Santo and Blue Demon versus Doctor Frankenstein (1974)
I've been really slacking on writing lately (too nice outside to chain myself to the computer some days...), but I always feel guilty if I don't post something new every now and then. Still, it pains me to look out my window and see happy, healthy people playing in the sunshine, while I sit here in the dark, watching crappy movies and eating Pizza Rolls while the world passes me by. So, here you go, hope you think of my pasty white skin and atrophied muscles when you read it...
We open in Mexico City, a teeming metropolis of 8 million people. One of these, a young woman with overstyled hair, walks along a lonely street late at night. She hears shuffling footsteps behind her and senses she's being followed (though she can't see anything through the suspiciously localized fog bank). Being a woman, she, of course, doesn't try and duck into a darkened alley, but just trots straight ahead down the same sidewalk. Kidnapped!
That's what you get for having Tammy Wynette hair.
Off to a secret laboratory somewhere in the city. In a high-tech operating theater, lined with big stand-up computer banks of rhythmically flashing lights and blinking bulbs, two young women (including the one we just saw captured) lie on tables side by side. They are already prepped for surgery, cherry syrup-colored blood dripping through IV tubes and spotlights shining.
Ready for the knife.
Enter two men in white lab coats and surgical masks, a lumbering Henchman and an evil Mad Scientist. They speak of the coming operation, which involves switching the brains of these two ladies! They start hacking and slicing, but the Mad Scientist seems perplexed and he has the Henchman go to the computer for information on the "course of the cortical outline". The Henchman twists a random dial and out pops a print-out with the information (WebMD is so much easier...). It seems that this computer knows more about brain surgery than the Mad Scientist does, which doesn't say a lot about his skill, though I wonder just how helpful anything printed on an 11-by-13 sheet of ink jet paper could be when switching brains.
Alas, the experiment is a failure. While he's managed to switch the brains, the girls are just brain-dead zombies (he was going for a higher level of functioning). Even "raising the charge of the transistors in the cerebellum to the maximum" doesn't work, because "something is blocking the entrance of the electrical charge to the vital convolutions". This is actually the Mad Scientist's sixth such failure in the past few months, resulting in twelve dead girls. In his defense, switching the brains of hapless victims is a complicated procedure and it rarely goes as well as hoped (witness Spock's Brain and, ironically, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter).
When the thingie stops inflating, she's dead.
Anyway, the Mad Scientist is toying with the Mexico City police, Zodiac-style, almost daring them to catch him. Instead of just dumping their bodies in the river, he sends the zombie girls out onto the street, to wander home and kill their loved ones before dying. We see one girl strangle her sister and the other kill her own husband (who meekly lies there and lets it happen, maybe he's into that sort of thing). The Mad Scientist intends to (and is succeeding in) terrify the populace and show the world how powerful he is, though his motivations are never really clearly specified (though, I suppose most sadistic serial killers don't have or need specific motivations for what they do).
Zombie chicks on the prowl, kinda hot.
Why is the Mad Scientist trying to learn how to switch brains? Duh, so that he can put the brains of super-skilled athletes into the bodies of super-strong men to create the ultimate zombie soldiers so he can take over the world! Further, he's not just any random, insanely driven, megalomaniac Mad Scientist, but Doctor Irving Frankenstein, grandson of the famous Doctor Victor Frankenstein! Yes, Shelley wrote non-fiction, just roll with it. He has inherited both his family's love of fringe science and their total lack of respect for human life. Irving did, however, also inherit some Hispanic genes somewhere down the road, because he sure doesn't look Bavarian to me.
Doctor Frankenstein! I'm not making this shit up.
He reveals this to two visiting brain surgeons who he's recruited to his cause. Doctor Frankenstein is a master of many fields (including tying a paisley ascot and burning a cigar like he's Churchill). He has discovered the "beta factor", an ingredient in blood that reverses ageing. That's how he manages to still look like a 40-year old man, even though he's actually 113 (I did the math with my copy of Shelley, sounds about right). Going to a table-top collection of bubbling beakers and foaming glasswear, the Doctor shows his visitors his miracle youth drug. It looks like brackish power steering fluid, but it apparently is able to both keep him youthful and cause old people to revert to a younger state with just one dose.
