Santo en la frontera del terror [Santo on the Border of Terror]

(Prods. Geminis-Cin. RA, 1979) Prod/Dir/Scr: Rafael Pérez Grovas; Story: Sergio David, Carlos Suárez; Photo: Alfredo Uribe; Music Dir: Francisco Salcido; Assoc Prod: Alfredo Uribe; Prod Mgr: Fernando Uribe; Asst Dir: José Amezquita; Film Ed: Alfredo Jacome; Camera Op: Guillermo Bravo; Makeup: Estela Sánchez; Sound Op: Jorge Guerrero; Re-rec: Salvador Topete; Union: STIC

CAST: Santo (himself), Gerardo Reyes (Gerardo), Carmen del Valle (Azucena), Carlos Suárez (Carlitos), Jean Safont (Dr. Sombra), Federico Falcón (Fernando), Miguel Ángel Fuentes (Monk), Sarita Gómez (Florecita), Fernando Yapur (Mr. Richards), César Gómez, Roberto Gómez, Sixto Hinojosa, Guillermo Ayala, Angélica Sierra, Abel Casillas, Oscar Ricci, Guillermo Inclán (John), Lilia Landua, Armando García Vaca, Enrique Estrada; Wrestlers: Cien Caras, Bobby Lee, Ringo Mendoza, Karloff Lagarde, Mocho Kotta, Jungla, Sangre Chicana, Carnicero Aguilar

Mexico City release: 6 August 1981; Authorization: A

Also released on video as "Santo vs. el Asesino"

Notes: Despite a plot that combines science fiction with the familiar Mexican "illegal immigrants in U.S." storyline, Santo en la frontera del terror isn't a very entertaining picture, chiefly due to Rafael Pérez Grovas' lackluster direction and the slow-paced, "let's advance the action one inch at a time" script. Santo reverts back to his very early days, serving as a deus ex machina, showing up early and late, but is largely absent for the middle of the film. Gerardo Reyes doesn't have much to do either. Jean Safont, a wrestler who made a surprisingly good villain (albeit in mostly bad films), does a fairly good job as the evil Dr. Sombra (in La venganza de Huracán Ramírez he was also a mad doctor). However, even with a plot that features a "mad scientist" and "zombies," Santo en la frontera del terror has little or no horror content. Shot in a flat, high-key style on nondescript locations, the film makes no attempt to frighten or shock the audience, treating everything which might possibly be exciting in a dull, matter-of-fact manner.

Gerardo and Fernando make arrangements to cross illegally from Mexico to the United States. The coyote (smuggler) who will take them across says they'll work on Mr. Richards' ranch, and will be well-paid and well-treated (hmm...we've heard that before). Fernando wants to earn money to pay for an operation for Florecita, the little blind sister of his girlfriend Azucena, who sings in a cantina. When Fernando and Azucena are attacked by some drunk customers, Santo and his sidekick Carlitos, who were passing by, help out. Santo takes off his mask so Florecita can feel his face. He says he'll pay for her operation. Fernando and Gerardo are still going to the U.S. to work (now Fernando says he'll buy a truck with the money he earns); Santo says he'll be wrestling in gringolandia so they can look him up if they need help.

Gerardo and Fernando cross over and are hired by Mr. Richards. His foreman Monk is a surly looking character, and a mysterious looking Dr. Sombra gives each new man a physical examination. Later, he calls a contact in McAllen (Texas), and says "the merchandise has arrived." Dr. Sombra and his armed guards take one of the farm workers to his operating room. The next time he's seen, Sombra has some eyes in a glass jar! The dead "donor" is taken away to be buried. Sombra will use the money he gets selling the stolen eyes (and other organs, apparently) to finance his brain transplant experiments. He has two zombie-like assistants, the results of some earlier surgical hijinks. Monk is eavesdropping and decides to cut himself in on the action.

Meanwhile, Azucena is worried since Fernando hasn't contacted her (the workers are not allowed to leave the ranch). Santo and Carlitos arrive at the ranch; Santo sneaks in. Meanwhile, Monk tries to blackmail Dr. Sombra but is locked up, along with Gerardo and Fernando who were caught trying to escape. Dr. Sombra says the Mexican workers died to save the lives of those "more worthy than they were."

Santo breaks in and questions Sombra. He frees Gerardo, Fernando and Monk (who claims he wasn't in on Sombra's scheme--and he's telling the truth, although it wasn't because he didn't TRY). However, Sombra and his zombies eventually capture Santo (and Carlitos, who followed Santo in although he was supposed to call the cops). Monk is shot in a struggle. Sombra hypnotizes one Mexican and sends him back to Mexico to lure new workers to the ranch with tales of high salaries and good treatment. Sombra and his zombies put Santo and Carlitos in a cabin with a time bomb (but they eventually escape).

Meanwhile, ranch owner Mr. Richards has returned and freed Gerardo and Fernando. When a helicopter lands to pick up the jar of eyeballs, the jar is missing: Richards has it. He was investigating Sombra's past, and a shady past it was, too. Sombra sends his zombies to grab Richards, Gerardo, and Fernando. Santo and Carlitos intervene, so Sombra tries to make his escape via helicopter, but Gerardo grabs a gun and shoots it down.

Back in Mexico, Santo, Gerardo, Fernando, Carlitos and Azucena are present when Florecita's bandages are removed: she can see! The End.

What could have been an interesting film--taking the theme of the exploitation of Mexican illegal immigrants in the U.S. to a fairly extreme level--bogs down in an endless series of minor scuffles, escapes, re-captures, 4 songs, 2 arena wrestling matches, cutaways to "Florecita" on her way to the operating room, and so on. Exactly how Mr. Richards could have been SO unobservant as to not notice the armed guards, wire fence, missing workers and Sombra's two zombies is beyond belief: and even if the whole scheme was well-camouflaged, what was Dr. Sombra allegedly doing on the ranch in the first place? Not too many Texas farms have doctors-in-residence, as far as I know.

The plight of Mexican immigrants in the USA is shunted aside for the most part. Gerardo and Fernando are scared off during their first attempt to swim across the Río Grande by the Border Patrol (who, to be fair, specifically shoot to frighten them rather than harm them). Mr. Richards is touted as the best employer of braceros, and greets Gerardo and the others saying "Here on my ranch we like Mexicans and treat them like brothers," although he subsequently ignores them and lets Dr. Sombra run the show, along with brutal foreman Monk (who calls the workers "indios mugrosos"--dirty Indians). There's a little indirect criticism of the USA in the idea that a respectable hospital would purchase black market organs for transplants, and the theme of gringo exploitation of Mexicans for their body parts would be prominent in some later movies, but this isn't emphasized here. Oddly enough (given the blandness of the overall film), the idea that Dr. Sombra is extracting eyes from Mexican workers and that little Mexican girl Florecita is blind (then later cured by an operation presumably not involving stolen eyeballs) is either a very subtle linkage or a complete coincidence meaning nothing.

Santo en la frontera del terror is somewhat better than Santo's other Pérez Grovas picture (Santo vs. el asesino del T.V.), if only because it has some potentially outré aspects (zombies, eyeballs in a jar), but neither film is much good. El Hijo del Santo didn't fare any better in his two Pérez Grovas vehicles (in fact, these two films were actually much worse than the two Santo movies). Then again, Pérez Grovas didn’t have a very good track record from the 1970s on, ruining the “Chanoc” series (watch Chanoc en la isla de los muertos and tell me I'm wrong) and producing a handful of other, mediocre, non-series pictures.



Review posted 10 Feb 98, upgrade 3 July 2018 by dwilt@umd.edu