El Mundo del los Muertos (1970)

Let me tell you, if life isn’t doing it for you any longer, watch this movie. It will reaffirm your faith in the utter strangeness that this world can deliver to all of us. I mean, who knew that Santo would be in a remake of Black Sunday? A ripoff? Don’t speak ill of the man in the silver mask.

The film begins in 1676 with four men being burned alive at the stake — one of them literally has flesh crackling off their bones as we play the credits — as their high priestess Damiana (Pilar Pellicer, who was Don Francisco’s wife in Zorro the Gay Blade and won the Ariel Award for Best Actress for 1974’s La Choca; she’s your South of the Border Barbara Steele for this movie) kneels in a graveyard surrounded by followers praying for the help of Satan, who sees fit to send Blue Demon — in full wrestling garb — to help her get revenge on the world.

Already a minute into this movie and I’m sold. Completely and utterly sold.

That’s when we meet Santo, who in this timeline is known as Caballero Enmascarado de Plata (Silver Masked Knight). His outfit is the stuff that makes me keep watching movies, as he still has on most of his ring costume yet he’s added a silver jacket with frilly cuffs and a long silver cape with lush red lining. He is the fanciest of all heroes you will ever meet. He wants to marry Doña Aurora, but worries that perhaps his world of fighting against the left hand path may be too dangerous.

You know how cool Santo is? The seductively Satanic Damiana offers her body, her gold and all the power of Lucifer and he says no. And then he survives getting stabbed in the hand with a burning dagger? If church had more Santo, more people would go to church. She brings Blue Demon and a bunch of her burned up followers — yes, they rose again after being staked and flambéed — as Santo fights them with just the power of a crucifix and lucha libre. As this all goes down, Damiana stabs Aurora directly between her imposing breasts and lets her bleed out before she’s caught and sentenced to be burned alive, declaring that in three hundred years she’ll be back to kill everyone connected.

If you don’t think everyone is going to play a dual role in this movie, I have no idea what you’re thinking.

Santo’s girlfriend Alicia — also played by Pellicer — is soon possessed by the same dagger that killed Aurora. Soon, the ghost of the witch is attacking Santo through mental suggestion as he tries to wrestle. Our hero is even stabbed in the chest by three ghost wrestlers and has a tarantula dropped on him when he’s trying to read a book. I realize that the latter is worse than the former, but I don’t go about telling the ghosts of brujas how to do their nefarious business.

How does Santo survive being stabbed in the chest? With stock footage of open heart surgery, that’s how.

That’s when we learn that all of the possession is causing Alicia to die and unless Santo travels to the world of the dead, he’ll lose the love of his life — at least for this movie, there are always many daughters of professors for Santo to chastely court — forever. And how do you get to the world of the dead?

You think real hard.

If you read that and wonder, “Why does Sam love lucha movies so much?” then I’m never going to reach you.

Santo has to fight through red-colored gel lighting, strange music, lava and some scary monsters before Blue Demon shows up, going from rudo to tecnico and earning his liberation after three centuries trapped in the world of the dead which may be limbo, for all we know.

As for Santo, he and his potential bride must cross a burning rope bridge within an hour or be trapped for all eternity. Spoiler warning: They make it.

Just five years before this, Santo faced a similar predicament in El Hacha Diabólica. He learned absolutely nothing for this and we’re all the better for it. My love for this movie is exactly why I am not allowed to currate the Criterion Collection and we’re all the worst for that.

You can watch this on YouTube.

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