Special thanks once again to Balladeer’s Blog’s Official Movie Hostess, the legendarily lovely Casey James! Casey is introducing my latest look at a bad superhero movie.
SANTO VERSUS THE RIDERS OF TERROR (1970) – Called Santo Contra Los Jinetes del Terror in its native Mexico, this is one of my all-time favorite hidden gems among the wacked-out movies about Mexican wrestler and superhero El Santo.
El Santo – often called “Samson” in English-dubbed versions of his flicks – has battled Martians, vampire women, vampire men, witches, mummies, wax figures come to life and dozens of other monstrosities. This particular flick stands out to me because of its joyously tasteless brand of “monsters” – a horseback riding outlaw gang of lepers.
Yes, LEPERS! In a move even Tod Slaughter might have deemed too exploitative a group of bandits deformed by leprosy are at large and pulling off a series of robberies. The lepers are led by “Jose”, who leads an escape from a local sanitarium where he and his fellow afflicted are being cared for. A rancher named Camerino strikes a secret alliance with the unfortunate escapees, promising a hideout plus food and a share of the loot if they commit robberies for him.
These “Riders of Terror” – made up so grotesquely they’d fit right in in a horror film – go into action, successfully pulling off job after job and escaping with ease since neither their victims nor law enforcement agencies want to get anywhere near them. The double-dealing Camerino puts pressure on the hapless Sheriff Dario for his failure to catch the outlaws. Camerino’s plan is to replace Dario with one of his own stooges to consolidate his nefarious hold on the community.
Frantic to save his job Dario calls in that master crime-fighter El Santo to take down the disfigured desperadoes. Santo’s efforts to capture the Riders of Terror come to naught, often because of the way they wield the threat of physical contact as a superpower. At one point the townspeople form a torch-bearing mob intent on raiding the sanitarium and killing all the lepers inside, even though they’re not the ones committing the robberies!
Luckily Santo and Dario defuse that situation before the mob can enact its moronic plan. Dario’s girlfriend gets kidnapped by Camerino when she discovers his link to the hideous Riders of Terror. In the end El Santo tracks the gang to Camerino’s ranch, defeats the rancher’s thugs and rescues Dario’s gal-pal. He also saves the lepers, who were about to be gunned down by Camerino and his men now that they’d outlived their usefulness to him.
Happily the lepers are not held responsible for the way Camerino exploited them and, even better, Santo grandly announces the discovery of a new drug that cures leprosy, so the Riders of Terror will soon be back to full health and able to lead normal lives.
As our hero leaves town accompanied by the resounding cheers of citizens and lepers alike the viewer finds themself asking “Did I really just watch a movie which featured LEPERS as supervillains?”
Anyway, I resisted the temptation to start this review with the words “Leapin’ Lepers!”
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