Director: René Cardona
VCI Entertainment

René Cardona’s LA MUJER MURCIELAGO [THE BAT WOMAN], unlike quite a few other Mexican monster and luchador (wrestler) movies, has never received a legitimate home video release in the States, and import and “gray market” copies have even been scarce. VCI Entertainment has finally remedied this situation, recently releasing a bare-bones DVD edition, along with a handful of other previously available Mexican monster/luchador flicks. Unfortunately, VCI missed a golden opportunity by not including English subtitles or dubs on any of these releases. That said, even if you have only a couple of years of high school Spanish under your belt, like myself, or even none at all, there is still plenty of fun to be had here.

Bodies are washing up on the Acapulco beaches, and the secret service is baffled, so special agent Mario Robles (Héctor Godoy, BRING ME THE VAMPIRE) recommends putting the Bat Woman (Maura Monti, WITH LICENSE TO KILL, BLUE DEMON: SPY SMASHER) on the case. Bat Woman is not only a wealthy, gorgeous sharpshooter, skydiver, equestrienne, martial artist, scuba diver, and fashion plate, but a champion wrestler and masked crime fighter as well! She dresses in a full-body gray Batman costume sans cape while wrestling, and a variety of fetching outfits when in her “street clothes,” but dons a blue micro-bikini, cowl, and cape as her superhero alter ego. When not fighting crime or presenting exhibition matches and conducting wrestling clinics at her Gimnasio Granada, Bat Woman can be found knocking back a few beverages with Mario and his sidekick Tony (Armando Silvestre, NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES, NEUTRON VS. THE DEATH ROBOTS) at the ginchy mid-century modern Club de Yates harborside cocktail lounge.

Meanwhile, evil Dr. Williams (Roberto Cañedo, DOCTOR OF DOOM, THE SHE-WOLF) and his henchman Igor (Jorge Mondragón, THE AZTEC MUMMY, CURSE OF THE DOLL PEOPLE) are conducting strange experiments in their floating laboratory aboard a scuzzy freighter named the Reptilicus (no relation). They’re apparently attempting to intermingle humans and amphibians using the pineal glands of kidnapped wrestlers, a goldfish in a glass fish tank /whirlpool system, and a Ken doll (you can’t make this stuff up). Bat Woman’s happy hour with Mario is interrupted by a call from the Inspector (Crox Alvarado, THE ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY), and she’s off to sneak onto the Reptilicus with the aid of her handheld, torpedo-like underwater jet-sub. Bat Woman grapples with Igor and Dr. Williams, making her escape by throwing acid in his face, so Cañedo gets to wear a gruesome “Harry Thomas special” burn makeup for the rest of the film.

Bat Woman and friends cool out with a little shindig at the beach, spinning 45s on a space-age portable record player, then Bat Woman leads Dr. Williams’s inept thugs (wearing cute little black Beagle Boys eye masks) on a high-speed car chase that ends with her karate chopping and judo kicking them into submission. Dr. Williams and Igor finally achieve their goal of bringing to life their “monstruo marino” (looking an awful lot like a Sleestak from "Land of the Lost"), which the doctor dispatches to kill Bat Woman and Mario with the aid of a tiny homing device. Several monster scuffles, kidnappings, and escapes later, Dr. Williams has Mario and Tony prisoner in his lab as Bat Woman races to save them before they’re sacrificed to his amphibious creation . . . .

LA MUJER MURCIELAGO was produced by Guillermo Calderón Stell for Cinematográfica Calderón, prolific Mexican studio previously responsible for the AZTEC MUMMY series, the notorious 1959 SANTA CLAUS, and the LUCHADORAS series, and later producers of a half dozen of El Santo’s 1970s releases. Familiar names in the credits include musical director Antonio Díaz Conde, who scored hundreds of Mexican films, including many familiar genre titles, from the 1940s through the 1970s, and screenwriter Alfredo Salazar, Abel’s brother, who penned over a dozen popular Mexican monster favorites, including THE MAN AND THE MONSTER, THE WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES, WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE MURDEROUS ROBOT, and SANTO AND BLUE DEMON VS. DOCTOR FRANKENSTEIN.

Italian-born Maura Monti stars as The Bat Woman, and cuts a pretty impressive figure in her skimpy bikini costume — giving de facto Mexican Scream Queen Lorena Velázquez and American Bat girl Yvonne Craig a run for their money — and she’s given plenty of other opportunities to show off her pneumatic figure in a variety of bathing suits, cocktail dresses, and lingerie. Ms. Monti had previously co-starred with Velázquez in PLANET OF THE FEMALE INVADERS and played Martian babe Afrodita in SANTO VS. THE MARTIAN INVASION, and later starred opposite Boris Karloff in Jack Hill’s THE INCREDIBLE INVASION, the last film for both actors.