The Doctor gives the beta factor solution to the old surgeons and they are instantly young again (well, 40's for some reason). And why does Doctor Frankenstein still look 43? Don't you think he'd want to have a youthful, strong 23-year old body? I would. Anyway, the surgeons are now loyal to him, though, maddeningly, after all this set-up, we never see them again.
His hands are perfect!
Frankenstein also takes them to another room where he shows them a woman in a glass box. This is his wife, who died 80 years ago of brain cancer and is now frozen. Part of his quest to perfect his brain transplant technique is to bring her back to life (and presumably give her the beta factor so she's all 18ish hot again). I wasn't aware they had mastered cryogenics back in 1896, but I will admit the box looks pretty Victorian Steampunky cool.
Wife in a box (great band name).
Doctor Frankenstein also has a merry band of sideburned and mustachioed henchmen who do his bidding (mostly finding girls for his experiments). They're your typical lot of silent thugs in ill-fitting suits and tight polyester slacks, who mostly just lurk in the background of shots looking all badass and stuff. The Doctor has frequent staff meetings in a lounge filled with modish, horribly uncomfortable-looking hotpink pleather furniture, where he rages about how the world hates him and how they will all pay (bwhabwahbwah!).
With his henchmen.
His only successful zombie to date is "Golem", a hulking, brutish black man who just exudes a muscley and mean vibe in every scene. Golem has a "transistor" implanted in his brain so that the Doctor can "control his will" with a remote control (of course he does...).
Meanwhile, the Mexico City police are befuddled by all these dead zombie girls. All they know is that a madman is on the loose, preying on pretty young things, and the whole city is paralyzed (newspaper's carry the sensational story front-page constantly). So the Police Commander throws a thousand cops and every peso he has in his budget at the problem, creating a steel cordon of uniformed offi...uh, what? He's doesn't create a steel cordon of uniformed officers on every street corner? All he does is assign two bubble-headed bimbo lady detectives who seem to lack even the slightest bit of common sense and have no concept of investigative police work? Really?
Police Commander (nice glasses).
Cagney and Lacey these two girls are not, but they do hit the target audience bull's-eye with their short miniskirts and heaving cleavage. Of course, miniskirts and boobies are the bread and butter of MMT, so I'm not complaining one bit.
Back to Doctor Frankenstein now, as he laments that he needs more victims for his experiments. Reading about how the two girl cops are hot on his trail (ha!), he decides to kidnap them and turn them into zombies as the ultimate "eff you" to the police. Oddly, the two girl cops live together, in an apartment filled with pastel shag carpets, faux-wood paneling, with shelves lined with kitschy porcelain figurines of horses. The henchmen break in but fail miserably to complete the job (I'll explain why later).
One can only assume (hope) they have naked pillow fights.
Frankenstein also orders his goons to kidnap a specific young woman named Alicia that he has a vested interest in. Alicia is a shockingly bland woman of indeterminate age who is studying to be a bacteriologist. She works in a lab with a doddering old professor who can't seem to remember where he put his socks (good thing he's working with deadly germs!), though none of this really matters to the plot of the movie. But, seriously, when was that haircut ever attractive?
Alicia with her tubes.
The henchman pull up in their long black Dodge Monaco (with fabulous suicide doors) and grab Alicia as she (stupidly) walks home alone late one night. A police car sees this and gives chase. Cornering them, the cruiser screeches to a halt and out pile four officers, who must have been wedged in there like bozos in a clown car. The henchmen radio Doctor Frankenstein to order Golem to help them, even though he's sitting right there in the car with them (the Doctor apparently refuses to give local command authorization to his lackeys, preferring a more centralized approach to asset management). Like Goro controlling MechaGodzilla, Doctor Frankenstein simply speaks into his hand-held radio, commanding Golem to go out and kill the cops. He tells Golem that bullets cannot hurt him because he's wearing a bullet-proof vest (which he is, now, though ten seconds before he clearly wasn't).
Golem advances on the cops, who dutifully only shoot him in chest (ouch, watch those squibs pop, tough work being a stuntman in Mexico). Golem tears them apart as, most insanely, they run at him and let him hug them to death.
