Friday, January 26, 2007

Honourable Mentions – The Monster Demolisher

movie poster

I was lucky enough to get to see this rarity recently and, as it is a vampire movie, it might seem odd that I am doing an ‘honourable mention’ piece for this Mexican film rather than a review. However the film was originally part of a 12 part Mexican serial (from 1959) that was cut into four films for American audiences, the other parts being: ‘Curse of Nostradamus’, ‘The Genie of Darkness’ and ‘The Blood of Nostradamus’ – this is the second movie. As such, it seemed unfair to review this in isolation; the film is part of a larger story with little in the way of conclusion and threads from previous episodes we do not know about – in short it has difficulty standing alone. If I get to see all four parts I’ll do a generic review of the series.

The film stars Germán Robles as the vampire Nostradamus. Robles, of course, had played Lucard in the filmsGermán Robles as Nostradamus El Vampiro and El Ataúd del Vampiro. Nostradamus is the son of the historically famous Nostradamus and pits his wits against Professor Dolan (Domingo Soler). Dolan is the president of a society which is trying to disprove superstition and Nostradamus wants him to use his influence in order that he might clear the name of his famous ancestor. Until Dolan agrees he will kill seemingly random innocents, and gives Dolan the name of the target in advance.

This film 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 hunchback Leo (Manuel Vergara 'Manver'). It seems they get away but, in the soft earth at the cave entrance, Leo uncovers a hand, which twitches. Presumably it is Nostradamus.

Dolan is Domingo Soler as Professor Dolantalking to his daughter Anna (Aurora Alvarado) and his assistant Anthony (Julio Alemán) 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.

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. fantastically crap batThe bat effects are interesting. Mostly we see flapping shadows but, occasionally, we see the bat. Now, regular readers know that I have a chip on my shoulder about crap bats in vampire movies but this impressed me, in a 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 AnnaThe 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.

Back at the crypt Nostradamus sends Leo back for Anna and presumably is going to killAnthony fires a shot off 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.

a stiff lidThey 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 (and I don’t know how Joseph became Bobby either). 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.

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.

Anthony tries to convince the board to support Dolan but fails. When walking home he notices that he is A look into the mystic cauldronbeing 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). 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.

Nostradamus sends the Wailer, who is now a vampire, to kill the student who has lost his mindThe Wailer as a vampire (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…

The film ends.

This feels very much like a set of 1950s serial shorts patched together, because that’s exactly what it is and thus it doesn’t run as a movie so well. The acting is awful and I don’t really think the problem rests solely with the English dubbed dialogue. That said, it is compelling viewing even if, beyond the fact that this is a mid-section of the series, things pass unexplained (like what happened to Peter).

The vampire lore seems a little all over the place (I believe in a later film the rule that Nostradamus must sleep with the ashes of his ancestors is thrown in just for a laugh) and Bobby the Wailer seems less vampire and more zombie with his shuffling around.

There is some indication (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) that crucifixes work on these vampires.

A fascinating look at early Mexican cinema shorts and I look forward to getting the opportunity to see the whole series as, although it is hokey, it is, as I say, compelling (or at least this part was).

Jack Taylor, Igor the vampire hunter, would go on to appear in Franco’s “Count Dracula” (1970) as Quincy Morris, “Vampire’s Night Orgy” (1973), Franco’s “Female Vampire” (1973) and “The Ghost Galleon” (1974) from the Blind Dead quadrilogy.

The imdb page is here.

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