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Monday, August 11, 2014

Reel Bad Cinema: Blue Demon y Zovek en La invasion de los muertos (1973) review


Professor Zovek (himself), Blue Demon (himself), Christa Linder (Erika), Raul Ramirez (Professor Bruno Volpi), Carlos Cardan, Polo Ortin

Directed by Rene Cardona, Sr.

The Short Version: Cardona's bonkers Lucha-monster mess was the second, and last for the Incredible Professor Zovek: amazing feat expert, and escape artist extraordinaire who was killed performing an aerial stunt during a break in filming. Blue Demon was then tasked with stretching the running time out to 81 absolutely insane minutes. An attempt at a plot description is futile for this rotting corpse of a film -- nothing makes any sense whatsoever. Some striking shots of the zombies en mass are the worthiest moments found in what is easily one of the worst such movies through no fault of its own. If you ever wondered what PLAN 9 meets NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in Mexico would look like, and you have an unusually high threshold for pain, then add this to your masochistic movie list. Zovek clunkily kung fu's his way through an ever growing army of zombies that drive cars and fly helicopters while being chased cross country for 40 minutes with the stunning Christa Linder in tow. THRILLER this ain't.

Professor Zovek's services are called upon by an archeologist to decipher some strange markings on a rock formation near his ranch that turn out to be a Tibetan prophecy! Fireballs inexplicably crash into the Earth, one of which being a smoking spaceship landing out in the desert. In an apparent plan to conquer the Earth, the aliens (whom we never see, but only hear about) command the dead to rise after a rain storm and attack random people. Meanwhile, Blue Demon gets reports of UFO's and headless corpses (again, we never see), while communicating (not really) with Zovek from his top secret boiler room command center about the situation. Zovek battles the zombies while Blue Demon, showing up late to the party, dukes it out with a couple of werewolves that appear out of nowhere.

It's a terrible shame that Zovek's second, and last motion picture is such a monumental mess. The potential for an enjoyable nights entertainment on a level matching the first movie falls apart almost immediately. It's made all the more devastating that the star, a larger than life character in the real world, the Incredible Zovek was killed during a break in the production. How ironic that after overcoming obstacles that would have immobilized the average human being, one of Mexico's national heroes of the 70s would die under such shocking, mysterious circumstances. But before we get into more about Zovek, the man, let's look at his movie; or what little of it there is to discuss.

When it comes to Rene Cardona, Sr., it's a coin toss as to what sort of movie you're going to get -- a good or bad one. It's more often the latter than the former, and in this case, the latter it is. His sequel to his own THE INCREDIBLE PROFESSOR ZOVEK (1972) starts off on a perplexing note with a portion of a quote from Genesis 22:17 accompanying a narrator in 50s SciFi mode, " the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore". Apparently this biblical passage correlates to "planting the seeds of the dead"; or cultivating them, perhaps? Dozens of dead people -- with little to no sign of decomposition -- rise from their graves after a rain storm (acid rain?) in what will instantly recall THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985). Sadly, no 'Party Time' from 45 Grave blares on the soundtrack, but you will hear it playing in your head. From there it's one long chase sequence, and an uphill climb to find something good to say about it.

At its heart, Rene Cardona, Jr's script is a remake of Ed Wood's PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959). Yes, you read that right. I guess if you're going to remake a movie, it's best to do a version of one that has a comparable budget and equally atrocious special effects. Unfortunately, there's no Tor Johnson, Vampira, Dudley Manlove, or excessive use of the word 'there'. Unlike Blue Demon's equally awful, yet entertaining ARANAS INFERNALES (HELLISH SPIDERS) from 1966 (which actually uses "special effects" footage from PLAN 9 and TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE), we never even see the damn aliens; just a fireball rolling down a hill at the beginning (that's never explained), and another fireball that actually plummets to the Earth housing a circular shaped UFO.

It would seem this second Zovek feature (of a nine picture deal) was shot at the same time as the first movie. The sequence where we see the Professor perform a stunt is done on the same set with the same crowd as before. You even see the water tank at the right of the frame. This time Zovek pulls off his most famous escape -- strapped inside a straightjacket, bound from head to toe with chains and leather belts, he's placed inside an Egyptian coffin which is then set aflame. It's been written that times he'd performed this stunt live on television, he'd not come away unscathed resulting in a trip to the hospital.

