Santo in the Vengeance of the Mummy (1971)
Another first for the Million Monkey Theater, a Mexican superhero wrestling movie! This fall I found a four disc set of Santo DVDs at (of all places) an army surplus store in Fort Wayne for just $10 and I just couldn't resist. I plan on doing all four eventually, and I will start with the oldest I have, 1971's El Santo en la Venganza de la Momia ("Santo in the Vengeance of the Mummy").
The digital transfer itself is pretty clean and crisp, in bright colors with excellent sound and music. I chose to watch it in the original Spanish with English subtitles, which seemed like the best option. It runs a slim 90 minutes, but never seems to drag that much. Not bad for the money, really, even if I had to make uncomfortable small talk with the one-eyed former Airborne Ranger behind the counter about Iraq before he would sell it to me.
And now on to our show...
We open with a tag-team wrestling match in front of a sold-out and overly boisterous crowd at "Arena Mexico". On one side are two Italians, Giao Cassanova and Angelo, supposedly the pride of Sicily and the best wrestlers in Europe. Opposing them are the legendary Santo and his "rookie sidekick" El Rebelo. All four of these men are big imposing figures, though not massively muscled like modern American wrestlers (who are so pumped full of steroids that they have hair on their tongues). Their costumes are simple tights and tops, with little or no adornment (but way too much jiggling package for my stomach to handle).
Santo ("The Saint" in Spanish) is playing himself here, as in most of his movies, a famous masked professional wrestler. Santo was 54-years old when he made this movie, and was renown throughout Mexico for his wrestling and iconic cult status. His trademark is his silver mask, which covers his entire head (with holes where needed), a feature that he apparently was never seen in public without. The mask is simple, without anything painted or stitched into it (kind of a disappointment, really, I would have preferred something more flashy). This is the extent of the biographical information I'm going to provide for Santo. If you want to know more about this famous man, just Google his name.
The match is lengthy but fast-paced, with few editing cuts and a single camera used throughout. Santo and friend win the first round, the Italians the second, and Santo single-handedly wins the match in the third round after some serious pummeling and punching. I was really impressed with Santo's stunts here, the man really has some grace and agility for someone so big and ponderous-looking. And the dude is 54-years old! This opening wrestling scene really has no purpose in this movie except to show us Santo in action. It's just filler to whet our appetites and to introduce us to Santo.
I will admit here and now that I don't care for the whole pro wrestling experience. I never watched it growing up and never paid it much attention in those years when most rabid wrestling fans are born (8-12 years old, I'd say). It all just seemed so vapid and silly to me at the time, and two decades later I still couldn't care less for it. I have all my teeth, I'm not a chain-smoking Bud-drinker, I don't have a mullet, and I don't drive a jacked-up Ford pick-up truck, so I'm clearly not the demographic that follows wrestling religiously. But Santo is much more than just a wrestler, of course, he's an institution in Mexico, so I guess I will just have to sit through the wrestling parts for now.
From the wrestling match we cut directly to the real opening of our movie. We join a group of men and women talking about a planned archaeological expedition into the Guatemalan jungles in search of ancient treasure. The trip is going to be led by Professor Romero and he has assembled a crack team of experts and support staff to assist him.
You know, after watching this movie twice now, I think I'm going to go with a Gilligan's Island theme for this review. For no other reason that it fits (mostly) and might help with all the many named characters who come and go here.
So, Professor Romero might as well be "the Skipper", as he's in charge of the trip. He's just a big, academic sort of man with graying hair and a penchant for khaki shirts. Don't get too excited about him, he won't be here long.
There are three other men, the "engineer" Sergio (who seems faintly dishonest), the bumbling anthropologist Professor Jimenez (who supplies a full helping of Odious Comic Relief), and Bruno the cook (who mostly acts as a comic foil for Jimenez's lameass jokes).
Sergio is just greasy-looking enough that we have to keep an eye on him. Going to call him "the Professor" (he even looks like the dude, though with an Elvis pompadour) because of his engineering prowess.
Jimenez is acted way over-the-top as a dunderhead absentminded anthropology professor, and I wanted him to die a horrible death after five minutes. Naturally, Jimenez will be "Gilligan".
