El mundo de los muertos [The World of the Dead]

(Cin. Sotomayor, 1969) Exec Prod: Hebert Dávila Guajardo; Prod: Jesús Sotomayor Martínez; Dir: Gilberto Martínez Solares; Scr: Rafael García Travesí ;Story: Rafael García Travesí , Jesús Sotomayor Martínez; Photo: Raúl Martínez Solares; Music Dir: Gustavo César Carrión; Supv: Miguel Sotomayor Martínez; Prod Chief: Julio Guerrero Tello; Asst Dir: Mario Llorca; Film Ed: José Bustos; Decor: José Tirado; Camera Op: Cirilo Rodríguez; Lighting: Horacio Calvillo; Makeup: María del Castillo; Sound Supv: Jaime L. Fields; Sound Dir: Galdino Samperio; Sound Ed: Raúl Portillo; Dialog Rec: Javier Mateos; Union: STPC

CAST: Santo (Caballero Enmascarado de Plata; himself), Blue Demon (Caballero Azul), Pilar Pellicer (doña Damiana Velázquez; Alicia), Carlos León (executioner; party guest), Antonio Raxel (Inquisition leader; don Alfonso), Guillermo [Alvarez] Bianchi (bishop; Padre Francisco], Carlos Suárez (Inquisition member; Santo's corner man), Mary Montiel (tortured woman; party guest), Betty Nelson (Aurora), Eduardo MacGregor (priest), Ramiro Orsi [sic] (Alberto, Santo's trainer), Marcelo Villamil (party guest and ring announcer), Fernando Yapur (tour guide), Juan Garza (wrestling opponent)

Mexico City release: 1 October 1970; 2 week run; Authorization: A

NOTES: Rafael García Travesí worked on the screenplays of the four Santo films for Vergara, which could be considered dry runs for El mundo de los muertos. 2 of the 4 Vergara pictures contain colonial-era sequences with Santo's predecessor "El Caballero Enmascarado de Plata," and the plot of Atacan las brujas also deals with reincarnation or at least an individual in the contemporary period who is the double of someone from a previous time, and whose life is predestined by events that occurred in the past. El mundo de los muertos contains all of these elements, integrated reasonably well into a coherent plot, and adds an interesting sequence in the eponymous "world of the dead."

Unfortunately, the imaginative script is hampered by very clumsy execution: whether this should be blamed on the Sotomayors (whose films notoriously promise more than they deliver) or Gilberto Martínez Solares (whose best films were pretty far behind him by this point) is difficult to say. The crude inclusion of footage from other films can be attributed to the producers, who did this from at least La nave de los monstruos (1959) and continued through the Santo and Blue Demon films of the late '60s. Occasionally the stock footage was utilized effectively, and often the scenes "quoted" from other pictures were better than the Sotomayor films themselves: El mundo de los muertos fails on the first count (the inserts are blatant mis-matches) and achieves the second, dubious result (which is to make this film look even worse than it is, in comparison to the atmospheric stock scenes). For example, in the final sequence, there are some shots (from an unidentified film) of strange figures leaving their tombs and flying through the air, then some shots of whitish, bald, ghost-like creatures. What do we get in the new footage? Three bare-chested wrestlers in black tights with dish-towels over their heads, looking like demented drag-queen bridesmaids!

But the pedestrian production values and direction cannot completely ruin El mundo de los muertos, and except for Blue Demon fans who might feel cheated by his small, mostly villainous role, the picture should hold one's interest. Pilar Pellicer is not the type of actress one expects to find in a film like this, but she looks right for the part and turns in a good performance. The rest of the cast is satisfactory, although the only person besides Santo and Pellicer to have a really substantial role (actually, dual roles) is Guillermo Alvarez Bianchi.

Like Santo y Blue Demon contra los monstruos, a "nude scenes" version of El mundo de los muertos may have been shot. At least one still (showing a nude woman being whipped) exists from this alternate version, but the film itself has not been located to date.

In 1676, the Inquisition in Mexico is trying to eradicate a cult of devil-worshippers. Four members (all burly wrestler-types) are burned at the stake (one's face and chest actually start to blister in the flames, a nice touch), as Damiana, their high priestess, looks on from afar. Returning to the graveyard where her followers await, Damiana prays for assistance from Satan. Suddenly, the Caballero Azul (Blue Demon) appears: he's been sent to help her carry out her vengeance (later it is revealed that he is a good person whose soul has been captured by the devil).

Meanwhile, the Caballero Enmascarado de Plata (Santo, wearing his regular mask, pants and boots, but a silver jacket with frilly cuffs, and a silver cape with red lining) meets his beloved, the buxom blonde Aurora. He wants to marry her, but doesn't want to expose her to the danger that threatens him. Later, the Caballero talks with the Bishop: they suspect that the rich doña Damiana is in league with the Devil but can't prove it. The Bishop visits Damiana at her house, and when she tries to dissemble, he holds up a cross and watches her cringe. The Caballero is her next visitor, at her invitation. Damiana offers him her love, riches, power, and so forth, if he will pledge his soul to Satan. He refuses; she tries to stab him, and the dagger leaves a triangle burned on his hand when he stops her.

The Caballero is later attacked by three of the cult members who were burned at the stake (they look normal now, except that their skin is a little grayish), but they flee when he brandishes a crucifix. The Caballero Azul shows up for a real knock-down fight (a lot of furniture is over-turned), but disappears in a puff of smoke when (a) the sun rises, and (b) the Caballero Enmascarado de Plata whips out his crucifix.

