Santo was a burly phenomenon in Mexico, and this retro classic will help you understand why
Santo en el museo de cera
(Santo in the Wax Museum)
Alfonso Corona Blake, Mexico
1963, Filmadora Panamericana
92 minutes, Spanish with English subtitles
Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez
LATAMROB rating: ****
BEFORE the favoured shape of men’s bodies was the rock-hard, laboured sixpack and super broad shoulders of the 21st-century archetype, middle-aged superheroes with flabby bellies more in tune with what most men might look like in tights existed. Take a look at the Cliffhanger’s Batman series and compare them to cyborg-sculpted Christian Bale in The Dark Knight.
Once upon a time, south of the Rio Grande, lived Santo – a wrestler in a silver mask who hooked generations of Latin American kids, men, and even rowdy grannies into a weekly habit. Santo was the most popular wrestler in the history of this sport which, although imported from the US, became with its masks and as a representation of the struggle between good and evil a uniquely Mexican pastime. Santo en el museo de cera epitomises the iconography of the phenomenon that was this luchador and has stood the test of time by becoming a retro classic.
Don’t be put off by the Spanish, or even the black and white – it is all subtitled in English and, believe me, will make you forget about colour. If it kept all those Latin Americans glued to their screens for years, it will probably do so for you (just don’t forget your mates and the beers, and you can even call the children in to watch).
Working as a staunch servant of justice, Santo acts as a detective and wrestles his way to resolving some mysterious disappearances linked with a creepy wax museum that features replicas of Stalin, Gandhi, Guillotin, Pancho Villa and …Gary Cooper! But down a winding staircase can also be found the Monsters of History dungeon where the real action takes place. Dr Karol, the museum’s intriguing and shady owner, had a murky past that points the viewer to Auschwitz (where, whatever he did, it was not very nice).
Although filmed in the 1970s, as trashy and dated as Santo en el museo de cera may seem it was very well produced considering the low budget and standards of the time. Some of its most endearing features are the extremely dated telecommunication props, the music employed to give a creepy ambience, some really stupid but classic lines, and the even more lame excuses that are woven into the plot to present the next wrestling match. For that is what the Santo films, and other wrestling movies of the era were – showcases for a spectacle that was not televised until the 1990s and thus depended heavily on putting asses on seats.
And considering how chunky he was, Santo really kicked ass: he was 49 at the time this movie was made and never used stunt doubles nor the contemporary protective gadgets that wrestlers use today.
Santo gets better: apart from helping the police and Interpol to fight werewolves, witches, aliens, Guanajuato’s mummies, the underworld and mad scientists – he appeared in more than 50 films in the space of a 24-year-period – he was a great role model. Hid not smoke or booze and never went in for promiscuous relationships with the hotties in his celluloids.
Unmasked a year after his retirement from the ring in front of millions of viewers of the Jacobo Zabludovsky talk show as Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta, Santo was a true, blockbusting star (in 1961 he managed to make 125,000 old pesos just at the premiere of Santo contra el cerebro diabólico , Santo versus the Diabolical Brain). He was also an inspiration for many wrestlers, like blue-eyed Mexican-American Rey Mysterio from San Diego, and his own son has carried on the wrestling tradition as Hijo del Santo.
The secrecy Santo maintained through the mask was legend – no one had seen this man without it since 1942 – such that he died just two days after having taken it off on television.
With movies like Santo en el museo de cera you can see between the clunky dialogue and wooden action just why this luchador was such an inspiration. It gave the Latin American public what they really crave: hard and honest, but not flash, heroes who, above all, get the job done.