2021 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 2: Santo vs El Estrangulador (1965)

2. MASKS ARE STILL REQUIRED: You know it, at least one character has to wear a mask for the entire movie

Have I ever told you how much I love lucha movies? Oh, only a few thousand times? Well, let’s return to the world of Santo, a place that director René Cardona is an expert at depicting. And you may be surprised to learn that Santo doesn’t turn up for nearly half an hour, but what does happen are five musical numbers, because that’s exactly why we watch a movie about masked wrestlers.

Like a proto-giallo villain, The Strangler is, well, strangling beautiful women and leaving behind a calling card — a gardenia that Santo claims has two meanings, love and death. My research has shown that gardenias really symbolize purity, gentleness and joy, as well as the secret love between two people. It’s also connected to the world of the occult and is often tied into the arcane mystery behind why people are attracted to one another. I’m just a dude writing about movies and not a man brave enough to wear a silver mask and battle the supernatural, so maybe just listen to Santo and make him feel good about it.

For some reason, the Strangler continually forgets his gimmick and stabs people. I guess a title like Santo vs. El Estrangulador que a Veces usa un Cuchillo También was too wordy of a title. Also, spoiler warning, but The Strangler may be LGBTQ-leaning, as well as a former lothario who slept with enough women to get acid launched in his face. Now, he kills women.

The Strangler was popular enough to get a sequel battle against Santo, 1966’s El Espectro del Estrangulador. I’m all for Santo having a more regular rogue’s gallery. I am not for the goofball kid named Milton who keeps trying to get our hero to adopt him. Hey Milton, Santo doesn’t have time, he has multiple professors’ daughters to romance and battle against vampires and werewolf women and you’re just a target. Go to school and leave the Man in the Silver Mask alone!

The Murder Game (1965)

The IMDB summary of this movie is like something out of TV Guide‘s capsule reviews: “A woman abandons her husband, changes her name, and remarries again. Complications ensue.”

The real story is that our protagonist learns that his wife’s first husband isn’t dead. And perhaps even worse than that, he’s actively working with her to kill him off so they can take his money and run. That’s when a three-way game of cat and mouse ensues.

This is the last film of Sidney Salkow, ending a three-decade career behind the camera that saw him make movies like Twice-Told TalesThe Last Man on Earth and several pirate and cowboy films. Its writer, Harry Spaulding, also wrote Chosen SurvivorsWitcheryCurse of the FlyThe Earth Dies Screaming and The Watcher in the Woods.

Plus, you can spot a young Dyan Cannon, if you look hard enough.

Libido (1965)

Giallo owes a lot to Ernesto Gastaldi, who wrote The PossessedThe Murder ClinicSo Sweet… So PerverseAll the Colors of the DarkTorsoThe Suspicious Death of a MinorThe Scorpion with Two TailsThe Killer Is Still Among UsPuzzleDeath Walks at MidnightThe Sweet Body of DeborahDeath Walks On High HeelsThe Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh and this movie, which he co-wrote and directed with Vittorio Salerno (No, the Case Is Happily ResolvedSavage Three).

Filmed in only 18 days on a dare, this was based on an idea by Gastaldi’s wife Mara Maryl, who also acted in the movie. Perhaps she’d seen Les Diaboliques or The Pit and the Pendulum hmm?

When he was just a boy, Christian (Giancarlo Gianni, Black Belly of the Tarantula) watched his father kill a woman and then hismelf. Now he’s come back to the house where it all happened along with his wife Helene. The only others there are Paul (Luciano Pigozzi, who we all know was Pag in Yor Hunter from the Future) and his wife Brigitte (Meryl).

As soon as the master of the house arrives, he’s seeing his father’s ghost and going mad. But is it really happening? Or is someone else trying to make him lose his sanity?

Speaking of being influenced, the beginning of the film, where Christian plays with a windup toy as he watched human lives get snuffed up, had to have been a major influence on Deep Red.

It wouldn’t be giallo if it wasn’t confusing, so please know that this is a different movie than In the Folds of the Flesh, which also had the title Libido, and yes, Spasmo is pretty much influenced by this too, down to having a main character named Christian.

Blue Panther (1965)

The Eurospy film isn’t just the domain of the Broccolis and the Italian, Mexican and American filmmakers that attempted to make their own OSS 117, Matt Helm, Santo and Kommisar X movies to take on Bond. At times, even those of a more artistic mind got involved.

Also known as Marie-Chantal contre le docteur Kha* and based on a series of novels by Jacques Chazot, this film was written and directed by Claude Chabrol, who wrote for Cahiers du cinéma before making his own films as an originator of the French New Wave. “The Balzac of Cinema,” he was suited to making mystery films that were often indebted to Hitchcock.

