Atacan las brujas [The Witches Attack]

(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: José Juan Munguia; Camera Op: Dagobied Rodríguez; Makeup: Armando Islas; Sound Rec: Daniel Mercado Díaz; Swordfights: Jorge Mateos; Music/Re-rec: Salvador Topete; Dialog Rec: Jesús Sánchez; Asst Photo: Manuel Tejada; Asst Ed: Angel Camacho; Union: STIC

CAST: Santo (himself), Lorena Velázquez ("Elisa Cárdenas"--Mayra), María Eugenia San Martín (Ofelia), Ramón Bugarini (Arturo), Fernando Osés (henchman), Crox Alvarado (lawyer-henchman), Edaena Ruiz (Medusa), Guillermo Hernández "Lobo Negro" (henchman); Altia Michel, María Montiel, Alma Pichardi (aka Alma Rojo), Rito Romero, Juan Garza

Mexico City release: February 1968; 2 week run; Authorization: A

Spanish release data: Authorization date: 22 July 1966; Total spectators: 178,798.

NOTES: After making El espectro del Estrangulador [The Ghost of the Strangler, 1963], his fifth film for producer Alberto López, El Santo turned down the option to renew his contract and instead signed with Luis Enrique Vergara, more than doubling his per-film salary (from 30,000 to 80,000 pesos). The silver- masked man would eventually star in 4 Vergara films and make a cameo appearance in a fifth, before another contract dispute prompted him to move on. Alberto López attempted to replace Santo with a new character--"El Enmascarado de Oro" (the Gold-Masked Man)--in El asesino invisible [The Invisible Killer, 1964], but this superhero (played by future superstar hunk Jorge Rivero) did not catch on. Similarly, when El Santo left Vergara's employ in 1965, the producer brought in another masked wrestler as a replacement, but with more success--Mil Máscaras was the newcomer's name, and he went on to have a long and successful film and ring career. Vergara also hired Boris Karloff, John Carradine, Nick Adams, and Jeffrey Hunter to star in movies in the 1967-1968 period, but the producer's premature death put an end to his Hollywood-Mexico connection.

Santo's first Vergara movie appearance was a guest shot in Blue Demon contra el poder satánico [Blue Demon vs. the Satanic Power], filmed in August 1964. After a wrestling match (stock footage from an earlier Santo movie), Santo greets Blue Demon (another Vergara contractee) and pledges to help him fight evil, whenever needed. The two superheroes would team up, but not for 4 more years and for another producer.

The Witches Attack and The Diabolical Axe, Santo's first starring vehicles for Vergara, were shot back-to-back in December 1964. The first thing one notices about Santo's movies for Vergara is their distinctive "look"--unlike his previous Mexican films, made in the relatively luxurious Churubusco and not-so luxurious América studios, these pictures were produced on the fringes of the industry, filmed on location and on tawdry, even grimy, ill-lit sets. The result is an almost surreal mise-en-scene which effectively bolsters the pictures' bizarre plots.

The Witches Attack consists of three "episodes"-- The Witches Attack, The Cursed Witch, and Bloody Witches' Sabbath --whose "title cards" remain in the finished product: this was because the movie was made under the auspices of the STIC union, which was not legally authorized to make feature films. Instead, producers pretended to make shorts or TV episodes which were then spliced together to make a full film. Atacan las brujas and El hacha diabólica are cheap but entertaining, traits they share with the other Santo and Blue Demon vehicles produced by Vergara. Santo's latter two films for this producer--El Barón Brákola and Profanadores de tumbas--are somewhat better (i.e., more bizarre and campy), but Atacan las brujas and El hacha diabólica have their moments.

The film begins with a long pre- and post-credits sequence. Ofelia has visions of Satan, Santo, stuffed animals, live lizards, and other strange things. Santo enters an old building and fights two masked men before being subdued. He's tied to a table, and Ofelia is chained to another. Queen of the witches Mayra is invoked by her followers (4 or 5 women in ancient Greek style costumes, and three beefy males). Mayra promises to sacrifice Santo and Ofelia to their master, Satan (who has a furry face and horns). Santo breaks free, and casts the shadow of a cross with his body, arms outstretched. The witches flee. Suddenly, Ofelia wakes up.

She has been having this same dream repeatedly. Ofelia tells her boyfriend Arturo that, after her parents died, Elisa Cárdenas, their former secretary, came to her with news of their will: Ofelia has to live in the old house for one year in order to inherit. Arturo tells her that the masked hero of her dream really exists: El Santo.

Arturo discusses the case with Santo; the real Elisa Cárdenas died 15 years earlier, and her place has been taken by a witch. But why? Santo investigates the old house, and is attacked by some of the henchmen. He inadvertently makes the sign of the cross and they flee. As he leaves, Santo picks up an attractive young woman in his car. He doesn't know it is Medusa, one of Mayra's assistants. Medusa leads him to another old house; she keeps disappearing and reappearing, leading Santo on. In the bedroom, she suddenly shows up wearing a sparkly (and skimpy) bikini. Santo says to himself, "I'm the subject of an infernal seduction." Instead of kissing Medusa, he pushes her away: "Go back to the shadows from whence you came!" Kicking down the door, Santo escapes.

Santo and Arturo return to the house, which is now filled with cobwebs. Entering the room with the shattered door, they find a coffin instead of a bed. Arturo tells Santo that the witches can only be beaten by the sign of the cross and daylight; Santo doesn't understand why he managed to scare them off. As they leave (Santo drove up in his fancy sports car, Arturo drives an old heap), Arturo sees visions in the road and wrecks. Mayra's henchmen kidnap the unconscious Arturo. Mayra mentally orders Ofelia to remove the cross she wears, and Ofelia is also captured.

