EL PUÑO DE LA MUERTE (The Fist of Death) and LA FURIA DE LOS KARATECAS (The Fury of the Karate Experts)

El puño de la muerte [The Fist of Death]

(Víctor Films- Cin. Jalisco, 1982) Exec Prod: Víctor Herrera; Director: Alfredo B. Crevenna; Adapt: Alfredo B. Crevenna, Sergio Alvarez A.; Story: Ramón Obón [Jr.]; Photo: Juan Manuel Herrera; Prod Mgr: Eduardo Martínez; Makeup: Ma. Luisa Carrasco; Camera Op: Fernando Fernández ; Dialog Rec: René Cerón ;Union: STPC

Cast: Santo (himself), Grace Renat (Kungyan; Quería); César Sobrevals (Raguri), Steve Cheng (Prince Ching-Ka), Gilberto Trujillo (Kungyan's servant), Carlos Suárez (Cliff), Tinieblas [Manuel Leal] (Tinieblas), Sandra Duarte (Niña de la selva), "Franky," Ismael Ramírez (beast-man), Fishman (wrestler)

Mexico City release: 9 December 1982; Authorization: B

Notes: Santo's final two starring films were shot back-to-back in Florida, beginning on 17 September 1981. El puño de la muerte and La furia de los karatecas aren't horrible: they're outright fantasy films, which are a change from Santo's horror, science-fiction, and crime movies, and the unusual locations (the Vizcaya Museum in Miami, the Coral Castle in Homestead, and the Everglades) are a novel touch. Certainly the films are slow and cheap, but they're not boring.

Kungyan benevolently rules her land through the power of the "Star of Great Power," a glowing crystal than can heal sick people and do other magical things. However, her jealous twin sister Quería perverts the Star's power and is banished, along with her henchman Tinieblas. Tinieblas seduces one of Kungyan's female subjects and they steal the Star. Kungyan and her chancellor (or something) Raguri consult the Oracle, who says "the man without a face" will help them.

This is, of course, El Santo, who at the moment is participating in a tag-team match (one of his partners is Fishman). This match is actually rather good, with Santo doing quite a bit of strenuous action, despite carrying visibly more weight than he did in his earlier years. After the bout, he tells his assistant Cliff that he received a telepathic message and they must leave immediately on an important mission.

[Santo and Cliff's journey is intercut with other sequences, but we'll recap it here. First they take a private jet from Mexico; next, they travel through a swamp in an airboat. After walking for a while, they reach a grass airfield and fly off in a small, single-engine airplane. When it lands, then they get in a little boat with an outboard motor and travel for a long time, finally reaching their destination around the 42-minute mark of this 86-minute movie.]

Meanwhile, Prince Ching-Ka arrives to wed the Niña de la Selva. She and the Star of Power arrived from outer space years earlier; her presence caused a rift between Kungyan and Quería. Quería sends Tinieblas to abduct the Niña, but the Prince intervenes. To protect the Niña, she, the Prince, Kungyan, and some retainers are sent to the "House of Meditation" deep in the jungle. A short time later, Santo and Cliff arrive and meet Raguri; they then also set out for the House of Meditation.

Querí has been alerted to the arrival of Santo. She uses her Star-enhanced magic to change into a hairy beast-man (Santo beats him with a club and throws him into an alligator-infested river) and a tiger (Santo tires it out? It isn't dead, it just gives up). Querí also sends Tinieblas to try again to kidnap the Niña, and this time he does. For some reason, sacrificing the Niña will give Querí more power, or something. Querí also changes into a snake that fatally bites Niña's bodyguard at the House of Meditation, where Kungyan is tied up. Santo and the others show up, learn what's occurred, and arrive at Querí's headquarters just in time to rescue Niña. Querí and Tinieblas escape, but the Star of Great Power is returned to its rightful place. "Thanks to Santo, peace has returned."

El puño de la muerte (the title means nothing, really) is ambitious, and the filmmakers do the best they can with the resources they had. Most of the "special effects" are rudimentary, but two are worth mentioning. First, as Santo and Cliff are preparing to board the second airplane, they're attacked by Querí's men. One of the guys has a sword and lunges at Santo, only to run right into the airplane's spinning propeller and he's literally cut in half. We don't see it happen, but we do see the severed halves of his body on the ground (more than once)! The other notable moment isn't quite so good. In the flashback showing the arrival of the Niña de la Selva and the Star of Great Power, Raguri, Querí, and Kungyan are the ones who discover the arrivals. Most of the shots of the two sisters in this sequence (and throughout the film) use alternate-shots and/or body doubles shot from behind. But one shot in this sequence gives us the worst split-screen effect in cinema history: a large black line is clearly visible between the two halves of the screen! It's inconceivable that someone thought this looked "good enough."

