Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Nostradamus Series

Some time ago I gave an honourable Mention to a film called the Monster Demolisher. The reason I gave it a mention rather than reviewing it was because the film was number two in a four part series.

Now, normally that wouldn’t be an issue but the film (and the others in the series) was a K Gordon Murray produced dub of a Mexican serial that he cut into four movies. As such, due to the nature of serials, the film didn’t stand well alone. I now have seen all four films and propose to look at all four here and then give a review score for the series. Note that all four films were directed by Federico Curiel. The Curse of Nostradamus (film 1 in the series) and The Blood of Nostradamus (film 4 in the series) were released in 1961, whilst The Monster Demolisher (film 2 in the series) and The Genie of Darkness (film 3 in the series) were released in 1962! I’ll look at the films in order and be warned there will be plenty of spoilers.

the Curse of Nostradamus

The film begins with a party hosted by and in the honour of Professor Dolan (Domingo Soler), as the Professor is called in the English dub. He has just been named President of the Council – a society dedicated to stamping out superstition. His daughter Anna (Aurora Alvarado) plays the piano to entertain the guests. Anna is engaged to her father’s secretary Anthony (Julio Alemán). During the party one person mentions vampires – the Professor states that they do not exist.

We cut immediately to a man, later revealed to be Nostradamus (Germán Robles; El Vampiro, el Ataúd del Vampiro and Brainiac), obviously evil due to the fact that he has a hunchback assistant, Leo (Manuel Vergara 'Manver')! They enter a building and Nostradamus tells Leo to be on guard as he needs to concentrate.

Nostradamus Snr
He enters a crypt and declares victory to his father. A coffin lid rises and reveals the preserved corpse of Nostradamus Senior. The corpse speaks and tells his ‘son’ (we are never really sure of the exact relationship between the two, at times he mentions being the son of Nostradamus, at other times the son of the son. He may be a spiritual father and not a blood relative) that he should rest upon his ashes (kinda funny as he is whole at this point – presumably he crumbles after passing on his message and reforms in a later film, but we don’t see that.) Lying on the ashes can be seen as a variant to resting on native earth or grave dirt. He wants his son to destroy those who seek enlightenment and scientific knowledge.

our heroes
That, of course, would be Dolan and Nostradamus visits the Professor after his guests have left. However his purpose is not to kill the Professor but to ensure his aid in his quest to have the four Centuries dead and much maligned Nostradamus vindicated and establish a cult to worship him. He wants the Professor to tell the world that the supernatural is real. Of course the Professor refuses and so Nostradamus states he will kill 13 men to prove his powers. The first to die will be the man who recently wrote to the Professor. Once Nostradamus has vanished off he opens the letter and discovers it is from a Mr Brandon.

Brandon in his coffin
Mr Brandon is not a happy bunny as his wife has rented a room to a Mr Ericson without consulting him. Of course Ericson is an alias Nostradamus is using. He turns up and has words with Brandon. Eventually he uses eye mojo to hypnotise Brandon and causes him to fall into a cataleptic state so that people will believe him dead. We then see Brandon in his coffin and hear his panicked thoughts. He knows he is going to be buried alive.

Domingo Solar as Dolan
The Professor and Anthony hear of the ‘death’ of Brandon and convince the police to exhume the body as they claim to have evidence that he might be alive. He was buried at midday and it is night by the time the exhumation takes place. When the coffin is open it is clear to us that the hypnosis had ended for we see a hand in earth that had filled the coffin and clearly Brandon had struggled and suffocated.

Germán Robles as Nostradamus
The film then follows the predicted and manipulated deaths of two others and the kidnap of Anna before ending, ironically given the first murder, with Nostradamus being buried beneath a landslide. As things progress we discover that an Antioch Cross can cause destruction to a vampire, vampires cast no reflection, they can turn into bats and they can be killed with platinum bullets… yes, you heard right, platinum. The Professor clearly becomes a believer in the vampire – hard not to when a man turns into a bat in front of you. However he won’t reveal anything to the authorities due to the panic it would cause for the population. The imdb page is here.

