REVIEW: MST3K 13×1 – Santo in the Treasure of Dracula (2022)

A Riff of the 1969 Film

Once again, fans of the venerable bad film showcase, Mystery Science Theater 3000 have new episodes to look forward to! Premiering earlier today, Season 13 started on the new streaming service Gizmoplex with a special live screening for those that backed the Kickstarter Campaign. We’re still not sure what exactly went south with the 2017 Netflix deal, but a return to a more DIY sensibility and aesthetic for the show is a welcome change for me for reasons I will explain later.

First up, we were “treated” to Santo in the Treasure of Dracula, a rather baffling entry in the long-running series of films from Mexico staring the legendary Luchador (Mexican Wrestler), El Santo. This isn’t the first time “The Mads” have forced someone to watch one of these, as the curiously named Samson vs. the Vampire Women was actually a redubbed El Santo film as well.

While El Santo was a totally real professional wrestler, and was perhaps the “Hulk Hogan” of his day in Mexico, this version is larger than life. This fictional El Santo (played by Santo himself) is not only a wrestler, but also a crime fighter, monster hunter and super-scientist. He somehow does all three of these things in the same movie, which is bewildering to a degree. Fun fact, the version we have here is actually color version of the film that was made in parallel to the “normal version” for the European market.

With that in mind, it was full of scenes that were too risqué for 1969 folks and largely locked away. His own son, El Hijo De El Santo (also a masked wrestler) even fought against its release when an HD restoration happened in 2011. Good news, those scenes appear to just be women wearing sheer lingerie moreso than any sort of imagery that would normally grant something an X rating and banning.

“After inventing a time machine, Mexican wrestler, El Santo, uses it to go back in time to track down the location of Dracula’s hidden treasure. This is with the noble intention of using the treasure to help fund a children’s hospital. In his quest to obtain the treasure, he is forced to face down and battle Dracula and his bevy of beautiful, vampire vixens.”

If you can make it through this film understanding what is happening, you deserve an award as the plot jumps around in a way that leads me to believe it was filmed in a linear manner. There are tons of zany scenes that I’m sure the director thought was great storytelling, but they really make one chuckle in 2022. Half of the movie doesn’t even really have El Santo in it, as he has created a time machine that allows a person to beam themselves into a past life, which leads Santo to discover that his own girlfriend would be a great candidate for a test run. She beams into her ancestor’s body and Santo and his scientist buddies watch the whole time travel portion of the film via a TV screen. It makes me wonder if they only had Santo’s availability for a limited time, and made the best of the situation.

One of the most ridiculous moments in the film is when Van Roth, a Van Helsing analogue in the past, writes the name of Count Alucárd (his mysterious caped European neighbor) on a piece of paper in red crayon, holds it up to a mirror and notices it now says DRACULA! DUN DUN DUN. It’s funny because if you really did that the letters would be backwards, which isn’t the case here. Dracula flips out and turns into a terrible rubber bat form and flies away.

Another hilarious plot device is that Santo and a mysterious masked villain race to find Dracula’s treasure, only to end up in somewhat of a stalemate. A decision is made that Santo and an opponent of the masked man’s choosing will wrestle over who will now own a dangerous supernatural relic, I guess I’ve seen crazier plots in professional wrestling itself, so why not?

This episode features Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray) as the test subject, alongside Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt as “The Mads”. We also see the return of Pearl Forrester and her clone Synthia, as well as little interludes with Joel in the live stream version (not sure what will be left in in the “main version”). For longtime fans here, the riffing is far better than the Netflix seasons. They definitely listened to fans, slowed down the pace and it’s been much better for it. I feel like this is a true “return to form” for the show, and it feels very much like an older episode. The Netflix ones somewhat felt over-written, too fast-paced, and too polished for a show that used to rely on terrible sets and janky puppets. The budget is noticeably less this time around, but the soul is back.

There were some legitimately funny lines such as “Sleeping Beauty had less sleeping than this movie”, “Sorry I was late, I was playing Dark Souls, you can’t pause Dark Souls!”, and “Hello, my name is Twilight, I’m a Dracula”. there were many more, but those alone made me chuckle quite a bit.

If I had any issue with the episode, it was the streaming version being packed with unnecessary intermissions and stuff. While I enjoy seeing Joel talking to the fans, and understand the fact that they need to shill stuff that advertisers paid to have shilled, but I’d rather have that as a “pre-show” or “post-show” because cutting an already short film in half with 30 minutes of a cooking segment and other stuff made the flow go off the rails.

Overall, I loved this episode, and it’s probably my favorite one since the show came back in 2017. It feels exactly like an older episode, has better jokes, and fun fan service that I’m sure will only get better as the season moves forward. Santo in the Treasure of Dracula is easily one of the worst films they’ve done, as it feels like two movies jammed together, and make very little sense if you step back and think about it. Movies like this are perfect for the show, and as a result this could end up being a “modern classic”.

In two weeks, Kickstarter backers are going to get some kind of livestream honoring Manos: The Hands of Fate, with episode two coming a few weeks later. I doubt I’ll post about the tribute episode unless it turns out to be something other than a podcast, but stay tuned for the next film review!

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