His heroine is French It girl Marie-Chantal, who is played by a real-life French It girl Marie Laforêt. She was a singer who brought the folk music of America to France, including her version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” that had a B-side of “House of the Rising Sun,” along with versions of songs by Peter Paul and Mary; The Rolling Stones; Simon and Garfunkel and Marianna Faithful. Her best-known song was 1977’s “Il a neigé sur Yesterday,” which was a song about the breakup of The Beatles.

As she travels by train to spend the winter with her cousin, Marie-Chantal is given a jewel in the shape of a tiger with ruby eyes that contains a virus that can destroy mankind. Now, spies from every nation are dispatched to get the jewels from her by any means necessary.

If you’re coming to this hoping for some of high art from Chabrol, you will be disappointed. If you’d like to see a great Eurospy, though, it has its rewards.

Kino Lorber’s new release of this film — available directly from them — comes complete with trailers, a 4K restoration from the original camera negative and audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson.

*Even the title is a playful joke, echoing the French title of Dr. NoJames Bond 007 contre Dr. No.

Varieties on Parade (1951) and Forty Acre Feud (1965)

We’ve made it our life’s mission to watch and review — sans his twenty-plus westerns as a producer, writer and director — all of Ron Ormond’s secular and Christian films. (The westerns will get done, eventually.) And we’re almost there. We’re left with The Eternal Question (1956), a soft skin-flick of which we have yet to locate a copy — hard or streaming.

The two most recent, Ormond non-western secular flicks we’ve watched are the films headlined on this review. We spoke of Ron Ormond’s work in the jukebox musical format with Square Dance Jubilee (1949) and Kentucky Jubilee (1951), each which thread a dramatic-cum-comedy plot through the film’s many musical acts. While Varieties on Parade and Forty Acre Feud both end up on some critics’ jukebox musical lists, these two works are less plot-driven and more about capturing a variety stage show in its entirety.

Remember, at the time of the release of each of these films, the new, technical advancement of television was not as integrated into our lives as it is today. Not everyone owned a television to watch the variety show styling of Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan. So, films, such as these Ormond productions, brought the show to the silver screens in outdoor, rural America.

Forty Acre Feud

Back in the day, country music concerts incorporated comedy into their sets, and this jukeboxer is filled with a gaggle of country singers (each doing two songs), including George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Bill Anderson, Ray Price, Del Reeves, and Roy Drusky (each lip-sync their hit songs, but doing it so well, you can’t tell), while Minnie Pearl and Ferlin Husky bring on the comedy. Shot at Bradley’s Barn in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, the “plot,” of what little there is to keep the acts hitting the stage with some semblance of rhyme and reason, concerns local election shenanigans.

Ferlin Husky went on to star in two films Sam the Bossman and I really love: The Las Vegas Hillbillys (1966), and its sequel, Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967). Both are, in fact, jukebox musicals themselves, with plots about organized crime and an inherited casino, and a mad scientists hiding out in a haunted house.

By the close the decade, as televisions became more prevalent in homes, the jukebox musical format of the silver screen was rendered obsolete by the premier of CBS-TV’s “Kornfield Kounty” series Hee-Haw in 1969.

Varieties on Parade

The whole purpose of this film is to give you “60s minutes of Star-Studded Entertainment” by bringing a big-city, vaudeville stage show to the drive-in screens of rural America. Unlike Ron Ormond’s other jukebox musicals — outside of the film’s opening POV shot, as you walk up to the box office and get a ticket, then are taken to your seat by an usher — there’s no plot to speak of to thread the acts.

This time capsule gets right down to it with an endless stream of singers, dancers, and magicians. There’s a mother-daughter bicycle stunt team and a brother juggling act, while former kid actor Jackie Coogan spoofs a routine with fellow comedian and the evening’s emcee, Eddie Garr. Are you in the mood for two comedians coming out on stage dressed as a horse? A three-woman trampoline act? An aerobics routine along with slapstick interludes? Then buy a ticket for the show!

Jackie Coogan, who got his start as a child actor with Charlie Chaplin in The Kid (1932) — but since this is B&S About Movies: The Phantom of Hollywood (1974), Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976), and the slasher The Prey (1980) — also appeared in Ron Ormond’s Outlaw Women (1952) and Mesa of Lost Women (1953).

