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Batwoman & The Panther Women: Double Feature (4K Restoration)
This "fantastic double feature" from VCI Entertainment presents two "Mexican genre classics in English, restored in 4k from the original negatives." Sounds great, right? What could go wrong? Read on…
Directed by Mexican genre cinema powerhouse René Cardona and released theatrically in 1968, Batwoman was clearly inspired by a certain DC Comics property and, just as likely, the success of the TV series that was released only two years prior, but it's obviously not an authorized take on the Dark Knight mythos.
Also known as La Mujer Murcielago, begins when some bodies wash ashore on the Mexican coast. The Secret Service can't make heads or tails out of what's happened here, and so dashing agent Mario Robles (Héctor Godoy) talks his cohorts into enlisting the aid of Bat Woman (Maura Monti). He explains her deal quite simply: she's filthy rich and uses her resources to fit crime, but she's also got superhuman strength and just so happens to be an expert wrestler! As if this weren't enough, she also gives back even more to the community by teaching wrestling at a local gym. Mario and his right hand man, Tony (Armando Silvestre), have no trouble talking Batwoman into helping out, even going so far as to get together for some drinks to seal the deal.
Elsewhere, Dr. Williams (Roberto Cañedo) and his assistant Igor (Jorge Mondragón) have set up a laboratory inside an ocean freighter where they are trying to create a mixed species stemming from both human and amphibian DNA. To make this happen, they're abducting wrestlers from the Mexican mainland and trying to mix them up with some fish. It's complicated. Anyway, Inspector (Crox Alvarado) urges Batwoman to get moving and so she does, using a rad underwater propelled device of some sort to make her way to the doctor's ship, tossing some acid in his face and scarring him for good! But the doctor's thugs give chase and, well, we've already said too much.
This movie is a blast! It's got wrestling, monsters, mad doctors, a foxy heroin in various goofy outfits, questionable technology and plenty of swanky cocktail hour shenanigans all working in its favor. Maura Monti steals the show, strutting about in various skimpy outfits (even as Batwoman she's typically wearing a sort of Bat-bikini!) and, at the risk of sounding like a dirty old man, looking very good doing it. Aside from being an attractive woman, however, she also proves a solid casting choice because she handles herself pretty well during the action scenes. Sure, some of the moves she busts out in the fights look a little too obviously staged but she's got energy and screen presence and we have no trouble buying her ability to whip the various asses of the men and monsters that she goes up against in the feature.
Cardona keeps things moving at a nice pace, pulling from various monster movies and spy flicks like the James Bond pictures that were blowing up the box office around this time (Batwoman has some pretty neat gadgets, the kind that would make Q jealous!). The monster effects are reasonably well done and have plenty of quirky, vintage charm and the cinematography is pretty solid too. All in all, it's just a lot of goofy fun.
The Panther Women:
Once again directed by René Cardona and released a year earlier than our first feature in 1967, The Panther Women (or Las mujeres panteras en español) is another great genre mashup featuring pretty ladies in wonky outfits, monsters and wrestling!
When Professor Rafael Petra Santa (Jorge Mondragón) is murdered, two female wrestlers, Loreta Venus (Ariadna Welter) and her pal Golden Rubi (Elizabeth Campbell), step in to figure out what's going on and if it has any connections to the wild crime wave taking their city by storm. They team up with well-meaning but bumbling cops Arturo Diaz (Eric del Castillo) and Leocadio (Manuel Valdés), as well as a male wrestler named El Ángel, who brings to the mix a whole bunch of kooky gadgets to help them out. It turns out that all of this nefarious behavior is connected to Satanasa (María Douglas), a devilish witch who, along with the members of her evil coven, has been holding black magic ceremonies in her cave in hopes of reanimating a zombie!
If that weren't reason enough for professional wrestlers to hit the streets and fight crime, Satanasa is in cahoots with a bunch of mobsters and seems to have control over a gang of sinister panther women! The most important of these is Tongo (Yolanda Montes), who is the lead in a popular nightclub act in the city and who has the ability to shapeshift, taking on the form of a panther monster thing at random times. Loreta and Rubi know the only way to really deal with something like this is to get in the ring, but will they be able to stop Satanasa and her cronies if they can turn into monsters mid-match?
