Original title: La horripilante bestia humana
Directed by: Rene Cardona
If there ever were a cure for the blues, it would have to be cheap Mexican exploitation flicks. With origins stretching back as far as the thirties when the set’s of Tod Browning’s Dracula where used at night time to shoot a Spanish language version of the same production for the Latino market, and the booming in the mid fifties during a time of Political uncertainty. Crises within the Mexican film industry led to the production of loads of low-budget films at minimal costs, which required filmmakers to be more creative than they had needed be before.
It’s from those times of low budget, cheap production, and exploitation tricks that screenwriters and directors like Ramón Obón, Rafael Baledón, brothers Alfredo and Abel Salazar, René Cardona, Chano Urueta, Miguel M. Delgado, Alfredo B. Crevenna and the great Fernando Méndez came to their full exploitative potential. Méndez stunning El Vampiro (The Vampire) 1957 became something of a surprise smash hit generating a huge demand for native genre fare. Although El Vampiro didn’t reach English-speaking soil until the late sixties when K. Gordon Murray took it under his production and dubbed it into an English language version – like a multitude of Mexican films he Americanized under the same time period. Despite this, it’s told that Christopher Lee states that the Méndez El Vampiro was seen by the forces at Hammer studios and left an important impression on them, which also highly influenced the genesis of the glossy gothic style of Hammer horrors that exploded upon the world with the 1958 classic Horror of Dracula.
Back to the Mexico, Gothic horrors and Mexican folklore themed films soon gave way to another favoured pastime, Wrestling. Televised Luchador matches where suddenly deemed vulgar and banned by the government as to “protect underage viewers”. A great move, as they simply moved into the cinemas and showcased their exploits there instead – hence many Luchador Movies being bookended with lead characters wrestling bouts. After a few films of fighting each other, the Gothic horror and Mexican folk lore seeped back in and Luchador greats such as Santo, Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras started taking on Aztec mummies, Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfmen and even a couple of encounters with Martian invaders.
Within this niche also came the Luchadora, the Female Wrestler. A sexier, cooler sub-niche, where legend Loretta Velázquez and her character “Gloria Venus” was the undefeated queen of Mexican exploitation cinema. And if there was a king of the genre it was undoubtedly writer, actor, director René Cardona! Personally responsible for a good half dozen or more Luchadoras films, Cardona probably did more for the Mexican female action hero than any other director with his successful string of Luchadoras films, including the initial Las luchadoras vs. el médecino asesino (Doctor of Doom) 1962, cult favourite La Mujer Muriciélago (Bat Woman), 1967 and La horripilante bestia human (Night of the Bloody Apes) 1969, which even ended up on the infamous British Video Nasties list of prosecuted titles.
Seemingly two parallel stories set the stage for this sinister gem of Mexican exploitation cinema. One path follows Lieutenant Arturo Martinez [Armando Silvestre] and his Luchadora girlfriend Lucy Ossorio [Norma Lazareno who also starred in Cardona’s splendid Superviventes de los Andes (Survive) 1976 with legend Hugo Stiglitz], and her story of nursing a bad conscious after tossing her opponent Elena Gomez [Noelia Noel] out of the wrestling ring and putting her in hospital in a serious condition. If nothing else, it brings some neat girl fight scenes to the movie and Lazareno sports a spiffy red cat/devil outfit with mask and all. The other path follows renown, but heavily frustrated Professor Krallman [José Elías Moreno, who starred as The Ogre in Roberto Rodriguez Caperucita y Pulgacito contra los monstros (Tom Thumb and Little Red Riding Hood) 1962] as he conducts depraved experiments on primates in a desperate attempt to cure his son’s deadly disease.
