As fate would have it, my exploration of classic Mexican cinema continued the same day as my favourite Mexican restaurant, Arriba Cantina, re-opened after two long burrito-deprived years. After narrowly avoiding a food coma, I pressed play on this “Mexican Horror Classic Double Feature” comprising of Ladron De Cadaveres (aka the Body Snatcher) and El Escapulario, released on Blu-ray by VCI Classic Films.
In the tradition of double-bills, we clearly have an A and B picture, although in reverse order, so I’ll begin with The Body Snatcher; a common title in horror, starring a variety of actors ranging from Boris Karloff to Donald Sutherland. Naturally, in this case, we have a wrestler, who’s in danger of becoming a bodily instrument of terror. This fate comes at the price of our hero’s assistance to a police detective in his investigation into a mad scientist who’s snatching up athletes for experimental brain surgery.
The Body Snatcher borrows heavily from Hollywood’s Atomic Age and Universal’s Monster Classics, with some obvious parallels to Frankenstein, in particular. However, the Mexicans seem to have more fun with these sub-genres as our characters are more upbeat than their often-deadly serious American counterparts. With wrestlers being viewed and idolised as cultural heroes South of the Border, their prominence in horror is a little odd at first for overseas viewers, but it doesn’t take long to realise how well they mesh with the evils they’re either battling or subscribing to. In the case of our tragic victim, Guillermo Santana, who played Wolf Ruvinskis, it’s a very wild ride and despite veering into some nonsensical territory, I had a lot of fun with this schlocky Latino classic.
El Escapulario on the other hand, is a sophisticated supernatural drama akin to The Twilight Zone that revolves around a scapulary that holds great powers, as proclaimed by a dying old woman, who ominously warns that those who don’t believe in its power will suffer grave misfortune. At only 85 minutes, this often eerie and ghostly apparition of a movie takes its time with its message of faith, which is of course very applicable in such a predominately Christian country. Viewers are taken on a journey through revolution and romance as the profound object changes hands, affecting the fate of those who handle it differently. A mystery is present at the film’s core which constantly keeps onlookers guessing as to how exactly events will unfold. Filled with gorgeous black and white photography and a densely ominous atmosphere there’s a haunting beauty to El Escapulario which will encourage repeat viewings.
- EL ESCAPULARIO: Special Video Essay by Dr. David Wilt, Film Historian and noted expert on Mexican Cinema – Relationships in Mexican Cinema (Relationes en el Cine Mexicano)
- Ladrón de Cadáveres: Special Video Essay by Dr. David Wilt, Film Historian and noted expert on Mexican Cinema – “Mexican Horror and Lucha Libre” (Horror Mexicano Lucha Libre)
VCI have a real asset in David Wilt, who, to call an “expert” in Mexican cinema would be an understatement. He may not be as lively as his fellow historians, such as Kim Newman, but it’s difficult to stop listening to his deep dives into this these very specific eras and genres from “South of the Border”. As implied by the above descriptions, our first featurette explores the role of romance and family in Mexican culture while the second looks at why exactly wrestlers were so popular in horror films. Both supplements are in English with Mexican subtitles, but the audio is very choppy.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
Separated by 11 years, both these black and white features look impressive for their age and while The Body Snatcher offers the slight rougher transfer in 1.37:1 there’s still a great deal of details to be seen, especially in close-up shots. El Escalpulario shows off an almost pristine HD rendering in 1.85:1, enhancing the exceptional cinematography of this supernatural tale. However, there is a contrast between both pictures and their PCM Audio tracks, which mainly suffer from background hissing, but this does not distract from the dialogue, which is at a very welcome volume. Spanish language subtitles are included, however, some of the translation tends to be a little off at times. The meaning of the dialogue still comes across, but its terminology is not always accurate to what’s being said. Optional English subtitles are also available for gringos.
You grab a copy of this Mexican Horror Classic Double Feature for $10.48 USD from VCI’s website along with many other titles, marked down between 60% to 80%, during the label’s Black Friday Sale, which ends are the stroke of midnight November 28th.
MEXICAN HORROR DOUBLE
(1957-1968, directors: Fernando Mendez & Servando Gonzalez)
direct blu-ray screen captures