Cardona had seen some sucess earlier in the sixties with the release of The Doctor Of Doom, the better-known Wrestling Women Vs. The Aztec Mummy and probably figured, hey, why not go back to the 'wrestling women vs. monsters well' and see what happens. While this isn't quite as strong as the first two movies mentioned, it's still a pretty fun watch. There's a bit more wrestling than we need and not quite enough monster action to really seal the deal, but even if the first two matches go on longer than they probably should, Cardona does a decent job with the pacing here. The black and white picture was clearly made fast and cheap, as most genre pictures where in Mexico around this time, but Cardona and his crew manage to craft some memorable set pieces. The cave scenes are great, with Satanasa holding court in interesting ways and allowing the crew to show off some neat set design. The panther women might not always get the most convincing makeup jobs, but they look kind of cool in the way that ladies made up to look like panther women should, and bonus points for doing a nice job on not only the zombie but also the giant stone coffin that he lives in.
Ariadna Welter and Elizabeth Campbell are fun to watch here, they've got screen presence and work well together in the ring, but it's El Ángel (Gerardo Zepeda in real life) who gets the best moments here. His amusing array of gadgets gives him a few opportunities to save the day and he makes the most of it. Clearly cashing in on the success of El Santo's transition from the ring to the screen, he may not always come across as the most talented thespian to grace the silver screen but he and the two ladies are a lot of fun to watch here.
Both films are presented on a 50GB (with each film given just over 19GBs of space on the disc) disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition "restored in 4k from the original negatives" and framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. Batwoman is in color and it would probably look pretty decent if it didn't suffer from obvious digital noise reduction scrubbing away all of the grain and much of the fine detail. On top of that, there are noticeable compression artifacts evident throughout the picture that are hard to miss. The plus side? Colors look okay and the elements used show almost no print damage at all. As to Panther Women, the contrast on the black and white presentation isn't awful but it looks a bit warm, meaning we get really dark greys instead of true blacks. Again, the elements used were clearly in very nice shape, there's virtually no print damage here at all, but the DNR gremlins have hit this picture just as hard as they did the first one, and, again, compression leaves something to be desired. By any standard, these could and should have looked great. Clearly the elements were in nice shape. VCI, however, has opted to scrub out any of the natural film grain that should be there and, along with it, a lot of the detail, which is a shame.
It's also worth pointing out that the text in the opening and closing credits for each of the two films on the disc has been newly created and looks to be video generated, which is another strike against the presentation.
For reasons unknown, VCI has supplied only English language dubbed tracks in 16-bit LPCM 2.0 format for each of the two movies. The original Spanish language audio is nowhere to be seen. Optional subtitles are provided for each film in English only. The clarity and balance on these tracks is fine, but both appear to have been newly created for this release, they don't sound like vintage English dubs at all. There are a few quirks here that give this away. Aside from the fact that they're just way too pristine sounding, there are oddities in here such as a narrator saying ‘SECRET SERVICE' when we see the secret service sign on the door. It's pretty unlikely that you'd hear something like this in a vintage dub! But mainly, it's just the overall sound that is the main give away. Why VCI did this instead of supplying the film's in their original Spanish language options is a mystery, as these newly created dubbed tracks aren't going to appeal to the films' original Spanish-speaking audience or the cult film fans that will likely make up the largest part of the target audience for this release.
Extras include newly created (meaning fake) English language trailers for The Panther Women, Santo And Dracula's Treasures and Santo Vs. Frankenstein's Daughter (note that these trailers are dubbed just like the features, and it isn't a vintage dub used, it's clearly newly created).That cover art though… both of these movies have some amazing original poster art, which you can see used in thumbnail form on the front cover, obscured by gaudy text and comic book style sound effect balloons. At least VCI gave us some reversible cover sleeve art with an option without the balloons included, but the layout is still not great.
VCI's Blu-ray release of Batwoman & The Panther Women: Double Feature offers up two genuinely enjoyable vintage Mexican genre cinema oddities, which is great, but the presentation is a puzzling on. It isn't so much that the extras are light, though they are, but the problems with the transfers and the audio. This really should have been a great disc, one to easily recommend to fans of psychotronic oddities from south of the border, but it's a swing and a miss, unfortunately. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.