Into a life with such widespread popularity, a little scandal must fall. Sometime in 1971, the Professor became embroiled in rumors of involvement with training a government paramilitary group dubbed The Wolves. Nothing ever came of it, but the worst was yet to come. Zovek may have escaped Polio, and a number of dangerous scenarios, but fate caught up with him on March 10th, 1972 during a break in the filming of LA INVASION DE LOS MUERTOS. 

Notoriety outside of Mexico seemed to have eluded Zovek, but he did attract a lot of attention in Japan. Several days prior to going there for a television appearance on a Japanese stunt show, Zovek was to reportedly help out a friend's circus by performing a stunt while hanging from a helicopter. Some 4,000 people had converged on the grounds to watch the spectacular arrival of Zovek from high in the air -- descending from a rope. Suddenly the helicopter maneuvered upward and spun around. Zovek hung on, but eventually lost his grip and fell 200 feet to his death. With massive fractures all over his body including his skull and chest, doctors were unable to save him. Mexico's famous fitness guru, strongman, escape artist died on March 10th, 1972, a little over a month before his birthday. He was only 31 years old.

According to Spanish source materials, many questions were asked regarding Zovek's death -- whether something more sinister was behind this seemingly suspicious accident. Apparently the stunt had been rehearsed without problems prior to the fateful day. The pilot, Arroyo Merino, allegedly had some unflattering points against his flying record, but he was later cleared. In a chilling bit of irony, Zovek flies a helicopter in the picture, and is chased by a zombie flying one (Merino was flying the rotocraft in the film)

As for Zovek's two films in an all too short celluloid career, both pictures were shot in 1971. The first, THE INCREDIBLE PROFESSOR ZOVEK, premiered in Mexico on May 13th, 1972, approximately two months after his death. INVASION OF THE DEAD premiered in Mexican theaters on June 21st, 1973.

The Professor had four children, and his youngest, Zovek Carrillo Chapa, took up his father's mantle as a death defying feats performer. The legend of Professor Zovek carries on.

Losing the main star was a major blow, and the resultant film rarely makes sense, and is often as inert as its living dead. The bulk of the footage for INVASION OF THE DEAD was shot. Even without Blue Demon's scenes, the entire film is basically all there. It's just not filmed very well with a budget that looks far less than what was afforded the first time around (and even that was pretty low). Cardona's direction is unimaginative. The action is limited to chases and scenes of "zombies" choking people who then come back to life. Makeup is limited, and in most cases, the living dead look like normal people walking around. The inclusion of the monster from the first film, alongside a burlier, hairier werewolf-looking man is never explained at all. Curiously, the previous movie had cannibalistic midgets; and yet the filmmakers waste a perfect opportunity for flesh-eating ghouls in this one. Obviously, since Blue Demon was brought aboard to salvage the picture, his scenes connecting the Zovek sequences recalls those God-awful Godfrey Ho ninjer movie mix-n-match crapfests that garnered a minor degree of popularity over the years.

It would be interesting to know how Blue Demon felt about appearing in this nonsensical mishmash of elements -- none of which gel in a manner resembling cohesiveness. That's not to say the Demon hadn't done his share of dreck, but Blue's inclusion offers nothing aside from making the movie even more confusing. He does very little till the conclusion. His comedy relief sidekick offers some minor intentional laughs when he pretends to be a zombie to avoid becoming one for real! Things just happen, or go on too long.Why do we need five minutes of the rancher stalking a mountain lion before stumbling onto the markings on the rock?

On the bright side, there's some nicely eerie location shots in this remote village that raise a BLIND DEAD vibe, and the sequence where Zovek ends up in a potentially dangerous situation with river rapids yields some nice shots of waterfalls.

German model and actress Christa Linder is extremely easy on the eyes. She never fights in this movie like her predecessor Tere Velazquez, resigned to damsel in distress status. She's one of the best things about the picture, and there's not many where INVASION OF THE DEAD is concerned.

In reading a quote from Cardona regarding his work on this production, it would seem he was trying to create an atmosphere comparable to INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) -- that anyone could be one of the invading monsters and you'd never know it. In a very small way (and this reviewer is being generous), he succeeds, but fails 98% of the time. Arguably the best thing to be said is that LA INVASION DE LOS MUERTOS makes you want to watch the better movies it riffs off of. By itself it's definitely a tough sell even by Mexican genre standards. Recommended only for curiosity seekers, Zovek fans, and hardcore Mexi-movie completists.

This review is representative of the RTC/Televisa DVD. There are no English options.

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