El espectro del estrangulador [The Spectre of the Strangler]

(Estudios América-Cinematográfica Norte, 1963) Prod: Alberto López; Dir/Scr: René Cardona [Sr.]*; Story: Rafael García Travesí ;Photo: Alfredo Uribe Jacome; Music Dir: Enrico C. Cabiati; Prod Mgr: Luis García de León; Asst Dir: Tito Novaro; Film Ed: José J. Munguía; Art Dir: Arcadi Artis Gener; Camera Op: Roberto Jaramillo; Special FX: Javier Sierra; Makeup: Antonio Ramírez; Sound Eng: Consuelo P. de Rendón; Music Rec: Heinrich Henkel; Union: STIC
*[García Riera credits García Travesí with story/screenplay but Cardona is credited on-screen for the "guión técnico"]

CAST: Santo (Santo), Roberto Cañedo (the strangler), María Duval (Laura), Carlos López Moctezuma (Inspector Villegas), Begoña Palacios (Irene), Alberto Vázquez (Javier), Milton Ray (Milton), Julián de Meriche (don Julián), Mayté Carol, Gloria Chávez, Julio Ahuet (police detective), Manuel Dondé, José Cora, Guillermo Bravo Sosa, Salvador Terroba (Villegas' asst.), Gerardo Zepeda (Tor), Edith Barr (singer), La Sonora Santanera (musical group), Manuel Garay (Méndez, plainclothesman at boarding school), "Picoro" (ring ancr)

Mexico City release: March 1966; 3 week run; Authorization: A

Spanish release data: Authorization date: 3 August 1966; Total spectators: 198,466.

NOTES: Let this be a lesson to us all--I had seen this film nearly a decade ago, and had vague but good memories of it. However, after watching it once more, I have to say that it is really not a good picture at all. It appears to have been put together with left-over footage from its predecessor, Santo vs. el estrangulador (this was the last film Santo made for Alberto López--one might almost suspect that López tried to stretch two pictures into one). The amount of time devoted to the "plot" (such as it is) is negligible: instead, there are countless (well, eight) musical numbers and three wrestling matches (only one of which is connected to the plot). At one point there are four songs in a row!

Apropos of this, some of the actors credited on this picture (specifically Manuel Dondé and Guillermo Bravo Sosa) do not seem to be in the film at all-- they were in the first one but not the sequel. A trivia note, Ofelia Montesco was in the first movie and is represented by a wax dummy (supposedly her preserved corpse) in this one. The three "episode" titles of this film are: "El espectro del estrangulador," "El violador de cadáveres," and "Trampa fatal."

As the credits roll, an ambulance speeds through the night. It arrives at a theatre, where the dead body of "The Strangler" is carried out. The next day, the Strangler's assistant Tor reads the newspaper: "Strangler Killed by Police." However, Tor knows better. He goes to the morgue and steals the body of his boss, killing the morgue attendant. But the Strangler isn't dead, and soon he's back in his hideout, playing his pipe organ and laughing hysterically (he does this a lot, laughing hysterically, that is). Tor creates lifelike masks (made from human skin taken from the Strangler's victims) to cover the Strangler's horribly scarred face (the Strangler also has one "dead eye" but when he's wearing a mask both eyes are OK). The mask he likes to wear most of the time resembles Roberto Cañedo.

Meanwhile, police Inspector Villegas reports the disappearance of the Strangler's body (and all of his disguises and costumes) to Santo. The inspector says that Laura is going to re-open her theatre (from the first movie) and this will hopefully lure the Strangler out into the open. Santo is a little disturbed that his adopted son Milton (who is a singer) might be at risk, but Villegas downplays the danger. Santo does give Milton a radio-wristwatch so he can call for help.

The Strangler calls Santo at his crime lab and says he will begin a new reign of terror unless Santo meets him that night. After Santo leaves, Milton plays a tape of the call and alerts the police. When Santo arrives at the Strangler's hideout (this must be his alternate hideout), he's chloroformed and put inside a giant drill-press. The huge device threatens to squash Santo, but he rather easily escapes, and then the police arrive. But Tor and the Strangler escape. (This sequence does not generate any suspense, and it's a shame because the giant drill-press is really impressive)

After a long musical interlude, the Strangler kills one of the showgirls as she leaves the theatre, escaping via the sewers. After a match with El Espanto (during which El Espanto is unmasked, an interesting denouement--this is apparently footage of an actual event), Santo goes to the cemetary in case the Strangler and Tor decide to steal the body of their latest victim. What do you know, they are there! Santo is knocked out and put in the now-empty coffin, and buried alive. He eventually gets out. Santo's next match is with the Enmascarado Negro, who tries to strangle Santo with a cord. He's eventually exposed as Tor, who killed the real Enmascarado Negro. The Strangler turns off the lights in the arena and they escape.

The Strangler kills Julián, the show's director, and impersonates him at the theatre. A chandelier, cut by the Strangler, falls on the stage but doesn't hurt anybody. Next, Milton is kidnaped by the Strangler, but the young boy manages to contact Santo via his wristwatch-radio. Santo arrives at the villain's hideout (Tor was killed by the police in a car chase), escapes from a couple of traps (including a pit and poison gas). He has a fairly good fight with the Strangler (i.e., Cañedo's double, who wears similar scarred makeup but otherwise doesn't resemble him physically at all). A fire breaks out and the Strangler burns up (and he screams for a long time--even after Santo and Milton leave the building, you can still hear him!).

El espectro del estrangulador is really pretty pointless. The Strangler wants to kill people for reasons never explained (except maybe in the first film); how he keeps getting away with murder and then (much later) stealing the bodies of his victims is confusing, and the rather cavalier attitude of Inspector Villegas (essentially using all of the performers and the audience in the theatre as bait, night after night) seems odd. Santo himself not only has relatively little to do, saddling him with little Milton (who keeps calling Santo "Papá") is irritating, and there is also one odd scene in which Santo--after a lackluster showing against El Espectro--says he's worried about being unmasked, worried about the Strangler, worried about Milton, and so on. This comes completely out of left field and is never mentioned again. Another aspect of the plot that is mentioned once and forgotten is a rivalry (both romantic and professional) between Irene and Laura. Although Gerardo Zepeda has one of his better roles (instead of being just a dumb henchman or a monster, he's actually the real genius behind the Strangler's disguises), his fights with Santo aren't that exciting or well-staged. The final sequence is better, what with frenetic music, fire, overturned furniture, and so on, but the serial-like death-traps that Santo keeps getting into (the giant drill-press, being buried alive, the pit-full of poison gas) aren't presented in a very exciting manner at all. Music director Cabiati tries to spice up the proceedings with some jazz--played at full tilt and very loud during all of the "action" scenes--but it doesn't help.

The picture isn't completely worthless: the gruesome touch of using human skin for the Strangler's disguises and the gallery of preserved corpses he keeps in his house are OK, and the scar-face makeup is pretty good. Cañedo and Zepeda are the best things about the cast; López Moctezuma (it just doesn't seem right that he's a policeman not a villain) and Milton Ray are adequate, but Vázquez, Duval and Palacios are absolutely wasted.

Overall, a weak effort with a few good touches. Posted by dwilt@umd.edu on 30 January 1998. Updated 19 January 2000.

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