El hacha diabólica [The Diabolical Hatchet]

(Filmica Vergara Cinecomisiones, 1964) Prod: Luis Enrique Vergara C.; Dir: José Díaz Morales; Scr: Rafael García Travesí ; Story: Rafael García Travesí , Fernando Osés; Photo: Eduardo Valdez; Music: Jorge Pérez Herrera; Prod Mgr: Roy Fletcher; Prod Chief: José Rodríguez R.; Asst Dir: Angel Rodríguez; Film Ed/Sound Ed: José Juan Munguía; Camera Op: Dagobied Rodríguez; Costumes: Bertha Mendoza López; Makeup: Armando Islas; Dialog Rec: Jesús Sánchez; Music/Re-Rec: Salvador Topete; Recordist: Daniel Mercado Díaz; Union: STIC

CAST: Santo (himself), Lorena Velázquez (Isabel de Arango), Fernando Osés (Encapuchado Negro), Bety González (Alicia), Mario Sevilla (Abraca; Dr. Zanoni), Mario Orea (monk), Guillermo Hernández "Lobo Negro" (first opponent), José Alvarez Valdez, Mario Zebadua "Colocho" (reporter), Martha Lasso Rentería, Emilio Garibay, Carlos Suárez & Margarito Luna (Inquisition men), Víctor Velázquez (Inquisition official), Juan Garza (2d opponent), Jorge Mateos, Roy Fletcher (arena policeman)

Mexico City release: August 1965; 1 week run; Authorization: A

Spanish release data: Authorization date: 13 August 1966; Total spectators: 220, 370.

This film played a number of U.S. cinemas in 1966-69, including cities like Austin, TX (April 68), Galveston, TX (July 69), Miami, FL (Nov-Dec 69), Silver City, NM (Sept 68), Albuquerque, NM (July 1966), and Salt Lake City, UT (July 1969, on a double-bill with the Cantinflas film "Gran Hotel," which was made in 1944!).

NOTES: Another of the unusual, cheap but entertaining Santo vehicles made for Vergara. Like El barón Brákola and Atacan las brujas, the film contains extensive flashback scenes to colonial times which feature a Santo-ancestor. In fact, El hacha diabólica includes a sort of Santo "origin scene," in which an ordinary man (whose face is never shown, however) is magically transformed into Santo, el Enmascarado de Plata, complete with his 20th-century wrestling outfit. It's also interesting to note that El hacha diabólica contains a Santo-unmasked scene, in which an uncredited actor (with thick black hair and high cheekbones) pulls off the silver mask and kisses Bety González: he's only shown 3/4 face but it's fairly obvious that this isn't Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta.

The production values are on a par with the other Vergara pictures, which is to say, pretty low. There is one fight between Santo and Fernando Osés that takes place in Dr. Zanoni's laboratory/library, which appears to have been constructed in a very cramped corner of a soundstage: the whole set is probably no more than 15 feet wide. Curiously, there is a neat little trick during the credits: most of the credits are superimposed over a picture of an arm holding an axe, but when the producer's name and the director's name appear, the arm comes alive and slashes their names in half!

The Diabolical Axe a lively picture that makes a number of contributions to Santo lore. It's the first Santo movie with an extended sequence not set in contemporary Mexico and the first Santo movie in which he has a girlfriend. It is also the first Santo film in which the story revolves around the Silver-Masked One, instead of Santo being summoned to solve a mystery or save someone in trouble. The plot contains mystical and romantic elements atypical for a wrestling-hero movie, and the chief menace--a black-hooded axeman who magically appears and tries to chop Santo's head off!--is a particularly strong opponent for El Santo. Carlos Suárez, later an ubiquitous figure in Santo movies (and the wrestler's real-life manager), has perhaps his first role in a Santo picture here, (although he had acted in other films since the mid-1950s).

The movie suggests Santo's silver mask has supernatural powers, something also alluded to in Chanoc and the Son of Santo vs. the Killer Vampires (1981) and Santo: the Legend of the Silver-Masked Man (1992). While even in the movies it is admitted that Santo had more than one mask, apparently the mask (according to The Diabolical Axe) was created by a magician in the 17th-century and given to the first Santo: as each Santo retires, he turns over his mask to his son, who assumes the role.

