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.

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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