Bruno the cook is pretty much just an annoying cardboard cutout, content to banter with Gilligan and humorously threaten the porters with a butcher knife if they touch his food. Might as well make him "Thurston Howell III", because I really hated Thurston and wished him eaten by a shark.
Thurston Howell III!
There are also two women, the middle-aged photographer Susana (a decidedly unattractive girl) and the young "secretary" Rosa (who just exudes an innocent naivety that I'm sure will get her killed later on). You just know that one of these girls will fall in love with Santo by the third act, the game is to figure out which one.
Susana will be "Ginger", because she has a bit of Spoiled Diva in her and she's the taller of the two. She's got big 1970s hair and a chunky body, but clearly has the more forceful personality of the two women.
Rosa will be "Mary Anne" because she's way cuter (as was the real Mary Anne...Ginger was a bimbo). She unfortunately doesn't have a lot of lines, and is rarely seen anywhere but beside (though slightly behind) Ginger.
Rosa, there on the right.
And lastly is Romero's "friend" Santo, who is coming along to provide security for the team, as they are venturing into potentially dangerous territory. Don't have any Gilligan's Island names left (except for Lovey Howell...) so he gets to be plain old "Santo".
Ok, the Skipper points to an old 16th century map on the wall, indicating an area in what is now Guatemala, they are headed south into deepest, darkest Central America. It's here that the remains of the fabled Opalche Indian culture promise untold treasure. They are looking for the lost tomb of Prince Nonoc, a legendary figure who was said to have been buried with a vast horde of gold and stuff. Just to be clear, there was no real-life "Opalche Indians", but they surely meant to suggest one of the numerous pre-conquest civilizations in the region.
We cut immediately to "the jungle", where we're led to believe that all seven of them have been traveling in a single red Willys jeep, which has now broken down. As later we see a tremendous amount of gear and equipment hauled into the jungle tomb, we wonder where all that is at the moment.
You all fit in there?
So they walk to a nearby village where they arrange for some local men to act as porters. They purchase (I guess) camping gear, food, and electrical equipment, as well as horses and donkeys to transport it. The local men are reluctant to venture into the cursed tomb of Prince Nonoc, but are eventually persuaded by stacks of pesos.
They also approach an old man to act as a guide, as he seems to know exactly where the tomb is. The old man is very resistant to violating the centuries-long curse of Nonoc, as he's a full-blood Opalche Indian and is fully aware of the dangers. However, he's currently responsible for his young grandson (whose parents died) and the team's sudden offer of free education for the boy if he agrees to guide them is too strong of a lure.
The Old Man.
There is something vaguely oily about this offer of free education for the boy in exchange for the guide's services. Considering the abject poverty these people live in, and the near total lack of systemized education, this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime offer to escape this cycle, one that the grandfather would be foolish to pass up. At the same time, however, he's aware that he himself will probably not survive this expedition to the cursed tomb, and his death will then leave the boy without either parents or grandparents. So he has to choose between his own life and the future success of his grandson, in essence, he must die for the boy to live.
The little boy is played by "Jorgito", who was actually Santo's real-life son. We will call him Kenny (an homage to Godzilla) and frequently mock him for his Amish bowl-cut hairdo.
So, sometime soon after, our merry band of travelers heads off into the deep jungle, accompanied by about a dozen porters, the old man and his grandson (why bring him along?). Mary Anne and Ginger ride horses, the boy rides a donkey, but all the rest of the men walk. We get a few too many shots of the caravan working its way through the jungle, with little or no dialogue at all but with a snazzy music score. We notice that Santo is wearing wrestling boots, which just don't seem the proper footgear for jungle traipsing.
The first encounter is with a smallish black jaguar! The cat jumps down from a tree and attacks Santo! Who wrestles with it! The editing cuts are very quick, and as I watched it the first time I really thought it was a stuffed cat (which would have been lame). But in the last shot, Santo picks up the cat (!) and tosses it some distance into the grass, and it leaps up and runs away. So, at least some of the shots were of a real live jaguar, though obviously a very tame and probably heavily sedated one.
