Mil Mascaras contra Las Vampires (1968)

Back in Drive-In Asylum #8, I wrote about “John Carradine vs. Mil Mascaras” and this movie is the film where it happens.

Carradine had sold everything he owned to start a traveling Shakespeare actor’s company and when it folded, he was peniless, which led to the kind of roles that we love him in. In fact, the actor would get to go wild in these parts unlike any straight films he’d made. He’d make several movies in Mexico such as Diabolical Pact, Enigma de MuerteAutopsy of a Ghost and La Señora Muerte, but this time, he’s a vampire!

A Transylvania Airlines plane has crashed in Mexico. bringing Aura to the country — all of the male vampires are dead — and into competition for leadership of the vampire women with Dracula’s widow Countess Véria. They’re also biting luchadors and using them as henchmen, which puts Mil on their trail.

Meanwhile, the women have Count Branos (Carradine). Once he was such a powerful vampire that he was the man who taught Dracula. Yet now, after a vampire hunter put a stake through his brain instead of his heart, he’s become a moronic and sad man, crying in a cage and dreaming of the days when he ruled the world of the undead.

Yet its a ruse, as Véria sacrfices her own life to make him powerful again and man, Carradine goes absolutely wild in the role as an unbound master vampire. Sure, it’s all the way at the end of the movie, but man, it’s great.

Also: a car runs Mil off the road and it’s driven by bats. By bats!

Even better, this movie starts off as all Carradine movies should, with him speaking directly to the camera. All movies should start this way.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Mil Máscaras (1969)

Mil Máscaras means Thousand Masks and the man behind those multiple faces became one of the most recognizable wrestlers in the entire world as well as the star of twenty movies.

The character of Mil Mascaras was announced before he even wrestled in the ring, with the character created by “El Rey Midas de la Lucha Libre” Valente Perez. Perez was the publisher of Lucha Libre magazine and also came up with Tinieblas.

Mil is one of the first lucha stars to wrestle in the U.S. — he was the first masked wrestler to appear in Madison Square Garden after the ban on masked wrestlers was lifted — and Japan, where he became a major star in All Japan Pro Wrestling, often teaming with his brother Dos Caras.

Yet Mil Máscaras was created specifically to be a movie star. This suited producer Luis Enrique Vergara well, as Santo had argued for more money and Blue Demon was injured. The lucha movies were making money, so Vergara got a new star out of Mil.

Taking a page — many pages to be fair — out of Doc Savage, Mil gets an origin story that finds him as an infant found clutched in his dead mother’s arms at the end of World War II. Scientists adopt him and put him through a brutal series of physical trials and mental lessons to create a superhuman that can make the world a better place.

While this movie was shot in black and white and may seem pretty plain when compared to the wilder lucha stories to come, everything has to start somewhere. Mil has some really fun matches in this and there’s lots of great rock and roll for the kids to twist away the night to.

While there are many that decry Mil for being selfish in the ring, he remains a major star years after being named Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s most popular wrestler in 1975. No less of an expert than the original Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama, said ” If it weren’t for Mil Máscaras, there would be no Jushin Liger, no Último Dragón or the Great Sasuke today.”

Note: Information for this article came from Luchawiki.

Fear Street Part Three: 1666 (2021)

A conundrum: I’ve already watched Fear Street 1994 and Fear Street 1978, so I feel obligated to finish the series*. I also am battling the urge to say that this feels like the tween version of The Witch — THE VVITCH! — and that I hate every slasher made after 1981, but I also realize that I need to grow and experience new things. The first two installments actually hit me pretty well, so I tried watching this one and barely made it through the first hour that goes back in time, shutting it off and watching a Philippines-made Vietnam movie, because obviously quality is not an issue.

I went back and watched it again. And I can admit it. I was wrong and once the film goes back to 1994, it works.

After reuniting the severed hand of Sarah Fier with the rest of her body, our heroine Deena goes back to 1666 and experiences the events through the eyes of Fier herself. While this whole part of the movie feels an excuse to try out accents and on period costumes, it serves a purpose**. We learn that the Goode family is responsible for the Shadyside curse, as the firstborn of each generation must repeat the ritual begun by their ancestor Solomon to keep the town of Sunnyvale in prosperity.

This brings us to 1994: Part 2, a sequel within a trilogy, which is a neat trick. Our heroes realize that in order to end the curse, they have to murder Sheriff Nick Goode. This feels like the kind of conclusion that’s against all reason, but everyone has come this far and seen enough bodies come back from the dead to know that there’s no other way this can go.

And, as with all slashers, there’s no way that this is the end.