You can get both of these films — and other Ron Ormond jukebox musicals (Yes Sir, Mr. Bones) — as part of VCI Entertainment’s “Showtime USA” DVD series. The restores on both are excellent and they also offer bonus commentary tracks with in-depth examinations on all of the films in the series.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

El Hacha Diabolica (1965)

El Encapuchado Negro is more than just another villain for El Santo to fight. He’s a supernatural force that has been hunting Santo and his family for four centuries. That’s correct. The silver mask has been passed down from generation to generation and it has magical powers because it was created by a magician all the way back in the 17th-century.

I mean, this thing starts with monks solemnly carrying the dead body of Santo to a tomb back in 1603 and we see the black hooded man claim that he will get back at the deceased man in the silver mask no matter what it takes. That would be 1965, as the axeman shows up as Santo is wrestling Lobo Negro. Bullets don’t stop the killer and he doesn’t show up in photos, but his axe nearly kills our tecnico hero.

Santo also has a girlfriend named Alicia, but he’s certain that he has a past love that he just can’t place. He is, however, willing to pull most of his mask to show her his face and make out — but it’s definitely not Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta under the mask for this scene.

The axeman tries to kill Santo again while he sleeps — in his clothes, no less — and he leaves his axe behind. It has the date 1603 and a small occult symbol on it, but so does Santo’s mask! Oh man, as if I couldn’t get into these movies any more. Santo was saved by a woman’s scream and that woman ends up being the ghost of Isabel de Arango. If Santo can stop El Encapuchado Negro, they can fall in love again. Santo, for his part, is dumbfounded by what is happening.

That’s when we learn the truth, as Santo uses a time machine to send his brain back in time. Back then, a man was in love with Isabel, but she only loved Santo. He tried to kill our hero yet Santo beat him in a swordfight before that rudo sold his soul to Satan and got all the power — and gold and gems — he would need to gain her love. Instead, he chains her up in a dungeon and the man who would be the first Santo goes to a magician named Abraca to gain the powers of Santo.

Santo and the Inquisition capture the Black Hood who is burned at the stake — keep this same storyline in mind for El Mundo del los Muertos — but becomes a bat and flies away. Santo decides to live in a monastary as the loss of his love has destroyed his life.

Oh man. It also turns out that Santo’s scientist friend Dr. Zanoni — the one who made the time machine — was really Abraca and he jumps in front of an axe made for our silver masked superhero.  Santo even tries to break up with Alicia for her own safety after the axe murderer possesses one of his opponent, but she dies that same night.

Santo finally tracks down the killer and finds the skeleton of his lost love — well, the first one, not the blonde who was just axe murdered — chained to a wall. Santo goes off and hits the madman with a torch, then impales him when he transforms into a bat. Isabel becomes human and goes to Heaven while Santo is left all alone as even the room transforms from a gothic tableau to an empty room. Man, what a nihilistic ending for our friend.

You could do worse than watching a man who can disappear and then show up ready to chop off Santo’s head at any moment. I kinda love this movie and would probably be even more into it if El Mundo del los Muertos wasn’t an improved remake.

You can watch this on YouTube.

That Darn Cat (1965)

Seriously, of all the Disney live action I’ve watched over two weeks, this is my favorite. It’s a solid mystery story that has a cat to keep kids interested, but never panders or plays down to its audience. Dean Jones is pretty solid as FBI Agent Zeke Kelso, Hayley Mills is wonderful as Patricia “Patti” Randall and Dorothy Provine as her sister Ingrid and Roddy McDowall as would-be suitor Gregory Benson are both perfect. Put them up against Neville Brand and Frank Gorshin as the duo who have kidnapped a woman* yet who are outwitted by a feline and you have a great movie.

Its writing crew was recognized for their work. Mildred Gordon, Gordon Gordon (the Gordons wrote the original book, Undercover Cat) and Bill Walsh, were nominated by the Writers Guild of America for Best Written American Comedy and the movie was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture.

The real star is DC** — Darn Cat — a rare movie cat who acts exactly like a real cat. He’s pretty much rude and even dangerous to everyone outside his owners Patti and Ingrid. Plus, William Demarest made me laugh out loud every single moment he was on screen, which is the hallmark of a comedic actor.

One of the Seal Point Siamese cats in this film also appears in The Incredible Journey. Let’s hear it for movie animals who appeared in more than one role!

Also — I have a weakness for fake beatniks in kid movies. Witness Canoe, played here by Tom Lowell. He’s everything plus!

*Grayson Hall, Dr. Julia Hoffman from Dark Shadows!

