When I was going over the information for my Máscara Sagrada column there was one detail I found that had previous escaped me; Sagrada was once a movie star! Yes the man of the sacred mask followed in the footsteps of the Santos, Blue Demons and Mil Mascaras’ of the world and broke into the lucha film scene in the early 90s at the height of his fame. Or more appropriately he was brought on board by Octagón, back then a major sensation and budding film star in his own right. The result was Octagón y Máscara Sagrada, lucha a muerte, Spanish for Octagón and Máscara Sagrada in Fight to the Death. While that title is just a tad misleading, Octagón, Sagrada and lucha libre fans in general won’t be disappointed, as lucha a muerte features all the lucha action, colorful characters and wacky/wonderful hijinx you could possibly hope for. Mindless entertaining hasn’t been this good since Orlando Jones insisted there was always time for lubrication.
Lucha libre superstars and best friends Octagón and Máscara Sagrada really aren’t that much different than you or I. By night they are the kings of lucha libre, teaming up to take on all comers and always coming out victorious to the delight of their fans. By day they dress up in the coolest track suits ever, ride around on motorcycles, soar through the air on gliders and in between all of that stop criminal activity. Then again don’t we all do that in our spare time? During one of those gliding sessions the two stumble onto a criminal syndicate who has hired trapeze artists (among them Lina Santos) to rob a Prehispanic Museum. With the help of their crack team, Octagón and Sagrada set out to stop the burglars, save the museum and make it to the next show on time, all while leaving their track suits unruffled.
If nothing else you have to give director Juan Fernando Pérez Gavilán and writer Antonio Orellana this much; lucha a muerte never tries to be anything more than what it is. As such the film is pretty easy to follow for any viewer, despite the fact that there are no English subtitles in the version I can find. That said the film, technically speaking, is highly inconsistent. Gavilán has kept the story simple but he often cannot keep focus on one particular thing, jumping back and forth often at times when it would be best to stay still. This technique does work during the middle of the film when Gavilán goes back and forth between a lucha libre contest and a robbery taking place across town, but otherwise you’ll be wishing he had been more patient with scenes. It also doesn’t help that his editor, Rogelio Zúñiga, appears to have learned his trade from the Baz Lurhman school of filmmaking. That’s not a compliment. There are at times far too many cuts, including situations where it appears Zúñiga isn’t even allowing a second to pass before he’s moving onto the next shot. In the words of Colonel Kilgore, give us some room to breathe! Zúñiga appears to have been a competent editor during his time but is nowhere near his best work and his editing at times makes it hard to enjoy the film.
Thankfully lucha a muerte’s saving grace is exactly what you’d expect it to be; the fight scenes both in and out of the ring. Every action sequence in this film delivers, sometimes in spite of Zúñiga’s Lurhman esq qualities. Octagón and Sagrada both did their own stunts here and it shows; they look electric in their two out of the ring sequences, making great use of their surroundings to show off some skills you normally wouldn’t see in the ring. Even better are the actual lucha matches, of which there are four (one in the opening scene, two in the middle of the film and one in the closing scene). If you don’t think luchador films show you any bit of ability from their stars, you’ll be proven wrong instantly here. Sagrada and Octagón both look no different than they would have during a regular luchador show and in fact look even better at times. It helps that they’re joined by several of their real life peers in a move that is sure to please many lucha libre fans. Fellow luchadors Angel Azteca, El Solar, Tornado, Fuerza Guerrera (Juvi’s dad), Universo 2000, Fishman (who Sagrada would unmask almost a decade later) and current CMLL star Blue Panther all make appearances in these scenes and all are given a moment or two to shine. Hell even Tirantes has a couple of scenes here and safely gives a better performance as a referee than I’ve ever seen him have in real life. The best surprise though is a chance to see a young La Parka. That’s right; the Chairman also appears here (inexplicably credited as La Parca. Really?) and it’s the exact kind of performance you’d expect from him. That is to say he absolutely kills it with Sagrada and turns on his partners at the end of the match. They don’t call him the God of Chaos for nothing!
As you’d expect the acting in this film isn’t Oscar caliber and most of the cast is interchangeable/unmemorable. The biggest star in the film besides Octagón and Sagrada is Lina Santos, a former beauty pageant contestant who would go onto become one of the most popular stars in Mexican cinema. Unfortunately for Santos fans the only thing she’s allowed to do is look great in all sorts of skimpy clothing, which I guess isn’t an altogether bad thing. That leaves Octagón and Sagrada to carry the film and they do just that. Neither one will ever be confused as Leonardo DiCaprio or Michael Fassbender but they’re effective with what they need to do and their charisma makes them easy to root for. The best part is that neither guy overshadows each other at any point. It would be so easy for one of them to be singled out while the other was reduced to a sidekick role, but there’s never a moment where Octagón and Sagrada are presented as anything other than equals and best friends. It’s that dynamic that serves as the film’s ultimate strength, aside from their amazing athletic feats of course.
Unfortunately for Máscara Sagrada, Octagón y Máscara Sagrada, lucha a muerte pretty much served as the highest it got for him in Mexican cinema. You can largely blame the 90’s peso crisis and the decline of the luchador film in general more so than this film. But even if it’s not quite as memorable as some of the El Santo or Blue Demon films of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, Octagón y Máscara Sagrada, lucha a muerte is a very nice way to spend a late Saturday night. It’s flawed yes, but it’s also fun, breezy, doesn’t take itself too seriously and is one of the few films out there that has a show stealing La Parka cameo. You can’t beat that. And if that isn’t enough for you, it’s a film that features Octagón and Sagrada in their youth, jumping off cars and overall showing off the wide array of ability and charisma each man had. That’s more than you can say for any film made for Hayden Christensen.