CINE DE CULTO It's impossible to undersell the extent to which everyone was space travel crazy from the 1950s through the early '70s. Even nations not actively involved in the Cold War race for space "supremacy" shared the giddy thrill as U.S.S.R., then U.S. efforts successfully launched projectiles toward the cosmos. Those technological leaps and Cold War-fueled fears that the bomb could end life as we know it turned science fiction from an infrequent cinematic genre into a popular, prolific one.
Different nations put their own spin on this celluloid space race, the Soviets for instance treating it as territory of soberly scientific national pride. On the other end of the spectrum, Mexico did sci-fi wackier, cheaper, and often with more inspiration than its neighbor up north. These movies often ended up cut, retitled, and badly dubbed for U.S. consumption at kiddie matinees and on late-night creature feature shows, where they inevitably provoked howls of laughter.
Some camp value definitely remains, but next week's Pacific Film Archive series "El Futuro Está Aqui: Sci-Fi Classics From Mexico" offers a rare chance to see several choice nuggets in their original-language form and in pristine prints. As a result, they seem more conspicuously well-crafted (on par with major studio Hollywood B movies of the '50s), even — dare we say — dignified, than you'd expect. Which is not to say they aren't frequently nuts as well.
Nothing says Mexploitation more succinctly than Santo vs. the Martian Invasion, a 1966 adventure that was one of the immortal masked wrestling hero's last in B&W. Aliens in flying hubcaps — I mean flying saucers — seek to invade Earth by making people disappear with their ray-guns and interfering with TV transmissions. They also wear silver Mylar pants without shirts (dudes) or low-cut onesies (chicks). These Martians are hot. But they insist on world peace, so of course they must be stopped.
What could be more terrifying? Civilizations ruled by women, of course! In the prior year's Planet of the Female Invaders, abducted Earthlings find themselves on Sibila, where that terrible reversal of the natural order has come to pass. But fear not: as lost visitors from the normal world soon discover, the women secretly long to be fussed over and told what to do by he-men.
Also in the PFA series are 1959's lunatic The Ship of Monsters, which manages to encompass singing cowboys, Venusians in taped-on J-Lo dresses, vampires, and more. As for 1957's The Aztec Mummy vs. the Human Robot, it involves ... well, you figure it out. (Dennis Harvey)
EL FUTURO ESTÁ AQUI: SCI-FI CLASSICS FROM MEXICO
June 24–27, $5.50–$9.50
Pacific Film Archive
2575 Bancroft, Berk.