Santo contra los zombies
[English version: The Invasion of the Zombies]
(Filmadora Panamericana, 1961)
PROD: Alberto López; DIR: Benito Alazraki; ADAPT:Benito Alazraki, Antonio Orellana; STORY: Antonio Orellana, Fernando Osés; PHOTO: José Ortiz Ramos; MUSIC: Raúl Lavista; PROD MGR: Manuel R. Ojeda; PROD CHIEF: Jorge Cardeña; ASST DIR: Carlos Villatoro; FILM ED: José Bustos; ART DIR: José Silva; CAMERA OP: Ignacio Romero; MAKEUP: Carmen Palomino; LIGHTING: Gabriel Castro; SOUND: Rafael Ruiz Esparza, Galdino Samperio, James L. Fields; SOUND ED: Reynaldo P. Portillo; UNION: STPC
CAST (second character name, if given, is from English version, if different from original): Armando Silvestre (Sanmartín=Savage), Lorena Velázquez (Gloria Sandoval=Gloria Rutherford), Santo (himself=The Saint), Jaime Fernández (Rodríguez), Irma Serrano (Isabel), Black Shadow (himself), Dagoberto Rodríguez (Almada, chief of detectives), Carlos Agosti (Genaro=Herbert), Ramón Bugarini (Rogelio= Roger, the butler), Martha Arlette (dancer), Julián de Meriche (Dino Povetti), Fernando Osés (Dorrel López= Harry Dorell), Eduardo Bonada (zombie), Gori Guerrero, Sugi Sato, El Bulldog, Firpo Segura, Joe Silva, Steve Morgan, Indio Cacama, Mario Téxas, Conjunto Antonio Díaz Mena, “Picoro” (ring announcer), Juan Garza (zombie)
Mexico City release: May 1962; 1 week run; Authorization: A
Spanish release data: Authorization date: 21 March 1964; Total spectators: 170,872.
NOTES: This was the first Santo film made in Mexico and, unlike his two previous features which were shot in Cuba, the “Santo mythos” is fairly well-established. For example, the opening sequence shows Santo in the wrestling ring, being cheered by the crowd (who carry him in on their shoulders), thus establishing him not just as a professional wrestler, but as an idol of the multitudes. Furthermore, he isn’t a wrestler who just happens to stumble into crime-fighting, he actually has a secret headquarters full of electronic gizmos, and the police consult him for assistance.
However, the film still uses Santo only sparingly, and he is given little dialogue and–consequently–doesn’t have much personality. Later films in which Santo is shown in his home, with his girlfriend(s), and where he actually takes charge of the current, perilous situation, do a better job than Zombies, where he’s used as a deus ex machina.
This is one of 4 Santo films to have been dubbed into English. It is not a “K. Gordon Murray production,” but rumor has it that the dubbing was done at Soundlabs in Coral Gables, Florida, where the later Murray versions were made. The English-language version is apparently the only one readily available in the USA (although the original was released on video by VideoVisa in 1999 in Mexico), and while the dubbing isn’t bad, there are a few clinkers. For example, when Lorena Velázquez learns that her father has been converted into a zombie, she turns to the villain and shouts: “You hyena! You ruthless dog!” (this may have been a literal translation from the Spanish*–although I doubt it–but it certainly sounds funny in English) The packagers of this one didn’t spend a lot on frills: the opening credits are very short and superimposed over a shot of Santo in the ring (whereas Murray sometimes used the original credits art), and the end card is the original (Spanish) one!
*now that I have seen the original version, I can report that she says “Canalla!” (roughly, “Swine!”) and “Asesino!” (“Murderer!”). So that explains where the “hyena” comes from.
Santo contra los zombies is reasonably well-produced. There is, oddly enough, one brief dialogue scene shot against a back-projection street shot, which seems rather odd since a fair amount of location shooting was done. Back projections are also used for dialogue scenes in cars, but this is more normal (the film doesn’t go to the extremes that El barón del terror/The Brainiac does, using obvious back projections and minimalist studio sets for almost all exteriors). The sets are all adequate, with the best being the grotto where the zombies are kept, which is quite atmospheric. To get to the mad doctor’s lab, there is a long, spiral staircase, which is also lit and shot in a very nice manner (at the film’s end, Santo slowly walks up the staircase and leaves).