Despite Santo's energetic performance in the arena wrestling sequence, his other "action" scenes in the film aren't very exciting. His final battle against Tinieblas is mostly the two men pushing each other around in a half-hearted fashion, and Santo seems to really be straining when he lifts up the (much larger) Tinieblas to slam him to the ground. The rest of the action featuring Steve Cheng, Tinieblas, and assorted nondescript extras is marginally adequate but at no time impressive.

The performances are adequate: most of the dialogue seems to have been post-dubbed, but no one is really embarassing. Grace Renat as the evil sister wears a black fur bikini, and as the good sister wears a white fur bikini; she also frowns and sneers a lot as Quería; and smiles benignly as Kungyan. [One of the best things about El puño de la muerte is that it allows one to contemplate a world in which there are two Grace Renats.]

Trivia note: Santo is very briefly seen driving a 1975 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray when he arrives at Intervuelos S.A. (an actual company) to take a Learjet on the first leg of his journey.

Imaginative, not wholly successful, but still worth a look.

La furia de los karatecas [Fury of the Karate Experts]

(Víctor Films- Cin. Jalisco, 1981) Exec Prod: Víctor Herrera; Dir: Alfredo B. Crevenna; Adapt: Alfredo B. Crevenna, Sergio Álvarez A.; Story: Ramón Obón [Jr.]; Photo: Juan Manuel Herrera; Prod Mgr: Eduardo Martínez; Camera Op: Fernando FernÁndez; Makeup: Ma. Luisa Carrasco; Dialog Rec: René Cerón; Union: STPC

Cast: Santo (himself), Grace Renat (Kungyan; Quería); César Sobrevals (Raguri), Steve Cheng (Prince Ching-Ka), René Cardona Sr. (Prof. Williams), Edgardo Gazcón (Prince Tegal), Carlos Suárez (Cliff), Tinieblas [Manuel Leal] (Tinieblas), Sandra Duarte (Niña de la Selva), "Franky," Ismael Ramírez (beast-man)

Mexico City release: 7 April 1983. Authorization: B

Notes: La furia de los karatecas is not quite as entertaining as El puño de la muerte: the general novelty of the premise and the settings has worn off, and the narrative is rather fragmented and confusing. The nihilistic ending does come as a surprise, however.

Quería and Tinieblas, who escaped at the end of the previous film, return and are greeted by the High Priest as if they'd merely been away on vacation. Quería's schemes this time are varied and somewhat more mercenary than the mystical power struggle of the first movie.

Santo and Cliff return to Kungyan's palace, this time parachuting in for the wedding of the Niña de la Selva and Prince Ching-Ka. [You have to give the filmmakers credit, they went to the trouble of having parachutists dress up like Santo and Carlos Suárez and actually sky-dive!] Quería sends her henchmen and Tinieblas to steal the wedding presents?! Kind of petty on her part.

Meanwhile Prof. Williams of the University of Nova Scotia and his daughter/assistant Sylvia arrive to investigate mysterious "magnetic forces" in the area. They spy on Quería, who's dancing up a storm (a very frequent occurrence in this film). Her dance-magic re-creates the polka-dotted beast-man from El puño de la muerte: whereas in that movie, Quería actually became the beast-man, here she conjures him out of nowhere and sends him to attack Williams and his party. They flee, and now it's Santo's turn to peek at Quería's dance. Santo fights Tinieblas, but is overcome when the beast-man joins in. Quería bewitches Santo and sends him to fetch the "blonde woman" from the palace.

In an unintentionally hilarious scene, Santo shows up the palace, punches Cliff, Sylvia, Williams, and a bunch of guards before abducting Sylvia (who happens to be blonde)! Wouldn't you know it, Quería says "not that blonde woman, I meant the Niña de la Selva!" and sends him back again! Santo grabs the Niña but Ching-Ka defends her: Santo whups Ching-Ka then passes out himself. He's back to normal when he awakes. He and Williams visit Quería's hideout and (with very little effort) rescue Sylvia.

