London's Mexican cinema weekender got off to a flyer on Friday with some B-movie luchador lunacy.
What could prevent an army of shirtless spandex-clad aliens invading Earth and vaporising all its inhabitants? In 1966 the answer was a silver-masked Mexican wrestler named El Santo.
Screened on the opening night of the three-day long London MexFest at Rich Mix on Friday, Santo vs. the Martian Invasion is one of 58 films the sci-fi superhero gathered under his shiny bulging belt in the '60s. It is an intergalactic odyssey that blitzes far and beyond into all sorts of proto Mexploitation silliness.
When a group of wide-eyed Martians with long blond hair interrupt a television broadcast to announce they are giving Earth one last chance to seize all atomic experimentation, no one takes them seriously. To prove they are not just some sexy media stunt they turn on their teleportation belts, beam down to a sporting field in Mexico, and vaporise a bunch of kids.
It soon turns out they picked the wrong playing field to vaporise that day. Santo happens to have been giving the recently obliterated children a super macho wrestling demonstration. By dodging the Astral eye (blinking eye-shaped lights that emit killer beams and ‘boing’ sounds from the aliens’ helmets) he manages to make these camp invaders beam away with their tails between their legs. The scenes that follow are as equally silly and brow furrowing as that and the film becomes, for the most part, tedious.
There’s a certain sound effect only a UFO hovering from a string can make and this is the kind of film that knows it. Ray guns, trashcan robots, glittery planetary backdrops – the set looks like it was set up and shot in a shoebox diorama. One of many in a trend of Mexican sci-fi B-movies made in the '50s and '60s, it is only with a celebration of low-budget ludicrousness that this film can be enjoyed. Watching a wrestling match where the sound effects never quite match the punches can be pretty funny, but after a dozen or so punches get thrown, the laughs will surely wane.
The film was also screened at 9pm on a Friday, meaning there were far more people dancing to the Mexican DJs downstairs than actually in the cinema. London MexFest was not just a celebration of film but also music, culture and food and – even if the '60s sci fi wasn’t drawing in the crowds – there were more Mexican-themed activities than you could shake a maraca at. A street food van selling tacos and burritos was parked on the street outside and DJs played in the bar every evening. Muchos tequila later, many couples even started to samba.
Santo vs. the Martian will not offer much to most modern audiences apart from an appreciation of its presumed influence. Robert Rodriguez’s films show a clear Mexican link to these types of early Mexploitation movies. Austin Powers' Fembots and Gentleman Broncos' Don Carlos both suggest the influence travelling further North.
Sci-fi aside, the other films featured in London MexFest will draw less of an interest in retro, more so in modern Mexico. A country whose films could have something very special to share with the rest of the world. With its day of the dead attitude, Mexican cinema captures an entrancing smiling morbidity that no other country is brave enough to.
For more on London MexFest visit facebook.com/LondonMexFest