Saturday, November 7, 2009

Dark times need bright heroes.

In my last post I talked about my preference for heroes that are "men of good will who serve justice". That last quote is from the movie whose poster you see above: "Santo vs las mujeres vampiro" (Santo vs the vampire women). You may be familiar with this movie in it's English dubbed version:" Samson vs the vampire women". Aside from the dubbing the two films are identical. But even if you don't speak Spanish you can quite easily follow the plot of the movie because good storytelling communicates it's message across linguistic barriers.

I've chosen this movie for two reasons: it's a sentimental favorite of mine and more importantly it illustrates the concept of the hero as "the man of good will who serves justice".

The movie opens with a hideous vampire woman, Tundra, emerging from her coffin (above) followed by several more withered vampiric females emerging from their caskets. The coffin containing Zorina, the queen of the vampire women remains closed. Tundra summons their demonic master, seen only by his shadow but clearly Satan, and in short order Tundra and a trio of male vampire slaves are restored to their youthful appearance. Their beauty is viewed only as a weapon by which they can seduce unwary mortals.

Tundra (seen above) is aware that a successor for the still dormant queen of the vampire women, Zorina, must be found soon. According to an unnamed prophecy a beautiful young woman with a peculiar birthmark is fated to be the new queen of the vampire women. We cut to a young woman named Diana who is haunted by a sense of impending doom. And with good reason as she's being observed by Tundra. Diana's father is Professor Orlof. The professor knows the truth and decides to call Santo for help.

At the moment El Santo is not in his well equipped lab but in the arena wrestling in a tag team match. This is a subtle but effective bit of storytelling. In less than two minutes we learn that the film's hero is smart, tough and honorable. In the meantime Tundra kills a couple leaving a club and uses their blood to restore the rest of the vampire women and their queen Zorina to "life".

Aware that her reign as vampire queen is only a few nights away Zorina orders that her successor Diana be brought before her. Tundra goes to Professor Orlof's home and unsuccessfully tries to hypnotize him into turning Diana over to her. Tundra flees into the night. Moments later El Santo shows up in response to Orlof's earlier call. Here we learn that according to ancient scrolls being decoded by Orlof, modern man's moral turpitude and abuse of nature's powers has paved the way for the return of monsters. Professor Orlor and Santo discuss the prophecy about Diana's destiny as the new queen of the vampire women. However Orlof has also uncovered in the scrolls tales of a previous champion of justice who would have a descendant: El Santo. Warned that the forces of evil are arrayed against him El Santo nonetheless is committed to carrying on the work of his ancestors.

Tundra and the trio of male vampires try to kidnap Diana but are stopped by El Santo. The vampires escape and Zorina declares: "the silver masked man must die". One of the male vampires kills and then impersonates Santo's next opponent; The Black Mask. He almost kills Santo during their match but is instead unmasked. Despite being shot by the police he changes into a bat and escapes into the night. The vampires manage to kidnap Diana and Santo sets off in pursuit in his convertible sportscar. He catches up to one of the male vampires near a church but the vampire bursts into flame under the shadow of the cross. Orlof has dechiphered the scrolls and relays to Santo the location of the vampire women's hideout. Santo enters their lair and is captured.

The vampire women have everything they want: Diana and El Santo. Tundra orders Santo's unmasking but the sun begins to rise. Tundra bursts into flames. Santo breaks free and fights the remaining two male vampires long enough for them to succumb to sunlight. Torch in hand Santo enters the vampire women's crypt and sets each one on fire. He grabs Diana and they leave the castle while the screams of the burning vampire women reverberate. Santo returns Diana to her father Professor Orlof and her fiance and drives off in his sportscar. Orlof, Diana and her fiance are left to wonder who this man is. Professor Orlof declares that: " this time where the evil of men seeks it's own destruction, her will always be in the service of good and justice". In the English translation it's given as " ...a man of good will who serves justice".

I realize that today's audience for heroic fiction may find this type of movie to be simplistic, corny or old fashioned. Some people won't be able to get past the low budget or the fact that the hero of the movie is a wrestler who never removes his mask. The vampire women are all beautiful, especially Tundra and the queen Zorina, yet there is no cheap titillation on display. Their allure speaks for itself which is how it should be.

The character of El Santo is presented in very broad strokes: a wrestler by occupation, a hero by nature. When he's not in action he's not onscreen. The hero doesn't exist until there's a conflict between good and evil. In the Mexican Masked Wrestler film genre there is no hand wringing, uncertainty or doubt on the hero's part. These characters operate with complete moral certainty. The notion of moral certitude is crucial to the hero and his motives. A society that either by choice or through conditioning abdicates it's ability to make moral distinctions is on a path to destruction. When you equate goodness with evil you leave nothing to believe in. Why is it that vampires, creatures who live on human blood and suffering, are now presented as heroes? Why did the producers of "Superman Returns" choose to portray the quintessential comic book hero as an uncertain, morally compromised man? Why did the producers of the GI Joe movie not present a "real American hero"? And finally why is Captain America "dead"? Where are the heroes who operate from a plane of moral certainty?

There are those who will argue that the "simplistic" heroes of yesteryear are outdated. The argument is that today's audience wants "characterization" "depth" and "edginess". You can have all of that without diluting the moral certainty and purity that is an essential part of a hero. We're living in dark times. Cultural relativism, moral relativism, Liberalism and Islamic terrorism are the latter day horsemen of the apocolypse. If we slowly surrender our ability to make moral distinctions between good and evil, if we say that all ideas, beliefs and cultures are completely equal, if we say that the state, not the individual, is the producer of the good then how can we possibly hope to recognize and prevail against those villains who operate on a twisted plane of certitude? We need those simple heroes with their certitude and selfless commitment to the good fight more than ever. It may be fiction but it speaks truths about us.

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