So, I gotta ask about the Doctor's future zombie soldiers, if and when he creates an army of them. They won't be impervious to firearms unless they're wearing body armor? But they're undead, mind-controlled zombies, right? In just about every other zombie movie ever made, it takes at least clean headshot from a howitzer to "kill" a zombie, but here a swift kick in the nads should be enough to drop Golem. It just seems like he's going to have a hard time taking over the world if his shock troops are just as frail and puncture-able as us Average Joes. And does he have to control each one individually with his radio, or can he somehow link the command signals together so he can order large groups of zombies around at once? How does this all work?
Golem and his vest.
Anyway, by now I'm sure you are saying to yourself, "Hey, hey, where's my Santo, bitch?". Don't worry, he's here, he's just been flitting around on the sidelines for the first 50 minutes. As is often the case with Santo movies, especially from the "golden age" of the Luchador genre when they were churning them out a dozen a year, it seems like they had an existing, fully fleshed-out script already written and just shoehorned Santo into it without too much thought.
Oh, Santo, by the way, is a legendary perpetually-masked Lucha wrestler in Mexico, who became so popular in the 1960s and 70s that he ended up starring in dozens and dozens of movies where he fought everything from the Mafia to Martian invaders to every cinematic monster imaginable. Just google him.
In many of his movies he's accompanied by a sidekick wrestler named Blue Demon, another masked superhero who never, ever takes off his mask. Here, north of the Rio Grande, we like our sidekicks, be they Robin or Kato, to be harmless and subservient to the hero, comic relief dumbasses good for little more than ironic hipster Halloween costumes and kinky/slash livejournal fan fiction. The relationship between Santo and Blue Demon, however, is fairly equal and at times it even seems like Blue Demon is the star. It's more akin to a movie where Batman and The Green Hornet team up to fight crime, with neither really taking a backseat to the other. [Editor Pam: According to Wikipedia, Santo and Blue Demon didn't get along with each other in real life. Blue Demon may have demanded equal treatment if he was going to be in the movie.]
Enough backstory, we have a movie to finish. We have, of course, a couple of in-the-ring wrestling scenes jammed in here to appease the rabid fans. There's no real direction in them other than just the camera set up ten feet away to catch all the action, but I assume that a true Lucha fan would be happy about that. Both matches (really all matches in Santo movies) follow the same pattern where he wins the first match handily, gets prison raped in the second match, and then comes back in the third and final match to defeat his opponent to the thunderous applause of the crowd.
The kidnapped bacteriologist Alicia is actually Santo's girlfriend (kindasorta, you know, it's complicated). Doctor Frankenstein kidnapped her to get Santo into his clutches because he wants Santo's brain to implant in the head of a monstrous guy to create the ultimate zombie warrior. As to why he feels Santo is the penultimate example of brains and brawn, we're not sure, but it's probably a result of Santo's name being listed first in the credits. Myself, I'd pick a smartyhead scientist's brain, because you're going to stick it in a beast's body anyway, so you might as well get a nice mix of abilities.
Oh, how I miss the 1970s.
Santo and Blue Demon sign up to work with the cops after Alicia is captured. It's they who defeat the henchmen's attempt to kidnap the two lady cops (who just stand there ineffectually, making me wonder if their characters weren't originally written to be thin-wristed wimpy co-eds or something). Santo and Blue Demon give chase in their slick convertible, but the bad guys shoot out their tire with a machinepistol and escape. Santo and Blue Demon just shrug and gesticulate (when you are always wearing full-face masks, you end up doing a lot of physical moves just to express any basic emotion).
Doctor Frankenstein sends a ransom note to Santo, him for Alicia. It's read aloud by one of the lady cops, now dressed like a drunken Oktoberfest barmaid version of Pippi Longstocking (growl...). They discuss what to do, and how to do it, and no one seems to doubt that the author of the note is indeed, at the very least, a direct descendent of the Doctor Frankenstein. Of course, Santo has dealt with Frankenstein's descendants before, most notably in 1972's Santo versus Frankenstein's Daughter, but he still seems pretty ok with all this insanity.
I need help.
The mousy Police Commander shoots down any attempt to set up a sting, worried about Alicia's safety should it go wrong. Nice of him to be concerned about her, but shouldn't he be equally as worried about the rest of the 8 million citizens in the city if he lets a golden opportunity to catch the killer pass? But, hey, it's ok, Santo is on the case, and he's got that cool mask thing going and all.
The Commander seeks higher guidance.