They eventually reach the site of the tomb of Nonoc, which appears to be deep in an existing network of caves in a mountainside. They set up a very elaborate base camp outside the cave entrance, with about ten large canvas-walled tents and even a stockade (!) for the animals.
The porters (probably with the help of the engineer) quickly string a line of light bulbs from the ceiling hooked up to a small portable generator. This seems like a lot of effort but it does make filming the cave scenes easier with all that overhead light. At least they didn't try and hide colored-lensed lights off-screen.
So they all go into the cave, and following an old map, they break through a crumbling wall and enter the legendary tomb of Prince Nonoc. There they find a medium-sized open crypt room with a large stone table in the center. Upon this slab is the mummified remains of a man dressed in Oplache royal garb, his flesh shrunken and desiccated. This is Prince Nonoc, in serious need of a tailor and some Neutrogena skin care products.
At this point the wheels begin to fall off. The native guide and porters refuse to go further and warn adamantly and repeatedly that the white folks are courting disaster by messing with the Prince's treasures. In particular, the natives warn about removing the Prince's jeweled necklace, as it somehow will unlock his undead wrath. The scientists blow off all arguments in their wanderlust at the treasures. Oh, this is not going to end well...
Nestled in a cubby in the stone slab are some suspiciously well-kept parchment papers covered with Opalche words. The old guide is called upon to translate (he alone reads Opalche fluently) the parchment, precipitating a lengthy flashback scene narrated by the old man.
The flashback sequence is a mix of newly-shot footage and some stock footage from some old Aztec-versus-Cortez movie. We learn that Prince Nonoc was once a member of the royal court of the Opalche. He made the mistake of falling in love with a woman who was born and bred to be a human sacrifice to the gods. The actors playing these two characters are scary. Prince Nonoc looks like he was beaten to death with an ugly stick and the woman looks like a 40-year old washed-up former biker hooker. If I'm a prince in this empire (even if I'm a woofer like he is) I know I can do better than her. This was the same thing I said when Clinton was banging Monica, that if I had that much power and influence, I'd be smoking cigars with girls an order of magnitude hotter than Monica. That's why you got to respect JFK, he used the power of the office to get Marilyn Monroe, can't get any better than that.
Anyway, the Prince nabs the woman (in the middle of a public ceremony, no less) and they easily make it outside the city walls. He and his bride are pursued through the jungle by some officials and guards (all who seem to be wearing simple cotton boxer shorts and these plain white scarves tied around their necks, excellent costuming job, boys!). Eventually they are caught after they decide to give up running and make out. As they guards capture them, they seem to be five seconds from a missionary (which I didn't need to see). The woman is taken back to the city and sacrificed, and the Prince is taken away to a cave temple where he is entombed.
Hurry, stop that!
Inside his prison, the Prince wrote these scrolls, detailing his downfall and offering a curse upon anyone who would defile his tomb. As we can figure out, the Skipper and Gilligan ignore the superstitious old man's warnings and pack up all the treasures and haul them out to their camp for study (tell me again why they entombed him with all this treasure? Wasn't he a disgraced criminal at this point?). They also take the cursed necklace, the one that will spell doom for them all.
That night, as everyone is settled down for the night, an ominous specter is seen outside the camp boundaries. It is Prince Nonoc! Returned from the grave as a vengeful mummy intent on exacting his revenge on those who have spoiled his eternal resting place and fingered his treasure. The Mummy (going to call it that for the rest of the review) is wearing the same clothing that the mummy on the slab had on, and in the few frontal shots we see, the face is the same cadaverous and desiccated visage as we saw back in the tomb. Keep all that in mind, ok? Most confusingly, though, the Mummy is now armed with a bow and a quiver of arrows! The bow is a decidedly modern-looking composite weapon, and the arrows are clearly aluminum shafts. It would have been better had he been armed with some traditional Opalche weapon, like an obsidian-bladed war axe or something cool like that.
The Mummy fires!
