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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Reel Bad Cinema: La Mujer Murcielago (1968) review


Maura Monti (The Bat Woman), Roberto Canedo (Dr. Williams), Hector Godoy (Mario Robles), David Silva (Jose), Crox Alvarado (the Inspector), Armando Silvestre (Tony), Jorge Mondragon (Igor), Ofelia Chavez (Esmeralda)

Directed by Rene Cardona

The Short Version: The evil Dr. Williams (couldn't they have named him Dr. Z, or X, or something?) creates gill men (actually gill man) from dead wrestlers by using fish and plastic action figures in the most infantile surgical procedure ever put to film while at the same time successfully losing all credibility within the mad doctor community; but winning a place in the hearts of bad movie lovers the world over. Enter Bat Woman, a sexy luchadora with a wardrobe comparable to Mil Mascaras' masks, and all-around super heroine who's about as good at fighting crime as the mad scientist is at science. Essential viewing for fans of the William Beaudine of Mexican cinema, Rene Cardona.

The Bat Woman is a famous luchadora, who, like most Mexican wrestlers, moonlights as a crimefighter -- as if wrestling professionally wasn't busy enough. Dead wrestlers are piling up at an alarming rate in Acapulco and the wealthy Bat Woman is pressed into action. With the help of her detective friends, it's discovered the pineal gland has been removed from all the corpses. Every clue leads to the mysterious Dr. Eric Williams who lives aboard the 'Reptilicus', a yacht with its own mobile laboratory. The evil doctor, along with his assistant, Igor, conducts hellish experiments where the glands of the dead ring masters are mixed with plastic action figures and innocent fish, transforming them into monstrous Gill Men!

Ah, Rene Cardona, South of the Borders prolific connoisseur of bad movie goodness. His name has graced some of the wackiest movies of all time procuring the kitsch crown as Mexico's answer to Ed Wood. Like many other worthy additions, LA MUJER MURCIELAGO sits proudly among the finest in cinematic absurdity. Looking like the bulk of the budget went to Monti's endless wardrobe and sexy attire, Cardona, armed with painfully limited means, manages to wring some entertainment value out of a terribly repetitive script from Alfredo Salazar (not to be confused with his filmmaker-actor brother Abel Salazar) that riffs on some obvious sources like BATMAN (1966) and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954).

Regardless of the quality of much of his available work, Rene Cardona was very famous in his native Mexico (and later his son). If you've seen SURVIVE! (1976) in its original Spanish version, the man was clearly capable of making a compelling, dramatic feature.

As far as masked crimefighters go, Bat Woman gets captured an awful lot -- despite being adept at many things, and possessing a variety of skills. She's an ace marksmen (markswoman?), scuba and sky diver; and of course, this being Mexico, she's one helluva Luchadora -- at least her stunt double is. Bat Woman is finely shaped, with a slinky, very sexy walk. Her stand-in (seen in two wrestling segments and in one fight scene) is much shorter, and beefier; and unlike other masked wrestler movies, Bat Woman only wears one in the ring and when she's out chasing the bad guys. There's no mystery as to who she is. But seriously, why would you want to hide her face?

Bat Woman may not have a secret lair like her Lucha colleague, Santo (or Batman, for that matter), but she does have some el cheapo gadgets she uses to get herself out of a jam just moments before getting captured again; and mind you, even when she's captured, she doesn't act like it bothers her too much -- swerving those hips of hers from side to side like she's practicing for a catwalk somewhere. Her Bat-gadgets are a gold makeup kit that turns into a gun, and smoke bombs. Her car resembles the one in the original BATMAN series, but without any body attachments or gadgets of its own.

Like the Luchadora movies of the early 60s with the sultry Lorena Velazquez, Bat Woman has a tag team partner and off the clock friend named Esmeralda. She never helps out in any of the action scenes, she's only in the gymnasium shots and in the ring (presumably a stand-in) wearing a bright red outfit. She too wears a mask, and in the ring only. She's played by Ofelia Chavez, who seems to have only appeared in this single movie and nothing else.

LA MUJER MURCIELAGO (1968) is reminiscent of the obscure, and rarely discussed Federico Curiel Santo trilogy from Peliculas Rodriguez-Estudios America from 1961. All those films had Santo in a limited capacity, but centered around a trio of detective colleagues that use his help in solving some big crime cases. The scenario is switched here, and Bat Woman is the center of attention, but she gets two male companions that act in much the same capacity as the arc between Fernando Casanova, Ana Bertha Lepe, and Beto el Boticario in the Santo trifecta that were all made in 1961.