The Santo Vergara movies were all directed by José Díaz Morales, a Spanish emigre mostly known for sexy melodramas and comedies, and were all written by Rafael García Travesí and Fernando Osés. Made independently and on low budgets, the films do not resemble other movies shot in the major studios in Mexico, and have a very distinctive look about them. Director of photography Eduardo Valdés (credited as "Valdez") has fewer than a dozen such credits, suggesting he was not regularly employed on feature films. Nonetheless, the strange visual style-coupled with the odd plots and the canned but usually appropriate music--is actually quite effective in conveying the outré aspects of these movies.

The film begins in 1603: a procession of monks places the body of El Santo in a tomb. After they leave, a man wearing a black hood suddenly appears and swears vengeance on Santo, even if it takes centuries to achieve. The setting shifts to the present: Santo is wrestling Lobo Negro, but the axeman mysteriously appears in the ring and tries to kill the hero, tossing the other wrestler and the referee aside. Police bullets don't harm the hooded man, but he just as suddenly vanishes. A reporter scoffs, assuming it was a publicity trick, but the axe-wielding stranger does not show up in his photographs.

Santo leaves with Alicia, his blonde girlfriend. They park for a while to talk (during much of this sequence, which is done in shot-reverse shot fashion, about half the shots are out of focus!). Santo says he likes Alicia, but he has the feeling that somewhere there is a woman that he's always been in love with. Alicia asks to see Santo's face, he unmasks ("You'll be the first and the last" to see him without his mask, he tells her), and they kiss.

Santo is asleep (fully dressed), when the axeman appears and tries to kill him, but a woman's scream, coming from out of nowhere, saves the masked hero. Santo takes the axe--which didn't disappear this time when the Black Hood vanished--to his friend, Dr. Zanoni. Under magnification, the axe proves to have the date 1603 and a skull engraved on it. Santo's mask, which was passed down to him from his father, has a tiny occult design on it as well (the word "Abracadabra" in a triangle). Zanoni tells him that Abraca was a famous magician in the 17th century; as he speaks, a woman mysteriously appears. She is Isabel de Arango, who had earlier saved Santo's life by screaming; if Santo defeats the axeman, their love can live again. Then she disappears. Santo is clueless: "I've forgotten everything."

Zanoni and Santo connect themselves to a machine (by putting silly looking beanies on their heads) which will allow them to visit the past. Back in 1603, a man (who holds a cape over his face most of the time), beseeches "Arimán" (a demon, apparently, represented by a big, stuffed, upright bat) for help. He desires Isabel de Arango, but she is in love with another. At a costume ball, Isabel's suitor is wearing a silver mask, and the evil would-be boyfriend is wearing a black one. Outside, they have a swordfight which ends with the villain suffering a wound. He staggers to the secret dungeon where he has his altar to Arimán. A voice tells him that he will have to give up his soul in exchange for Satanic (or Arimanic) assistance. The man agrees, and is converted into the Black Hood (Fernando Osés' face is very briefly seen in this sequence: why his face is otherwise hidden in the pre-Hood scenes is inexplicable, unless it was easier to dub his dialogue that way, or unless there was some idea of linking him with the pre-Santo character, whose face is also never shown).

Arimán says he can't make Isabel fall in love with the Black Hood, but he does give the Hood a trunk full of jewels and gold. The Hood will have power and wealth unless he is defeated and unmasked. He kidnaps Isabel and chains her up in his dungeon. Isabel's suitor can't locate her. Despairing, he goes to see magician Abraca, who lives in a cave. Abraca tells him that "Isabel is no longer of this world," but changes the man into Santo so he can fight evil. Back in town, Santo and the Inquisition capture the Black Hood, who is burned at the stake, but turns into a bat and flies away. Santo, despondent, enters a monastery to live out his days.

