Fifty years ago, a new movie superhero entered the national consciousness. The nation was Mexico, and its hero was the masked wrestler known as El Santo. After first gaining prominence in the ring and then in comic books, Santo next took on the challenge of film. It was in this medium that the wrestler would cement his legend as a larger than life action hero. It quickly became clear to movie producers that puny human villains no longer presented Santo with a proper challenge, and so in his first two films (a low-budget double bill), Santo is pitted against supernatural and science-fictional foes, Cerebro del Mal (Evil Brain) and Santo Contra los Homres Infernal (Santo VS the Infernal Men). The movies were hits in Mexico, and Santo’s appeal soon extend beyond his native Mexico.
Plot:Frustrated insurance salesman Clarence Hilliard (played by Timothy Carey, who also wrote and directed) writes a Nietzche-esque pamphlet that claims, “all men are gods,” and then forms a rock ‘n roll band to help push his agenda. Not long after this, politics beckon, and Clarence ditches his guitar and makes a run for the presidency.
Review: Like any good exploitation film, The World’s Greatest Sinner is a mix of low budget technical compromises, lurching story lines, ham-fisted visual metaphors, and odd, unpredictable moments. When Clarence Hilliard makes his first speech about the “Immortal Man,” he steps up onto a pile of what looks like sandbags. Then the camera slowly tilts down to reveal him standing on bags of manure, a sign reading “4 for a dollar.” On stage with his rock ‘n roll band, Clarence doesn’t resemble a twitching, gyrating Elvis so much as he does a man having an epileptic fit. Then there’s the 50-state, stock-footage campaign for president, where vaguely familiar newsreel shots cheer on intercut snippets of Hillard exhorting his followers to become gods!
Santo may not be for everyone, or maybe he’s an acquired taste, but more than likely if you didn’t watch his films as a kid, the attraction may never be there for you. Watching these movies now as an adult, it’s easy to pick them apart and laugh at the crazy plots and goofy sets, but there’s also a winning kind of sincerity to them and a willingness to throw everything into the the movie — not just the kitchen sink, but werewolves, vampires, the living dead, Frankenstein’s monster, you name it. Also, there are always one or two moments that can only happen in a Santo movie. Santo vs la hija de Frankenstein (Santo vs Frankenstein’s Daughter) has two such moments.