Review: Mexploitation Cinema

Review: Mexploitation Cinema

Mexploitation Cinema
A Critical history of Mexican Vampire, Wrestler, Ape-Man and Similar Films, 1957-1977
by Doyle Greene
published by McFarland
original publication: 2005
size: 2627KB (203 pages)
categories: arts & entertainment; movies; social sciences
lending: not enabled
simultaneous device licenses: 6
part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: no
text-to-speech: yes
real page numbers: yes
x-ray: no

“…perhaps it is an admission by Santo, the film’s “retrograde man who still believes in truth and justice,” that “the fairy tale” has been the lucha libre genre, “the dream” the political and cultural myths celebrated by the lucha libre genre, and “the nightmare” the harsh political realities of Mexico.”

Wrestling women! Living Aztec mummies! Beast-men! The Inquisition!

At this point, you’re either saying, “Cool!” or “Seriously, isn’t there anything else on?” ;)

I’m squarely in the former camp. I’ve watched movies with Santo and the Blue Demon (Mexican wrestlers or “luchadores”) fighting supernatural menaces.

What’s more, I’ve enjoyed them. :)

As I’ve mentioned before, that’s one of the advantages of being a geek…low threshold of amusement.

However, I also think it’s a mistake to judge a movie like Santo vs. las mujeres vampiro (Santo ((Samson)) vs. the Vampire Women) by the standards of Hollywood.

It’s easy to assume that with more money, time, and resources, the studio would have made a movie  more like an L.A. studio blockbuster.

That presumes that the cultural sensibilities are the same…that what Mexican movie audiences wanted is the same as what American movie audiences wanted.

There are so many factors that affect the art an artist creates!

That’s what made Doyle Greene’s Mexploitation Cinema one of the books I’ve most enjoyed in some time.

I didn’t know that much about what was going on in Mexico at the time these movies were being made.

Why did Mexican audiences pay to see their wrestling heroes (and villains) in the movie theatre, when Americans were watching ours for free on TV? Simple…the Mexican government had banned wrestling on television!

More interesting was an examination of the themes. What do Dracula, the Wolfman, and the Inquisition have in common?

They are all European.

That might not be the first answer that came to mind.

One of the themes of Mexploitation was promoting “Mexicanidad”, which is a sort of national pride (although more specific than that, as I understand it), over the influence of outside cultures.

Of course, you might notice that the Aztec Mummy I mentioned earlier isn’t European.

That’s right, but it represents the past…and Greene argues that another major theme was the battle of the present (modernity) and the past.

It’s that kind of insight that I think makes this book really valuable, even if you’ve never seen one of the movies discussed.

I can’t give the book an unqualified recommendation for everyone, of course.

There were more proof-reading errors than I would have like…I think I highlighted about ten of them. They didn’t rise to the level of a disqualification for me, though.

The book doesn’t employ profanity…but what is described can be pretty graphic. In Mexico, the movies were typically released with what would be the equivalent of a “G” rating. However, there were also alternative versions created for international markets that included nudity and gore.  One of the movies covered in detail is Night of the Bloody Apes (at least, that was the American release title). In addition to actual footage of open-heart surgery, there were inserts of graphic violence and nudity added, and those are described in some detail.

It’s also clear that this book hasn’t been formatted to get the best out of the digital format. The weirdest thing is an “Index of Terms” in the back…without live links, page numbers, or even definitions. It’s really just a list of terms, which appear to me to have been computer selected. Speaking of live links, there are references to websites…but generally, they haven’t been formatted to allow you to visit them with a click.

It’s also worth noting that, while the book gives you a good sense of what was happening in Mexico that impacted these movies, it’s written for an American audience. The movies are usually summarized from their Americanized versions, not from the original Mexican ones…it wasn’t clear to me that Greene had seen the originals in many cases, and whether or not the author was a fluent Spanish speaker. Someone who grew up in Mexico in the 50’s to the 70’s (the equivalent of the American Baby Boomers) might find it a very incomplete history, although the author makes it clear that it isn’t the intent to provide a complete filmography.

Those imperfections aside, I can heartily recommend the book for geeks and pop culture students.

It would be interesting to see a comparison of these movies and the Japanese kaijū eiga (monster movies, like Godzilla and Mothra). They have some similarities, with powerful entities, battles between good and evil, and Americanization. It would be a way to examine the cultural differences.

By the way, I did recently watch Jack Black’s Nacho Libre (thanks, Amazon Prime streaming at no additional cost). While the script by Jared and Jerusha Hess and Mike White showed some awareness of the lucha libre conventions, I wouldn’t recommend it for somebody who wants to learn about Mexican wrestling. Of course, that wasn’t the point of the movie…but personally, I didn’t find it that funny, either…

One last point…if you have a television provider (cable, satellite), with Spanish language stations, and you have a way to search it (I do through Tivo), try putting “luchador” into the keyword search. You could also search for Santo as an actor. I find that there are usually a few of these movies on every week, although they may not be dubbed or subtitled.

Bottom line: I really enjoyed the book and the scholarship, despite a few flaws.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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5 Responses to “Review: Mexploitation Cinema”

  1. Joe Bowers Says:

    Wow, Coincidence City. Just the other day, on another blog I read regarding comic book art, the topic was Santo ‘s comic “career “! Not trying to plug the guy, but it ‘s Dave Karlen, (blogger) if anyone is interested. I hope it ‘s ok to mention it, Bufo. He has some cool comic history pieces, and profiles of artists along with great art.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Joe!

      Sure, go ahead and post the link. You aren’t advertising it.

      Santo’s comics are mentioned in Mexploitation…in fact, there is a note discussing some uncertainty about when they were published, citing conflicting sources.

      Edited to add: you might find this earlier review interesting…

      • Joe Bowers Says:

        Thanks, B.C., I had read that review and plan to read the book someday. (Famous last words!) I never got around to thanking you for the link to your thoughts on the Addams Family. Good stuff, I agree Gomez and Morticia were great parents! Loved those train sets! I remember my older brother had some paperback collections of the original cartoons, beautiful stuff!

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Joe!

        I wanted to read it, so I think this is the article by Joe Karlen, right?

        It’s not necessarily that big a coincidence…I would guess Santo is (or was…but probably still is) as well-known in Mexico as Mickey Mouse is here. :) It wouldn’t surprise me if there are Santo blog posts every week…by somebody somewhere. ;)

        I’ve read the original Charles Addams cartoons as well…yes, brilliant! I thought Gahan Wilson had some really interesting ideas, but they did tend to be one offs. Addams created a world in panels…

  2. Joe Bowers Says:

    Yes, that’s the blog, Dave Karlen’s Original Art Blog. I know Santo is huge, but I hadn’t heard or seen anything about him in a long time, and blammo, two references! Take care.

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