The first victim is the old guide, choked to death in his hut as his grandson flees in terror. The old man predicted this earlier, as he was a direct blood relative of the priest who condemned the Prince to be entombed a thousand years ago. Poor kid, his last surviving family member just got offed right before his eyes, that's got to leave an emotional scar.
The boy alerts the rest of the camp who rush to find the old guide dead. After hearing Kenny blabbering about the Mummy, everyone runs back into the crypt to find...you guessed it, the mummy is gone. They talk amongst themselves for a while, most of the scientist types are sure this is the work of a man, but most of the superstitious local porters (egged on by Kenny's hysterical ranting) are sure it's the Curse of Nonoc come to kill them all.
The missing Mummy carcass is soon after found...inside the girls' tent! No explanation is given as to how the carcass made it to the tent, and no one really seems to worry about it. They take the carcass to the Skipper's tent, where, to convince Santo that the killer is not the reincarnated Prince Nonoc, the Skipper runs his knife through the dusty carcass several times. Santo nods gravely, but is clearly still conflicted.
Stabbing the Mummy.
As everyone beds down for the night, we follow Kenny and the girls as they go into their tent. While the women primp and preen (why?), Kenny sneaks out of the tent under the wall and slips away. He goes to Gilligan's tent where he pilfers the ancient gold necklace (his grandfather had told him that the curse could be broken by returning all the treasure to the crypt to appease the Mummy).
Meanwhile, Ginger finds that Kenny is gone and goes looking for him. She inexplicably doesn't ask the armed guard outside the tent, because she didn't want to "alarm anyone". Gee, with a murderer on the loose, I'd think a little alarm would be justified. BTW, Ginger is wearing a purple silk pajama set here, extremely modest and covered with a terrycloth robe once she leaves the tent. If you were expecting any scantily-clad nubile young girls in this movie, this is the most you're going to get.
Yep, best you get.
Ginger goes to Santo's tent and tells him that Kenny ran off. Santo is concerned but agrees to keep it secret (why!?!), and he grabs his rifle. So the two of them head off into the surrounding jungle to look for him. After a fruitless search (made more so by not having any light source and it being the freakin' jungle) they decide to check the crypt for the boy.
Back now to Kenny, who is indeed sneaking into the crypt, to return the gold necklace to its rightful place. We see that the Mummy is lurking nearby and pounces on the boy (after first turning off the power to the lights in the tunnel, which is curious as you wouldn't think a thousand year-old Mummy would have a working knowledge of electrical equipment). The Mummy cold cocks the kid, ties him up, and hauls him to the stone slab in the crypt. The Mummy then raises a dagger and begins to bring it down to plunge into the little kid's heart! Damn! He's interrupted, however, by the sounds of Santo and Ginger approaching and runs off.
Santo and Ginger rescue Kenny and carry him outside the crypt (notice that Santo leaves his rifle in the crypt room, though he seems to have it back later). The boy regains his senses and tells them that the Mummy attacked him. Back in the camp, there is more endless talking about the insanity of the Mummy coming back to life, but the fact remains that someone is killing people.
The Skipper is the next to die, being strangled to death by the Mummy in his tent later that evening. The armed porter outside hears the sounds of struggle, but inexplicably doesn't rush to check it out, but instead just fires a shot into the air to wake everyone up. By the time they enter the Skipper's tent, the man is long dead and the mummy cadaver is gone. A thin coating of stage blood is on the Skipper's neck, the only visible blood in this entire movie (despite all the shootings and killings, they are all bloodless).
Also in this scene we see a microphone boom sway into the top of the frame for a few seconds before being pulled away. This is so obvious to the viewer that it pulls you out of the movie for a minute, and is a clear indication of the shoddy quality of the direction. This entire movie is filled with these little moments, where actors blow lines, props fall over, people stumble over things, crew equipment is visible, and the camera just keeps rolling. All that, combined with the fact that nearly all the cast never has a wardrobe change and there are really just two basic sets (cave interior and camp exterior), you get the feeling that principal photography for this movie took about two days tops.
