Santo vs. the Martians
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VCI Entertainment is now in the process of releasing several vintage Mexican films on DVD. In the past, most American video releases of Mexican cinema have been confined to art house releases, such as Luis Bunuels's The Exterminating Angel and the cult hit Cronos. Meanwhile, a vast supply of Mexican commercial films have gone neglected. However, with a large Spanish-speaking audience in America, particularly in Southern California and throughout the Southwest, it's tempting to think that a large market has been untapped.

Stepping into this void comes VCI Entertainment, a relatively small but ambitious video company that has forged a reputation among video enthusiasts for their release of several rare cult items, such as the Republic serial Jungle Girl and the seminal Mario Bava giallo classic Blood and Black Lace. Now, VCI is in the process of releasing several Mexican movies on DVD, including romantic melodramas, such as En Carne Viva ("In Raw Flesh," 1950), and wonderfully outrageous musicals, such as Tan Bueno El Giro Como El Colorado ("One's the Same as the Other," 1957).

Arguably, however, the most eagerly sought title among VCI's initial salvo of Mexican releases, especially among aficionados of the more unusual reaches of fantastic cinema, is Santo Contra la Invasion del los Marcianos ("Santo vs. the Martians," 1966), a bizarre representative of the Mexican masked-wrestler movie genre, infused with heaping doses of fanciful science fiction. If you aren't familiar with Mexican masked-wrestler movies, imagine if cameras followed the cartoonish WWF personas outside of the ring where they stayed in character and battled a variety of foes, including vampires, mummies, and gangsters. Santo was one of these Mexican wrestling heroes and he almost certainly was the greatest of them all.

Santo starred in over 50 films during his 25 year cinematic career. He had already been wrestling for many years before he made his film debut in 1958 in Santo vs. the Evil Brain and Santo vs. the Infernal Men (both made in Cuba). Santo had collected a huge following from his years in the ring, where in 1942 he won the wrestling title. He successfully defended the title each year until he decided to stop wrestling regularly in exchange for life as a movie star. Clad in a silver mask that made him look like a burn victim, Santo faced a wide variety of foes on movie screens, including Dracula, the Wolfman, witches, karate masters, grave robbers, head hunters, mafia killers, and other nefarious denizens of the underworld.

Santo wasn't the first masked wrestler movie star. Producers had pitched the idea to him in the early '50s but he had originally passed on the idea. In lieu of Santo, producers turned to El Medico Asesino, who accepted the offer and became the first masked wrestler to star in films. Santo, meanwhile, recognized his error and accepted acting roles. In his first movies, he only plays a supporting role, but audiences wanted more of the silver masked hero. Soon movies were designed around his exploits. He was the James Bond of Latin America. He drove a silver Austin Martin convertible and consulted with the highest ranking Mexican politicians and scientists. By the '60s, Santo had become the undisputed king of the masked wrestler movie genre. Other famous masked wrestlers include the Blue Demon, who co-starred with Santo in several films, and the Neutron, a black-masked wrestler played by Wolf Ruvinskis, who also stars (sans his mask) as the lead Martian in Santo vs. the Martians.

In terms of its bizarreness, Santo vs. the Martians is a treasure trove of delights. High on the list of must-be-seen-to-be-believed sights rank the Martians themselves. They dress in skimpy outfits that provide for unfettered views of bulging male biceps and pectorals. Pants are skin tight and upper bodies are liberally oiled. Women Martians wear ultra short shorts and metallic blouses that provide plenty of lift. (Breasts seem to be constantly on the verge of popping out of their outfits.) Both men and women also wear nifty little capes. The Martians aren't required to do much to beef up the camp ratio. Just seeing them standing together in the space ship, their leader barking warnings to a Mexican television audience, is enough to delight most lovers of outré cinema. But we also see the Martians in a variety of active roles. The male Martians teleport to public locations (such as a city park) where they use their helmets to project a ray that disintegrates all the people in their view. The men also take on Santo several times, both inside and outside of the wrestling ring. (Most of the male Martians are real-life stars of the Mexican wrestling circuit, such as Wolf Ruvinskis, the Nazi, Ham Lee, and others.)

