Friday, August 27, 2021

The Whip Against Satan

The Whip Against Satan (aka El látigo contra Satanás)
Alfredo B. Crevenna

The Whip (Juan Miranda) is kind of like Zorro if a) Zorro wasn’t charismatic and b) Zorro had a secret identity as a guy who takes advantage of locals by selling them hair tonic and snake oil. Also, by kind of like Zorro, I also mean he dresses exactly like Zorro but instead of a sword he uses and ineffective whip that he is constantly cracking throughout the entire film. The opening montage is at least a solid minute of The Whip (I don’t recall him actually being called that at any point in the movie) stand around at various places and snapping his well, whip. It goes on for so long it becomes ridiculous.

The Whip finds himself in a small town that is beset by someone calling himself Satan who has a gang that is running people off their land. It also has a witch who is in the crosshairs of some local religious zealots who want to hang her. If that wasn’t bad enough there is also an active volcano that shakes the place up once and while. I don’t know why anyone lives there; it seems like a hassle. Who is the mysterious Satan and why is terrorizing this town? 

"Ew... sulfur."

When The Whip Against Satan is working it carries with it a moody aesthetic, from the empty stretches, the dying town, to the red glow of the caves under the volcano there is some delicious gothic place setting happening here. The near constant rumble of the volcano lends itself to a building doom. There are also some great moments of occult ceremony that really push that underlying atmosphere of dread. 

Where The Whip Against Satan falls down is in the action. Which is the problem because there is a lot of action in this movie. Every few minutes Satan’s cronies mix it with the Whip which results in several minutes of the Whip riding around on his horse cracking his whip at people who run away or just fall down. It goes on time after time to the point where I dreaded the next action scene. There is no artistry to the action, the camera sits there while people in rubber masks stumble around a horse. The one moment I enjoyed was the battle in the glowing caves at the finale. It was the same ham-fisted action but at least the background was interesting.

"I'm here for the goat yoga."

All of this might sound like I didn’t enjoy The Whip Against Satan, which is far from the case. The film is a thematic and structural cousin to luchador films, and in that respect the low budget, creaky action, but effective gothic atmosphere mix together to make something unique to Mexican films and enjoyable on that level. So, in the end, if you are into pulp Mexican cinema you can find some things to love here. If you are new or curious about this sort of thing, there are much better jumping off points out there.

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