**In France, he is known as P.V., which comes from the French translation Petit Voyou, or little delinquent.

Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)

Tallulah Bankhead — in her last movie — absolutely owns every scene she’s in here, playing Mrs. Trefoile,the mother of Patricia Carroll’s (Stefanie Powers) deceased fiance. As she comes to London, Patricia decides to get closure by visiting the old woman. Yet within a few scenes, she’s now a captive of the hysterically religious woman and is due to be exorcised.

Trefoile also has three servants — Harry (Peter Vaughan), Anna (Yootha Joyce) and Joseph (Donald Sutherland) — who are keeping our heroine away from the rest of the world, hiding her from her fiancee Alan Glentower (Maurice Kaufmann).

Also known as Fanatic**, this is a strong entry in the psychobiddy genre that has Richard Matheson adapting Anne Blaisdell’s novel Nightmare*. It was directed by Silvio Narizzano, who also made the Dennis Hopper and Carroll Baker movie Bloodbath and Georgy Girl.

Nearly fifty years after making this movie, Stefanie Powers acted in Looped, a play based on a true story about Bankhead being inebriated and unable to loop the line, “Die! Die my darling!” for this film. The role was originated by Valerie Harper, who was nominated for a Tony Award for her performancem despite the play closing after 33 performances. Harper played the role on the road until become sick with brain cancer.

*One of the many names of Elizabeth Linington, who also wrote under her real name and the alter egos Lesley Egan, Egan O’Neill and Dell Shannon.

**Bankhead sued Columbia Pictures when they retitled this for U.S. theaters.

Hysteria (1965)

Produced by Hammer and released by MGM, this Freddie Francis-directed movie is kinda sorta a nascent giallo, in that a foreigner in a strange land must overcome amnesia and solve a crime that the police are ineffectual at investigating.

Chris Smith wakes up in an English hospital after a car accident, unable to recall much of his life. Even four months later, he still can’t remember much and is under the care of Dr. Keller and his bills and apartment are being paid by a mysterious benefactor.

Also — he may hallucinate from time to time. And he keeps seeing a woman in a photo that he’s sure that he knows. And oh yeah, before we forget, dead bodies start showing up in the shower.

This was written by Jimmy Sangster, Swho also wrote The LegacyWhoever Slew Auntie Roo? and tons of stuff for Hammer including Dracula Prince of DarknessThe Revenge of FrankensteinThe Mummy and more. He also wrote one of the best non-Bond Eurospy films, Deadlier than the Male as well as some great made for TV movies that also have a giallo feel like Scream, Pretty PeggyA Taste for Evil and No Place to Hide.

There are better noir, giallo and Hammer movies for you to seek out, but hey — it’s not a total waste of time. I’m a Freddie Francis and Jimmy Sangster fan, so I enjoyed  it.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to violence, the word and the act. While violence cloaks itself in a plethora of disguises, its favorite mantle still remains… sex. Violence devours all it touches, its voracious appetite rarely fulfilled. Yet violence doesn’t only destroy, it creates and molds as well. Let’s examine closely then this dangerously evil creation, this new breed encased and contained within the supple skin of woman. The softness is there, the unmistakable smell of female, the surface shiny and silken, the body yielding yet wanton. But a word of caution: handle with care and don’t drop your guard. This rapacious new breed prowls both alone and in packs, operating at any level, any time, anywhere, and with anybody. Who are they? One might be your secretary, your doctor’s receptionist… or a dancer in a go-go club!”

You know how I always say, “They could have stopped making movies after this?” This is the movie at the center of my argument. I really don’t know how any movie gets any better than this, unless Russ Meyer is directing it.

The three worst women you’ve ever met — and also the finest — finish their dance routines at a club and then head out to the California desert where they race their car and verbally abuse one another. They are Billie (Laurie Williams), Rosie (Haji) and Varla (Tura Satana, perhaps the finest thing Satan ever made for the Lord). They follow that up by sizing up the guy mansplaining things to his girl and snap his neck before drugging his woman, Linda (Susan Bernard).

Stopping to fill up, they learn that a wheelchair-bound man and his feebleminded son are literally sitting on a treasure. So they do what you or I would do — manipulate, manhandled and murder everyone in their way.

Originally known as The Leather Girls and then The Mankillers, this isn’t a movie as much as a religion to me. No less a cultural giant as John Waters said, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is, beyond a doubt, the best movie ever made. It is possibly better than any film that will be made in the future.”

Tura Satana is the kind of woman that if she wasn’t born, we would have created her and made her into a goddess. There have been many pretenders to her throne, but none will ever ascend it.

Seriously, I wore the t-shirt of this movie for most of the 90s before it fell apart. If you dislike this movie, we can never, ever be friends.