What am I doing in this gloomy and haunted mansion? So asks the first line of the film Attack of the Witches starring the titular superhero of classic Mexican cinema, Santo. There are, at last count, approximately five billion Santo films in existence, and in every one Santo is played by the same guy… er…. Santo.
Now, for those of you scratching your head and wondering what the hell I'm on about, this is your primer on Mexican Lucha Cinema. Luchadores, or masked wrestlers, are the modern folk heroes of Mexican popular entertainment and have been since probably the mid 1950s.
See, the way these films worked is that the hero characters in the movies were the exact same people who were the wrestlers in traveling wrestling shows, and on TV talk shows (dressed in suits and masks), and political debates, and running errands, etc. So the world between where the movie starts or ends and the real world that Santo the character lives in are pretty much the same. It's this legendary, and nearly pathologically insane adherence to staying in character that makes these Lucha Libra films so much goofy fun. Admittedly this is somewhat diminished now as Santo is long dead and traveling small wrestling shows don't feature film stars (unless someone has made a film about Lobsterman without telling me) and big wrestling stars like John Cena or The Rock never wrestled in masks.
So, where in the hell were we (you'll be hearing that a lot in this review)? Oh, right, Attack of the Witches!
Let's get the film rolling now. Meet Ofelia (Maria Eugenia San Martin), she's blonde, and terrorized by shadowy nightmares. It's Ofilia that utters that line at the beginning of the film (and this review), and it's with her that we'll be spending the majority of our non-wrestling time. See, she's engaged to Arturo (Ramon Bugarini), and living in a palatial manor house. Yet she is tormented nightly by the cries of Elsa Cardenis (Lorena Velasquez) the leader of a dark coven of witches who live in the mansion with she and Arturo. Elsa is, as we will learn in excruciating detail later on, intent on bringing back their long dead goddess, Mayra (also played by Lorena Vasquez), from the afterlife following a 300-year slumber. The witches need Ofilia's blood to pay off Satan's for his assistance with the resurrection. Seriously, that's the plot. You can't make this shit up.
However, Ofilia is sure that Santo (who is sent by Jesus, himself) will come to save her from this terrible, evil, satanic fate.
And when Ofilia dreams, we get to watch.
So, we cut from Ofilia pretty much spelling out the plot of Attack of the Witches in the first two minutes of the film to Santo climbing into the mansion window (he apparently hates doors) and wrestling three men in black tights (Fernando Oses, Crox Alvarado, and Guillermo Hernandez), these guys would also, presumably follow Santo around in the real world and wrestle with him at real events too. At any rate, they all look like 19th century strongmen and we had great fun naming them as Charles los Atlas, Pettibone W. Mustachemuscles, and Phinneas J. Strongman. See, there was very little to be entertained by in Attack of the Witches so we had to make due with what the film offered us (and it wasn't much).
It seriously takes like five minutes for Santo to make it into the courtyard where our three wrestling henchmen are waiting to dispense a little Lucha Ass Whomping. Accompanying this confusing fight is some stock music that only ads confusion to the whole scene, this music is part of an 8 minute loop (yes I timed it!) that plays over and over and over irrespective of the scene, fight scene, love scene, interview scene, none of it matters and if you time it right you can hear a the haunting sounds of a Theramin as Santo struggles up a wall, or discusses the plot with Arturo.
The fights, especially in contrast to today's film techniques, the fight scenes in this film, ALL OF THIS FILM, are single stationary camera affairs. This every fight is as we would see it if we had good seats for a live wrestling show. You know, I complain about hyper stylized action shooting but this is the 180 degree opposite. I mean, the camera has to do SOMETHING, pan, swing, move, something? Anything! But no, Director Jose Moralez doesn't even bother to pan.
Santo is finally beaten into unconsciousness and carted off screen by Phinneas J. Strongmand and Pettibone W. Mustachemuscles. Cue titles, and here we are really at the beginning of the movie.
