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Monday, August 11, 2014

El increible profesor Zovek (1972) review


Professor Zovek (himself), Teresa Velazquez (Lila), German Valdez "Tin Tan" (Chano), Jose Galvez (Dr. Leonardo Druso), Nubia Marti (Virginia)

Directed by Rene Cardona, Sr.

The Short Version: THE INCREDIBLE PROFESSOR ZOVEK is an incredible movie once you make it past the first 30 humdrum minutes. As soon as the plot is (finally) set in motion after several stretched-out speeches, the film gets more loco, going full blown demento once the action switches to the villains dungeons and diabolical laboratory where it becomes one of the most un-PC pictures of its type. You got deformed, flesh-eating midgets; oiled-up, Fu Manchu 'stached, whip-wielding Mexi-musclemen; facially scarred-fang-toothed Dr. Moreau monsters; mind control machines; an entourage of masked Luchas and hooded, bikini-clad babes; and Zovek, a death defying feats artist whose real-life story is more amazing than any film can replicate.

The amazing, and enigmatic Professor Zovek uses his telepathic powers to find out who was responsible for blowing up a plane carrying 26 passengers, including many reputable scientists in various fields. Only 25 bodies were recovered, though, and Zovek believes the one missing is likely connected in causing the explosion. He eventually learns the evil mastermind is Dr. Leonardo Druso, thought to have been among the dead aboard the ill-fated flight. With all his colleagues, and potential opposition out of the way, the diabolical doctor intends to complete his mind control experiments in a bid to rule the world; and Druso can accomplish this quicker with the powerful mind of Professor Zovek.

Rene Cardona had an incredible career directing well over a hundred movies; a great many of them prime examples of foreign trash at its finest, and others execrably well defined in their garbage status. The man's hand has touched virtually every genre style. Arguably his most accessible, widely seen film in America would have to be SURVIVE! from 1976. While that's one of the more seriously toned pictures in the directors filmography, Cardona helmed a great many Lucha action-fantasy-horror films of varying quality. Among these starred such luminaries as Santo, Blue Demon, Jorge Rivero (as Golden Mask, aka Neutron), Lorena Valezquez (as Gloria Venus), and Maura Monti (as Batwoman). One particular man was one of Mexico's most beloved figures in the entertainment world, and a truly spectacular life story of overcoming odds. That man, described as a national hero, is Francisco Xavier Chapa del Bosque; or as he was known under his famous moniker, Professor Zovek.

In his short film career, Zovek headlined two films; or, more accurately, one and a half. His first is a unique adventure that straddles the line between the autobiographical and the fantastical. Hong Kong action stars like Chen Hui Min (Michael Chan Wai Man) and John Liu did similar type pictures built around their real-life exploits, but Zovek laid the template for quasi-autobiographical escapism of the exploitational sort about a decade earlier.

Chano Urueta's (LA BRUJA [1954], THE BRAINIAC [1962]) script is ponderous for the first thirty minutes, but afterward, it's firing on all cylinders with a relentlessly goofy charm akin to a Filipino trash flick. He crams this 75 minute burrito with the tastiest of ingredients that will likely give you gas later on, but it will be worth downing a small handful of Tums. There's martial arts action (bad martial arts action) before kung fu and karate became fashionable on film; a mad scientist bent on world domination; failed Dr. Moreau type experiments; cannibal midgets; oiled, muscle-bound, Mexican, whip-wielding thugs; and escape artist theatrics supplanting the usual wrestling matches of your average Lucha action-caper.

Professor Zovek was something of an Hispanic Houdini, Evel Knievel, and circus strongman all rolled up into one. An enigmatic personality, as well as a martial arts master, the brief public fascination of this domestic, real life superhero is far more engaging than his even briefer tenure on the big screen. Zovek was a lot different from his masked wrestler colleagues in that he didn't wear one, and had powers other than brute strength. Onscreen and off he was said to read minds and hypnotize people. He wasn't a wrestler, so scenes of his mystical prowess were an obvious replacement for the wrestling scenarios of Santo, Blue Demon and others.

His life story -- one that was destined for the cinema -- was just as incredible, if not more so than his films. It's a shame a more personal documentation wasn't made. Reportedly diagnosed with Polio at age 5, the young Francisco was presumed to be an invalid for life. Inspired by heroes of the comic book and mythological worlds, he became determined to one day walk again; and armed with determination and an astonishing will to persevere, the young kid later to be known as Zovek did indeed walk again. Martial arts, yoga, zen philosophy, mystic arts, and the development of 'Nonstop', his own physical fitness system came in the ensuing years.

