La nave de los monstruos (1960)

La nave de los monstruos (1960) movie poster

director Rogelio A. González
viewed: 06/01/2018

Women are from Venus; men are from the rest of the galaxy, in La Nave de los Monstruos (The Ship of Monsters en Inglés.) The is a Mexican horror-sci-fi-Western-comedy absurd and good-natured, weird and fun.

Yes, two Venusian babes show up on Earth, looking for men to help the Venusian cause. They’ve picked up characters from Mars and elsewhere, all brought back to re-seed Venus. Only when they set eyes and ears on Earthling Lauriano (Eulalio González), they fall into a squabble over who lands the singing vaquero. And it turns out that Beta (Lorena Velázquez) is actually a vampire from Uranus.

That’s right, a vampire from Uranus.

The other monsters are a variety of oddities, under the sway of she who wields that belt of power. Unfortunately for Beta, Lauriano’s heart is given to Gamma (Ana Bertha Lepe) and so Beta’s quest to take over the Earth is set to failure.

Initially, the comic aspects seem disappointing. But Eulalio González is funny and charming, giving the movie just the right verve in its tone and style. I’m not sure how good the translation was in the version I saw but it had some genuinely funny moments.

At the end of the day, Tractorr, the robot doesn’t just fall for a jukebox, the robot gets the jukebox in the end. The kind of happy ending they just don’t write enough of nowadays.

 

La Loba (1965)

La Loba (1965) movie poster

director  Rafael Baledón
viewed: 04/23/2018

Oh, Man. La Loba starts off on a tear,  with the lady werewolf climbing from a grave, leaping like a ninja, and killing everyone in sight. The first 10 minutes are virtually dialog-free, and sights and sounds, action, attacks and blood-letting exuding at times elements of Silent Cinema.

The whole of La Loba is atmospheric and melodramatic, a Mexican Gothic, in which a beautiful young woman (Kitty de Hoyos) is cursed with lycanthropy, though managed by her family and in house scientists. 

Having watched this “sin subtítulos”, I’d be speculating about some of the relationships, but it does indeed seem that her lover is also a werewolf, and that there is also a werewolf hunter who has a special dog that kills werewolves too.

What I don’t have to speculate about is that this film is pretty awesome, even if it doesn’t achieve that same level that the first 10 minutes reached. It’s stylish and well-shot, sort of gory in an old black-and-white horror film way, and pretty damn fun.

I can definitely see Guillermo del Toro digging this.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters (1962)

Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters (1962) movie poster

director Roberto Rodríguez
viewed: 11/14/2018

“All the people that live in the witch’s house are really weird.”

And awesome!

Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters was apparently a sequel to a couple of other Mexican children fantasy films, and so, it starts out running wild. The “Queen of Badness” as she is dubbed in American has a bevy of henchpeople from robots to Frankenstein and a vampire and even a pinhead. And she is ready to punish the wolf and the ogre for having helped Little Red Riding Hood (María Gracia) and the dickish Tom Thumb (Cesáreo Quezadas) in previous times. So those two heroes must come to her creepy forest and rescue the captives, with the help of Stinky, the skunk.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters is demented and sublime with is mixed bag of knock-off villains and aesthetics and its nonchalant heightened danger. The evil witch prays to Satan. One of the generic villains is a kidnapper with a huge net.  And on the more ribald side, the skunk farts in the kidnapper’s face.

Oh my goodness, I loved this.

 

Los Olvidados (1950)

Los Olvidados (1950) movie poster

director Luis Buñuel
viewed: 01/15/2018

“The price of beans goes up, so does the price of songs.”

The lives of the street kids in Mexico City circa 1950 is the subject of Luis Buñuel’s Los Olvidados. They hustle and steal to survive, abandoned to the streets by parents who can’t or don’t want to care for them. The prologue narration makes it clear that this isn’t just a Mexico City reality, but one that can be found in any major city in the world, including New York and Paris.

And though the settings are the present day of the time, Los Olvidados is as relevant today, nearly 70 years later as when Buñuel made the film.

Buñuel strikes a tone that is unsentimental but still empathetic, depicting harsh brutalities and bitter ironies. Alongside some well-intentioned hopes. The ending is as bleak and ironic as any I can imagine, so much so, it’s nearly comic.

Los Olvidados had been on my watchlist for decades. Way too long. It’s a film I’ll be long mulling over.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Pan's Labyrinth (2006) movie poster

director Guillermo del Toro
viewed: 11/11/2017

It had been a decade since I saw Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth on its initial release in the theater. Like a lot of people, I’ve considered it his best film, certainly a partner to his 2001 The Devil’s Backbone.

I generally enjoy del Toro’s work, though his more commercial stuff seems thin on substance, if aesthetically pleasing and occasionally pretty fun.  I follow him on social media and even got to go see his collection of stuff at the LACMA Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters.

In 2007, my kids were 6 and 3 so I didn’t take them to see Pan’s Labyrinth at the time. I’ve long thought they might enjoy it, but only just now got around to sharing it with them.

I was surprised that my daughter was sort of nonplussed about it. I’d thought she would dig it more. My son, as is his wont, fell asleep early on but wanted to watch it again.

I think it holds up pretty well. The aesthetics and story are nice, the performers solid. It’s a dark fairy tale about childhood, escapism and fantasy. The CGI doesn’t hold up as well, but it never does if you ask me. Maybe it’s not as deep or rich as it could be, but I’d still call it his most complete film.