Quería has another plan. Prince Tegal is coming to the wedding. Tinieblas abducts him and Quería creates a magical double to take his place. She also visits the palace, knocks out Kunyang with incense, and takes her place. [Another terrible split-screen effect.] Quería (posing as Kunyang) tells the Niña that she shouldn't marry Ching-Ka, she should marry Tegal at the Temple that night. Niña says sure, why not. Meanwhile, Santo, Cliff, Ching-Ka, and Raguri (and a couple of men) show up at Quería's hideout: they're attacked by the beast-man, some gorillas, and Tinieblas. Shockingly, Raguri, Ching-Ka, and Tinieblas are all killed! The real Tegal is freed, and everyone who's still alive heads for the Temple.

Quería changes her mind about having Niña marry the fake Tegal (unless it was just a trick to get her to the Temple): instead, Niña will be sacrificed so Quería gets super-magic powers. Just as in El puño de la muerte, Santo arrives at the last second to prevent the High Priest from stabbing Niña. Fake Tegal and Quería vanish in bursts of flame. Suddenly, the voice of the Oracle is heard: Niña's mission to bring peace and love to Earth has failed, so (like Poochie) she must return to her home planet. The end. Wait, what?

The conclusion of La furia de los karatecas is admittedly quite a surprise. After the shocking deaths of Raguri and Ching-Ka, I thought, well, the Niña will marry the real Prince Tegal, but noooo. This denouement comes out of nowhere, literally in the last minute of the film.

There isn't much "fury" or "karate" in La furia de los karatecas: Santo and Tinieblas clash 3 times, none of which is very exciting (Santo loses the first 2 confrontations, but only because someone else helps Tinieblas; he makes up for it by killing Tinieblas in the last battle); Santo briefly battles (and defeats) Ching-Ka; and there are a couple of minor tussles between Tinieblas and miscellaneous characters, but that's it.

The script is rough. Tossing in new characters is fine, but Prof. Williams and his daughter Sylvia (played by an unbilled actress I can't identify) serve very little purpose, and Prince Tegal doesn't appear until quite late in the film. The idea that the bewitched Santo kidnaps Sylvia instead of the Niña is rather clever; this is an example of the "double" theme that appears repeatedly in the film--the good/bad Santo (although they're the same person), the two blondes, the fake Tegal and the real Tegal, and Quería impersonating Kungyan. But there's too much running to and fro between the palace, the Temple, and (confusingly) a third location that's apparently Quería's headquarters. Even the script gets mixed up at one point: the Star of Infinite Power is kept at the Temple, but later someone says Quería has stolen it (which she did in the first film, but not in this one).

La furia de los karatecas is a strange combination of adequate production values (the parachute sequence, a decent number of extras in various scenes) and shoddy filmmaking (cross-cutting between sequences occurring at the same time, yet having one clearly daytime and the other clearly at night). This film not only repeats the terrible split-screen shot from El puño de la muerte (as part of the Niña de la Selva "origin" story, which is shown again), it adds another horrible example (and repeats the shot twice just so we see how bad it is). The perplexing thing is that neither of these shots (and especially the new one here) is crucial and could have easily been omitted.

It has been said that Misterio en las Bermudas (1977) could be considered the end of the lucha libre film genre: it's the last feature film of Blue Demon, Mil Máscaras would not have another starring role for more than a decade, and at the end of that movie the masked luchadores vanish from the face of the earth! Santo appeared in 4 more features (plus one in a cameo only), and it's true that his role, or at least his screen personality, is considerably diminished in all of these. In his two films for Pérez Grovas, Santo co-stars with Gerardo Reyes, who gets a lot of screen time. El puño de la muerte and La furia de los karatecas devote a lot of footage to the other characters (especially Grace Renat as the evil Quería), and while Santo is still heroic, he is definitely not the center of attention.

El puño de la muerte didn't set a very high bar, but La furia de los karatecas manages to not exceed it. However, as with the first movie, this one at least has more or less constant movement (especially of Grace Renat's hips, *badum-tish*) and might be watched once without serious negative consequences.

Posted by D.Wilt (dwilt@umd.edu) on 4 Apr 97. UPDATED: 27 October 2022

Back to the Santo Filmography.