Saturday, October 22, 2022

Ladron de Cadaveres: The Body Snatcher (1957)

After several wrestlers are found murdered in mysterious circumstances, the police begin investigating, and after turning up nothing they devise a new plan. Captain Carlos Robles enlists the help of an old friend Guillermo Santana to disguise him as a luchador, and build him up as the next big sensation. As 'El Vampiro' he will hopefully attract the attention of the killer and draw him out. But tragedy strikes, and this mad villain's plan may be too terrible for anyone to contemplate...

Ladron de Cadaveres, or The Body Snatcher (unrelated to the more famous story to bear that title) is one of the earliest in the luchadors vs monsters sub-genre. It gets off to a good start and has plenty to enjoy. The film is a good mix of old and new tropes, with the misty cemeteries of yesteryear with mad scientists and modern suburbs of today (well, 'Today' 65 years ago).

With the scene set quickly after some titular body snatching, we follow the wrestling scene. We meet detective Carlos, and his rancher friend Guillermo, who fancies himself a hit with the ladies, and makes quick work with receptionist Lucia.

Meanwhile, a mad scientist is experimenting on those he kidnaps. Fair maidens need not worry, as only musclebound men are the targets this time. His motive for doing so is conquering death, by way of gorilla brain transplant. It's a ridiculous idea, and a favourite of mine. I've even written about it myself! It's always a hoot to see on screen.

The halfway point is where the film really began taking a downturn for me! A far as storytelling goes, it's a surprise, and takes some bold directions. But not ones that I liked. Poor Guillermo is the comic relief, and heart of the film. Then he's sent on a mission by his 'friend' which directly results in him being hideously deformed and brainwashed. He spends the rest of the movie rampaging through the streets of Mexico before dying tragically. He never gets the girl, nor returns to his farm. He never even gets that promised date with Lucia!

The climax has a short wrestling match with a disguised Guillermo (not quite sure what the goal is there), before his animals side takes over and mutates him into an uncontrollable monster, leading to a rampage (and an awesomely gnarly death for the villain). This is a really fun sequence, and there are some tense and effective moments, like the hallway drag to safety. Then it all ends inevitably, with poor Guillermo going the way of King Kong.

The film has a little coda to end on, with the police chief awarding Lucia a medal, apologising, then having the gall to have a big moral speech. Also his reasoning that Guillermo's sacrifice had prevented more death is pretty laughable, since pretty much everyone who was gonna die had already been killed!

Carlos is a basic enough protagonist, though his plan to stop this killer and save lives requires an awful lot of time, and goodness knows how many more will die before it's ready!

Guillermo is a good dude. He isn't even a police officer. He's a fun-loving cowboy who only accepts the mission as a favour to a friend, and he gets transformed into a deranged ape man for his troubles.

Lucia is nice enough, and it's fun seeing her opinion of Guillermo change from annoyance to genuine affection. Their romance gets a bit sappy in very little time. It goes from the typical comic relief trying to charm a frosty woman, to a very sincere then tragic romance.

The mad scientist villain is a fun one, with Gothic stature, and a propensity for disguises. Despite his vast intelligence though, he is an incredible idiot, considering how many times his 'great' experiment fails. You wonder how long it takes before some people realise they are the problem. When it finally works on Guillermo, he gets an It's alive!" moment. His surviving henchman looks a bit concerned at first, like he's just realised how deep he's in it, before letting out an evil laugh of his own.

Crox Alvarado is an alright leading man. Playing luchadors himself in previous films, he doesn't look as barrel-chested this time round. Though that might just be the heavy police coats. The real lead in a sense is Wolf Ruvinskis as Guillermo, and he's a fun guy, who's believable as a rancher, luchador, and does well as a deformed monster too. Columba Dominguez is nice as Lucia, cool but with a soft side. And Carlos Riquelme is a fun mad scientist, and it's neat seeing the different guises he dons. I was impressed by a lot of the stunt work too.

There's some impressive direction here by Fernando Mendez. Great locations too, captured on camera perfectly, like the spooky cemetery, and the mad doctor's lab, filled with fantastical doodads. And of course we get plenty of good ringside views of the wrestling action.

The effects are pretty good too. Guillermo undergoes a progressive transformation, first just having darker skin, then becoming more and more animalistic. The transitions are cool! I also liked the set destruction and how it's pulled off, like Guillermo picking up whole cages, tearing down walls, etc.

Ladron de Cadaveres is a pretty good film, that becomes a bit of an annoying downer in its last act, but it's still a fun time, with enough wrestling and monsters to satisfy...

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