Santo and Ofilia are chained down in a dark dungeon (A set with a stage and everything!) while Elisa and her cadre of cadavers prays over the pair to Satan for the release of their goddess. We've already heard that this was going to happen in Ofilia's earlier fevered dream, but we get to see it all over again only with more detail this time. See, Elisa wants Mayra to take her place among the mortals and help in a war in which Satan will be offered the blood of innocents and every person killed will be brought back in his service.
Santo plays a part because he is a super-powered do gooder, and Ofilia because she is pure. With Santo and Ofilia will strengthen the armies of the dead… or something.
Santo pries off his shackles and scares off the witches by making his body into the shape of Christ on the crucifix (no I am not kidding) then frees poor terrified Ofilia.
Cue end of dream sequence!
Ofilia awakens screaming (naturally) and Elisa arrives to ask if she had the same nightmare of her being a witch and summoning the devil and preparing to sacrifice her to Satan and that a man in a silver mask comes to rescue her.
Ofilia says, "why yes. I did have that dream where you, Elisa, was a witch and summoned the devil and prepared to sacrifice me to Satan and that a man in a silver mask comes to rescue me."
This is sort of the way the storytelling works in this movie, it's like creating a training presentation for some corporate entity, tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them (then, collect the check).
Ofilia says she hates the house and wants to leave. It doesn't help that Elisa keeps the place in the state it would have been in the middle ages, i.e. no electricity or phone or TV or anything. We also learn that Arturo is not Ofilia's husband, only her fiancée, so that explains the purity angle. Also, that the mansion belongs not to him but to Ofilia, or will, after she completes the requirements to receive her inheritance.
By now any sane person would have a headache from all this exposition. Wait, what am I saying? A sane person would have already shut the DVD off… but I digress. Elisa tells Ofilia to ask Arturo what to do and she bets that he'll say to stick it out at the mansion and collect the loot. Besides, no one is afraid of witches anymore.
Then, like magic, Ofilia appears outside the mansion and spills her guts to Arturo. We even get a helpful flashback of how Elisa who was the family secretary but disappeared for two years after the death of Ofilia's parents, returned as the executor of the estate. We also flash back to the reading of the will where Charles los Atlas explains that Ofilia can't collect anything until she spends a year living in Medieval Manor.
Arturo is nonplussed and says exactly what Elisa said he would, namely, stay and collect the loot. But he also confirms that the man in the silver mask of her dreams is a real guy and, better yet, that he knows him. Santo, it seems, runs a little super-heroing outfit out of his downtown apartment.
Ofilia can't believe she dreamed about a guy who actually exists, and that is what makes Arturo "intrigued" by her story. Yeah, it certainly isn't the fortune she stands to inherit, or that she's a smoking hot 19 year old, and frankly, Arturo you're what, 40?
But no, he's intrigued by her story because Santo is real.
Now, This movie uses establishing shots the same way silent movies used title cards, we get our establishing shot of Santo's crime fighting lair, Lucha Libra Towers. I mean, every single change of anything in this film requires a new establishing shot of where the story is about to take place (or be talked about taking place by the characters as it takes place).
Cut to Santo's swinging bachelor pad/crime fighting... er… high-rise apartment?
Santo, even though he's sitting behind a desk in what appears to be a standard issue office is dressed in the finest wrestling cape, mask, and oily chest. I assume he has on his special wrestling Santo-pants, but thankfully the camera doesn't swing under of behind the desk. For once I am appreciative of the boring cinematography of Attack of the Witches.
Santo is intrigued by Arturo's retelling of Ofilia's story, and since Ofilia isn't there to tell it we don't have to hear it again from the beginning, though this is just a guess and perhaps director Jose Moralez was out sick one day and his substitute director understood how to edit. Either way, Arturo also lets Santo in on the fact that he's been investigating witchcraft and has learned that modern witches are not ugly old women on brooms. He then pegs Elisa as a witch because she's a pretty 50 year old.
Arturo doesn't want to alarm Ofilia by letting her in on the investigation of witchcraft.
Santo, for what it's worth, reminds Arturo that there are plenty of women who age well and retain their beauty well past 50.
