Review Date: April 30, 2010
Released by: Rise Above Entertainment
Release date: 10/23/2003
Region 0, NTSC
In spite of the inspiring displays of international sportsmanship that we witnessed at the recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver, it’s worth keeping in mind that in many respects the sporting tastes of one culture can often appear a little silly or overhyped to another culture. I once attended a professional rugby game in South Africa and, commenting on the similarities between that game and the American NFL, I was met with derision from my local companions, who considered our version of football, with its slower style of play and abundance of safety gear, a much lesser sport. But that derision was not appreciably different than the derision many Americans have for soccer, a sport that we love playing as kids and hate watching as adults, even though it’s a massively popular professional sport overseas.
One can add the Mexican sport of masked wrestling – “lucha libre” as it’s popularly called there – to the list of sports that don’t translate so well into our culture. Perhaps just as inscrutable are the lucha libre movies of El Santo, the Blue Demon and other more minor Mexican sports figures, which as a whole have received far less distribution in the English-speaking world than many other south-of-the-border genre films. Today’s review is of a film that came later in the El Santo series, when the lucha libre film cycle was nearing its end. Keep reading and find out whether Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein
is a heavyweight in the genre, or a ninety-pound weakling.
We open on a dark and foggy night as a pretty young woman (Lina Michel
) walks home alone. She hears footsteps behind her, yet every time she turns there doesn't appear to be anyone else on the street. Hearing footsteps again, she turns around, sees nothing, and then turns back, only to be attacked by a giant black man who appears to have a lobotomized skull. She is kidnapped by the beast. We then flash to the high tech laboratory of Dr. Irving Frankenstein (Jorge Russek
) and his assistant Genaro (Rubén Aguirre
), who are about to perform an operation, transplanting the brain of the captured girl into the body of another girl captured earlier, and putting that brain into the body of the new girl. Of course, the operation doesn't succeed and the two girls die, but Dr. Frankenstein knows just what to do with them. He brings them back to life as zombies and sends them back to their homes, where they murder their sister and husband, respectively. Why? In the doctor's own words, it's "because I want to terrorize society, and to show the police the kind of genius they're dealing with."
It seems that Frankenstein has some rather big ambitions. He is actually one hundred and thirteen years old, but has developed a special serum to maintain his youth. Unfortunately his beloved wife was not so lucky. Eighty years earlier she died of a brain tumor, and he has been keeping her cryogenically frozen since then, hoping to perfect a method of brain transplantation that will allow him to resurrect her, hence the experiments with the girls. But he also has dreams of conquering the world, and to do that he will require a race of supermen. The black zombie who kidnapped the girl at the beginning - who he calls Golem - has been his only successful brain transplant so far, and he has given Golem the strength of twenty men. But the creature is only capable of brute force, and lacks the cunning and agility needed to make him truly invincible.
Turning on the TV, the good, er, evil doctor, gets an idea when he sees a televised wrestling match in which the professional athlete and crime fighter El Santo and his friend and teammate the Blue Demon square off against two other wrestlers. That's just the type of brain that he needs, Frankenstein realizes. An intelligent, strong competitor who knows how to use his strength for maximum effect. He needs Santo's brain, but how is he going to get it? His human henchmen are far too weak to capture Santo, and Golem is so strong and dumb that he would risk killing the athlete. So he comes up with a plan. His henchmen will kidnap Alicia Robles (Sasha Montenegro
), a beautiful young woman whose father was an athletic instructor to Santo, and a girl who he is close with. Alicia is successfully kidnapped, but Dr. Frankenstein's plan soon turns out to be faultier than his brain transplant operations, as Santo and Blue Demon work together with the police in attempt to rescue Alicia and defeat the mad scientist who is terrorizing the city.
Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein
is fun in its viewing, cheesy in its execution and contrived in its plotting, and thus is typical of the lucha libre genre. More talented scribes than me have devoted plenty of ink to talking about the genre of the Mexican masked wrestling film and the way it reflects certain aspects of that country's culture. I will not attempt to regurgitate their points here, but I will add to their arguments by saying that, the more of these films I see, the more I understand why so few of them were ever given an English-language or English-friendly release in the United States prior to the DVD age. At a time when almost every Japanese monster movie was getting a release in this country, at a time when the drive-ins and grindhouses played almost every horror movie coming out of Spain, and when American TV was vacuuming up things like the German krimis
en mass, the Mexican wrestling film remained strongly underrepresented. Only four Santo films were ever dubbed into English, and three of those were by K. Gordon Murray (the fourth, 1973's Santo vs. Dr. Death
, remains an enigma). It is my belief that the cultural differences that make the lucha libre sport seem so alien to Americans also contributed to the lack of English distribution for the vast majority of the films.