But in the meantime, Damiana has a paid a visit to the sleeping Aurora, stabbing her to death. The Caballero arrives in time to find his lover in bed, covered in blood, with the dagger in her ample chest (the dagger then vanishes). Damiana is caught and sentenced to be burned at the stake. As she burns, she says her descendant, in 300 years, will kill all of their descendants (Carlos León, as the Inquisition's executioner, has a broad smile on his face as he lights the fire--this man enjoys his work).

Voiceover: "And 300 years later, the curse was carried out." Alicia, who is the image of doña Damiana, wakes up screaming. She has had another nightmare. Her father, don Alfonso (who looks like the head of the Inquisition), comforts her. In a rather odd scene, Santo and Alicia visit an old convent with a group of tourists (Fernando Yapur is their guide, but his voice is dubbed). They see some mummies (!) and Alicia says she feels she's been there before; it just happens to be the spot where Damiana was burned at the stake.

Santo and Alicia are engaged to be married, but haven't set the date. At a party, where half the guests are exact doubles of people from the colonial sequence, Padre Francisco (whose ancestor was the Bishop--what a demotion) tells another guest that Alicia has been sleepwalking and having hallucinations.

Later, after everyone has gone, Alicia follows a figure veiled in black (Damiana); in the basement, she finds the dagger, hidden in an old dresser. Taking it up to her room, she puts it away. Then, in double exposure, Damiana takes possession of Alicia's body. Wearing a black slip, she can now walk through walls. Santo is preparing to wrestle at the arena; his assistant Alberto thinks he sees something (Damiana). As the bout goes on, Damiana can be seen (in double exposure) in the audience. Santo's opponent goes wild, trying to strangle Santo with a towel, hitting the referee, and kicking Santo out of the ring. He's disqualified. [This is almost identical to a scene in El hacha diabólica, and in fact in both films the possessed wrestler is Juan Garza!]

Padre Francisco is reading about the death of doña Damiana in 1670 (or was it 1676?); the shadowy figure of Damiana comes in to stab him, but is repulsed by the crucifix on his desk. Santo's assistant Alberto isn't so lucky. He hears noises in his apartment, and then the lights go out. Grabbing a pistol, he calls Santo on the phone; he shoots at Damiana without effect, and screams. [This scene is also lifted from El hacha diabólica, although it was Santo's girlfriend who was on the other end of the line in that picture.]

Santo, leaving to help his friend, is attacked by three ghost wrestlers. The battle continues outside, but the wrestlers flee when a rooster crows, signifying the imminence of dawn. [This sequence is extremely irritating: the set of the interior of Santo's house is fairly luxurious, but when the combatants go outside, they are suddenly on the "Western town" street on the Churubusco studio backlot! Just another example of the lack of concern exhibited by the filmmakers.]

Padre Francisco, don Alfonso and Santo talk over the case. When don Alfonso expresses disbelief that his daughter is possessed, Padre Francisco reads the story of the Gadarene swine from the Gospel of Luke. They put a crucifix around Alicia's neck , but while she sleeps, Damiana puts a spell on don Alfonso and he takes it off! The possessed Alicia/Damiana gives the dagger to the ghost wrestlers and tells them to kill Santo.

Santo is back at the arena: his opponent, suspiciously, comes into the ring with a towel completely covering his face. The bell rings, and Santo realizes it's a ghost wrestler. Then a second, and a third appear! Santo is held down and stabbed in the chest! [This sequence is, to be fair, nicely shot from a variety of angles and effectively edited.] But, he's taken to the hospital, and after some stock footage of an operation, is pronounced as good as new.

Later, Damiana drops a big tarantula on Santo as he's reading; he flicks it off. Padre Francisco and Santo confront Damiana and the ghost wrestlers in a graveyard; when shown a crucifix (man, nobody should make a move without one of those), the wrestlers vanish. Damiana/Alicia faints. Taken home, a doctor says she is dying. Padre Francisco, always willing to share good news, says that if she dies while possessed, her soul is lost forever. Santo agrees to try and save her. By staring real hard (that's all it takes, apparently), he enters the red-tinted "world of the dead."

This sequence is fairly imaginative: in addition to the red tint, there are odd wailing sounds and music on the soundtrack, in addition to stock footage of bubbling lava, and the aforementioned weird creatures. Santo catches up with Alicia, who passes out. He tries to take her back, but they are attacked by the ghost wrestlers. Suddenly, the Caballero Azul shows up and helps Santo defeat them. Damiana vanishes in a pillar of fire. Santo thanks the Caballero Azul, who replies: "No need to thank me. With this, I earned my liberation after more than 300 years." He warns Santo that he must cross the (rope) bridge between life and death with Alicia before time (an hourglass) runs out, or be trapped for eternity. Although nearly surrounded by fire, Santo makes it across the bridge with Alicia in his arms.

As the film ends, Santo and Alicia are walking hand in hand. The narrator says the forces of evil have been defeated, yadda yadda. And then the opening credits are repeated, except that the main title has been crudely cut out (one card reads "Pilar Pellicer en--").

In balance, this is a decent fantasy film that could have been much better. I think the two things that bug me the most are the use of the exterior Western street and the towel-headed wrestlers in the final sequence, but I'd still rate this as reasonably entertaining.

Review posted on 16 Feb 98 by dwilt@umd.edu. Revised 6 Jan 99, 10 July 2018.

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