Ah! Arturo counters, the real Elisa died 15 years ago, of, as we learn through more exposition, common pneumonia. The hell? I thought we'd been through this plot twice already now. Now there's even more crap to add. Awesome. Wonderful. I think I'll go Suplex myself on the garage floor.
Santo, again being the masked voice of reason, suggests that this Elisa is someone pretending to be the dead Elisa to get her hands on Ofilia's fortune. You know what? I like Santo. He's rational even though he is wearing a cape and mask… in his office… for no apparent reason.
Well, even a stopped clock is right twice a day!
We get another title card here for "Santo and the Damned Witch Episode 2" I don’t know if this film was cobbled together out of a serial, or was at one time cut up to make a serial, but this is the second title card in the film and it's like 27 minutes into the movie already. We won't see another one either.
Santo, being that he is forthright and a masked hero, agrees to have a look around and see how much of Ofilia's story checks out. To do this he (following the establishing shot of him arriving at the mansion in his Porsche) climbs over the wall and into the courtyard. Santo is immediately set upon by The 19th Century Boys and fights with them for what is easily 15 minutes with no dialogue, no grunting, limited sound effects, and ear-piercingly bad music. This finally ends when Santo uses his shadow as a sign of the cross to ward off his attackers. I am not sure but fighting for a long time with three pasty guys doesn't really qualify as a super power, nor does using a crucifix shaped shadow to frighten off demons. I mean, these "super powers" of Santo's aren't even up to the quality of Zan and Jana (or even Jan or Jace) and would definitely keep Santo out of any major super-heroing organization.
Still, this doesn't stop his enemies from lauding his super strength and other non-existent abilities for the length of the film.
Back in the cellar Santo is nonplussed by the fact that he might be God, Santo runs off. On his way home, presumably, a lovely women signals him from the side of the road. Everywhere but in "film land" this is he international sign of the prostitute, and the girl looks like she could be one too. She asks Santo for a ride home and he, being a hero, obliges.
Aaaaannnnddd he drives her right back to the gate he scaled not 15 minutes ago. The mysterious woman vanishes. But reappears to lure Santo inside. This takes another easy 5 minutes of Santo walking slowly through the mansion sets we've already seen. He finally arrives at a boudoir and the mysterious girl is waiting. Now she's nearly naked. She pours Santo a drink.
Santo, though, is no fool and immediately knows this is an "infernal seduction" and heads for the door. The girl prays for help from Satan (and some stock footage of lightning) to trap Santo.
Santo smashes through the plywood door rather than get laid. Satan unleashes his stock footage of iguanas, chickens, and pompom spiders as Santo makes his getaway.
Cut to Lucha Libre Towers where Santo fill in Arturo and Ofilia on what happened to him the night before.
Arturo is not skeptical, as he's been reading up on witches. He asks to return to the mansion with Santo and prowl around too. A clue to Elisa's true self might be there. Thus, with Arturo in tow they head back. Both men park outside the same gate we’ve seen like five times already. Arturo also has no key and climbs with Santo over the wall and into the courtyard.
Now, unlike the fight scene we witnessed before (in Ofilia's dream) the mansion is a mess of spiderwebs and decay. Santo finds a way through a secret door (he smashes through it) and into the basement of the mansion. He cracks another plywood door apart and enters the same room where we saw the ritual in full swing before.
Santo and Arturo stumble upon a locked casket that Santo tears open using his awesome strength of Santo-ness. Inside the casket rests a silver death mask. Having apparently seen enough, our Dynamic Duo leave the cellar.
Cut to Arturo apparently driving, having visions of Elisa smiling, then tied to a burning stake then crashing his car. This is so clumsily done with quick cuts of Arturo just standing there with no car anywhere around him, then a car, then a from the inside of a car window, superimposed smoke, double exposed Elisa, and finally what appears to be gas flames of a barbeque grill, that it's impossible to make sense of what the film offers.