Back in 1964, Zanoni suggests that Santo try to locate Isabel's resting place, by checking out existing colonial-era houses. The Black Hood pops in for another attempt on Santo's life; after watching the fight with (very mild) interest for a bit, Zanoni steps in front of the axe, saving Santo's life. As he dies, he changes into the bearded magician Abraca.

Santo's next wrestling opponent is possessed by the spirit of the Black Hood, and turns into a dirty fighter. The crowd (this scene was shot in a real arena, as was the earlier bout) gets mad, tossing pieces of trash into the ring. After Santo wins, his opponent is still booed by the fans.

Santo is back together with Alicia, and they go to their usual parking spot. He says she could be in danger, so they can't see each other for a while. She goes home and gets ready for bed, then senses something wrong and calls Santo on the phone; Santo hears her scream. He goes to her apartment and finds her dead (this scene is shot in a rather odd fashion--her dead body can only be glimpsed VERY briefly and partially, and it's only when Santo calls the police to report her murder that the audience knows she hasn't been kidnaped or something). Santo tells the police: "I swear the killer will pay for his crime."

As mentioned elsewhere, nude scenes (for export versions) are known to have been shot for at least one Santo Vergara movie in this period. It is very possible that nude (or at least gory) footage of Bety González (who plays Alicia) was shot but not included in the Mexican version of this movie. In fact, the Spanish poster art (as can be seen on this page) for Hacha features a closeup of her bloody, dead face.

After some research, Santo locates the house where he believes Isabel's body is. There is a long sequence in which he wanders around the (real) house. Abraca's spirit appears and warns him of danger; a secret door opens, and Santo finds the Black Hood's secret dungeon (and Isabel's skeleton, chained to the wall).

Santo and the Black Hood fight, but Santo picks up a big torch-holder and whacks the axeman good, then pulls off the man's hood. The villain turns into a bat and is pinned to the wall with a spike. Isabel returns to her human form and says she can move on to her eternal rest: Santo will "continue fighting for goodness and justice." The room's furnishings vanish. Santo is left alone in the empty room. The End.

Like most Santo films (shoot, most films, period), El hacha diabólica has its good and bad points. On the minus side, in addition to some things already mentioned, the film's action scenes aren't too exciting: Osés is a good opponent for Santo (see El barón Brákola), but he's handicapped here by the axe. He can't REALLY chop Santo, but he has to make it look like he's trying to. On the plus side, the concept of an axe-wielding, black-hooded villain who can magically appear at any time and try to cut your head off is pretty neat.

The romantic aspects of the plot are sketchy but the death of Alicia and Isabel's final disappearance are surprisingly effective, and at least Santo is emotionally involved rather than having the "love interest" shunted off onto a couple of supporting players, as it is in the other 3 Vergara pictures, for example (although in El barón Brákola it is virtually nonexistent). However, on the other hand, the film is so focused on Santo that the supporting cast has little to do, except for Mario Sevilla (and Osés, although his character has virtually no personality): Lorena Velázquez and Colocho are wasted.

Rafael García Travesí's script for The Diabolical Axe was reworked in 1969 as El mundo de los muertos [The World of the Dead], starring Santo and Blue Demon. In both films, Santo's girlfriend is murdered: curiously, neither of the blonde actresses (Bety [sic] González and Betty Nelson) had significant film careers, although they were probably models or nightclub performers. It is interesting to spot Víctor Velázquez in the movie, playing a member of the Inquisition: the father of Lorena Velázquez and her actress sister Teresa, he had appeared in four previous Santo movies, including 1962's Santo vs. the Vampire Women.

Although El Santo's real voice was almost never heard in his films, The Diabolical Axe goes one step further, dubbing all of the villain's speeches as well (Fernando Osés had a slight Spanish accent and was either dubbed or had no dialogue in most of his movies). Santo's voice seems to have been provided by Víctor Alcocer, while the Black Hood sounds a lot like Bruno Rey.

Reasonably entertaining.

Back to the Santo Filmography.

Reviewed by dwilt@umd.edu on 6 Feb 1998. Last updated 22 Feb 2021, html edits 9 Sept 2021.