Bat Woman should find a better beau than Mario, though. In one of the films more irresponsible moments, she's abducted by our Rent-A-Gill Man. As the creature makes his way into the sea, Mario appears and begins hastily firing off shots. Without aiming. At night. The monster swings around and Mario keeps a' shootin', oblivious that one of those bullets might stray into Bat Woman's head. The scene ends with Mario and Bat Woman (in her lingerie) swatting at the Gill Man till he gets annoyed and heads home.

The feisty Maura Monti featured in over two dozen movies in the span of six years. She played aliens in PLANET OF THE FEMALE INVADERS (1966), and SANTO VS. THE MARITAN INVASION (1966); and with Blue Demon in BLUE DEMON, DESTRUCTOR DE ESPIAS (1968) and Mil Mascaras in LAS VAMPIRAS (1969). Monti was Italian, but lived in Venezuela and Mexico for years where she was a fixture of films and television there. Appearing in five to ten movies a year between 1966-1970, she reportedly disliked the raunchy turn cinema was taking at the time, and retired after she married.

Dr. Williams mobile lab/yacht is the least impressive for a guy with world dominating aspirations. If Ro-Man ever set sail, his base of operation would look something like this. Not only is Dr. Williams' research terribly under-funded, but he's understaffed, too. He's got like six guys under his employ. The actor playing the mad scientist in this mad Mexi-monster mess is Roberto Canedo, an actor even more prolific than Cardona's directed movies. The actor played scarred madmen in Cardona's LAS LUCHADORAS CONTRA EL MEDICO ASESINO, aka DOCTOR OF DOOM (1963); the Santo mystery movie SANTO CONTRA EL ESTRANGULADOR (1965) and its much better sequel, ESPECTRO EL ESTRANGULADOR (1966). He doesn't start out scarred in LA MUJER MURCIELAGO, though. Bat Woman throws acid in his face after their first encounter, then he gets really mad.

Other than Bat Woman's few dozen costume changes, Dr. Williams is the most interesting character of the bunch, and this is mostly due to his zany "scientific" methods of creating a super race of gill men. He also gets points for naming his boat the Reptilicus -- after an awful 1961 monster movie of the same name. His operations consist placing an action figure inside a fish tank with a fish and turning on a bubble machine (again, Ro-Man would love this!) and voila, the fish and plastic man merge to form Mer-man. Some divers then take the Gill Man doll to the bottom of the sea where an even bigger bubble machine awaits that provides the final transformation into a bonafide man-fish. And I made none of this up.

The same year, another loco surgeon made a big mess of his victims in the Mexi-malpractice laugh-fest, BLUE DEMON CONTRA LOS CEREBROS INFERNALES (BLUE DEMON VS. THE INFERNAL BRAINS).

The Gill Man suit designed for THE BAT WOMAN is actually pretty decent, and could almost qualify for a Japanese Tokusatsu show. While comparisons to the classic '54 Gill Man will be made, the design of this Mexican version bears a more striking resemblance to the denizens of the deep found in the 1929 version of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. We see a lot of him, although the action sequences have little variety among them. 

Cardona's direction is mostly lazy, and despite lots of action, everything is shot in the same manner, not to mention the bulk of it is repetitive. He doesn't bother much with pick-ups, either. It's mostly all master shots. They just sit the camera in one spot and let the actors exchange their dialog with absolutely zero cuts, or close-ups. As entertaining as the film can be at times, this static approach makes many scenes as stale as month old bread. With mold.

The music is the same jazzy style as nearly all masked wrestling movies of this era. All that jazz is the work of Antonio Diaz Conde, and it's virtually interchangeable with the last few color Lucha flicks you may have seen.

It's safe to say THE BAT WOMAN isn't a very good movie at all. Lovers of kitsch will find some entertainment value if nothing else. If you love Lucha movies, this one is a no-brainer for its impoverished production values, and to see another quickie by the William Beaudine of Mexico, Rene Cardona; and for the fact there's an extremely sexy crime fighter dressed in a female fashioned Batman suit battling a guy in a fish monster costume.

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

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