Santo arrives (he was apparently following Arturo) as Phineas J. Strongman is prying the unconscious Arturo out of the wreck. The remainder of the All 19th Century Boys arrive and put the hurt on Santo. Again we're treated to baffling music that in no way matches the fight, and single camera (with occasional second camera angle) shots of the fight. Arturo is carried back inside the mansion but the 19th Century Boys leave Santo on the doorstep.
What the hell? That doesn't make any sense! Also, Arturo is taken in through the exact same gate he and Santo climbed over to get into the courtyard only five minutes ago. Stranger still, Arturo and Santo left, but if Arturo crashed where he did he must've just gone around the block!
Santo relays the news to Ofelia that Arturo is captured and she begs him to sneak back into the mansion and rescue her fiancé. Santo thinks it's best that Ofelia stay at his place (nice move Santo!) while he goes off a-rescuin'. But, Elisa is peering through Santo's window (which makes perfect sense if he lives at the top of Lucha Libre Towers).
Elisa puts Ofilia to sleep using the awesome power of whispering "sleep" then sneaks in wearing her Satanic priestess garb and with a couple of the 19th Century Boys, and a female acolyte in tow. Hypnotized Arturo carries Ofilia off (cut to the basement where Elisa and the whole gang are preparing to put their Satanic Majesty's Request into full swing. This, of course, requires Elisa to again spell out the plot. This allows her to explain why Arturo has joined her Cabal of Evil (he's hypnotized).
Enter Santo, see, he was on his way there too. How Elisa and the 19th Century Boys managed to beat him to the mansion is anyone's guess. Maybe because they could go through doors and he has to apparently climb over walls?
Anyway, Santo sneaks down into the basement where he's jumped, again, by the 19th Century Boys. This time Elisa and her Satanic Sisters look on with the sort of interest they might have is Santo was painting the walls beige.
Santo is eventually subdued and chained down on the table just like we saw in Ofilia's dream like 100 years ago. Elisa wants to finish the ritual now, and why not? She's got Ofilia and Santo and a knife. However, one of the acolytes pipes up that they should wait for the Spring Adoration (whatever the hell that is).
Elisa counters that Santo is "still very dangerous" and that her coven is still vulnerable to the sign of the cross, fire, and daylight (way to spill your weaknesses to Santo). Santo, not waiting around for them to whack him, snaps his chains, runs off, and returns with two torches.
Everyone runs off leaving Santo to fight a couple of rubber bats.
Cut to Lucha Libra Towers (now the camera swings around like it's on a pendulum) Ofilia, apparently rescued now and in a change of clothes (a fetching business suit) is sure that Arturo is gone for good. She is also afraid that Elisa will kidnap her again. Santo offers her the use of his flat (yeah, smoooooth).
Cut to the mansion basement where Satan gives Elisa and her army of Hercules Movie extras their marching orders, namely that Santo and Ofilia must be sacrificed at the start of the Spring Adoration. He's also bestowing on Elisa her original look, whatever the hell that means. Satan, to show he isn't all talk and fancy pajama bottoms, threatens his servants with swift retributions should they fail him.
You know, I wonder why people follow leaders who will, in a heartbeat and for no really good reason, turn their wrath on you and the other worshipers. Seems like a funny way to run a belief system, but what do I know.
I think I get this now, Satan is like a Batman villain from the old Adam West TV show and Elisa is his idiot henchman. She hatches a plan to hypnotize Santo.
Cut to some stock footage of a Mexico City Arena to establish place, then inside where Santo is wrestling in an actual wrestling ring against The 19th Century Boys. This time they aren't dressed in all black, but regular wrestling clothes.
Every Santo movie I've ever watched has a scene or two of him actually wrestling, which is exactly the same as the scenes where he's fighting guys outside in the actual movie narrative. But the in the ring moves are a little more florid and exciting, probably because it was harder to hurt yourself in the squared circle than it is on the street.
Santo finishes off his opponent with a Boston Crab and the stock footage crowd goes wild chanting "Santo! Santo !Santo!" The thing is, the jobbers that Santo works with aren't slouchy wrestlers either and these few scenes of Santo and the jobbers really wrestling are the best part of the movie.