In the witches' dungeon, a hypnotized Arturo and the three male henchmen subdue Santo when he arrives. Santo and Ofelia are to be sacrificed to Satan at a particular moment, but Mayra doesn't want to wait; however, Santo leaps up, grabs several torches (he overheard Mayra saying they were vulnerable to the cross, to daylight, AND to fire--thanks for that additional bit of information, Mayra!). The witches all turn into bats and fly away. Later, Satan tells Mayra that she must sacrifice Santo and Ofelia, or he'll be mad. Real mad.

Time out for a wrestling match. Oddly enough, this appears to be taken from an earlier Santo film (as happened in Blue Demó contra el poder satánico), since Augusto Benedico can be seen in Santo's corner, and his opponent is Fernando Osés, one of the witches' henchmen, but apparently playing a different role here!

Santo is asleep (wearing his mask, cape, tights, etc.) and is hypnotized by Mayra. Medusa hypnotizes Ofelia--asleep in the next room--by wiggling her long fingernails. Arturo enters and carries her away. When Santo wakes up, he speeds to witch headquarters, but the dungeon is empty. The next night, Mayra sends a big spider to bite Santo, but he stomps on it. Ofelia shows up, says she escaped, but they have to save Arturo. They go to the old house again. Suddenly, Ofelia changes to Mayra--she tricked Santo! (this comes as quite a surprise)

Santo goes in, nearly falls into a pit full of spikes (two of the henchmen stomp on his fingers but he won't let go; finally, one of the henchmen falls in and is impaled). He's tied up and put on a table for the sacrifice, but--just like he did twice before (well, once was in Ofelia's dream)--he breaks loose and runs out. He comes back with a BIG wooden cross that he waves like a railway crossing sign, which (a la Horror Hotel) makes the witches burst into flame (one of these is a dummy that catches fire, the rest are "burned" via superimpositions). Mayra stabs Arturo with her ceremonial dagger before she burns up, but he's magically healed (Santo says the evil the witches caused vanishes when they die). As Ofelia and Arturo clinch, Santo hops into his sports car and leaves.

Atacan las brujas is constructed in a rather clumsy fashion: the opening sequence is quite strange, and isn't immediately identifiable as a dream (or to be more accurate, it starts off like a dream but then doesn't appear to be one). The plot, such as it is, consists of repeated kidnapings, aborted sacrifices, and escapes. There are some amusing touches and sequences, such as Medusa's failed attempt to seduce Santo, but overall the picture is put together in such a slipshod fashion that it's difficult to appreciate these good points.

María Eugenia San Martín is satisfactory as Ofelia; Lorena Velázquez has a couple of good moments as Mayra, but doesn't really have much to do. Edaena Ruiz stands out as Medusa, but the rest of the witches don't do anything but stand around and recite their lines successively (as if each was given one line to say, A-B-C-D). Osés and Crox Alvarado have no personalities, but Lobo Negro tries to make his henchman a little different by uttering karate-style shouts and trying some martial arts moves on Santo. Unfortunately, the action scenes aren't very well staged, although they aren't too bad.

Rafael García Travesí and Fernando Osés had both worked on the script of Santo vs. the Vampire Women (1962), and The Witches Attack contains a number of elements reminiscent of the earlier film, right down to the Greek tunics worn by the witches (not to mention the presence in both movies of Lorena Velázquez as the chief menace; Fernando Osés and Guillermo Hernández also repeat their roles as her henchmen). The Witches Attack also borrows from the 1960 British film City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel)--the scene in which Arturo sees a vision in the road ahead and wrecks his car replicates one from the earlier movie (and even uses some of that film's footage!). The fiery climax with the wooden cross was also inspired by City of the Dead's conclusion. [Rafael García Travesí also "borrows" from the 1962 film for El Barón Brákola, although not as shamelessly).] Atacan las brujas isn't as good as it's predecessor, but it is, overall, mildly entertaining at best.

José Díaz Morales was a Spanish newspaperman who moved to Mexico in 1936; he directed all 4 of the Santo Vergara features, but his reputation primarily rests on the sexy melodramas and comedies he made in the 1950s and 1960s. The cast of The Witches Attack includes a curious coincidence: two of the witches are played by María (aka Mary) Montiel and Alma Pichardi (aka Alma Rojo), later the female leads in Santo in the Vengeance of the Mummy (1970). Lorena Velázquez, María Eugenia San Martín, Crox Alvarado, Guillermo Hernández, Juan Garza, and Fernando Osés also had one or more movies with El Santo to their credit. Osés does triple-duty in The Witches Attack--he co-wrote the screen story, plays a member of the devil cult, and also (courtesy of stock footage from an earlier Santo movie) battles Santo in the film's only arena wrestling scene. Osés was one of the best opponents Santo would face onscreen: their encounters are always athletic, fast, and furious.

Note: I have my suspicions that all 4 of El Santo's Vergara films (and Blue Demon's as well) had nude scenes shot for export release. The only one that is "confirmed" is El Barón Brákola (no footage or even stills have been found, but the practice of shooting nude scenes was reported to the actors' union at the time).

Back to the Santo Filmography.

Review by D. Wilt (dwilt@umd.edu) on 22 December 1997. UPDATE: 19 Jan 2000