Last night I got round to viewing Superargo vs Diabolicus, which my good friend Matt had copied for me a while back but which had long languished on my to watch pile. Being in a fumetti kind of mood of late, I decided to finally give it a spin.
While the best part of it was the pop-art / psychedelic title sequence, it was quite fun in a disposable way, coming across as a Italian-Spanish attempt to combine a lucha libre film with the post-Thunderball superspy action filone.
It starts off much like the former, as our masked hero, a champion wrestler, takes on his friend El Tigro for the right to be the undisputed champion. Superargo accidentally kills El Tigro, throwing him into depression and soul-searching.
Then Diabolicus and his goons steal some nuclear equipment. His diabolikal (groan) plan is to flood the world with gold, cause the economy to collapse and then present himself as saviour-dictator. So the head of the secret service calls for Superargo and sends him in.
Prior to this, however, we get some weird sado-masochistic subtext as Superargo gets the chance to prove how tough he is as he is stabbed to no effect and demonstrates his invulnerability to electricity – which nevertheless causes him pain – by holding on to a metal bar door as thousands of volts of current are passed through it.
He also gets kitted out with a new, bullet-proof version of his costume (Crimson Executioner hued, with black pants, belt, boots, gloves and masks for stylish contrast); some pills that will suspend his vital signs for a while, and a nifty cocktail olive containing a transmitter-cum-Geiger counter.
Informed of Superargo's mission by an informant within the secret service, some of Diabolicus's goons intercept Superargo and leave him for dead, not realising that he's secretly taken one of the aforementioned pills.
Thus, when he arrives on Diabolicus's island base - there is some nice budget-defying underwater cinematography here and some decent cave complex sets along the way - the evil genius does not believe he is Superargo and sets about alternately cooking and freezing our hero to test his mettle, before Superargo escapes to save the free world.... until next time...
While Superargo wears his costume all the time much like El Santo or Blue Demon, the wrestling sequence at the start proves to be the only one, perhaps suggesting it was included more as a way of conveniently marketing the film in Mexico than a more thoroughgoing crossover.
The wrestling mask is also worth commenting on in terms of its key differences from the giallo killer's stocking mask: whereas the wrestling mask generally gives / secures its wearer's identity – Diabolicus's doubts about whether this is the real Superargo notwithstanding – the featureless stocking mask obscures / erases / effaces the identity of its wearer; such that he / she could be anyone.
Another element connected with this is whether the speaking mouth is visible, this being one of the criteria Michel Chion uses to distinguish between the normal voice and the acousmetric one – i.e. the uncanny voice whose source cannot be definitively placed and fixed to a body. Which brings us back to Argento, Hitchcock and Lang, but that is a matter for prolonged discussion another time...