It's also the only part so far without really stupid dialogue.
Okay, before the match even ends we are back at Lucha Libre Towers with Santo asleep on bed (yes he has his mask on) and Elisa is looking in on him. She appears in his bedroom while the other acolyte is doing the same to Ofelia. She announces herself as Medusa: Queen of the Shadows. So we're obviously borrowing a little bit of Hercules movie foolishness in here, and that doesn't surprise me as the B-movie (and admittedly international) circuit was awash in Italian Hercules movies at the time, 1967.
Yes this movie that looks like it was put together in 1951 at the latest, was made in 1967.
1967 the same year we saw The Graduate, The Dirty Dozen, Cool Hand Luke, A Fistful of Dollars, The Andromeda Strain, The Born Losers, and a host of other films that have helped define the late 60's in film. All of those films, some cheap-indies like The Born Losers (the first film to feature the character Billy Jack) to mega-ensemble flicks like The Dirty Dozen. And we get this crappy, nearly unwatchable, barely understandable, black and white waste of time. Even Roger Corman's Cuba movies are better than this, and better than a whole lot of the other Santo films of the time.
Arturo arrive and carries Ofilia away. But he makes enough noise that Santo awakens. He immediately realizes that Ofilia is gone and gives chase. Chase, for this movie occurs when stock footage of Santo's car driving around Mexico City appears.
Back in the basement of Medieval Manor, Arturo brings Ofilia back in and puts her on the table (again) so we get to see, essentially, the exact same 10 minutes of movie now that we saw way back when there were only 10 minutes of movie to see. Got all that?
Let's move on, shall we?!?
Elisa leads her army of Satan's Minions to "The Secret Chamber" where "Santo will never find us." Considering he's already found his way into the basement twice, and beat the hell out of everyone in there once, how much do you think he's not going to find your secret room! Hmmmmm?
He, of course, does (After climbing over the wall into the courtyard again). Now it's dawn, and if you remember Elisa mentioning the weaknesses that her army possesses (the cross, fire, and sunlight). I guess the secret room is a different place than the room with the stage and the tables we've seen a bunch of times already, and Santo wastes no time in exploring the shit out of it while we watch helplessly from our couches. But, confused by the lack of people beating the shit out of him, Santo leaves (he also climbs over the wall to do this).
Cut to, a full moon. A coffin lid swings open and Ofilia frees herself. She apparently knows exactly where she is and runs for it. Meanwhile Elisa is staring down at a sleeping Santo?
What the hell is going on? Did someone slip me a roofy?
Elisa unleashes a poisonous spider on Santo's bed. This spider will be played by a pompom, 4 pipe cleaners, and two springs with googly eyes on them. Santo defeats this threat of Earth shattering malevolence and action by flicking it off his arm and turning on the light. Then, like the third verse of Boris the Spider, Santo puts the mini pompom ninja out of its haunted rainy day arts and crafts chest misery by stomping it. But, as strange as it may seem, he's been bitten. I am not sure what kind of poisonous bite a pipe cleaner and pompom spider can administer, but Santo seems able to suck out the poison he covers the wound with a band-aid, throws on his cape, and streaks off to the rescue.
Wait, I think someone forgot to encode a reel here or something…
At the door is Ofilia, begging Santo to hurry back with her to rescue Arturo. They run off together and become the stock footage of Santo's car driving around Mexico City that we saw before. Cut to daytime and Santo pulling up in front of the Medieval Manor with Ofilia in the passenger seat (she does not appear in the other stock footage).
Santo smells a trap (his mask has a hole for his nose) and throws Ofilia out of the car. Surprise (not) it's Elisa and she's crowing about how Santo just fell into her trap of traps. She disappears leaving Santo to – sing it with me now – climb over the wall and into the courtyard.
One thing I haven't mentioned, and I should have earlier, is that every one of these climbing scenes appears in its entirety so that we will watch for 2 minutes or more as Santo struggles up alongside the door, and over the wall.
