I've always wondered what the Lone Ranger would be like if he moved to Mexico, got a sombrero, put some skulls on his jacket and fought tacky monsters. Well, not really, but I guess I sort of know the answer now anyway. El Charro de las Calaveras (The Rider of the Skulls) is a movie that's kind of like that.
|Director: Alfredo Salazar
Screenplay: Dagoberto Rodriguez, David Silva, Alicia Caro, Pascual Garcia Pe˝a
Writer: Alfredo Salazar
The film is really a series of vignettes, each with a different monster for the Rider to fight. The first storyline introduces us to The Rider, a man in (I think) a Lone Ranger style mask but also with a bandana wrapped around the lower half of his face. This getup gives The Rider a lot of difficulty as he's constantly having to adjust the bandana. The Rider arrives at a home where a werewolf is on the prowl, but The Rider knows just what to do: Fistfight el hombre lobo! And not even with silver boxing gloves. During this first portion of the movie, The Rider picks up two sidekicks, a young boy and a bumbling, idiotic older fellow with less comedic subtlety than Billy Crystal. After vanquishing the werewolf but before his next job, The Rider dumps his child sidekick and trades him for a new kid, but for some reason The Rider keeps his comic relief guy. The Rider also alters his mask so that he's got his entire head cloaked and won't need to fiddle with his disguise all the time. This time The Rider and company run afoul of a vampire. There's only one solution: Fistfight! With a pattern now firmly in place, The Rider keeps his current cohorts and moves on to an area that is cursed by a headless horseman. This is a really difficult situation, but the Rider has a plan: Swordfight! Now, that's a twist to the formula that I didn't see coming.
I don't think there's ever been a monster hunter so ready to throw down mano-a-monster with the beasties before. The Rider is forced to use a sword against the horseman, but that's just because the horseman also has a sword. I'm sure if the horseman had put down his blade The Rider never would've belittled himself by using weaponry. The Rider is clearly a hands on kind of dude; he doesn't even use his guns, preferring to lay an unarmed smackdown on the monsters.
Maybe his confidence is boosted by the monsters' appearance, because they are all supremely shithouse. El Charro de las Calaveras makes no pretences otherwise, audaciously displaying the monsters in all their low rent glory. The werewolf, who for some reason turns from a fully clothed man into a skeleton and then into a fully clothed werewolf during his transformation, looks like a plastic devil mask that someone has glued hair on to. It took me ages to work out what was going on with the vampire, but I think he's supposed to have a vampire bat head. The headless horseman is taller when he doesn't have his head than after he's got it back, and his head is a masterwork in papier-mâché make up. There're also cameos from an equally poorly made up zombie, two skull headed bandits and a witch, but the last one is just a woman so there's not much to laugh at there aside from her lack of acting ability. Along with monsters that make the baddies from later Howling movies look like top quality work by Stan Winston, El Charro de las Calaveras has all sorts of incompetence. The story is incredibly facile, the day for night might as well be day for day most of the time, the acting ranges between terrible to awful and the special FX are so special they could win a gold medal at The Special Olympics.
The credits say something about Mexican television, and if I had to guess I'd say that El Charro de las Calaveras was intended as a children's TV show, albeit one with a little bit of bloodshed, and only three episodes got made so they were put together as a feature. That would explain the cast and costume changes after the first story, because that would presumably be the pilot.
However it came to be, El Charro de las Calaveras is a marvel of cinema that has to be seen to be believed. Actually, I've seen it and I still don't believe those makeups made it in front of a camera, so it's a movie that has to be seen to still be disbelieved.
In loving memory of Batty del Bito, taken from us far too young.