DirectorRafael Romero Marchent
Release Date(s)1973 (November 25, 2022)
Studio(s)Cinematografica Pelimex/Oro Films (Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C-
Eurospy meets Lucha Libre action in Santo vs Dr. Death, which has been known by a myriad of titles over the years. Considered one of the best Santo films, it’s also late in the Santo film cycle, and only 11 short years before the legendary man behind the silver mask would pass away. This particular film’s mix of mad scientist exploitation, undercover government agents, and Mexican freestyle wrestling galore is a hoot and a holler of a film. Whether you’re watching it with its original Spanish language or with its hilarious English overdub, this is definitely one of the best places to start when it comes to the Santo films.
El Santo (Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta) has been summoned by Interpol to investigate who’s behind the defacement of priceless paintings and why. He makes his way to Madrid where he’s also due to appear at a high profile wrestling tournament, but with his partner and fellow agent Paul (Carlos Romero Marchent) by his side. Together, they send special agent Susan (Mirta Miller) undercover to the home of Dr. Mann (George Rigaud), whom they’ve grown suspicious of after discovering his interests in art and chemistry. Soon they learn of his secret laboratory where he conducts monstrous experiments on unwilling models in order to restore and replicate the previously damaged paintings so that he can keep the originals for himself. When Santo finishes up with his vigorous matches in the squared circle, he and Paul move in on Dr. Mann to stop him and his diabolical, scorpion torture-prone henchman from succeeding with their plans.
There’s little need to dissect the plot of Santo vs Dr. Death. It’s James Bond meets freestyle wrestling. After all, Santo was an incredible athlete and watching his work in the ring is half of your admission price to this film, and you get several chances. On top of that are terrific action scenes, including impressive stunts, fist fights, and even a speedboat chase. It’s just a rollicking little movie that’s trying its best to entertain, and entertain it does. Whether you’re in it for the unintentional laughs, the mad doctor’s diabolical scheme, or Santo’s glorious fighting acrobatics (or perhaps all of the above), there’s little to not enjoy in Santo vs Dr. Death.
Santo vs Dr. Death was shot by director of photography Godofredo Pacheco on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Vinegar Syndrome presents the film on Blu-ray with a new 2K restoration of the original camera negative. It’s a beautiful, film-like presentation with excellent saturation and tight grain with an enormously high bitrate that mostly hovers between 30 and 40 Mbps, but frequently sails over that. Detail is excellent, even in darkened environments where shadow detail is prevalent. Saturation is ideal as well, although flesh tones tend to look a little hot at times, but briefly. The color palette is otherwise awash with lovely swatches of blue, green, red, and purple, among others. Blacks are deep with good contrast and only minor speckling is leftover. The image is otherwise stable and clean.
Audio is included in Spanish or English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English and English SDH. Both tracks feature prominent hiss, but it’s much more obvious on the English track. Otherwise, they’re quite similar in terms of music and sound effects. The English dub is often hilarious, but performances are better on the Spanish dub (not that anybody needs to take this film that seriously to begin with).
Santo vs Dr. Death on Blu-ray sits in a clear amaray case with a double-sided insert and poster. Everything is housed in an embossed and spot gloss slipcover available directly from Vinegar Syndrome (as part of the Vinegar Syndrome Archive), limited to 5,000 units, and designed by Haunt Love. The insert, poster, and slipcover all feature this artwork. (As of this writing, Vinegar Syndrome isn’t planning to do more than one run of this release, so once it’s gone, it may be gone for good on their label.) The following extras are included on the disc itself, all in HD:
- Video Essay by Orlando Jimenez (14:11)
- Spanish Theatrical Trailer (3:26)
- English Theatrical Trailer (3:26)
- Alternate English Title Sequence (2:12)
- Promotional Image Gallery (9 in all – :32)
The Video Essay features film historian Orlando Jimenez (“The Killer Film”) who discusses many facts about the film, including the careers of the cast and crew, the filming locations, the premiere, the content and tone, the critical and audience reactions, and Santo’s appearances in other films. At one point he retells the entire events of the film, which is rather redundant, but offers some valuable information about the film and Santo himself. Take note that it’s an audio-only essay in Spanish with subtitles. Also included are the Spanish and English language theatrical trailers, although the video portion for both uses the Spanish theatrical trailer with the original Spanish title onscreen. The English trailer audio calls the film Saint vs Dr. Death. The Alternate English Title Sequence features the film under the title “Masked Man Strikes Again” (Santo vs. the Dr. Death). Last is a brief Promotional Image Gallery featuring a poster and some lobby cards.
For fans of Santo (or Samson as some might know him) and his exploits, Santo vs Dr. Death is a fun and even exhilarating romp. Purportedly, Santo himself considered it one of his best, and Vinegar Syndrome’s treatment only makes me wish that more of his films were available in this kind of quality. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons