The Panther Women – The Batwoman

by Charlie Largent Apr 02, 2024

The Panther Women – The Batwoman
Powerhouse Indicator
Starring Maura Monti, Ariadne Welter, Elizabeth Campbell
Written by Alfredo Salazar
Photographed by Agustín Jiménez
Directed by René Cardona

A garden of unearthly delights, Famous Monsters of Filmland was the Cahiers du Cinéma for middle-school monster fans. But 1964’s July issue opened up a different kind of treasure chest—it featured the first in a three-part series on South of the Border horror films titled “The Meximonsters.” FM even went so far as to publish a checklist of the movies, a parade of mouthwatering titles that were made even more desirable simply because they were impossible to see—little Tommy from Saginaw is not hopping a flight to Mexico City to buy a ticket.

But little Tommy finally got an eyeful of these strange new entertainments when K. Gordon Murray’s dubbed versions began showing up on local Shock Theater broadcasts. Known as Luchadora (fighter) films, The Curse of the Aztec Mummy and The Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy introduced kids to the peculiar but strangely exciting spectacle of stocky senoritas in masks and tights, kicking ass and taking names.

Powerhouse Indicator has just released two examples of these unorthodox feminist celebrations with 1967’s The Panther Women, and 1968’s The Batwoman. Both were directed by the surrealist schlockmeister René Cardona, the mischief-maker behind some of the most bizarrely memorable films ever made, including The Brainiac and the astonishing Santa Claus, in which Kris Kringle battles one of Lucifer’s minions for control of Christmas. The Panther Women pales next to such oddities but The Batwoman is happy to take her place alongside those gonzo masterpieces.

“Las Mujeres Panteras” was produced in 1967 and stars Ariadne Welter (The Braniac), and Elizabeth Campbell, the star of the delightfully silly Mexican monster flick, Planet of the Female Invaders (her extraterrestrial playmates include Lorena Velázquez and Maura Monti—Aka The Batwoman). Welter and Campbell are teamed as two crime-fighting wrestlers named Loretta Venus and Golden Rubi.

Panther Women was photographed in black and white by Agustín Jiménez, Luis Buñuel’s cameraman on 1955’s The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz and 1951’s Wuthering Heights—the cinematographer’s velvet-glove touch resulted in imagery that recalled George Robinson’s work on Universal’s classic horror films. There the comparisons end.

Maria Douglas plays Satanasa, the ringleader of a band of  Satanists each with the power to transform into “panther” women. They’re engaged in a plot to resurrect the spirit of Elohim, a big kahuna on the evil overlord circuit and the centuries-old leader of their little cult. Elohim is currently resting in a coffin in Satanasa’s lair—and looking all of his 200 years.

In order to take revenge on Pietra Santa, the priest who conquered Elohim with a magical sword, the ladies have targeted the holy man’s descendants; Tongolelem, one of the more enigmatic shapeshifters of this tribe, has got herself engaged to Ramon Rafael, Pietra Santa’s ancestor, and it’s up to Welter and Campbell  to make sure Elohim stays in the crypt. Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur had the sense to keep their cat people in the shadows, thankfully Cardona had no such compunction to hide his monsters and their adorable teddy bear appearance only adds to the fun.

Filmed in eye-popping Eastmancolor by Agustín Jiménez, The Batwoman (La Mujer Murcielago) has the Pepsodent smiles and goofy energy of a beach party movie—it’s the Barbie of Mexi-monster movies. Where Batman was a troubled soul sulking in his Batcave, Batwoman is having the time of her life, posing as a socialite in her swank apartment (the decor is pure 1968) and parachuting onto the beach (yes, there’s a beach party in progress) to report for her latest adventure.

The film stars Maura Monti in the title role and it’s because of Monti that the movie is such a joyride, she’s perennially happy, and she never stops to ask the crowd if they “ever thought about dying.”

Roberto Canedo plays “Eric Williams”, a mad scientist who, with his mealy-mouthed assistant, has been kidnapping Mexico’s finest wrestlers for their pineal glands—the doctor is obsessed with creating a race of “fish men” and apparently those glands are the missing ingredient. His first creations have been botched experiments resulting in mini-men the size of a G.I. Joe doll, able to fit inside a fish tank but not exactly world-conquering goliaths. But Williams is nothing if not optimistic and he finally hatches a man-sized trout known as Pisces (it is the age of Aquarius after all).

Pisces fits in with the scheme of the film, a brightly colored Black Lagoon rip-off in sagging costume with the baggiest pants this side of Harry Langdon, he couldn’t scare a five year-old—which is to say five year-olds would love this movie. But adult women enjoyed the luchadora films for other reasons: Vinod Venkatesh, the Virginia Tech professor who authored a study on Latin American superheroes, suggested that “The luchadora movies came out at a time in Mexico when you had the transformation of feminist movements and the creation of la chica moderna, the modern young woman,”

Powerhouse Indicator has put both these films on Blu-ray with stellar results. The films look terrific but it’s the extras that seal the deal, particularly in the intriguing background information on the Mexican culture that spawned this sub-genre and the lives of the artists involved. The brightest spotlight shines on Maura Monti’s remarkable career. Her first break was purest luck; she won the lottery. Her first major role was as Maria Magdalena in Julio Bracho’s El proceso de Cristo and she would  co-star with a singular assortment of leading men including Cantinflas, El Santo, and Boris Karloff.

The Panther Women sports a new 2K restoration from the original negative while The Batwoman is enhanced by a new 4K restoration from its original negative. They both look superb but Batwoman gets the nod, both in its simple pleasures (the double whammy of Maura Monti and Fish-Men) and its juicy color palette.

The Panther Women has a feature length audio commentary from Keith J. Rainville, and several documentaries about the Luchadores including Let Them Fight!: The Killer Film, and Cat Fight, which digs into the history  of Mexican female wrestling.

Along with its 4K restoration The Batwoman extras include an audio commentary with film historian and Mexican cinema specialist David Wilt, an enjoyable chat with Maura Monti in Bat of Nine Lives, a look at Mexico’s comic book culture in Adventures in Mexicolour with Mauricio Matamoros Durán, plus archival interviews with Maura Monti.

Image galleries featuring promotional and publicity items round out the disc extras and an exclusive 80-page book with a new essay by Iain Robert Smith, and archival essays by Janina Möbius and Ricardo Cárdenas Pérez reside in the keep case.

You can view the full rundown of extras at Powerhouse Indicator’s site here, and here.

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