While the title and Bat Woman’s Batman/Batgirl-like costumes would suggest a standard Batman rip-off, the movie actually combines elements from multiple favorite genres, including James Bond/spy films, 1930s/40s Universal/Monogram mad doctor features, Republic serials, 1960s teen/beach flicks, and, obviously, the Creature from the Black Lagoon movies. In fact, several sequences seem directly “inspired” by THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US in particular, such as the scenes with the creature in Dr. Williams’s lab and the bit where they pour gasoline from the boat onto the water and try to set the gillman on fire. A number of Bondian gadgets are featured throughout — including a gold compact that transforms into a gun, pocket smoke bombs, and the doctor’s underwater tele-screen viewer — and Bat Woman drives a sort of stripped-down Batmobile, black with red interior, but with none of the cool gizmos of the real thing. Composer Díaz Conde provides a breezy spy-jazz lite score to complement all this 1960s grooviness.

The gillman suit featured here deserves some mention. While it’s obviously no Creature from the Black Lagoon, I’ve seen a lot worse, including Larry Buchanan’s CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE, HORROR OF PARTY BEACH’s toxic zombies, and BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER’s papier-maché and crepe paper creation. The creature suit here is pretty decently designed and constructed, with no obvious zippers or seams — or corduroy pants peeking out (SLIME PEOPLE, I’m looking at you)—and even goes underwater for a number of scenes. So, considering the budget, you have to give the producers marks for ambition.

Director Cardona generally keeps things moving at a pretty good clip throughout, and MUJER MURCIELAGO is never boring despite a few slower spots, although I noticed a few pretty glaring continuity problems (even allowing for the translation issues). It’s also thankfully devoid of those dull, 10-minute wrestling matches prevalent in other Mexican wrestler/monster offerings, though there is one brief wrestling sequence with an obvious stunt double who is, shall we say, smaller on top and bigger on the bottom than Ms. Monti — no doubt the reason for the boxy full Batman suit. Due to my very loose grasp of Spanish, I did have a little trouble figuring out the subplot about the blind street vendor at the gym, and the intricacies of some of the longer dialogue exchanges escaped me, but there are long dialogue-free stretches of the movie that need no explication, so don’t let the language barrier stop you from enjoying this campy slice of vintage queso. It’s easy enough to follow the plot, even if you don’t know any Spanish, and you can make up your own dialogue! Perfect fare for a rainy Saturday afternoon and a bowl of popcorn.

VCI presents MUJER MURCIELAGO as a Region 0 DVD in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, but other than for the titles, which get clipped a bit, the movie frames up nicely zoomed to 16x9, consistent with IMDb data indicating it was shot open matte in 1.85:1 Panoramico. Brightness, contrast, and black level are acceptable, if not impressive, and other than some moderate speckling and very light lining around a few reel changes, print damage and debris are minimal, save for the typical light speckling. The generally well-balanced and saturated Eastmancolor lacks a certain vibrance, but overall is perfectly adequate. My only minor gripe about the image is that sharpness and detail are somewhat soft for a DVD, begging the question of whether this was actually remastered from film elements, but no doubt a huge improvement over any bootleg. All in all, not a stunning transfer, but serviceable enough given the content. The title of the movie is misspelled on the DVD cover as LAS MUJER MURCIELAGO, and there are no supplements, not even a still gallery (the weak sister of DVD extras), but considering the rarity and difficulty of seeing this film in any format, in any condition, it’s a no-brainer pickup for Mexican luchador and monster fans.

Finally, I think VCI is missing the boat pitching their Mexi-monster/luchador releases solely to the Spanish-language market. There is plenty of interest in Mexican genre movies among the English-speaking public, and I believe they’d sell a lot more copies if subtitles or English dubs were provided. Maybe their market research says otherwise, but for myself, I might have picked up their other recent Mexican monster releases if they were dubbed or subtitled, but as it is, I will be hanging on to my subtitled Rise Above DVDs of SANTO Y BLUE DEMON CONTRA EL DR. FRANKENSTEIN, SANTO Y BLUE DEMON CONTRA DRACULA Y EL HOMBRE LOBO, and SANTO CONTRA LA HIJA DE FRANKENSTEIN, and my dubbed Something Weird copy of WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY. In future, VCI really should consider providing a dub or subtitle option on these genre releases and give us truly definitive editions. (Paul Tabili)