

Also, the movie is only 82 minutes long while the box erroneously lists it as 90 minutes. Those seeking a Santo slugfest could do much worse, but the film is nonetheless important from a historical perspective for its elusive alternate version that has proven to be as difficult to see as these films plots are difficult to figure out.

*Poster images: Google Images*

This review is representative of the Rise Above Entertainment DVD.

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