Who Is That Masked Man?

The masked wrestler returns to the silver screen.

There is no stranger subgenre of sci-fi/horror B-movies than Mexican-wrestling-themed sci-fi/horror B-movies, and there was no greater star of these cinematic joyrides than Santo, El Enmascarado de Plata (Santo, the Man in the Silver Mask).

Born Rodolfo Guzman Huerta in 1917 in Tulancigo, Hidalgo, Mexico, Santo made his ring debut in 1941 and soon became a superstar on Mexico's lucha libre (free-wrestling) circuit. In 1952, a Mexican publisher launched a weekly Santo comic book that ran for 35 years. The 'toon featured the wrestling hero battling criminals and monsters while sporting his trademark silver mask with teardrop eyeholes.

Unlike his contemporary U.S. superheroes Spiderman, Batman and Superman, Santo had no alter ego. He was just Santo, muscle-bound and ageless beneath his silver mask. He made the leap to the silver screen in 1958 in Santo Contra el Cerebro del Mal (Santo vs. the Evil Brain), a chunk of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder that was the first of 52 feature films starring Huerta as Santo (Elvis only made 28). The Santo oeuvre also included Santo Contra los Zombies (Santo vs. the Zombies, 1960), Santo Contra las Mujeras Vampiras (Santo vs. the Vampire Women, 1962) and Santo Contra el Hacha Diabólica (Santo vs. the Diabolical Ax, 1964). But it was the 1966 classic, Santo Contra la Invasión de los Marcianos (Santo vs. the Martian Invasion), that most Mexican-wrestling buffs agree captured Santo at the peak of his surreal studliness.

Details

8 p.m. Friday, July 9, rain or shine, Historic Elitch Gardens Theatre Plaza, 38th Avenue and Utica Street, $5, 303-477-3006

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One of 150 genre films directed by the great Alfredo Crevenna (Mexico's Ed Wood), Invasión plays Friday, July 9, at the Historic Elitch Gardens Theatre Plaza, as part of the Denver Outdoor Cinema series. It features Santo battling evil Martians who have big heads and third eyes that shoot laser beams. The aliens invade Earth, beginning with Mexico City, to force an end to the nuclear arms race. Much wrestling ensues, along with a spectacularly bad anti-nukes musical number performed by well-endowed Martian women costumed like Vegas showgirls.

Santo loses his mask twice in the film -- once during a fight (fortunately, he's wearing a second mask beneath his top layer), and once during a fantasy sequence in which he makes out with hot Martian women and is shown from behind. In his off-screen life, Santo revealed his face in public only once, on January 26, 1984, on the TV show Contrapunto. Rodolfo Huerta died ten days later. He was buried wearing his mask.

 
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