Oh but wait, this truly is a trap, as the gate is open this time and he can just walk in where. Elisa has a plan this time and one of the 19th Century Boys appears with a bow and arrow. She tells him to shoot Santo "in the heart", but he misses and instead his him "in the door behind and to the side of where Santo is standing like a giant muscular action figure".
Santo, certain now that this is a trap, continues to walk very slowly through the manor courtyard towards the basement and eventually the hidden room.
Again, the music is baffling out of place (and repetitive).
But, with the crappy music we get our only really well presented shot and well framed scene in the whole movie, it's a dolly shot that tracks Santo as he walks behind a host of shadowy plants. This scene, this ONE SCENE, sets the mood nicely. It sets the mood so the next scene can ruin it.
Cut to the wrestling match in the courtyard we saw at the beginning of the film in Ofilia's dream. Yep, it's the same one, they didn't even bother to shoot something different. There is one minor difference, the film stock changes from minute to minute. One minute it's almost too dark to see, the next minute it's well lit and clear. I don't know if this is a DVD remastering issue, or an issue with the film itself though I'd guess it was a mistake when the film was actually made.
Santo escapes from The 19th Century Boys but falls through a trap door over some spikes. Phinneas J. Strongman and Charles los Atlas stomp Santo's fingers but he grabs Charles los Atlas and throws him down.
This, surprisingly, doesn't make the other two 19th Century Boys any less dangerous and they manage to choke Santo out and bring him back into the basement.
This makes no sense at all as the basement was where he wanted to be in the first place.
I should note that we've gone a good 12 minutes without a single word of dialogue or sound effect. All we have is the same loop of crappy music to keep us interested. But then, we're watching Santo fight his way inside, right, so who cares.
Me. I care.
Where was I?
Oh right. Santo is downstairs again strapped to the table. Tonight is apparently the Spring Adoration and it's okay to kill Santo and Ofilia. Elisa takes a ceremonial knife and is about to stab Ofilia when Santo snaps his chains and runs off.
Elisa screams "seize him" or something similar. But it's too late. Santo snatches a giant life size cross from just outside the door (don't ask me how it showed up there). But, before he can use it to vanquish the evil ones, Elisa hurls her knife into Arturo.
Santo then dispatches the coven by… whacking them all with the giant cross?
He dispatches them all by waving the cross at them so that they burst into flames and die. We even get a gasoline soaked rag covered mannequin stand-in for Elisa to go up in flames for us.
Superimposed flames are good enough for the rest of them and we get to watch as Santo dispatches them all one at a time. Hooray for Santo! Hooray… for… Jesus?
Arturo stands up and is now uninjured. "I don’t understand, Santo."
Santo explains that when you kill a witch with a crucifix, it undoes all her evil acts. Hooray again for Santo! Arturo leans over to plant a nice "hooray we're alive and not under Satan's power" kiss on Ofilia but, hilariously, Santo waves the giant cross at them and they don't kiss. Because we know that what Jesus hates even more than Satanic covens are people who kiss. But as soon as Santo walks off to pit the giant cross away they kiss anyway. To hell with you Jesus and your martinet, Santo!
Santo climbs into his Porsche and the movie ends.
There, smash head into second rope turnbuckle and hope that your opponent has smuggled a foreign object, for example the Santo box set, into the ring with which to pummel you into blessed oblivion.
This particular DVD presentation is part of a larger box set (I am guessing) called "The Santo Collection" and while the film is clear and the sound is just fine unlike some other public domain flicks I've stumbled into, the rest of the presentation sucks. I mean, I realize this is one of the Santo films that's never seen an English Dub and I'm cool with that, but don't tease me with a language option for English or Spanish. Especially a language option for English or Spanish that only changes the language of the freakin menu. Worse, you default the menu to English! WHY IS THIS OPTION EVEN THERE?
Other than that, some chapters stops, trailers for a couple of other baffling Santo movies, and the film itself in all its Santo-glory, there's nothing. I can only imagine what the Santo box set that this was a part of looks like. I bet it comes with its own pickup truck.