After soccer, “lucha libre” is the second most popular sport in Mexico. Since its national prominence, the Mexican movie industry produced a genre of “lucha-hero” films, starring some of the best masked wrestlers in the country. All of these movies incorporated bizarre plots, hand-to-hand combat, sequences, odd musical scores and footage of real and staged wrestling matches.
Lucha Libre is much like wrestling in the US, but with much more acrobatics and high flying gimmicks. Some luchadores wear unique masks and go by a nickname, just like the American superheroes. Lucha Libre started in the early 1900s, and some superstars luchadores such as Santo and Blue Demon, have passed on their masks to the next generation of siblings, creating a family legacy. These masks are never removed in public, and some luchadores have gone so far as to be buried wearing their loved symbol.
During the 1950s, México began getting heavily involved into the film industry, and just like the US, had a whole slew of fun science fiction and horror movies to consume. Famous Mexican director Chano Urueta, had the bright idea to introduce these well known luchador celebrities into the films, creating a new film genre. These movies are fun, sometimes silly, or campy, and by the way full of action scenes. These film star luchadores also made their way into comic books thanks to the Mexican comic book writer and creator, Jose G. Cruz. Also known as fotonovelas, many of these comics were photographed and an artist would render special effects and monsters into the pictures, as well as add dialogue bubbles. We would also got some traditionally drawn comics as well like “Sensasional de Luchas” series in the 1990s’. Some of the more popular comic books starring luchadores have been Santo, Blue Demon, Huracán Ramires, and Tinieblas.
Some of these films have a definite vibe similar to the 1960s Batman television series, or even that of The Twilight Zone . These films also share a similar taste to that of Japanese Kaiju films and television as well.
On Top of Their Game…
The popularity of “lucha libre” films increased between the late 1950s’ to the mid-1970s’ and many “luchador” movies were produced during this period. These masked vigilantes fought against an assortment of villains which included, monsters, gangsters, zombies, Nazis, aliens, mummies, and vampires. “Lucha-hero” films were produced on a shoestring budget and were strikingly similar in style and production values to the American B movies. The 1952 film, La Bestia Magnifica (The Magnificent Beast), is considered the first of the series.
The most recognized figure in “lucha” films was the most renowned wrestler in “lucha libre” history, “Santo: El Enmascarado de Plata.” “El Enmascarado de Plata” starred in more than fifty movies including, Santo en el Museo de Cera (Samson in the Wax Museum), Santo contra Los Villanos del Ring (Samson versus The Ring Villains) and Santo contra La Mujeres Vampiro (Samson versus The Vampire Women).
Other movie producers of “lucha” films wanted to expand the trend and proposed to other famous wrestlers, such as “Blue Demon” to star in their own films. Other masked wrestlers starred in films including, “El Medico Asesino”, Wolf Ruvinskins (“Neutron”), “El Rayo de Jalisco”, and “Tinieblas”.
Years later, “Mil Mascaras” became a fictional wrestler produced explicitly to the Mexican film industry. He would star in many genre films including, Mil Mascaras (1966), Enigma de Muerte (1968) and Una Rosa Sobre el Ring (1972). Far ahead, “Mil Mascaras” became a great professional wrestler in his own right and had a significant career in Mexico, Japan, and the US. However, “Santo” continues to be the most beloved star in “lucha libre” in history. American producer K. Gordon Murray acquired the rights of some of Santo films and dubbed them into English for United States release, while changing the name of the luchador to “Samson”.
One of the most popular and influential “lucha libre” film of all was Las Momias de Guanajuato (1972). In this movie, Santo, Blue Demon and, Mil Mascaras, faced a group of evil mummies as a team. The genuine existence of ancient Mexican mummies’ exhibition in the museum of the city of Guanajuato, certainly added to the success and lore of the movie.
Indeed, female wrestlers also contributed to the “lucha” genre. In the 1960s’, Las Luchadoras (The Wrestling Women), starred in several films, with the most renowned being, Las Luchadoras contra la Momia Azteca (The Wrestling Women versus the Aztec Mummy) and, Las Lobas del Ring.
The box office success of the “lucha-horror” films diminished by the late 1970s’and basically came to a sad dissipation around 1978. Regardless of critics’ opinions, “lucha” films are an important and influential genre in film history. Nowadays, VHS tapes and DVDs’ of “Santo”, Blue Demon” and “Mil Mascaras” films are highly prized by collectors around the world.
- Mondo Lucha a go-go: the bizarre and honorable world of wild Mexican wrestling. (Dan Madigan, Kurt Angle) It Books (April 3, 2007).
- The World of Lucha Libre: Secrets, Revelations, and Mexican National Identity. (Heather Levi) Duke University Press Books (October 3, 2008).
- La Bestia Magnífica, la primera cinta del género “Luchadores”. (Jorge Gómez Garníca) (Super Luchas # 277).