For about a decade, the Mexican horror movie business – perhaps wary of crossing legal swords with Universal or Hammer – employed a succession of cloaked, fanged Counts and Barons to stand in for Dracula. If not using non-soundalike names (Lavud, Nostradamus, Subotai, Frankenhausen, Draco), quite a few of these fiends coyly refrain from mentioning any name and just go with ‘el vampiro’ as billing. In 1967, even El Imperio de Dracula, hedged bets by featuring a villain called Baron Draculsten. Eventually, this phase passed and Aldo Monti tangled with masked wrestlers as the real, original Count Dracula in Santo en el Tesoro de Dracul and Santo y Blue Demon contra Dracula y el Hombre Lobo. Before that, the man in the silver mask tackled one of the most blatant non-Dracula Draculas in El Barón Brákola, one of the last of his black and white horror vehicles. Like the Godzilla series, there’s a segue in Mexican wrestling horror from serious, monochrome, often-grim pictures to colourful, campier, child-friendly efforts. Here, we’re mostly in straight-faced territory, which makes for a stranger, more deeply silly experience.
It opens with a pan around a cobwebbed crypt – mummies, rats and other spooky props are present – and the revival of Barón Brákola (Osés), who goes through an odd series of Wolf Man-style lap dissolve make-up transformations that merely change him from one kind of a dead-looking thug to another. He emerges Lugosi-style from his tomb and swears vengeance on the descendants of the Caballero Enmascadero de Plata, who drove a stake through his disciple Rebeca (Susana Robles) in 1765 and put him in a mystic coma for two centuries, and also on (a bit complex, this) the descendants of the parents of Rebeca, who disapproved of his marriage proposal and hired the caballero (apparently one of a line of masked heroes) to protect the family.
At one of Santo’s bouts, filmed by director José Diaz Morales from the rafters of the arena, Silvia (Mercedes Carreño) – who is descended from Rebeca’s family (the actresses look alike, but the roles are unusually not doubled) – is powerfully fascinated by the hero, though not in a way that would annoy her boyfriend Eduardo (Antonio de Hud). After the fight (guess who wins?), Santo finds Brákola attacking Silvia’s father Don Luis (Manuel Arvide) in the empty arena and has the first of several knock-down, drag-out battles with the vampire – which ends in a draw.
Don Luis narrates the lengthy flashbacks in which someone else plays the masked, swordfighting caballero but goes uncredited. In 1765, the spurned Baron turns Rebeca into a Lucy-style vampire, and the caballero saves her soul with a length of wood. When the action eventually picks up in the present day, the vampire goes after Silvia. In a particularly sneaky fashion, the baddie also substitutes himself for a challenger – Oso, who may be Osés playing himself – and gets in the ring with Santo for yet another lively but inconclusive battle.
Many Mexican wrestling films hold back a bit in the action scenes, modelled on 1940s American serials, but El Barón Brákola is full of full-contact brutality. At one point, Santo even ring-dives onto the vampire by jumping off a tomb and their successive battles feature a lot of illegal holds, low blows and attempted neck-biting. Eventually, Santo finds a parchment with instructions on finding Brákola’s tomb (the secret switch is the letter R on Rebecca’s portrait – which sometimes shows its subject living and sometimes with fangs). Santo enters the vampire’s lair for a final battle which ends with a righteous staking and a reverse of that transformation scene from the opening.
Osés was a regular in wrestling horrors, usually in minion roles (he’s a henchman vampire in Santo vs las Mujeres vampiro, for instance), and makes an unusual Dracula substitute. He wears a Christopher Lee-style black suit and sports a pantomime baddie high-collared cloak, but has stuck on caveman eyebrows to go with his fangs – giving him a Mr Hyde look. Most master villains in wrestling movies stand to one side while minions go up against the luchador, but the beefy Brákola doesn’t even get any help from his one disciple – who stands there staring and flashing her fangs while he trades blows with men in silver masks. His trademark seems to be a kind of karate chop, though he’s happy to get in close quarters grappling – a problem Brákola and both his nemeses share is that they do a lot of their fighting while wearing big cloaks that frankly get in the way (the masks probably don’t help either).