By 1974, silver-masked wrestling hero Santo was getting a little too chunky to be a convincing action man (the knitted sweaters didn’t help) and his film formula had become set unhelpfully in stone. This ought to be a seminal movie, pitting Mexico’s greatest monster fighter against the country’s most distinctive homegrown fiend, the Crying Woman (‘la llorona’) – as featured in a run of serious horror movies from La Llorona (1933) to the present. However, there’s an obvious mismatch.
Even at this stage of his career, the muy macho wrestler isn’t going to hand out a smackdown beating to a creature who is, after all, a little old lady, no matter how scary she might be. To that end, the plot is mostly mummy movie stuff with serial-style punch-ups thrown in. The hero barely even meets la llorona and certainly gets to pin her down on a mat.
Santo is best pals with Apollo Creed/Lando Calrissian-lookalike José ‘Mantequilla’ Nápoles — at that time, World Welterweight Champion and possessor of some truly funky purple lounging pajamas you’d have to be a boxing champion to get away with. They team up to help elderly Professor Lira (Alfonso Castaño) remove rocks from the tomb of Doña Eugenia Esparza (Kiki Herrera Calles), who made a deal with a female demon (Marcia Montes) centuries ago and murdered her sons to get back at a faithless lover, so they can take an amulet from around her neck and decode clues which will lead them to a fortune in doubloons.
‘I need your help to open a tomb and take an old medallion from the corpse,’ explains the archaeologist, only for the wrestler to snort in a superior manner that his ‘line of work isn’t to profane tombs and steal from the dead.’ It turns out to be okay, because Lira (a descendant of Doña Eugenia’s lover and subject to her curse) intends to turn the fortune over to a charity to help sick children and orphans. A gang of thugs aren’t so particular and keep harassing the expedition, affording opportunities for Santo and Napoles to have regular scrappy fistfights with minions. Mexploitation regular Rene Cardona Sr (director of La Llorona, 1960) has a villain role as their sneaky head-man.
With the medallion removed, the shrivelled, papier-mache-wrinkled Doña Eugenia comes to life (only Mantequilla notices — and nobody pays him any attention). Like Karloff in The Mummy, she fits into modern society, posing as an elegant matron in an orange swirly kaftan who moves next door to the Lira household. The professor’s nephew Carlitos (Jorgito Rodriguez), a fight fan who thinks he’s dreaming when his two heroes turn up in his bedroom, and niece Martita (Alejandra Murga), a moppet dubbed by a grown-up actress doing a squeaky kiddie voice, are around to be allegedly cute.
Carlitos keeps trying to get the heroes to settle who’d win in a fight, though audiences will be more interested in what would happen if the wrestler and the boxer took turns seeing how badly they could hurt Carlitos. Eventually the brat is menaced by the child-throttling llorona, who advances on victims whining ‘mi hijos mi hijos’. Once the gangsters are routed for the umpteenth and final time, the movie resolves its supernatural plot with undue haste. La llorona is about to strangle the kids when the money is handed over to the charity to benefit children and she evaporates as the curse is lifted.
Miguel M. Delgado directed a run of Santo’s 1970s bouts with famous monsters (eg Santo y Blue Demon vs Dracula ye el Hombre Lobo, Santo vs la Hija de Frankestein) and doesn’t do a particularly inspired job. Everything is flatly lit like a sit-com drawing room, including the brightest and least-atmospheric tomb on record, and all the fights are observed without enthusiasm from the ringside. Aside from one incidental, sexualised llorona attack on a grown-up woman, it feels like a children’s film and not a very good one at that.