The wrestling scenes, aside from some cutaways and several shots of Santo being carried into the ring, seem to have been shot in the studio: only the first several rows of spectators are shown, and the rest of the background is all black. This is in contrast to some later Santo pictures, where the matches were often shot before live crowds in real arenas. The film opens with a scene in which Santo and a lot of other wrestlers chase each other around the ring, then there is a long match between Santo and Black Shadow, allegedly for the middleweight title (Santo has the championship belt). There are two other matches, with the last one being plot-related: Fernando Osés is a zombie wrestler who’s being remote-controlled by the villain. The villain turns up the power too high, and Osés’s body starts to smoke, he screams and collapses in the ring!
Unfortunately, Benito Alazraki’s direction of the non-wrestling fight scenes–Santo versus the zombies in various locations–is uninspired, to say the least. The fights are all clumsy and slow, the camera usually stationary, and there is no kinetic cutting to heighten the impact. Instead, Santo and various wrestlers-playing-zombies (and wearing Peter Pan-style outfits, minus the hats) push each other around in a half-hearted fashion. Santo also appears to be hampered by the cape he wears. The best fight is the climax, where Santo tangles with two hooded villains in their lab, but even this isn’t very excitingly filmed.
As noted before, the film begins with several wrestling bouts. After Santo retains his title, police agents Isabel and Sanmartín arrive at the arena and tell Rodríguez, another detective who is a wrestling fan, that they are needed at headquarters. Gloria Sandoval tells them that her father, a famous scientist who has been studying zombies in Haiti, has disappeared. At the Sandoval house, they meet Gloria’s uncle Genaro, blinded in a mine accident, and Rogelio, the butler. They promise to do what they can.
Three zombies, controlled by a hooded figure via radio, break into a jewelry store, knock out the watchman (who shoots one of them in the forehead with no effect), and use a strange device (shaped like a crowbar) to burn open the safe. As they leave with their booty, agents of the security service, responding to the alarm, try to stop them but are easily subdued. Police inspector Almada has a hard time believing the men’s story, but he calls Santo on his radio/TV phone to ask for help (Santo later seems to be able to use this device to eavesdrop on Almada’s office and on the hooded villain, with no explanation). Rodríguez also decides to ask Santo for help in tracing Gloria’s father: “[He’s]not only a wrestler, he’s kind of a crime fighter. “
Sanmartín and Isabel try to trace the stolen jewelry by contacting Povetti, a former fence who now runs a nightclub (time out for a dance number). Povetti claims he doesn’t know anything about it, but is later found dead. Santo learns, via his TV system, that zombies are being sent to kidnap some children at the city orphanage (to use for experiments!); he arrives and prevents this. Sanmartín and Isabel drive up, and then Rodríguez arrives (but no uniformed cops, maybe they’re all on their dinner break). The zombies knock out all three heroes (Isabel stays in the car), and drive off. Santo and others pursue, but the head villain blows up the zombie-car by remote control.
Santo later saves Isabel from a couple of zombies. The villain decides to kill Santo in the ring: his minions kidnap wrestler Dorrel, who is converted into a zombie. As Santo wrestles him in a match, Dorrel gets overheated, smokes, screams, and collapses. Santo notices that his opponent was wearing a metallic belt like the zombies wear. He goes to Dorrel’s apartment to search for clues, and 2 more zombies jump him. They almost pull off his mask (in an odd shot, Santo gapes as one zombie goes haywire after a kick in the belt–Santo’s eyes bulge and his mouth hangs open foolishly, most of his lower face exposed). The zombies flee.
Gloria is kidnaped and taken to zombie headquarters. She sees her father, an old, fat zombie. Rodríguez, Sanmartín, and Isabel are on the way, but they are captured by some more zombies. Santo arrives to save her, fights the hooded villain and his sidekick. The sidekick stabs himself with a knife; the main villain falls against his lab equipment and is (of course) electrocuted. The zombies all smoke, shake, collapse, then vanish (including Gloria’s father). The villain is exposed as Genaro (who wasn’t blind after all, what a surprise), his sidekick was Rogelio. Santo leaves.
Armando Silvestre and Jaime Fernández are satisfactory in their roles; Lorena Velázquez doesn’t have much to do, nor does Carlos Agosti. Irma Serrano, in her first film role, is almost unrecognizable for those familiar with “La Tigresa’s” later pictures (she’s pre-nose job, for one thing), but is adequate.
A significant improvement over Santo’s first two films, Santo contra los zombies is mildly entertaining, foreshadowing wilder adventures to come.
Added note: I was finally able to obtain a Mexican video of the original version of this movie, and can report that the dubbed version is virtually identical (except for the dubbing, obviously) and the credits sequence. Of course, the original is preferable (if you speak Spanish) because you can hear the actors’ actual voices (except for Santo), and the picture quality is better, but if all you have is Invasion of the Zombies, rest assured you are not missing any footage.