Monster Demolisher

(This is a re-edit of the Honourable Mention)

Part two of the series begins with two young boys who have skipped school. They climb/fall down a ledge onto soft earth and find a cave like entrance into a crypt. They, of course, explore and enter a large crypt room when a door opens. Of course they leg it, pursued by Leo the hunchback. It seems they get away but, in the soft earth at the cave entrance, Leo uncovers a hand, which twitches.

Professor Dolan
Professor Dolan is talking to Anna and Anthony about the boys’ story and he is sure that Nostradamus is back. A member of the board of his society comes along and informs Dolan that the board is less than happy with him and his pronouncements to the press (regarding the dangers of Nostradamus) as they sound like they are supporting rather than debunking superstition. He also has a note, given to him by some gentleman, for the Professor.

a really crap bat
The note is from Nostradamus and gives the name and address of his next victim, one Peter Madison. Dolan and Anthony visit Madison, to the shock of the widow Madison. Convinced that Nostradamus has made a tactical error they return home. That evening Nostradamus visits Dolan. He flies in the form of a bat and then transforms to his human form. The bat effects are interesting. Mostly we see flapping shadows but, occasionally, we see the bat and this one impressed me, in an absolutely camp crap bat sort of way. Okay, it isn’t realistic but it is so stylised it works. Nostradamus is accused of making his tactical error but he points out that his victim will be Peter Madison Junior.

Leo kidnaps Anna
The boy is taken into Dolan’s custody and so Nostradamus has Leo try to kidnap Anna. I want, here, to give an example of the awful English dub dialogue. Leo is legging it across the lawns with Anna and Dolan and Anthony are at the window. “Look there Professor!” Exclaims Anthony, “That hunchback’s kidnapping her.” To which Dolan replies, “Don’t fire Anthony, you might hit my daughter.” Re-reading this it actually reads better than it sounded! Anthony gets outside and fires a warning shot so Leo drops Anna. Anthony pursues the hunchback and Dolan looks after his daughter, which gives Nostradamus chance to get in the house and take Peter.

Anthony gets a shot off
Back at the crypt Nostradamus sends Leo back for Anna and presumably is going to kill Peter when the sun rises so he jumps into his sarcophagus. Leo is spotted at the house and chased off with dogs so they can follow him to Nostradamus’ lair. Once there Anthony is knocked out by Leo, who then goes for Dolan. Dolan is incapable of firing his pistol, for no reason other than getting his character into peril, and looks to be in mortal danger but Anthony manages to crawl to his gun and shoot the hunchback in the arm. “My life was in terrible danger!” Exclaims the Professor. “But that hunchback got away.” Laments Anthony.

They're rubbish with pickle jars too
They try to open the sarcophagus but it is too difficult, even when Anthony wrenches a metal torch holder from the wall to use as a crowbar. Suddenly Nostradamus starts appearing, taunting them, and then disappearing. They leave with Peter, the boy is safe… or so it seems.

We are obviously in another episode when Dolan is brought before the board. They won’t hear his evidence and so he resigns but during the conversation we hear about the boy who fell in the well – was this Peter? Dolan gets a note with the name of the next victim, one Joseph McFaderson. Anthony knows the name, he is a criminal known as Bobby the Wailer. Having spent a goodly sum of money to find out where he is, it appears that he has been found guilty of murder and is to be hanged the next day – it’s a pity they didn’t just check the newspapers.

The wailer
We see a bat visit the Wailer in his cell and then Nostradamus visits Dolan, who thinks the vampire’s made a tactical error again. Nostradamus tells Dolan that the Wailer will be the instrument of his revenge. The Wailer is hung, as planned, but a couple of medical students have arranged to steal his body for an experiment. When they go to the morgue the Wailer gets up and kills one of the students and a caretaker. The other student looses his mind.

