Monday, May 26, 2014

Reel Bad Cinema: The Ship of Monsters (1960) review


Lalo Gonzalez "Piporro" (Lauriano), Ana Bertha Lepe (Gamma), Lorena Velazquez (Beta)

Directed by Rogelio A. Gonzalez

The Short Version: Ai yai yai. This overstuffed burrito is the perfect meal for those days when you want to try something different. Spanish speaking Venusians search the galaxy for donors to breed Venusian males (I thought they were from Mars?) after atomic tests somehow managed to wipe them all out. By now, we all know Venus is too hot to handle, and so is voluptuous Ana Bertha Lepe and the sultry Lorena Velazquez. This wild west set SciFi-Comedy-Horror-Musical is reminiscent of Gene Autry's serial singing cowboy science fiction fantasy THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (1935), and stars Mexican singing-comedy sensation Eulalio Gonzalez "Piporro". Spectacularly silly, audaciously bad, yet wholeheartedly entertaining, fans of Mexi-mad movies should welcome SHIP OF MONSTERS to invade their DVD players.

Gamma and Beta are two Venusian women in search of male specimens throughout the galaxy to repopulate their planet after atomic bombs have inexplicably wiped out all males on their home world. After appropriating four alien species from other planets, they're forced to land on Earth for repairs. The two women discover lots of men, and take particular notice to singing, tall tale-telling cowboy, Lauriano. Both girls go gaga for their manly troubadour, a conquest is plotted, several song and dance numbers are belted out, monsters are unleashed, and love is found among the stars between a robot and a jukebox. Can you prove that it didn't happen?!

Unlike the interplanetary mantra of Larry Buchanan's MARS NEEDS WOMEN, it turns out that Venus Needs Men. Judging by some of the prospects our scantily clad space girls pick up, Venus needs men so badly, there's a willingness to mate with anything that can plant a seed. There's been quite a few science fiction films with a sexist slant depicting alien women either desiring to kill men, or to mate with them. The latter (and a bit of the former) applies here, and it's quickly surmised these lunar lovelies have (mostly) lousy taste in mates. Among their gallery of potential populators are four monsters; actually, four of the most bewildering concoctions you'll ever see this side of a Japanese Tokusatsu series. Apparently bestiality is okay on Venus when it comes to rebuilding a civilization.

To call THE SHIP OF MONSTERS one of the most bizarre films to emerge from Mexico would seem redundant, but accurate. It's one of the most bizarre films, period; and that might sound like an understatement when describing this B/W oddity as a SciFi-Western-Monster-Musical. It's one of those movies you just have to see for yourself to experience it in all its ludicrous glory. Clearly a product with 'For Domestic Use Only' stamped all over it, it's still a load of fun, and the constant stream of wacky elements gives Ed Wood and his ilk a run for their money.

The plot, what little there is, is an excuse to trot out SciFi movie stock footage, assorted monsters and robots at regular intervals, and also to showcase the comic and singing prowess of Mexican idol Eulalio Gonzalez "Piporro"; so nicknamed for a sidekick character from a popular radio show he made famous in the late 40s that blossomed into a big screen career by 1951. 

As the lovelorn Lauriano, this singing cowboy would feel right at home with other musical men of the prairie like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Tex Ritter. Speaking of Autry, it would appear this motion picture was heavily influenced by his first lead role in 1935 with the serial THE PHANTOM EMPIRE. In it, Autry plays a modern day singing cowboy whose dude ranch is invaded by the subterranean residents of the Mu Empire! Encounters with laser guns, robots and an evil queen ensues. 

Eulalio Gonzalez (billed here as Lalo Gonzalez "Piporro") had a similar career trajectory to guys like Autry. He was a radio performer in addition to being an actor, singer and songwriter. His immense popularity and impressive slate of awards left a greater impression on the Mexican populace than the famous singing cowboys of yesteryear had on these shores. Out of 69 feature films, THE SHIP OF MONSTERS seems to be his only monster movie. It's easy to see why he was so well regarded. He's got an enormous amount of energy, a fine actor and singing voice, and he delivers his lines with gusto.

