Lucha libre is to American pro wrestling as a movie like Alucarda is to an American possession film. Sure, they’re in the same category, but they’ve gone off into their own strange world where reality — the things we know and see and believe every single day — no longer exists.
Lucha takes the Catholic morality of Mexico to the extreme, with los technicos (the good guys) battling valiantly against los rudos (the bad guys) in matches that are often about technical skill versus brute force. There’s also the idea of putting your manhood on the line, as often there are chop and strike battles to prove who is more macho. And then there are the outfits and masks and characters, with each person exemplifying a different heroic or villainous ideal. When a feud reaches its conclusion, it often costs a combattant their mask — honestly, their face — or their hair.
There has never been a luchador like El Santo. While he began as a rudo, once he achieved his fame, he became the kind of celebrity that Hulk Hogan could only dream of. Santo isn’t a big time pro wrestler; he’s a cultural icon on the level of someone like Elvis Presley. He starred in fifty-two movies between 1958 and 1982, along with winning thirty-eight matches where he put his famous silver mask up against the hair and masks of opponents like Perro Aguayo, Espanto I and II, Black Shadow, Bobby Bonales, La Momia and so many more.
The first Santo comic was released in 1952 and after years of resisting appearing in the movies — the ring was his first love — Santo made his first two films, el Cerebro del Mal (The Evil Brain) and Hombres Infernales (The Infernal Men), in 1958. By 1961, Santo was just as big of a movie star as a wrestler.
El Santo was known to never remove his mask, even in private. When traveling, he made sure to take a different flight from film crews so they would never see his face as he went through customs. The only time Santo removed his hood in public was a week before he died from a heart attack, an action thought to be him realizing the death was near and he wanted to say goodbye.
Lucha libre owns a place in my heart that pro wrestling never will. It means so much more; it’s a passion play in the midst of the squared circle that still draws a huge crowd every Friday night in Arena Mexico.
Santo and Blue Demon Against the Monsters is a piece of magic. Here, our silver masked hero and his sidekick Blue Demon don’t just battle one monster. They battle every single one of them, one after the other, for nearly ninety mind-destroying minutes.
Leading the mob is El Vampiro, a vampire with the temerity to challenge Santo to a mask versus mask match in the middle of the holiest of all holy places, Arena Mexico, and the rudo nature to allow his army of monsters to invade before he loses
There’s also El Hombre Lobo, a werewolf that basically is just a hairy dude with fangs. La Momia, a skinny old man who looks like he could fold with one chop from Santo. Franquestain, who we can only assume is Frankenstein’s Monster with a van dyke! La Mujer Vampiro, who proves that ladies can be just as deadly as their male monster counterparts! El Ciclope, who takes over for the Creature from the Black Lagoon and looks like a beast straight out of Plaza Sésamo! Santo literally beats this dude with an ugly stick for twenty or more unanswered shots in a row while I yelled with madness and glee! There’s also a mad scientist named Bruno Halde and his dwarf sidekick Waldo, who struggle to keep these monsters in one piece. Oh man – I also forgot that there’s an evil clone of Blue Demon to deal with too!
This is the kind of movie that’s perfect for kids — think 60’s Batman mixed with some James Bond — except that there’s also a scene where a wolfman rips apart a kid’s parents in front of him, then does the same to the kid! In Mexican lucha films, rules don’t exist and life is cheap! And I haven’t even got to the scene where Franquestain stomps out a kid’s head. American History X has nothing on lucha monsters!
The end of this movie has Santo and Blue Demon — armed with torches and their pare fists, while wearing tight turtlenecks — murder nearly every monster thanks to the power of the cross and good old fashioned smashing everything. They also don’t even need hammers to stake vampires — our heroes do it with their bare hands.
As our heroes leave the vampires’ castle — leaving it ablaze after the staked vamps fade into nothing — the credits roll. In our overly CGI digital universe, a movie like this is a cool drink of aqua de fresa for what ails you. The best part is that this is just one of the many times Santo would go to war with the forces of evil. You can also watch him battle zombies, the king of crime, Satanic power, Martians, mafia killers, the Bermuda Triangle, karate experts and more.
Viva los luchadores! Viva la lucha! And most importantly, viva El Santo!
This article originally ran in Drive-In Asylum issue #18, which you can get right here.