Night of a Thousand Cats (1972)

Night of a Thousand Cats (1972) movie poster

director René Cardona Jr.
viewed: 10/20/2017

“He’s an excellent butler and as faithful as a cat,” so says star Hugo Stiglitz of his Man Friday, Dorgo. A man that he will eventually feed to his man-eating kittycats after Dorgo manages to beat him at chess. An almost Trumpian faithfulness.

Night of a Thousand Cats is a sleazy thriller about sexual predator (Hugo) flying around Mexico City in a helicopter scoping out victims. It’s got to be said, if all stalkers flew helicopters, they’d be a lot easier to spot. He smokes a wacky collection of pipes between abductions, sexual encounters, and murders. He eventually grinds up folks and feeds them to his cats, keeping victims’ heads in glass bottles for kicks.

It’s actually actually kind of a “roughie”. And it gets added creepy factor for the his tracking of child victims as nastily as adult women.

At 63 minutes, it’s a swift affair, trimmed from its original hour and a half. Add into that creepiness some dodgy treatment of the film’s feline stars, and you’ll probably want a shower afterwards.

Night of the Bloody Apes (1969)

Night of the Bloody Apes (1969) movie poster

director  René Cardona
viewed: 10/01/2017

Night of the bloody rapes, AMIRITE?

Night of the Bloody Apes is such a mashup of early 1960’s style (and lady wrestlers) with gore and nudity all over the place. The gore is indeed heightened by the inserts of actual heart surgery footage including holding a still-beating heart outside of a torso. The other gore might be less convincing, like murdering a guy by ripping off his bloody toupee/scalp, but it’s copious.

In some ways the movie is quite sentimental. The mad doctor’s love for his son is the motivation for his experiment of placing a gorilla heart into a human being. Combining man and an organ from a less evolved primate triggers what is bestial in man, his less evolved instincts/drives, leading him on a campaign of rape and murder.

And turns him into a lumpy faced monster.

Mexican horror films are pretty consistently awesome.

Demonoid (1981)

Demonoid (1981) movie poster

director  Alfredo Zacarías
viewed: 07/24/2017

When a movie poster should have been a pinball machine.

Alfredo Zacarías’s Demonoid is moderate fun. Dull and not too compelling, it leads from Guanajuato, Mexico (and some cool real life mummies) to Las Vegas and beyond. Really, this is a “possessed hand” movie and is at its most entertaining when the hand is doing its thing, squishing faces and attacking people.

Samantha Eggar and Stuart Whitman try to keep plausibility alive, but outside of some decent moments and flashes, Demonoid only achieves mild levels of trash fun. Not utterly unworthy, not fully worthy either.

Hard Breed to Kill (1967)

Hard Breed to Kill (1967) image

director Rafael Portillo
viewed: 05/22/2017

Hard Breed to Kill (Un tipo dificil de matar) is a Mexican Western from 1967 whose biggest named star is Slim Pickens. It seems to be a most obscure picture. It’s also a pretty good one.

The film opens on action as a gang of bandits robs a farmer of horses, wounds him when he tries to fight, kills his friend and kidnaps his pretty blonde wife. When the title rolls, you might even think you’re in for some seriously intensive action.

There you would be wrong. Instead, what ensues is a slow journey towards the Mexican border with the husband in pursuit. What is interesting is how humanized the bandits become, with only young tyro (Paul Heslin) as the eager, trigger-happy youth with a chip on his shoulder. Other members of the crew are friendly men, hoping to settle down a set up a farm of their own. Even the lusty bandit who tries to put some moves on the blonde knows that no means no and only cajoles her.

In the end, the rather taciturn hero hunts down and kills the bandits, one by one, and ultimately almost seems the film’s real villain. I also found it interesting how director Rafael Portillo uses moments by watering holes for reflective flashbacks of the kidnapped woman to earlier, happier moments with her husband.

Hard Breed to Kill is ultimately almost meditative in pace and plot. And features some really decent cinematography on the cheap as well.

 

The Holy Mountain (1973)

The Holy Mountain (1973) movie poster

director Alejandro Jodorowsky
viewed: 02/02/2017

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a cool dude and all, but about a decade ago I finally watched El Topo (1970) and came away seriously appalled. Not shocked by the content but I completely hated the movie. And I like weird movies. It’s taken me 10 years to get around to queuing up another Jodorowsky.

Interestingly, I liked The Holy Mountain almost right off. And eventually all the way through.

The Holy Mountain is a psychedelic, tripped out search for god or some sense of the universal in a chaotic and overwhelming universe. There seems as much sardonic humor as genuine enlightenment, and the pathways are mixed mash-ups of a number of faiths and ideologies. And drugs. Mind-expanding drugs.

The late 1960’s and early 1970’s were almost like a collective cultural point of self-reflection, inward-seeking, of questioning Western culture, experimenting with ideas from the outside, opening up. The individual self-exploration metaphorically expanded to mass culture. And its findings in search for enlightenment and awareness included certain aspects of freedom, but also delusion, dementia, and darkness.

It’s the kind of time and place that allows for a film like The Holy Mountain to be created. It is in some ways almost a necessity of the time.

Jodorowsky’s surrealism here, still very much his own, has a more Buñuelian sensibility, or so it seems. It’s also a kaleidoscopic head-trip of the bizarre and fetishized. So much goes on in moments, it’s impossible to take in in a single viewing.

I still think Jodorowsky’s a cool guy. I still hate El Topo. But I do find The Holy Mountain to be a wholly different ball of wax.