So Santo willingly gives himself up and is taken to the lab by the henchmen, where he meets Doctor Frankenstein for the first time. They exchange some stilted banter and the Doctor admits he's not about to keep his promise to let the girl go free. Alicia is brought in for some reason (wow, Santo is really short, or Alicia is really tall) and it's starting to get ugly. Santo starts swinging in a free-for-all of throat-punches and leg-whips, made all the more humorous by Santo's thick brown turtleneck and cowboy boots. The six henchmen might as well be pansy schoolgirls, and it's only when the Doctor has Golem threaten to kill Alicia that Santo gives up. It's during this fight that it occurs to me that the actors playing the henchmen are real-life Lucha wrestlers as well, which is not really that big a surprise as in a way these movies were little more than advertisements for the Mexican Wrestling Federation (or whatever).
Santo, about to open a can of grapple-ass.
Meanwhile, Blue Demon is having a lovely dinner date with some redhead hottie (always time for nookie, though I wonder if he takes his mask off in bed). He gets a sonic locator distress signal from Santo on his gee-whiz wrist watch and quickly leaves. He takes Santo's convertible (is it a superhero company car, like the Batmobile?) and drives to the scummy warehouse district where Frankenstein has his hidden compound (at least it's not inside a hollowed-out volcano or something).
Blue Demon uses that old "my watch tells me my best friend needs help" trick to stiff a girl for the check.
Blue Demon follows the tracking sensor in his watch to a hidden door, and after sneaking inside, thumps a guy walking by. Disguised then as a lackey medical assistant, he brazenly walks into the operating room where Santo is being prepped for brain-switcheroo surgery. Blue Demon grabs an anesthesia tank and opens the valve, causing everyone to fall down immediately (does it work that fast?). Santo, being Santo, seems completely unaffected by the spray of knock-out gas and jumps right up.
With air tank.
On the loose and looking for asses to kick, the two wrestlers charge into the breakroom and rumble with the henchmen. With the odds even further in their favor (each of them counts as 639), they quickly mangle all the bad guys and hog-tie them up. They then rescue poor Alicia from her suspiciously well-appointed cell and then, and only then, decide to call the police.
Mauve must have been a popular color back in 1974.
Frankenstein, meanwhile, discovers the gig is up and pulls the ripcord. Along with Golem and one last henchman, he manages to elude the fuzz via a secret tunnel. He states that his "immediate objective is vengeance against Santo." Since he wants it to be a "legal death" (huh?), he's going to arrange for Golem to wrestle (and kill) Santo in the ring in a legit Lucha match. Going under the stage name Mortis, Golem challenges Santo to a match.
The Doctor is reduced to hiding out in attics and wearing houndstooth smoking jackets, how sad.
The wrasslin' match takes place in a crowded arena (every time they show a wrestling match in this movie, there's this thick haze in the air, at first I thought it was artistic dry-ice fog, but now I realize it's cigarette smoke from every single person watching the match). The bout itself is surprisingly lopsided, as Mortis (controlled by Frankenstein from the shadows) pretty much owns Santo with his brute strength. I should note that, not for nothing, Mortis' skin color is still quite black, despite Frankenstein saying he would "change his skin pigmentation" just two minutes ago.
All these people paid to be here.
Blue Demon soon discovers the ruse and chases the Doctor down into the bowels of the arena. Cornered, Frankenstein calls Golem (via his radio thingie) to come help, thus saving Santo from being choked to death in the ring. You know, as I alluded to before, sometimes it's hard to see why Santo gets top-billing here when it's his supposed-sidekick Blue Demon who has consistently taken the lead in almost every scene they are together. Sure, Santo gave himself up to the kidnappers while Blue Demon was out trying to score with some chick, but Santo boofed that up and it was Blue Demon who had to come save his candy ass. And sure, it's Santo that Frankenstein has a grudge against, but it's Blue Demon who saves the day. Also, Blue Demon gets all the best lines, which surprised me, and his outfits are generally 63% less ridiculous.
Blue Demon on the lookout.
Anyway, the final fight between Santo and Blue Demon and the Doctor and his monster ends high above the stage on a rickety catwalk with fragile railings. Surprisingly, the fight is quite anti-climactic and only lasts eleven seconds before both bad guys fall to their deaths. As the credits roll, Frankenstein's corpse freeze-frame-ages before their eyes into a 113-year old man, to the horror of the gathered crowd. Santo hugs Alicia and all is well.