Meanwhile, the women Martians are given missions that utilize their alluring appeal. For example, they're teleported to Santo's bedroom, where they cloud Santo's mind with visions of a seduction (which involves de-masking Santo!). But the women make their most notorious appearance at a dinner show. They teleport into the dressing room and waylay the headlining act. Soon they step onto the dance floor, festooned in showgirl accoutrements - huge plumes of flowers on their heads and glittery costumes. As the generally appreciative onlookers (both male and female) smile and nod, the girls gyrate and twist like refugees from a '60s-style Vegas showgirl revue. Eventually, the women Martians get around to the task at hand, which is to kidnap the scientist who is a guest of honor at the dinner show. But until then we're treated to an astonishing display of Martian dance prowess.

Simply put, Santo vs. the Martians is one of the most outrageous movies ever made. If you've got a weakness for this sort of outré material, you'll no doubt have a blast watching this movie. The movie's science fiction elements are risible and easy to belittle, but they're also so absurd that the movie soars toward the sublime. The actors all take their roles quite seriously. They aren't playing down to the material. Rather they're giving it their all. And this makes the movie an honest (albeit childish) attempt to integrate wrestling and science fiction motifs.

In other Santo movies, Santo's presence was largely absent outside of the wrestling ring. For example, in Santo vs. the Vampire Women (frequently credited as Santo's best), Santo doesn't even make his first appearance until over 25 minutes into the movie. Santo vs. the Vampire Women unfolded as a horror movie that was occasionally interrupted by scenes of Santo wrestling a variety of opponents. But Santo vs. the Martians gives Santo a much meatier role. We still get scenes with the villains that take us away from Santo entirely, but once these scenes are over (and they're relatively brief), the following scenes typically involve Santo taking action against the Martians. So if you really want to find out about Santo, Santo vs. the Martians is a much better introduction than the more widely known Santo vs. the Vampire Women (which is available from Sinister Cinema and other video distributors).

VCI Entertainment's DVD comes packed with extras, including a lengthy interview with El Hijo del Santo (The Son of Santo), an original theatrical trailer, illustrated biographies of both Santo and Wolf Ruvinskis, and a Santo filmography and movie poster gallery. In addition, the disc contains a good overview of Santo's career by Professor Juan Carlos Vargas, which is provided as an audio essay accompanied by stills. (The DVD cover calls this Santo overview a "commentary," but that is a bit deceptive. The movie contains no alternate audio soundtracks.)

Another big bonus of this DVD is the Spanish soundtrack. Most Mexican movies that played in the U.S.A. were distributed by K. Gordon Murray, who dubbed them and targeted their release at children. VCI's DVD presentation of Santo vs. the Martians comes with its original Spanish soundtrack, so if you've always wondered what Santo sounded like, this is your opportunity. But most importantly, now you don't have to endure dubbing and editing designed to make the movie palatable for a young audience.

The general quality of the DVD is first rate. The main menus are a bit cumbersome. You have the opportunity to select Spanish or English language from an opening menu, but on my DVD player (as well as my PC's DVD-ROM drive), the disc kept returning to the Spanish menus. Eventually, I gave up trying to use the English menus and used my somewhat limited knowledge of Spanish to navigate the Spanish menus. But this is a small drawback to an otherwise excellent DVD. Let's hope VCI Entertainment digs up more Santo movies for future release.

Santo vs. the Martians is now available on DVD from VCI Entertainment. The disc includes an exclusive video interview with El Hijo del Santo (The Son of Santo); an original trailer; an illustrated audio essay by Professor Juan Carlos Vargas; illustrated biographies of Santo and Wolf Ruvinskis; a Santo filmography; and a stills and posters gallery. Suggested retail price: $19.99 each. The movie is also available on VHS from VCI (sans the extras). Suggested retail price: $14.99. For more information, check out VCI Entertainment's MexDVD Web site.


Photo credits: © 2002 Kit Parker Films. All rights reserved.