I'm sure that in the case of the Japanese, Spanish and German films, many of them probably had much better sales representation than the average Mexican studio had. But despite often copying the conventions of the American horror films that were released south of the border, the Mexican wrestling films have a certain logic to them that seems like it can rub non-Latino audiences in the wrong way. Even if an American distributor had edited out the often gratuitous wrestling matches that filled these movies (this one is no exception, with around ten minutes of wrestling footage unrelated to the plot) there's still something different about them that would have made it hard for them to gain wide acceptance. American audiences were certainly comfortable with the idea of a masked crime fighter, but even Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne attempted to lead normal lives when they weren't in costume. The idea of the masked crime fighter who goes about his normal everyday business still wearing his mask, as happens in the Mexican films, is a little weird to us. No less than twice in Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein
do we see scenes in which our heroes go on dates with women at fancy restaurants, all the while still wearing their masks.
Produced in 1974, this particular entry in the series marked the forty-fifth time in thirteen years that Santo had played himself in a movie. Considering how many people work in the film business for decades without even coming close to making forty-five movies - let alone the fifty-four that Santo ultimately appeared in - the production of so many films in just over a dozen years is remarkable, but it also speaks to the creative exhaustion that the series was bound to encounter. By the mid-1970's that creative exhaustion was leading to a terminal decline in the lucha libre genre, and Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein
is in truth a weak entry in the series. What makes it so weak is that its half-baked script and limp direction throws in all the genre elements that one would expect without any real energy or creativity. The script is littered with plot holes and goofy ideas. None of this is abnormal for the series, yet in this entry those elements become more tiresome than usual. The better written scripts in the series could focus their energy on just one set of plot elements, but here it becomes schizophrenic. Like Dr. Frankenstein, who can't decide whether resurrecting his dead wife is more important than conquering the world or terrorizing the city to send a message to the authorities, the script can't figure out what it wants to give us. The zombie women at the beginning point in one plot direction, while the youth serum that Frankenstein uses and gives his accomplices points in another direction. The plot is crazily cluttered from start to finish.
Of course, this should not dissuade Santo fans from avoiding the film. Just because it is not one of the better movies in the series does not mean it is not entertaining in the same goofy way that most of these films are. For newcomers to the lucha libre genre Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein
is not a good movie to start with, but for those already familiar with what to expect from these films it is an entertaining but unexceptional entry.
From the first frames of this presentation, two things became obvious to me. The first is that this DVD was clearly sourced from a pre-existing video master. The second is that the video master was clearly sourced from a print that was in very rough shape, so do not expect a restored image on this presentation. The 1.33:1 image – whether that’s the intended aspect ratio or whether the transfer is open matte I don’t know – features colors that are actually quite good, with accurate flesh tones, but the image is otherwise littered with scratches, specks, splices and grime. Sharpness and clarity are only average, and the transfer is also badly interlaced.
The picture is overall quite disappointing, especially when you consider that the folks at Lionsgate have in recent years released several “El Santo” double features with transfers that are much better than what we get here.
The only audio option is the film’s original Spanish language mix in Dolby 2.0 Mono. Overall audio quality is somewhat flat and muffled, with some dialogue scenes more affected than others. There is also a small amount of hissing and popping on the soundtrack, as well as several audio drop-outs.
Optional English subtitles are included. They include a handful of very noticeable spelling and grammatical errors, as demonstrated by the picture on the left.
Extras are fairly light on this release, but El Santo fans should find a few things to please them. First we get a “Best of El Santo” video compilation, showing off two minutes of the wackiest moments from the wrestler’s two decades of film work. This is followed by trailers for Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dracula and the Wolfman
and the 2001 re-boot Santo: Infraterrestre
starring El Santo’s son. Then we get a short gallery of publicity stills from the film set to music.
Also included on the disc are trailers for six other titles from Rise Above Entertainment. The first three are for video programs called Mischief
, Mischief 3000
, all of which seem to be concerned with amateur auto stunts and street racing. The fourth is called Fighting Mad
, which appears to be a compilation of home movie footage of various brawls and street fights, and most of the clips show crowds of onlookers who stand around watching as the combatants attack each other with bare hands and occasional weapons. The fifth trailer is for an ultimate fighting documentary called Rites of Passage
and the sixth is for something called Barroom Babes and Brawls
, which looks like one of those Girls Gone Wild
videos with a little bar fighting action thrown in. You know, I might be off, but I’m going to guess that the demographic interested in watching El Santo movies is probably not the same demographic that’s dying to see redneck entertainment titles like these.
The extras close out with liner notes from author David Wilt, giving some background on the use of the Frankenstein name in Mexican cinema and some basic biographical info about the principal actors.
Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein
is a bit of a disappointment, but far more disappointing is the visual quality of this lackluster release. As this appears to be the only English-friendly version of the film available on DVD fans who don’t speak Spanish are unfortunately stuck. Although the entire series of Santo films released by Rise Above is now out-of-print, they are not much in demand and can usually be found for reasonable prices. If you’re a lucha libre fan check this out, but if you’re a newcomer to the genre it’s best to start elsewhere.
Movie – C
Image Quality – D+
Sound – C
Supplements – C+
- Running Time – 1 hour 36 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Spanish 2.0 Stereo
- English subtitles
- “Best of El Santo” compilation
- Santo trailers
- Still gallery
- Rise above Entertainment trailers
- Liner notes