Every now and then, I come across a movie that leaves me speechless – and I’m someone that likes to talk. A movie that leaves me speechless will be one that bombards me with so much amazing shit – good or bad – that I don’t know where to start when recommending it to someone. In the days after watching it, I’ll try and express my excitement to friends, but what spills from my mouth will be a scrambled series of shouted praises. Even worse is when I settle down to write a post about a film in this special category. I mean, how do you write about a film that is too amazing for words? The Rider of the Skulls is one of these films… I’ll try my best…
THE RIDER OF THE SKULLS
Mexico, 1965, Alfredo Salazar
But this is not the end of the movie! This is only thirty fucking minutes in!
The Rider of the Skulls – now with two sidekicks – rides across to another village. In this village, a MOTHERFUCKING VAMPIRE is sucking the blood of the innocent villagers. And guess what? The Rider of the Skulls beats the shit through that vampire and even saves some hot babe (she’s not that hot, but the characters seem to think she’s a goddess) from an eternal life of vampirism. Finally, after skewering the vampire, the Rider of the Skulls moves on to another town where he runs into THE GODDAMN HEADLESS HORSEMAN.
I knew practically nothing about The Rider of the Skulls before watching it. When I first saw the werewolf, I instantly assumed – possibly because the costume was so bad – that the film was going to follow a Scooby Doo-esque plot where the Rider of the Skulls, in the film’s conclusion, would reveal the true identity of the werewolf by tearing off his mask. But then this happened:
And from this point on, I realised that I was watching something very different. And The Rider of the Skulls only gets madder as more monsters show up to tackle the Rider. While the costumes and monster masks are shabby, they have a creativity that elevates them above their rubbery silliness. I was disappointed to see the werewolf killed off, but the Mexican vampire that replaces him is even better. The vampire is both hilarious and genuinely unsettling, mostly thanks to his oddly creepy mask. Although any chance of inflicting too much terror in the audience is vanquished with wonderful moments like this:
The Headless Horseman, the final monster for the Rider to battle, does the impossible by trumping both the werewolf and the vampire with his insane paper mache head and his onscreen tiff with God. While The Rider of the Skulls may appear to have no narrative structure, there is a steep climb of nuttiness in its monsters reaching an appropriately mad finale with the horseman and his skull-faced lackeys.
This three-part structure gives the feeling of an old serial (which makes me wonder if it was originally penned as one). The hammy characters also emanate a serialized vibe. First off, we have the Rider himself. Goofy costume and all, the Rider of the Skulls is the perfect hero. Here is a guy who beats up a werewolf, yet still has the kindness to take young Perico, orphaned child of said werewolf, under his wing. The Rider is himself an orphan, giving him a classic vigilante back-story – although his strange retelling of his past is bizarre (confusedly involving three skulls left behind “in mourning” for the bandits that killed his parents). But director Alfredo Salazar knows The Rider of the Skulls needs a dash of comedy too and gives us Cléofas (Pascual García Peña). Cléofas, an overweight and cowardly sidekick that the Rider literally adopts, is endearingly irritating and provides the film with many of its “laughs”. I must admit, I genuinely cracked up whenever the bearded Cléofas referred to the Rider as “daddy”.
Being that this is a Mexican film, you’d hope and assume to see some wrestling-inspired fights. And yes, damn right, you do! Better yet, you get to see the Rider fighting supernatural beings!
The fights are a bizarre blast of fun, but its the smaller moments of weirdness that make The Rider of the Skulls a truly unique experience. At one point, the Rider is led by a witch-woman to talk with “the dead” about the werewolf. We are given what I believe is the film’s finest moment as the Rider of the Skulls has a chat with a zombie:
The final third of the film is also ripe with oddness – it really ramps it up for the last act. We are introduced to the Headless Horseman’s head in this scene:
The woman in possession of the head is an ancestor of the man that killed the horseman. She takes her troubles to a doctor who instantly assumes she is imagining things and tells her to bury the box and forget about it. Later on, when trouble with the head reappears, the doctor quickly changes his tune and launches into a supernatural diatribe that would make the most superstitious among us blush. I love abrupt character changes.
It shocks me that The Rider of the Skulls is not a household name among b-movie movie fans. Not only is it completely bizarre, it is also incredibly entertaining from start to finish. The Rider of the Skulls stands alongside films that break the barriers of good and bad. Films like Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky and Mad Foxes – films that are both bad and brilliant at the same time. They are films beyond labels. I would, without irony, give The Rider of the Skulls a perfect ten.