Anyway, the superstitious local porters have now reached their breaking point, and refuse to stay any longer. They confront Santo and the rest of them and demand to be paid now so they can leave immediately. The foreman (who at some point goes over to the side of the scientists) sticks to his guns, the deal was payment upon return to the village. The locals are adamant about payment and things start to turn ugly (hard to blame them for that, I'd probably feel the same way).
Santo then steps in an begins some actively aggressive negotiations (swinging and kicking and biting). A major battle royale erupts (2 minutes long), with Santo, the foreman, and the Professor against the five porters. Oy, this is tedious. Lots of punches, kicks, flips and grapples, few of which seem to land despite the actors' reactions, people falling over barrels and tables and all that rot. Santo takes a lot of punishment, but always bounces back each time as Kenny looks on with admiration. Several (if not most) of the porters carried pistols or rifles before the fight started, but not one of them ever uses one. The only really dangerous confrontation is when one burly porter attacks Santo with a meat cleaver (!), but is pounded down for his trouble.
In the end, the porters are all bested by Santo and they agree to stay. I think. It's not clear why the fight ended so quickly, several of the porters were still on their feet and the basic problem of their fear of the Mummy remains. If anything, I'd think they would just leave now, money or not. They do eventually abandon them, but not until some time later.
And indeed, the porters soon leave. Santo (who has now taken over control of the expedition due to Gilligan's ineptitude) decides to send for help, a two day journey by horse through the jungle. In a neat bit, as Santo and the foreman discuss the porters deserting them, the foreman sighs and says, "Fear is a bitch, Santo.", which is the best line in the entire movie.
The foreman gets on one of the last remaining horses and gallops off through the jungle to bring back help. He doesn't get very far, however, as the Mummy pegs him in the back with an arrow (nice shot, hitting a moving target at such distance, Kevin Costner would be proud). The foreman, mortally wounded, struggles to ride back to the camp (slumped over his saddle and grasping the horse's neck most unconvincingly). There he expires in Santo's arms after gasping out the Mummy's curse.
They bury the three dead men in a nearby field, placing wooden crosses at the head of each grave. Santo proclaims his rage and thirst for justice and revenge upon the killer, whoever it might be. As they talk, a fire suddenly gushes up from the tent holding all their supplies! They rush to the blaze, but it's too late, it's a total loss. Clearly, the Mummy doesn't want them to leave this place of death. They check their remaining supplies (just some bacon and a bag of flour), and determine that they need to leave as soon as possible. The trip will be tough, but staying here is just not a possibility.
That night we have a Special Moment between Kenny and Santo (which is clumsily inserted in the middle of the above scene, but really should take place later in the day). Kenny is really bummed out about loosing his grandfather (though he didn't seem too broken up about it before) and Santo consoles him by promising to take care of him like his own son. He also tells him that, "Men don't cry.", which seems a little unrealistic for a little kid. This scene has the potential on paper to be an effective character moment for Santo, but is again handicapped by the mask. Oh, and don't forget that the boy playing Kenny is in fact Santo's real life son, which explains the genuine affection the boy has for Santo. They hug each other like father and son and it's actually nice to see.
We also have another little lame Special Moment, this time between Santo and Ginger, where Santo fumbles with the right words to express his "feelings" for her. There's a lot of hemming and hawing, Santo butchering his lines especially well, and Ginger seems to be enjoying the awkwardness. She clearly wants his hot monkey lovin', but is content to let it come slowly. This scene is really painful to watch, we knew it was coming eventually, but it just seems so forced and manipulative that it has zero emotional impact. Not to mention it's hard to do a gushy talky-feely scene while wearing a mask...
I just don't get the mask.
So, with the Mummy still lurking around in the area and killing at will, they all decide to sleep together on cots in the center of the camp, with armed guards around them. They state that they will be safer this way, rather than in separate tents. While that is basically true, they seem to have forgotten the primary means of death so far, that being bow and arrow. A bow is a ranged weapon, one that is ideal for picking off people who are congregated in a small area. Luckily for them, the Mummy never takes advantage of this opportunity.
