Santo contra los Cazadores de Cabezas (1971)

You may notice that as I expound on the films of Santo, I often refer to him as a storytelling engine. John Seavey wrote a book on this subject, Storytelling Engines: How Writers Keep Superhero Sagas Going and Going!

As he broke down several comic book characters setting, origin, characters and their motivations, he realized that these elements all added up to create what he calls a storytelling engine. This makes it simpler for writers to make no end of stories. To wit: the better the engine is built, the easier it is to write a new story.

The engine can also shift and Batman is a great example. The character started as a takeoff of The Shadow, a very hard-boiled detective before getting softer with the introduction of Robin, the 50s science fiction era and the 60s pop art Batmania fad. By the 70s, however, Batman had grown to become the hairy-chested love god with Neal Adams art, battling an international army of assassins and even falling for one of them. At this point, Batman has grown to have so many different versions — or engines — that you can approach the character in nearly any fashion.

Hellboy was the first character that I consciously studied with this theory in mind. Hellboy has his backstory of being the son of the devil destined to bring about the end of everything, yet he was adopted and brought into an occult task force that fights monsters just like him. Within this sentence, you can see an infinite array of storytelling ideas.

Santo is the maestro of the storytelling engine. Just look at all he can do. First and foremost, he’s a capable fighter who can defeat just about any foe in hand-to-hand combat. He’s also an inventor who has created video screens before smartphones and even time machines. His enemies start with other wrestlers and gun-toting gangsters, but also have in their number aliens, a blob, vampires, werewolf women, a cyclops, witches and even Mexican folk characters. And the narrative shifts of his films allow them to fit into nearly any genre, from Italian-style western to Eurospy, karate film to Eurospy.

Now we can add the mondo to the films of Santo.

The Jivaros are the descendants of the Incas, the ancient indigenous people of Mexico whose empire and treasures were stolen by Spain. One of them, Tirso, has already tried to stab Santo with a bamboo dagger. Now, he wants to kidnap a wealthy explorer’s daughter, shower her with riches, give her the title of the Bride of the Sun, then sacrifice her to their gods.

Santo does a lot of walking in this and a lot of fighting nature, going mano a garra with alligators, jaguars, vampire bats and native tribesmen who launch a monkey into a piranha-filled river* at one point.

I say that this is a mondo because large stretches of it deal with the “other” that exists within the jungle and the strange customs of another race. It also looks to the Bond films for inspiration as this has plenty of travelogue — and walking — scenes.

*Don’t worry. This was directed by René Cardona not Ruggero Deodato. Then again, Cardonna did make Night of 1000 Cats.

You can watch this on YouTube.

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