El Santo needs very little introduction around these parts. More than a beloved athlete or an iconic actor, the diminutive masked luchador truly deserves to be called a legend of Mexican popular culture. Over his 48-year career, Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta truly lived the part of the wrestler-super hero he played on screen and in the arenas night after night, and his shining silver alter-ego has been woven into the fabric of Mexican folklore.
Born in Tulancingo, Hidalgo in 1917, Guzmán moved as a child to Mexico City’s infamous “barrio bravo”, Tepito, and showed a keen interest in sport from a young age. After moving through baseball and American football, the young Guzmán took up Jiu-Jitsu and eventually found his way into the nascent world of professional wrestling.
From there it took several decades before Guzmán’s career took off, and he wrestled under a number of monikers – including El Hombre Rojo and El Demonio Negro – before settling on the saintly title that would define his career. But beyond his beloved persona inside the ring, El Santo solidified his status as Mexico’s quintessential masked luchador through a whole network of pop culture spinoffs, including a comic book series and, most notably, the 52 wrestling-themed films that cemented his legend on the silver screen.
El Santo’s successful foray into feature films had a lot to do with timing, but even so, his first appearances as a masked sidekick to Spanish-born luchador Fernando Osés in the films El Cerebro del mal and Hombres infernales hardly registered when they were released in 1958. It wasn’t until a few years later, in 1961, that El Santo burst onto the Mexican film scene with Santo contra los Zombis, a film directed by Benito Alazraki that set the stage for glut of pulpy wrestling films that would dominate Mexican screens for nearly two decades.
Here’s a look back at some of El Santo’s most iconic film roles.
Santo contra los Zombies (1962)
dir. Benito Alazraki
El Santo is sent to defend humanity from an invasion of criminal zombies who are overwhelming local law enforcement. After duking it out on the streets, the masked superhero discovers that their achilles heel lies in an abundant Mexican natural resource: chili powder.
Santo contra las mujeres vampiro (1962)
dir. Alfonso Corona Blake
While following a familiar formula of El Santo vs. some supernatural enemy menacing humanity, Santo contra las mujeres vampiro brought significantly higher production values and gave the luchador an elaborate mythology that places this amongst his greatest films. When the evil leader of a vampire coven kidnaps a professor’s daughter to bring his bride back to life, El Santo is sent in to take on an army of luchador slaves and get her back home safe.
Santo contra Capulina (1968)
dir. René Cardona
El Santo’s films were full of action and supernatural intrigue, but they walked a fine comedic line that gave them a campy, surrealist touch. The excessive twists and turns of this particular film, in which a bumbling security guard disguises himself as El Santo to take on a criminal gang that has kidnapped a scientist and his daughter, take a nosedive into the absurd when El Santo and said security guard must fight off the security guard’s evil clone.
Santo en el tesoro de Drácula / El vampiro y el sexo (1968)
dir. René Cardona
Sure, we’ve seen the whole Santo vs. female vampires thing before, but beyond the pretty basic plot, this film is infamous because it was censored at the time of its release (hence the distinct titles.) After the Guanajuato International Film Festival restored and screened the original, racier version for the first time in 2011, fans of El Santo beheld a couple of topless women and skimpy outfits that probably wouldn’t even earn an R rating at this point in our cultural history.
Las momias de Guanajuato (1970)
dir. Federico Curiel
The mummy of a luchador vanquished by an ancestor of El Santo comes back to life to exact his revenge. Santo teamed up with fellow wrestler-actor Mil Mascaras and lifelong rival Blue Demon to bring this beloved classic of luchador to mummy combat to the big screen.