The next death is poor bumbling Gilligan, who falls asleep in his tent alone (asking for it, eh?). The Mummy sneaks in and plants an arrow into his heart, killing him instantly. The Mummy then takes the scrolls, the gold necklace and a small chest of treasure from the crypt and sneaks out of the tent. The Mummy has now retrieved all his stolen loot.
After finding Gilligan's body, Ginger melts down into a blubbering pool. Santo has to snap her out of it, and if there was any doubt that they will fall in love by movie's end, it's guaranteed now. Now we're just down to Santo, Kenny, the Professor and the two girls. Who is dead next? Not Kenny or Santo, and not Ginger, clearly. That leaves Mary Anne and the Professor as the only two expendable ones left. Fear for them.
The morning arrives and they gather their gear. Santo buries poor Gilligan and reminds Ginger to record everything on camera for future study. Until this shot, I had forgotten that Ginger was supposed to be photographing the expedition. For most of the trip she has just been doing everything but her job.
Suddenly, we see the Mummy out in the woods, pulling back his bow. The shaft zips in and stabs Mary Anne in the back! No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Not the hot chick!!!!! Santo rushes to her aid, but it's too late, she's dead (remember her fate was sealed when Ginger hooked up with Santo, thus making Mary Anne the third wheel). Santo, while cradling her lifeless body, reaches around and jerks the arrow shaft out of her back (icky), looks at it, and then tosses it aside bitterly. Hmm...the Professor seems to be missing...why doesn't anyone seem to notice or care?
They see a figure in the nearby woods, and Santo rushes to catch him. A running fight develops, with the Mummy firing arrows and Santo and Ginger replying with rifle and pistol fire. Outgunned, the Mummy retreats into the crypt, running down the tunnel to the room with the stone slab (no where else to go, apparently, despite earlier mentions of meandering tunnels and alternate entrances).
Determined to apprehend the Mummy alive, Santo engages the Mummy in a furious and protracted wrestling match (lasting 3:30 of screen time). Some of the highlights include a lot of lame punches that clearly miss by six inches, the Mummy's headband that appears and disappears every other shot, Santo blocking an arrow shot with a wooden stick, and the men rolling over a lit torch (which had to seriously burn, though they continue with the scene to their credit). Also note that Ginger stands there with her pistol the whole time, even when it looks like the Mummy is going win on several occasions, sure hope she was going to step in if needed. The match ends with Santo impaling the Mummy upon a spear (!).
Santo then unmasks the Mummy, revealing it to be...the Professor! Saw that coming. I guess. The more I think about it, the more preposterous it is to force us to believe that the Professor was behind all of this. His motivation for doing all this is never stated, though we can assume it was the lure of the treasure. How did he make the mask? How did he make the clothes? How did he manage to sneak around unseen, changing outfits? What was up with the sick and twisted attempt to sacrifice the little boy on the alter? Why did he leave the mummy carcass in the Skipper's tent? Why didn't he just kill them all that first night? Why even go to the effort to fake the Mummy outfit if he was planning on killing them all anyway? So many questions...so little willingness to care.
Anyway, Santo, Ginger and Kenny make it out of the jungle, using the supplies and horses that the Professor stashed out in the wilderness for his own escape.
The movie ends as it began, back in the Arena Mexico with another overly-long wrestling match (5:10 of valuable screen time) between Santo and another masked wrestler, the 244-pound "El Bufalo". In the audience are Kenny and Ginger, who is looking very fine in a green dress with a front cut-out showing off her ample chest (maybe the highlight of the movie...). Santo wins eventually and the crowd goes wild, blah blah.
Bonus! Some handy statistics for you:
0: Cigarettes smoked by our cast.
5: Cold blooded murders committed by the Professor.
7: Number of arrows shot by the Professor.
12: Number of solid body or head hits that Santo takes during the opening wrestling match.
4: Number of solid face or head hits that Santo takes during the fight with the recalcitrant porters.
9: Number of solid face or head hits that Santo takes during the fight with the Mummy.
19: Number of solid face or head hits that Santo takes during the closing wrestling match.
44: Total number of solid face or head hits that Santo takes during this movie, which might explain why he has to wear that goofy-ass mask all the time.
Written in December 2005 by Nathan Decker.
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that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...