At the end — of this one at least — I didn’t feel like I wasted my time. The story moves quickly, the killers are incredibly visually interesting, the gore is pretty prevalent and everything wraps up quite nicely. I could do without the needle drops, the need to make the 90s so neon-centric and the mall locale that feels Stranger Things***, but all things considered, this is a good hang, as they say.

Sure, I could have rewatched any number of slashers — may I recommend checking out our five hundred plus list of the genre at Letterboxd? — but there’s only so many times that you can watch The Prowler.

Actually, that’s a lie. You can watch that movie hundreds of times.

*2021 is the year of obligation. I feel like I have to watch some movies, like Spiral and F9 because I did marathons of every film in their past, so all that work would be wasted if I didn’t watch one more. Then there’s stuff like Black Widow and Halloween Kills that I have to watch because I’ve been a fan of those universes. I mean, I hate every Halloween that comes after the original 2 in growing levels of scorn — I don’t count the third film as an actual film in the series and do like that one — yet I’ve seen every one of them in the double digits. It’s a weird feeling to feel the need to have to watch a movie not because you really want to see it. To wit, it’s like the Mandalorian, a show people keep telling me I have to see and every time I hear it that fact pushes me away from watching it. I’m trying not to be that guy who says nothing is good after The Empire Strikes Back and if I want to watch an Italian Western, I’ll just watch an Italian Western, but yes, I am that guy.

**I felt the same way about the ninth episode of Them, which had a journey back to where everything got started that felt pretty gimmicky while the rest of the series worked so well.

***Sadly, all mall scenes might feel that way for a while. Except Commando and Chopping Mall, of course. And oh yeah, Night of the Comet. Maybe read that as “All mall scenes that try to show the past made after 2016 will feel like Stranger Things.

Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967)

Millie Dillmount (Julie Andrews) has a goal. Work as a stenographer to a rich man and become his wife. She becomes friends with the naive Miss Dorothy Brown (Mary Tyler Moore) as she checks into the Priscilla Hotel, which has a secret: the house mother Mrs. Meers (Beatrice Lillie) find sgirls with no family or friends and then sells them into servitude.

Yes, this is a musical romantic comedy.

One night at the Friendship Dance in the Dining Hall, Millie makes the acquaintance of paper clip salesman Jimmy Smith (James Fox, who somehow is in both this movie and Performance). Sure, he seems nice, but she has a plan to be Mrs. Trevor Graydon (John Gavin). There’s some tension because Millie thinks Jimmy is in love with Miss Dorothy, but she doesn’t know the whole story. And she’s even more hurt with Trevor marries Miss Dorothy leaving her all alone.

Before Trevor can marry his love, she’s kidnapped by Jack Soo and Pat Morita, who play Chinese white slavers*, which again seems way too dark for a bubbly musical that has Carol Channing as an eccentric rich woman. But it’s Channing who saves the day, rescuing everyone before she reveals that — spoiler warning for a 54 year old movie — Jimmy and Miss Dorothy are actually millionaire siblings and that she’s their stepmother. She’s sent them off to find people who love them for who they are, not how rich they are.

This is probably Becca’s favorite movie of all time. I asked her for a quote and she said, “One of the greatest movies of our times.”

Kino Lorber has just released a 4K blu ray edition of this, featuring the Roadshow Edition of the film and new commentary by author/film historian Lee Gambin and art historian Ian McAnally.

*They’re Japanese, but it would take this entire website to explain how racist Hollywood was. And is, to be perfectly honest.

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.

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.

A Quiet Place Part II (2020)

The first A Quiet Place left me kind of cold. Once you get past the conceit — aliens that attack based on sound attacking a mostly hearing impaired family — and the nail to the foot scene (repeated in the movie Haunt, which was also written and co-produced by Scott Beck and Bryan Wood), I came away feeling alright about what I watched. However, so many people absolutely adored the first movie, so when the second came out, I decided to give it an open-minded watch.

I’m glad I did.

Written, produced and directed by John Krasinski — who makes a cameo in the opening flashback — this film brings back the Abbott family (Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe) while adding Cillian Murphy and Djimon Hounsou as survivors.

The beginning of the film is astounding, showing the initial invasion of the creatures which transforms a small-town American Main Street into carnage before slamming us into the events of a year later, as the family tries to navigate the hostile world that is left behind.

As for Beck and Woods, they didn’t return for the sequel. Woods said they were not interested in a franchise approach and that they would rather “create original ideas” whole Beck claimed that his goal was “…investing back into the ecosystem of original ideas in a massive marketplace.” Krasinski had told the produces to find another writer and director before finding the idea and meaning behind this sequel.

An important team that returned for this film was supervising sound editors Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn and re-recording mixer Brandon Proctor. Their ability to drop sound and then bring it back make the noises in this film anything but wallpaper and dramatically show the experience of the film’s hearing-impaired characters.