The monsters, as crude as they are in design, are definitely unique. Apparently the film crew were proud of their creations as these creatures get their own billing in the credits! Still, to see multiple suits for monsters in a Mexican horror film was a rare occurrence; and some of those seen here cropped up in later films such as SANTO AND BLUE DEMON VS. THE MONSTERS (1970). The rogues gallery of galaxy invaders are: Uk (a hulking, cyclopean beast); Utirr (a hairy, bug-like monster); Tagual (an alien short in stature, but with an enormous, bulbous brain); Tor (the multifaceted robot helper to Gamma and Beta); and Zok (a living, talking skeleton with fangs).

The monster suits for Uk and Tagual were reused for SANTO AND BLUE DEMON VS. THE MONSTERS (1970), while Tor the robot had already been seen in 1958s anemic THE ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY. Unlike the two monsters, the robot has been slightly modified with some new features including a viewing screen on his faceplate and the ability to teleport. 

Halfway through, the film adds another monster when it's discovered Beta is actually a vampire! Yes, just when you thought this movie couldn't get any kookier, they throw a vampire into an already crowded recipe. But on Venus, like on Earth, vampirism is punishable by death, so Beta escapes and releases the monsters to do her bidding, and this is where the zaniness kicks into overdrive.

Being cooped up in suspended animation makes a monster horny, and they each begin putting the move on Beta after she coerces them to help her conquer the Earth. So they each are intent on conquering her, too; yet Beta secretly longs for her singing cowboy even though he has eyes for the not so duplicitous Gamma. What is essentially a kids movie has this uneasy sexual subtext simmering underneath the films cheap exterior.

This less than stellar invasion culminates in a four way battle royal that ends in moderately gruesome fashion; Lauriano gets the girl, and Tor the robot gets the jukebox of his dreams. The two machines break out in song as they leave Earth's atmosphere, and that's the end.

Director Rogelio Gonzalez would strike again the same year with another stock footage enhanced science fiction comical opus with the slightly less bonkers, but no less ambitious CONQUISTADOR DE LA LUNA (1960).

The curvaceous Ana Bertha Lepe can also be seen as Virginia, the spunky reporter in three Santo adventures all shot in 1961, SANTO VS. THE KING OF CRIME, SANTO IN THE HOTEL OF DEATH, and SANTO VS. THE DIABOLICAL BRAIN. The middle portion of her career is dotted with all sorts of campy genre credits that include two Yeti movies -- EL MONSTRUO DE LOS VOLCANES and EL TERRIBLE GIGANTE DE LAS NIEVES (both 1963), and NEUTRON TRAPS THE INVISIBLE KILLER in 1965. She died October 24th, 2013.

The stunning beauty of Lorena Velazquez does not go to waste in THE SHIP OF MONSTERS. She and Ana Bertha appear to enjoy themselves swapping out slinky outfits and swimsuits from one scene to the next. Winning the Miss Mexico Pageant in 1960, she was soon off to a busy career in Mexi-horror cinema. She's played luchadora super heroine Gloria Venus in at least three 'Wrestling Women' movies; the Queen of the vampires battling Santo in SANTO CONTRA LAS MUJERES VAMPIRO (1962); and versus Santo again as the Queen of the witches in ATACAN LAS BRUJAS (1964). She also co-starred in the elaborate Santo fantasy-adventure EL HACHA DIABOLICA (1965). Velazquez again played an alien beauty in EL PLANETA DE LAS MUJERES INVASORAS (1966). Her younger sister, Tera Velazquez had a long career in the industry, but did few genre pictures.

As impoverished as the whole enterprise is, there's a bounty of imagination on hand that surpasses other Mexican films with a SciFi slant (SANTO VS. THE MARTIAN INVASION for example). THE SHIP OF MONSTERS would never be mistaken for a good movie, but while it's terrible, it's terribly fun at the same time. It's really hard to not be entertained by this film. It's 83 minutes of sheer nuttiness backed by a shoestring budget, yet it succeeds on ambition alone. The performances are entertaining -- "Piporro" gets into his role, as does Lorena Velazquez, who is highly sensual even when she's not trying to be. The significance of this films star will be lost on most viewers, but a good time is assured for those who can appreciate these sorts of low budgeted movies. 

This review is representative of the Lionsgate DVD paired with EL RATA (1966).

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