Transplanting the heart of a gorilla he and his henchman have stolen from a zoo – showcased through wonderful gorilla suits and authentic gory surgery footage, which most likely is the only reason the movie ended up on the Video Nasties list, Professor Krallman and assistant Goyo [Carlos Lòpez Moctezuma] operate on his son Julio [Agustin Martinez Solares] but despite the ape heart transplant being a success, Julio soon transforms into a grotesquely apelike beast, another hideous monster makeup face job for the former professional wrestler Gerardo Zepeda! Breaking out of the Professors secret basement laboratory, which for some reason has a penthouse window, the beast escapes into the night, stalks his prey and strikes in bloody sexual frenzy!
Called to the scene of the brutal murder, Lt. Arturo finds himself facing one of the most bizarre cases of his career. This is where the two paths come into one main narrative. Arturo is on the case and is racing against time to stop the beast man form committing further crimes! Things get worse when Professor Krallman – who incidentally performed the life saving brain surgery on Elena after Lucy chucked her out of the ring during the opening fight - kidnaps the still lethargic Elena from hospital with the intention of removing the gorilla heart and putting hers into the body of the beast as to save him from the transmutation which turns him into the manic ape beast. Cue more real gory stock footage, and Oh do I love scenes of medical mumbo jumbo blurted out to give the illusion of being authentic, and Night of the Bloody Apes delivers it en masse.
I love how the Cardona’s, yes both Father and son René Cardona Jr., (who went on to enjoy a great career as a exploitation filmmaker himself) as they co-wrote the script to this one, create such delightful empathy for both sides of the piece whilst they set this one up. Basically it’s a remake of Cardona's earlier film Doctor of Doom, which also starring Armando Silvestre and Gerardo Zepeda in similar roles they hold in Night of the Bloody Apes.
Even though it's wasted, empathy for Lazareno's Lucy Ossorio is created as she's a fighter, but a fighter with a heart, who has terrible remorse when putting her opponent in hospital. She struggles with the following fights as the guilt is heavy to carry, and Silvestre does his best to console her and keep her fighting spirits up. Unfortunately it really leads to nothing, but acts more as a semi sub plot to weave in Silvestre and Moreno's characters.
Krallman is a delightful character, a cocktail of doing wrong for the cause of good. He’s a saver of lives – as the brain surgeon of Elena, but also a mad professor, a constant evil in Mexican horror cinema – who conducts vile tests in his secret home laboratory, taking innocent lives for scientific experiments. But the complexity of his deeds and their reason is an exciting one. We can judge him for the crimes he commits, but we can also respect the reasons why he committed them… It’s a classic case of doing wrong for good, or dimension, as I’d say in storytelling terms. Interestingly enough even the beast has some basic emotions beyond hate and lust. It shows empathy for its creator/father when Krallman falls and bashes himself unconscious. He even picks him up and gently places him on his bed! Awww, the Monster man loves his dad!
Being made in the midst of the degeneration of Mexican exploitation cinemas Golden age, it’s pretty fair to say that the movie more or less runs on routine. Although plenty of cheap effects, throat ripping, decapitating and a surprising amount of nudity as the Beast rapes and mutilates his way through the night, not to mention the immense amount of times Lt. Martinez calls Lucy, only to catch her standing or leaving the shower! She must easily be the most squeaky clean Luchadora ever; keep this movie a splendid late entry into the genre and sub niche. Where the previous Luchadora films had focused on the female characters, Night of the Bloody Apes focuses more on the Professor and his qualms with playing god – there’s a Prometheus story in there if there ever was one, and the movies climax definitely nods it’s head at Whale’s infamous censored moment from Frankenstein 1931 - instead of the Wrestling which acts more as a lure to pull audiences in, and before you know it Lazareno’s Lucy Ossorio is reduced to nothing more but eye candy and has no real part of the movies climactic last act.
Finally released in the most intact shape to date on DVD, complete with stock footage, and either the original Spanish language or the pretty fun “word for word like” English dub, René Cardona’s La horripilante bestia humana, is back from the land of the censors in all it’s glory thanks to UK’s Nucleus Films.