Cult Movies

Cult Movie Essentials: Santo vs. the Strangler (1965)

Santo vs. the Strangler aka Santo contra el estrangulador is the first Santo movie to set up a direct sequel (Ghost of the Strangler aka El espectro del estrangulador). The film mainly consists of musical numbers, wrestling matches, horror, and mystery.

Of the nine musical numbers in this film five appear in the first twenty minutes. These include Alberto Vázquez singing “16 Tons” in English and Begoña Palacios singing “Fever.”

It should be noted that it takes 27 minutes for Santo to appear in this movie! You can actually just skip forward to this point as you will miss nothing!

Now the plot consists of someone strangling female performers at the Teatro Variedades. When a stagehand (assistant director Tito Novaro in a cameo) spots another employee, Marcos, aiming a pistol at star Laura, naturally Marcos becomes a suspect (he was just trying to eliminate the competition for singer Lilián, whom he loves). Police inspector Villegas asks Santo to help. The Strangler leaves a gardenia for each of his victims, and Santo says “this flower has two meanings–love and death.”

While Santo investigates, singer Javier and his girlfriend Irene (Laura’s sister, and a performer herself) try to solve the mystery. Although he normally kills only women, the Strangler decides to make an exception in Javier’s case and sneaks into the singer’s bedroom to stab him but Santo bursts in and foils the attempt. The Strangler escapes but, irritated, calls up a thug and orders a hit on the silver-masked man. Santo is lured to a remote location, but the assassin (and two henchmen) foolishly attack the superhero with their bare hands rather than shooting him from ambush. Santo thrashes them all; the police arrive and shoot two of the men (one, just before he–having belatedly remembered he’s carrying a dagger–tries to stab Santo in the back). The third assailant truthfully says he doesn’t know who hired him.

Lilián rebuffs Marcos because he failed to knock off Laura. Marcos (a former wrestler, established earlier) returns to the ring to try and impress her. His opponent? El Santo (what a coincidence! Apparently Santo is willing to wrestle just about anybody on short notice). The Strangler sneaks into the rafters of the arena and tries to shoot Santo, but misses and kills Marcos instead (this type of scene appears in several other wrestling movies of the ‘60s and ‘70s). Leaving the arena, Santo discovers a young boy, Milton, in the back of his car. Milton says he’s an orphan and he’s chosen Santo to be his new father. Ooooh kaaayy–this is really ridiculous! Santo finally agrees to adopt Milton, although he says the boy will have to stay in a boarding school during the week and visit Santo on weekends (he comes right out and says he doesn’t want the kid hanging around the secret Santo laboratory all the time).

Although Inspector Villegas had ordered the Variedades closed, manager Claudia gets an injunction and the theatre reopens. The Strangler’s next victim is Lilián (this is the only murder shown in its entirety, without squeamish cutaways). After a couple of more songs (including Javier singing “Cuando calienta al sol” and Milton doing a Spanish-language version of “Blame It on the Bossa Nova”), Santo and Villegas meet to set a trap for the Strangler. Laura is nearly strangled in her dressing room by the killer, but Santo arrives and scares him away.

The cast assembles in Claudia’s office. Villegas tells them the Strangler is a former performer named Goudini, a quick-change artist and impressionist who made a speciality of seducing his female co-stars, until a showgirl threw acid in his face. The actress was murdered and Goudini vanished–but he’s been living in the catacombs under the Teatro Variedades ever since. Santo yanks a lifelike mask off Claudia’s face, revealing Goudini’s scarred visage (this is a surprise, I was betting on director Julián, although Claudia is kind of butchy looking). The transvestite murderer escapes through a secret passage but is tracked down and shot by the police, falling to his death from the rafters of the theatre.

As Santo speeds off in his white convertible sports car, Laura asks Villegas: “Who was he?” Villegas replies: “He’s a man–or rather, a legend–in the service of good and justice.”

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