Thousands of years ago, an alien spaceship visited the Earth and became a god to the Aztecs. The aliens fathered the Pumaman, a man-god with supernatural powers who would guard the people of Earth and transmit his powers to his descendants. The original Pumaman was entrusted a gold mask with the ability to control people's minds. In the present day, in London, archaeologist Jane Dobson (Sydne Rome) has found the mask and deciphered its instructions: when aimed at someone, it can be used to control their mind, and the control becomes tighter if a replica of the person's head is wired into it. Her employer, the villainous Dr. Kobras (Donald Pleasence), plans to use it to control the minds of world leaders. He begins with Jane, who is the Dutch ambassador's daughter. Kobras somehow learns the Pumaman will be after the mask, and is an American orphan living in London. Reasoning that the Pumaman can survive great falls, like a cat, he orders his henchmen to throw people matching that description from tall places and see if they survive.
After four people get killed thus, mild-mannered American paleontologist Tony Farms (Walter George Alton) survives being thrown out of a window by a large, muscular and mysterious Indian named Vadinho (Miguel Angel Fuentes). Soon afterwards, Jane invites Tony to a party at the Dutch embassy, so Kobras' mind slaves can kill him. That evening, Vadinho confronts Tony at his home. He explains that he belongs to the Aztec cult of the alien god and knew Tony's father. He also reveals that Tony's ability to sense danger and see in the dark are due to his Pumaman blood. He claims that Tony's full powers will develop when he wears a magical golden belt. When Tony makes his disbelief evident, Vadinho warns him that the invitation is a trap, but Tony escapes to the embassy. Kobras also arrives at the embassy, and negotiates control of the world's energy supply, while his henchmen try to subdue Tony. He manages to fight them off, and flees to the roof. Vadinho appears on the ground below and talks Tony into putting on the belt, which grants him powers of flight that allow him to escape to an abandoned warehouse. Vadinho explains Kobras' sinister scheme, and gets Tony to follow Kobras as he returns to his lair.
Kobras is ready for him, and his henchmen swarm out to shoot down Tony. He manages to evade them, and even captures one to interrogate him about where Kobras is keeping the mask, but it turns out the location is kept secret from the henchmen. Meanwhile, Vadinho has used his mystical amulet to find out that Kobras is in a mansion of some kind. He tells Tony to use his teleportation powers to find it, but it turns out he cannot warp to a location he has not visited. Tony concocts an alternate plan to find the mansion, and contacts his policeman friend Martin to obtain an electronic position indicator. When he returns to the warehouse, however, it turns out Vadinho has been captured by Kobras' henchmen, and he fights them off with his powers of flight, teleportation and super-strength. With the henchmen defeated, he teleports into Jane's car. When she refuses to tell him the mansion's location due to being under Kobras' control, he hides the position indicator under the passenger seat. A brief chase breaks out as Kobras' henchmen pursue him, but he teleports back to the warehouse. Kobras deduces from Jane's reluctance to kill Tony that her affection for him is weakening his mind control.
Tony tracks the position indicator to the mansion (Stonor Park), where Kobras has convened the heads of state of the entire world and begun controlling them with the mask. He uses the mask on Jane again, and orders her to shoot Tony. Tony teleports in just then, and Jane (still in love with him) relents from killing him. Tony then launches at Kobras, but it turns out he is surrounded by a force field which strips Tony of his powers. Kobras also attempts mind control on Tony, but Vadinho appears in time to focus Tony's mind on resisting the spell. Vadinho and Tony return to the warehouse. When Kobras attempts mind control on Tony again to coax him into committing suicide, Vadinho rescues him once more. Kobras dispatches his henchmen to check if he has died, but Vadinho is wise to his plans and has made Tony use a new superpower which slows down his metabolism to simulate death. The henchmen consider shooting him to make sure, but desist because Kobras wants the death to look like an accident. Now that most of Tony's powers have gone, Vadinho decides to threaten Kobras with a suicide bomb. However, he uses all his concentration fighting off the mind control mask, allowing the henchmen to rob him of his bomb. He manages to defeat them in a fistfight, then damages the mind control apparatus by throwing a stick of dynamite. This destroys the replica of Jane's head, freeing her from Kobras' control; she then smashes the replica of Tony's head, thus restoring Tony's Pumaman powers. He joins the fight with Vadinho and defeats all of the henchmen. Kobras escapes through a trapdoor and to a helicopter. Tony catches up to him, and with some deft aerial manoeuvring, manages to crash the chopper with Kobras inside. With the world safe, Vadinho, Tony and Jane head to Stonehenge with the mask. Vadinho summons the aliens with his amulet, and before joining them to return the mask to the Andes, he tells Tony to look for him when it is time to train his son to be the next Pumaman. The film ends as Tony flies into the air with Jane and embraces her.Walter George Alton as Professor Tony Farms / Puma Man
Donald Pleasence as Kobras
Miguel Angel Fuentes as Vadinho
Sydne Rome as Jane Dobson
Benito Stefanelli as Rankin
Silvano Tranquili as Henchman
Guido Lollobrigida as Henchman
In the late 1970s, after science fiction films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Wars and Superman became popular, Italian film makers began injecting science fiction themes into their films. Director Alberto De Martino stated that the film "was a production based on the trend of the moment. I had always done it that way and always done well. But regarding this genre of film, there was the audience's diffidence toward Italian movies featuring special effects. They knew we were not up to the task, and didn't take us seriously." De Martino was also not happy with the film's script and attempted to inject humour into it as an attempt to save the film. For the cast, the role of the Pumaman was played by Walter George Alton. It was Alton's only film, who became a medical malpractice attorney in New York City. Alton was later interviewed in a satirical fake news sketch on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in November 2007.
De Martino noted problems with the special effects in the film, stating that Italo Zingarelli had purchased a camera in Germany to create the flying effects in the film, but the technicians were not able to use it properly. To not go beyond schedule, these shots were shot with a blue-screen in just two days.
The Pumaman was released in Italy in 1980. As of 2016, there has been no official release of The Pumaman on DVD, but was made available through the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 television show. The film was featured on the show on April 4, 1998.
The director Alberto De Martino declared the film as "the only pic I did wrong in my whole career" and that "When I saw it was a flop, I started asking myself questions. I had made a film I shouldn't have. However it did well abroad and managed to get the guaranteed minimum back, otherwise I'd have had to sell my house. It did not even gross half a billion lire in Italy."