Full Moon Features: The Rider of the Skulls (1965)

I’m heading south of the border for this month’s Full Moon Feature, the Mexican oddity/obscurity The Rider of the Skulls from writer/director Alfredo Salazar, who makes no attempt to disguise the fact that it is three distinct episodes in the life of the title character. Played by Dagoberto Rodríguez, the Rider is a masked avenger in an all-black ensemble who roams the countryside righting wrongs and fighting a variety of supernatural creatures because his parents were murdered by bandits. And it just so happens that the first one on his beat is a werewolf that has been scaring off the employees of ailing farmer Don Luis (David Silva), whose illness prevents him from working the land himself.

Even without the assistance of the witch who lives in the local cemetery, it doesn’t take a psychic to realize what the nature of Don Luis’s illness is, although she does take the extra step of raising one of the werewolf’s victims from the dead so he can finger the guilty party. As for Don Luis himself, his means of transforming into his feral form consists of lying down on the ground, turning into a skeleton (by means of a simple dissolve), and then reappearing with the standard fur, fangs, and claws, after which he takes a bite out of the nearest victim.

When he finally comes face to mask with the Rider, they get into a fist fight and even perform some wrestling moves, a progression repeated in the next segment when the Rider’s foe is a vampire with a bat head reminiscent of a wrestling mask. At least he has the distinction of being dispatched with a well-aimed javelin toss. Don Luis, on the other paw, suffers the indignity of slipping while chasing his stepson along a cliff, whereupon he falls to his death. That, of course, means the Rider inherits the boy as his mascot along with Don Luis’s comic-relief servant Cléofas (Pascual García Peña), but by the time the action picks back up in the next segment, the kid has been packed off to school and replaced by another pint-sized sidekick, who sticks around for the final one when the Monster of the Week is the Headless Horseman.

It’s highly appropriate that The Rider of the Skulls ends with a faceless horseman going up against a headless one since he turns out to be the restless spirit of a notorious bandit called the Jackal who seeks to be reunited with his head, which was removed years earlier by a professor who sought to study it. Also invested in the outcome are the Jackal’s two compatriots, who were executed alongside him and appear as skeletal figures in hooded robes throughout. And instead of using their fists, the Horseman and the Rider get into a sword vs. machete fight, which is more dignified for all concerned.