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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Curse of Nostradamus (1962) review

THE CURSE OF NOSTRADAMUS 1959 (1962 English version: Trans-International Films, Inc.) aka LA MALDICION DE NOSTRADAMUS

German Robles (Nostradamus), Domingo Soler (Professor Dolan), Julio Aleman (Anthony), Manuel Vergara Manver (Leo), Aurora Alvarado (Anna)

Directed by Federico Curiel; 78 minutes

The evil vampire, Nostradamus, the son of the original Nostradamus, visits the home of the esteemed Professor Dolan. The Professor heads what is known as the Society For the Abolishment of Superstition; an organization dedicated to the destruction of superstitious beliefs and the proposed manifestation of evil. The assertive creature of the night demands that Dolan restore the tainted name of the Nostradamus lineage. If not, the vampire will kill thirteen citizens of some importance until the professor agrees to his terms. Dolan refuses proclaiming this Nostradamus as nothing more than a charlatan.

After several deaths, Professor Dolan and his assistant, Anthony, begin to take the vampire seriously and commence their campaign against him. Dolan learns that Platinum bullets and the Cross of Antioch are the only weapons proficient against vampires. When Nostradamus kidnaps Anna, the professors daughter, Dolan and Anthony learn that he is holed up somewhere within the Castle of the Marquis. The two heroes set out to stop the evil vampire using the weapons at their disposal.

The Nostradamus series was a string of Mexican vampire pictures produced in 1959 capitalizing on the success of the hit film, THE VAMPIRE (1957) starring German Robles as the undead Count. These four subsequent movies also starred German Robles. Imported by enterprising producer, K. Gordon Murray, they were released to American television in the early 1960's through AIP TV. I first caught up with them in the mid 80's on the wonderful science fiction horror program, Commander USA's Groovie Movies. It showcased a double feature picture show hosted by Commander USA. Often times, there would also be a chapter from an old serial interspersed before, or between features. This television program premiered on the USA Network.

For years it's been said that this was a Mexican television series cut down into the four existing films by Murray for American consumption. However, there are Mexican movie posters of these four movies, so it's a bit confusing if this was actually a televised serial in its country of origin, a set of theatrical releases, or possibly both. The posters specify 'The Series' on them, but it's curious if this entire series was shot as one and later broken up into four films theatrically in its native land. Each film (save for the fourth entry) ends very abruptly, and it is the hasty finishes of the first three pictures that would easily confuse initiates to the series.

In this first entry we meet the self-assured Professor Dolan and his best student, Anthony during a party at the professors home. Judging by his damning views on the supernatural, it's a given he'll be made a believer before long. A vampire named Nostradamus becomes aware of Dolan's views on the unknown. Speaking with the undead spirit of his father, the original Nostradamus, he tells him to restore the name of the prophet, here presumed to have been an alchemist and creature of the night. He also makes mention of a magical parchment that becomes the main point of interest in part three, THE GENIE OF DARKNESS (1962).

The vampires descendant pays the professor a night time visit resulting in one of the funniest dubbed dialog sequences ever. The professor continuously slings insults at Nostradamus till he states he will kill 13 people close to Dolan leaving him as the thirteenth victim. Aiding Nostradamus in his quest for vengeance is a hunchbacked goon named Leo. The dubbing for his character is especially riotous. His voice is extremely cartoonish sounding very similar to the assorted bumbling Looney Tunes characters. It's not all goofy, though.

The first murder is fairly gruesome. Nostradamus visits his first victim, Charles Brandon. At first we get more hilarious dubbed dialog before the spiteful vampire hypnotizes Brandon making him appear dead. Thinking he has passed away, the next time we see him he's inside a coffin at a wake. We hear his voice pleading with his family not to bury him alive, but, of course, no one can hear him. This is the best scene in the whole movie. The professor and Anthony go to exhume Brandon's body and as they dig, they find a shocking discovery; the bent and twisted hand of Brandon as he apparently tried to emerge from the coffin, six feet below the ground.

The remainder of the show is Nostradamus revisiting the professor announcing the next one to die, most of the time in the form of a riddle. This leads to more silly back and forth banter between good and evil. Dolan receives a package from a Dr. Landers containing an Antioch cross and a manual detailing its purpose. This, again, leads to another meeting of the minds between Dolan and the vampire. Dolan also makes himself a batch of Platinum bullets(!), which are fatal against vampires, or at least those of the Mexican variety. During the last half, the film leaves the professors mansion behind and heads outside into the night as Nostradamus' riddles get more opaque in addition to Dolan's daughter, Anna, being kidnapped by the evil vampire. This finally leads our intrepid heroes to Nostradamus' castle where Anthony chases Nostradamus shooting at him with his gun loaded with Platinum bullets. The end comes when a cave in buries the creature under a ton of dirt and rock.

The first film in this series is pretty decent, if a bit mundane. A lot of the program takes place in the professor's study with the continuous arguments he has with Nostradamus taking up much of the screen time. The whole movie seemingly takes place at night. There's some nice atmosphere and German Robles is having a grand old time portraying the vampire. The similarities to the b/w Universal horror pictures of the 30's and 40's is clearly in evidence. This is a fun series especially for those who love cheesy movies. Despite the inherent silliness, there are a number of well done sequences that sometimes get lost in all the puerile dialog exchanges. Interestingly, despite being a vampire and changing into a bat, we never see Nostradamus bite anyone on the neck till the last entry. This was followed by THE MONSTERS DEMOLISHER, GENIE OF DARKNESS and BLOOD OF NOSTRADAMUS.

To read about the complete quartet of films in order, click the link below...


TheReverendDoom said...

revisiting a series I need to watch again. I liked the whole series and Leo was especially unintentionally riotous. Great stuff from south of the border - pass the salsa and file up the grill for some tasty Mexi-monster goodness.

venoms5 said...

It is a great series. Wish CasaNegra had survived long enough to release it. A couple years back German Robles was at a Monster Mania Convention. I think it was in Jersey but I can't remember. I really wanted to make that con to meet him and talk with him about his movies.

TheReverendDoom said...

I agree - having this series in a better condition would have made it a classic cult movie.
I used to hit most of the NJ cons but I am not of the means to go much anymore.

venoms5 said...

At least parts 2 and 3 are in good quality. CasaNegra didn't seem to be very successful in Mexico, either. I imagine the market for Mexi-horror is one of the smaller niches out there.

TheReverendDoom said...

I would guess it is probably the smallest of all the niche horror genres. I think the K. Gordon Murray versions probably turned a lot of people off to them. Ever see Jerry Warren's version of The Aztec Mummy titled Attack of the Mayan Mummy? It's a real snooze fest. He (Jerry) wrecked that movie he turned it into a talk show. boring!

venoms5 said...

I'm not sure if I have, Rev. I saw a bunch of the Aztec Mummy movies on Commander USA as well as on Saturday Nightmares and I think Night Flight may have shown one or two at some point. That's including the ROCK & ROLL WRESTLING WOMEN VS THE AZTEC MUMMY. That one was pretty out there.

If ATTACK OF THE MAYAN MUMMY played on the Commander's show, I saw it, but remember nothing about it. The only thing that stands out vividly in my mind from the Aztec Mummy movies is a scene where you see an Aztec guy removing somebody's heart as a sacrifice. And the mummy looked a lot different from the ones seen in the Universal pictures.

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