The name Zovek became ingrained in Mexico's entertainment iconography in early January of 1969 when his athleticism, feats of strength, and escape acts were televised for Hispanic viewers. Whether for charity, or to promote individuality and self-worth, Zovek's regimen was the Tae Bo and Jerry Lewis Telethon of the day. According to Spanish sources, Zovek's amazing feats of physicality on television included:

* Performing 3,850 crunches nonstop for four hours, fifty-five minutes.
* Performing 17,800 situps nonstop for eight hours.
* Swam for eight hours to raise money for The Red Cross.
* Skipped rope for nine hours to raise money for The Red Cross.
* Hit bulls-eye targets while blindfolded.
* Kept eight motorcycles from taking off with his teeth using a biting device attached to some chains.
* Rode motorcycles while blindfolded through obstacle courses.
* Allowed weighted down vehicles to rest on his abdomen without crushing him.
* Mind reading stunts.
* Martial arts demonstrations. 
* Confined in a straightjacket, chained, and placed inside a burning Egyptian coffin. 

Zovek showcases one such Houdini-styled escapes in this film. In it, he's tied up from top to bottom before being placed inside a water tank. Flanked by masked men and bikini-clad women (some of which are wearing executioner hoods!), Zovek kisses the girls, and likely made a few cry in the audience before being submerged in big box of agua.

It would be beneficial to know if Zovek was ever recognized on the international scene for performing such feats. As outrageous as some of these sound, others have accomplished similar achievements, although not without some amendments made. Like any great entertainer, Zovek wasn't without some exaggeration attached to his persona -- what with him said to have learned the mystical arts from Tibetan teachers and lamas in Nepal, despite having never left Mexico. Still, with the limited amount of information about him available, it's easily surmised Zovek meant a great deal to a great many people; and anyone who overcame a debilitating disease makes for a fascinating character study all by itself. To Zovek, his will was the key to his success -- nothing to do with miracles. His fame grew, and by 1971, Zovek was reported to have been offered a 9 film contract; a contract he was only able to fulfill on two occasions after a tragedy occurred Zovek was unable to overcome......

***More on Zovek in the review for BLUE DEMON Y ZOVEK EN LA INVASION DE LOS MUERTOS (1973)***

If you knew nothing at all about the man, THE INCREDIBLE PROFESSOR ZOVEK feels like any of Mexico's other wild, if painfully under-budgeted superhero movies. To see Zovek in action, you'd wonder how he'd be considered a master of martial arts. He's very energetic in his movements (and apparently no stunt double), but some of the fight scenes are snicker-worthy; while others are definitely equatable to the time period just prior to KUNG FU (1972-1975), and Warner's introducing Shaw's KING BOXER (as FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH) in 1973, quickly followed by Bruce Lee.

Even Tere (Teresa) Velazquez gets in on some karate action, kicking and chopping at some of Druso's thugs; and she puts as much spirit into it as Zovek does! Tere is the younger sister to fan favorite Lorena Velazquez, queen of the Luchadora sub-genre, and co-star to a slew of Santo films. She oscillated between strong female persona, and the damsel in distress model prevalent in vintage cinema. 

Regarding the movie, and saving the best for last, the concluding half of the picture is where things really heat up. Zovek, Chano, and Lila are captured and taken to Druso's dungeon where he keeps all his failed experiments; many of which are deformed, cannibalistic midgets. Some of the doctors other sideshow horrors include a hairy man whose head has somehow grown into the bars of his cell! There's also a female victim with an exposed brain, yet kept alive; and a tall, wiry Frankenstein Monster under the control of Druso. Another monstrosity is this huge man with massive fangs kept at bay by Druso's musclebound guards. This monster (that also turns up again in the sequel) has an extended duel with Zovek from the dungeon to the roof of Druso's castle culminating in a clash where both men(?) dangle over an inexplicable pit of fire! It all ends with our three heroes sighing in relief, and Zovek giving a closing speech akin to those PSA messages that capped 1980s cartoons.

Going back to midgets, they became as important to the Mexican genre recipe as they were to the declining years of the Italian muscleman movies in the mid 1960s. Not only are they depicted as man-eating savages feasting on human flesh like a rack o'ribs, they get stomped on real good by our heroes, and even chased with a whip by Zovek at one point. So if you're one of those overly sensitive, PC types, you will likely wish to avoid going near THE INCREDIBLE PROFESSOR ZOVEK.

Raul Lavista's music is much better than the jazz dominated elevator tunes that plagued Lucha films around this time. Some of that is here, but there's diversity in the score. It's not memorable at all, but fitting.

If you have an aversion towards Mexican genre films, THE INCREDIBLE PROFESSOR ZOVEK likely won't do much to convert you. However, its familiarity to Filipino styled exploitation might be enough to arouse interest; as well as the rampant insanity that takes over around the 40 minute mark. It's a bit more gruesome than the average Mexican movie of this variety, and contains a more deliciously evil villain than usual via a deadly serious performance from Jose Galvez. Audience appreciation is strictly for dedicated Mexican film enthusiasts, and those seeking something unusual for the evening.

This review is representative of the Ground Zero DVD. There are no English options.

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