mystic cauldron
Anthony tries to convince the board to support Dolan but fails. When walking home he notices that he is being followed by a carriage (as you would, in fact you’d have to be fairly dense to miss a curb crawling carriage). He intercepts it and meets the occupant, Igor (Jack Taylor; count Dracula, Female Vampire, The Vampire’s Night Orgy, Night of the Sorcerors and the Ghost Galleon). Anthony convinces Dolan to meet Igor, the last in a line of vampire hunters and descendant of Count Craddock – a man impervious to the attacks of a vampire. Igor wants to team up and, in a mystic cauldron, shows them the first slaying of a vampire.

evil genius?
Nostradamus sends the Wailer, who is now a vampire, to kill the student who has lost his mind (the student falls to his death from a window ledge whilst trying to escape) but the Wailer leaves some cloth from his clothes behind. Igor explains that, whilst vampires cast no reflection, he can use the cloth and the mirror to reveal the lair of the killer. The mirror shows the crypt from earlier in the film – look guys, the baddy is obviously not moving from his evil lair so why not just check there anyway rather than relying on mystical visions through hastily dropped clues! The three hunters go to the crypt, find the Wailer’s coffin and Igor stakes him with his cane. The film cuts to Nostradamus who feels the staking and falls… and this part ends

The acting is awful and I don’t really think the problem rests solely with the English dubbed dialogue. That said, we are now half way into the series and it is compelling viewing even if things pass unexplained (like what happened to Peter).

The vampire lore in this part indicates that beyond the effects of the Antioch Cross common and garden Crucifixes work on the vampires. This is seen in the fact that Nostradamus calls Peter to him as he cannot approach, presumably because there is a huge cross above the bed and because, at one point, Dolan clutches a cross. Bobby the Wailer seems less vampire and more zombie with his shuffling around.

The imdb page is here.

the Genie of Darkness

So we reach the third instalment and let us stop and wonder for a moment at the title… There is no Genie within the reels of this film just the ongoing battle between Dolan and Nostradamus.

We do, however, get a witch, Rebecca (Fanny Schiller) and we know that she is a witch by the way she cackles. She brings something from her cooking pot to Leo and we discover that she is his mother.

However, dinner is cut short as Leo hears the call of his master and runs to his aid – picking him up off the floor where he fell on feeling the Wailer's death.

Jack Taylor as Igor
Meanwhile Dolan has been experimenting with sound waves and bats so that he can confuse the echolocation. It isn’t perfected yet but he aims to use it to capture Nostradamus (I'd assumed this would be when the vampire is in bat form but that isn't actually the case.) Igor, however, has another plan. Nostradamus has a parchment document and if they destroy it they will destroy his powers. As for Nostradamus he decides that he will use a human assassin to kill Igor.

under his spell
That assassin is Tony – whom he hypnotises and makes his slave. The professor is waiting for him at Igor’s house and he is an hour late. Neither he nor Igor notice how zoned out he appears when he eventually arrives. He watches Igor use his magic cauldron to locate the parchment (Rebecca has it) and then reports back to the vampire.

Cackling unto death
Nostradamus goes to retrieve his parchment but he hears Rebecca bemoaning him and saying her powers are greater than his. He gets her to retrieve his document as he sends Leo out. He then hypnotises the woman and tells her she can’t move, sets the hut on fire and makes her cackle as she burns to death. Leo has lost his mother yet his loyalty remains with Nostradamus.

Nora's already dead
Tony tries to kill Igor who counter mojo’s him, making Tony his own man again. Igor then confronts Nostradamus but Leo grabs and crushes him. No more Igor. The good guys then discover (via a message through a fortune teller) that the next victim will be a woman called Nora (Rina Valdarno). She seems odd and the set up is strange with letters unopened from a suitor who seems desperately violent. However it boils down to the fact that the suitor is the real victim – Nora has been dead for months and has been raised by Nostradamus. However the love she and her suitor shared stops him actually controlling them.

Anthony and Anna
Nostradamus begins to doubt his powers and things are only going to get worse. Tony remembers where the vampire’s new lair is (it looks exactly the same as the old lair but is clearly supposed to be elsewhere) and the board suddenly decide that Dolan isn’t crazy and back the man up. They head to the lair but, probably because they stopped off for burning torches and marched to the lair on foot (rather than use coaches), the sun is setting when the angry mob arrives. They get into the lair but the vampire has scarpered.

