Friday, September 4, 2015

Absurdist Shaggy Dog Story As Cinema Gold?

That kind of describes my feelings towards one of the strangest films I’ve ever experienced and one I intend to describe in detail.
Mi amigo Alberto, just sent me a small but delectable treasure trove of DVDs. In the past he’s doled me out several gems in the Mexican luchadore genre. In the 60’s and 70’s that nation pumped out dozens of films featuring masked wrestlers as detectives and crime fighters, most typically pitted against supernatural or science fiction based antagonists. Premiere among these was el Santo followed closely by the Blue Demon. Well this latest haul introduced me to Superzan.

The movie in question is from 1971 and is titled “Ssuperzan  el Invencible” The disc Al gave me was not a burn but a store-bought platter. It is in Spanish but without any English subtitles. I spoke to him about this, reminding him that my Spanish is extremely limited and he rightly said that in this case translations would have been useless.

The film opens with a day-for-night shot of three alien spacemen who have touched down in a rural section of Mexico . They are played by a trio of dwarves in silver astronaut gear and bubble helmets adorned with several colored lights across the crown. Their scenes (in color) are intercut with shots of their spaceship (in B&W). These also include overhead shots of the creatures filmed by helicopter (as evidenced by the turbine turbulence on the flora at the edges of these shots). Their commotion arouses a German Sheppard on the grounds of a nearby hacienda and the dog sets out in pursuit. Frightened by the animal, the spacemen zap him with a ray gun which freezes the hound in place. Then they turn invisible to escape.
Immediately following this, we see some mob types endangering a captive woman, in perhaps the oldest predicament in cinema; they tie her upon the railroad tracks. Once this is accomplished, the gangsters get in their station wagon and seemingly drive maybe a hundred feet away, then get out to witness her demise. Somehow, our superhero wrestler is aware of the lady’s danger and is flying to her rescue. Let me digress from the action to describe this. Superzan (the double S is reserved only for the film’s title) is clad in gold spandex and a red cape. His luchadore mask is slightly different than the type normally seen, as his mouth, cheeks and chin are visible, like Batman’s cowl. To produce the flying sequences there are shots of an actor in costume who is hung by a cable beneath a flying helicopter (all in long shots). These are intercut with Superzam in close up on a wire against a blue screen. When I say ‘blue screen’ I do not refer to the visual effect where a background is interposed over a blue screen, but literally a blue back drop.   

Back to the action, our hero beats up the bad guys then stops the train before it can pulverize the young lady. Incredibly, the action shows the actor pushing against a real moving (albeit slowly) locomotive engine. If the sob had stumbled, he’d have been toast!

After the rescue, Superzan is honored at an arena where he’s serenaded by a lady singer backed by a mariachi band, plus strings. After her song, a masked wrestler in a tux then croons another ditty. Once the singing is done, we have a wide shot, from above of several luchadores arriving into town on motorcycles. Then the director goes cinema verite on us by using a handheld camera shot as the townsfolk greet their masked champions and then follows them into the wrestling arena. An actual wrestling match or two is de rigueur in this genre and  “Ssuperzan  el Invencible” is no exception. We are treated to a battle royale between 5 or 6 masked wrestlers duking it out against a like number of unmasked opponents. After several minutes of rasslin’ action the maskies prove themselves victorious.

After this Superzan goes to his headquarters, a kind of low-rent Batcave. It houses an old-school computer mainframe and an assortment of electronic gizmos to keep our hero in the know of any danger. He is aided by his partner, an un-costumed black dude. Here he learns of the alien presence and flies off to investigate.

Our interstellar trio stumbles upon a sheppard boy and his flock. The child is unafraid of them and realizes that they may be in danger, so he guides them to a cave to hide out. Unbeknownst to them, Superzan has spotted them and is following. When he catches them in the cave, they zap him as they did the dog, then turn invisible to flee, but not before releasing the hero. Once outside, one of the spacemen is shot and wounded by a hunter and his weapon is dropped. His pals carry their fallen comrade back to the cave, but do not stop to get the gun. Now SZ has already left the cave and he spots the discarded ray gun. He goes back to the cave but before the creatures can shoot him, he voluntarily hands over the weapon. The little guys now realize that he is their friend and using mental telepathy, he contacts his partner to come to the rescue. 

Carrying the bleeding alien to a nearby road, his second arrives in one of the strangest vehicles I have ever seen. It has no doors but seems to be hinged just below the windshield. So to enter the front seat the roof and windshield are pushed forward. Meanwhile the back is open like a truck! Anyway all loaded, they dash off to a doctor friend of SZ. When they arrive, their entrance to the doctors home is witnessed by some local women who immediately decide that the creatures are monsters sent by the devil. As the doctor tries to save the dying alien, the village folk are attacking the home with torches. Fortunately SZ stops the mob and the spaceman is on the road to recovery.

Then SZ is called out to stop mobsters from executing several captured policeman, which he does in his own inerasable style. When he comes back, the lil’ explorers have gone invisible, to leave and are checking out the nightlife. They spot a necking couple in a park, but when the young woman spots them, she screams and takes off, with her paramour in hot pursuit behind her. As they flee, they are stopped by muggers who try and rob them. The spacemen accurately gage the scene and use their ray to freeze the bandits, giving the lovers their chance to escape. Unfreezing the bandits, they turn invisible leaving the crooks to wonder, what the fuck just happened.

In the final scene the invaders go to a Catholic church where a children’s choir sings Ava Maria. The spacemen see the statue of the crucified Christ and are moved. At this point, SZ takes them up to the balcony where they can see the choir. Again moved one of them joins the children to lend his “voice”, a series of beeps, buzzes and boops.
And that my friends is how the fuckin’ thing ends!


  1. Oh.....Wow..... And I thought Italian giallo was the last word in "what the he** is going on?!?!?!"

    1. The Mexican Wrestling classics are among the most bizarre surreal and wonderful movies ever made. El Santo was one of the greatest.

      Here's an example from youtube: