Doctor of Doom DVD

Gorgeous ladies of wrestling fight crime and monsters

In Mexico, horror movies had always been a minor genre, mostly content to import Hollywood’s monster epics while only producing a few Old Dark House and ghost story pictures domestically. All that changed during the late 1950s (just as it did in everywhere else), when the old classic monster pictures began to show up on television to thrill a whole new generation. Suddenly, vampires and mummies began to stalk across the screens of Mexico. Meanwhile, a new genre was created when a series of films featuring masked wrestling champions as superheroes became popular. By 1961, El Santo – a wrestler who had already enjoyed a great career in the ring – conquered the cinema, where he fought against increasingly weird criminal menaces in between bouts.

René Cardona directed the first Santo movie (the more straightforward sports epic The Man in the Silver Mask) way back in 1952. He’d been acting in and directing all kinds of pictures since the 1930s, and knew how to follow the trends. Writer Alfredo Salazar had already written a half dozen or so monster movies. Together, they decided to make Las Luchadoras Contra el Medico Asesino (“Wrestling Women vs. the Mad Doctor”), the first picture to combine outright horror with wrestling, with an added bonus: their wrestlers would be female. The blatantly supernatural classic Santo Vs. the Vampire Women (co-starring Luchadoras‘ Lorena Velázquez) would follow soon after.

A killer known in the press as “The Mad Doctor” is operating in Mexico City – literally, as he gained his name because the girls he abducts are found with their brains surgically removed. After his fourth try at a human brain transplant fails, his helpful assistant Boris suggests that perhaps the problem is that their subjects are too stupid to survive the operation. The pair resolve to find a smarter victim.

Alice Fontaine (Sonia Infante), lab assistant to scientist Professor Wright (Roberto Cañedo) scoffs at the danger, going out alone to see her sister Gloria Venus (Lorena Velázquez) wrestle for the championship. The Mad Doctor sends his “greatest triumph” Gomar (Gerardo M. Zapeda) – a man given a gorilla’s brain – out to abduct Alice, accompanied by the Doc’s gang of thugs. Gomar looks a lot like Bela Lugosi’s creature in The Human Monster. The Mad Doctor outfits Gomar with a bulletproof suit, which makes him look more like Spectreman.

When Alice’s transplant fails as well, a new approach is considered. Maybe what they need is a brain from a more athletic woman. Men, it seems, are only good for transplants from gorillas.

Two stumped Secret Service agents (Armando Silvestre and his short sidekick Chucho Salinas, both wrestling movie regulars) have to tell Gloria about her sister’s murder. Gloria tries to get over it by flirting with agent Silvestre, and becoming roommates with new girl Golden Rubi, the “American Cyclone” (Elizabeth Campbell).

At this point, the film completes its transformation from horror movie to serial style wrestling action flick. Gloria and Rubi – now the targets of the Mad Doctor – and their copper boyfriends go through a whole series of fights, chases, captures and escapes. The movie contains several climaxes (each of which I suspect were used to trim the running time at some point), after which everyone escapes and re-assembles for the next round.

With such a limited cast of characters to choose from, even Gomar could guess that Prof. Wright is really the Mad Doctor. The script never stops to question how he’s kept his brain transplant research a secret from everyone, or why – or even why he’s so intent on transplanting brains in the first place. Whatever his motivation, he obviously feels it’s worth becoming a super-criminal with a gang of thugs, a secret laboratory, a variety of masks and costumes, and even an old fashioned death trap.

The film was successful enough to spawn a sequel, Wrestling Women Vs. the Aztec Mummy, in which Gloria and Rubi cross paths with the popular creature from another Azteca Studios series. Both films were released on video by Rhino at one time with oddly incongruous rockabilly soundtracks. Doctor of Doom was remade in color in 1968, this time with plenty of nudity and gore (including actual surgical footage). This version made its way to the USA under the title Night of the Bloody Apes. Zapeda again played Gomar. The same brain-stealing plot was even used again in the ’70s for Santo & Blue Demon Vs. Dr. Frankenstein.

Doctor of Doom was one of many Mexican films imported into the United States by K. Gorden Murray Productions in the 1960s and dubbed at his Coral Gables studios to warp the minds of youngsters attending Saturday matinees. So far, Telefilms International has released over a dozen of these movies on the Beverly Wilshire Filmworks label. All of them are packaged with horrible graphics and no extras, but the transfers look better than previously available video editions, and the price is okay (if you can find them – distribution has been spotty). This one is from an American International 16mm TV print that has some fingerprints and speckles, but the transfer is reasonably good – probably better than most people would think the film deserves. But fans of cheesy Mexican horror movies will consider themselves lucky to have it.

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