On May 29, 2021, director William Friedkin referred to this movie as “a classic horror film” and ended his tweet with “Cinema is back.” How about that for high praise?

You have so many ways to watch this movie. Digitally, the film is available on Paramount Plus and on demand. If you want a physical copy, you can get the 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack, as well as Blu-ray and DVD. Or, if you’d like to have both films in the same place, you can get the 2-Movie Collection, available to buy exclusively on Digital or Blu-ray with bonus content on both films. They’re all available from Paramount Home Entertainment.

You can learn more at the official site and official Facebook page.

Las Luchadoras vs. el Robot Asesino (1969)

You know, Gaby (Regina Torne) is great.  Across two movies — Las Luchadoras contra El Medico Asesino and Las Luchadoras contra La Momia  — we’ve watched Gloria Venus and Golden Rubi battle evil doctors and an Aztec mummy, but now we have an evil doctor kidnapping the world’s smartest scientists and also creating a trenchcoat wearing killer who looks like he’s made out of the finest rubber than Senor Benjamin Cooper makes.

Sure, we’ve seen it before as “Return of the Cybernauts” on The Avengers, but have we see it with wrestling women and a half-ape, half-zombie, half-man named Carfax? And then, how about if we put that monsters head into a female wrestler and change her named from Berthe to Black Electra?

As was the custom at the time, there are two cuts of this movie. There was another “sexy” version with nudity that was intended for the U.S. titled El Asesino Loco y el Sexo (Sex and the Mad Killer).  The clean and filthy versions both went unreleased up here.

Director René Cardona was on a quest to make the perfect luchadora against scientists movie and damn if he didn’t succeed more than once. If you want the best realitization of his quixotic quest, I would recommend Night of the Bloody Apes, which features a heroine who dresses like a demon, a monkey/human killer that rips off faces and legitimate footage of an open heart surgery.

He also made the lucha movies La Mujer MurcielagoNeutron Traps the Invisible Killers, Las Luchadoras contra El Medico Asesino, Las Luchadoras contra La MomiaSanto vs. the StranglerSanto vs. the Ghost of the StranglerLas Lobas del RingLas Mujeres PanterasThe Treasure of MontezumaSanto in the Treasure of DraculaSanto vs. Capulina, Operation 67Santo vs. the Riders of Terror, Santo in the Vengeance of the Mummy and Santo vs. the Head Hunters.

You can watch this on YouTube.

The Forever Purge (2021)

Directed by Everardo Gout and written by series creator James DeMonaco, this is yet another example of “the last Purge” before they announce another sequel. That said, this series has gone from middling to decent to actual pretty good to middling all over again, so I was happy that this pushes the Purge in a new direction: once the killing starts, it won’t stop. Sure, the series has gotten pretty heavy handed, but if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that the Purge is closer than ever before.

These films always get laughed at for the way they handle social issues and then they make over $52.8 million worldwide over its $18 million budget.

Eight years after Charlene Roan’s presidential election — The Purge: Election Year — the New Founding Fathers of America have regained control of the U.S. government and have re-instituted the Purge. Racism has gotten out of control and this years Purge seems like it will cause more damage than anyone can imagine.

I mean, you can totally see how they tore this from the headlines. That’s kind of why I have a soft spot for these movies, which feel like the last gasp of the exploitation movies that we love that would stare a cynical eye on what was really happening and figure out how to make some money off   of it.

Despite all of the film’s main characters surviving the Purge, the next day the killing continues thanks to a faction called the Forever Purgers, who have decided to turn the tables on the rich and show them what it feels like to be undervalued.

It’s easy to be snide and think these films are a waste of time, but for some reason, I’ve found something to enjoy in every film after the first one. I’m really looking forward to Frank Grillo’s character Leo Barnes coming back in the next film, as his journey between The Purge: Anarchy and The Purge: Election Year made for a great story.

Coogan’s Bluff (1968)

The first of five collaborations between Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood — which also include Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry and Escape from Alcatraz — this movie tells the story of Arizona deputy sheriff Walt Coogan (Eastwood), who travels to New York City to extradite escaped killer James Ringerman (Don Stroud). However, when he tries to get him out as soon as possible, the maniac escapes, which draws the ire of Detective Lieutenant McElroy (Lee J. Cobb).

While a controversial film due to its violence — there’s plenty of blood and Eastwood continually gets the worst of fights that he’s outnumbered in — this movie became the prototype for the action movies that Eastwood would star in for years. It also inspired the Dennis Weaver series McCloud, which was created by this film’s screenwriter Herman Miller.

This Kino Lorber blu ray release has some incredible extras, like a commentary track by filmmaker Alex Cox and another by Sledge Hammer! creator Alan Spencer. Plus, there are trailers, a radio ad and a poster gallery.