Nostradamus is not defeated so easily
He has left, however, the ashes at the bottom of his coffin. What ashes are these? Why, the ashes of his ancestor and – as was intimated in the first film – a vampire must sleep on the ashes of his ancestor. Not that this was something mentioned with regards the Wailer, but there you go - the Wailer wasn't a very good vampire anyway. Leo goes and gets his master a new coffin but Dolan has sent the ashes for testing. Nostradamus tries to retrieve them but, although Dolan fails to save the doctor doing tests, he does get the ashes and scatters them.

Is this the end of Nostradamus? Are you kidding – we have another film to go. This one was very disjointed – probably much better in short episodes. However it didn’t lose storylines like Monster Demolisher did. The ashes of the ancestor lore seems somewhat convoluted and perhaps native earth could have been better but ashes it is!

The imdb page is here.

the Blood of Nostradamus

Dolan is in has laboratory when Nosferatu speaks to him through telepathic means. How did he survive? Being a good villain, who always explains his actions, he tells Dolan that he switched ashes with those of one of his enemies – presumably Igor’s ashes. Now, just think how psychologically effective it would have been to make Dolan think his knowledge of vampire lore had actually been wrong.

Be that as it may Nostradamus is back and sends invitations to the wake of the Chief of Police (Carlos Ancira) for the thirteenth of the month – much to the chagrin of the Chief of Police.

fiddling for the shades
The Chief, publically, puts on a brave face but takes Dolan’s advice and, on the night of the twelfth, surrounds himself with men armed with revolvers and platinum bullets – including one man whom he has publically fallen out with but who is the best shot in town; Charlie Post. However Nostradamus seems less than interested in getting his victim that night and instead plays fiddle for his guests. As he plays we see coffins open and the shades of the dead dance around the crypt. Following this Dolan sets off his experimental anti-bat sound wave and it appears to work; before the machine conks out we see Nostradamus in agony.

The Chief of Police
The next day Dolan believes that the chief will be safe as the vampire will not conceive of failing and thus avoid a victim he has failed to despatch as he predicted. However, once he gets a newspaper, he realises his mistake. By the time he gets back to the Chief there has been an eclipse – this has allowed the vampire to approach the chief and manipulate him into attacking Charlie – who kills him in self defence.

oh, the horror
This episode of the series actually has a lot more standard vampire activity. The next victim is a singer called Nora who Nostradamus has wooed and who has laughed at Dolan’s warnings of danger (in a strange moment Nostradamus seems annoyed that they have interfered when surely their involvement was expected). However, when she sees that her suitor casts no reflection she realises she is in danger. She sends a message to Dolan – who is not at home but outside her place of work. Anna goes to tell her father and is witness to the full horror of the vampire.

vampire bite
She sees a bat swoop down at Nora and then become Nostradamus. We see him bare fangs and he kills the woman with a bite rather than in a convoluted villainous way. The horror makes Anna faint and Nostradamus turns his attention to her but the appearance of Anthony causes him to vanish off.

assaulted by science
The next victim is a member of the board and the important thing to note around this one is that he manages to become invisible to Nostradamus’ telepathic powers. Dolan realises that this is because he hides in a Monastery and he gains hope as it shows that faith in God can defeat the vampire. The final victim is to be Dolan himself and he will destroy the Professor’s reputation also. Dolan manages to get the anti-vampire machine working but with an angry mob of riled up townsfolk marching on the professor we wonder as to whether they will kill the vampire in time?

The imdb page is here.

So, there you have it… the Nostradamus series. These do not work that well as four stand alone films but are over long if viewed as one, things really do drag on. The acting, as I mentioned above, is terrible and I do doubt that it was all down to the English over-dub. There is some unusual lore (and some rubbishy lore also). That said there are pockets of Gothic splendour, too infrequent to save the films but enough to keep you watching.

I do wonder if this would be best seen in the original series form. A communal score, however, for all four films. 4 out of 10.

;) Q

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