Monday, March 2, 2009

The Monsters Demolisher (1962) review

THE MONSTER'S DEMOLISHER 1959 (1962 English version: Trans-International Films, Inc.) aka NOSTRADAMUS Y EL DESTRUCTOR DE MONSTRUOS

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

Directed by Federico Curiel; 76 minutes

Two little boys enter the domain of Nostradamus and are chased away by his hunchback assistant, Leo. Finding his master buried under a mound of dirt, Leo rescues Nostradamus. The vampire returns to professor Dolan for more murderous mind games boasting that he will kill a little boy and a man condemned to die. Speaking with his sometimes vague threats, Nostradamus has additional plans for the meddling Professor and Anthony.

When Leo fails to kidnap Dolan's beautiful daughter, Anna, his master instead attempts to kill the small boy and later resurrects a hanged convict as a vampire and uses him to do his bidding. After the murder of a young medical student by the revived murderer, Dolan and Anthony then seek out the eccentric Igor, an old Transylvanian nemesis of Nostradamus. Possessing dark powers akin to the bloodthirsty monster, Igor vows to stop both infernal creatures. In a duel within the confines of Nostradamus' domain, the three vampire hunters foil his plan once again.

Starting off this second film, Nostradamus continues his intention to murder 13 individuals. This time, he portends to kill Peter Madison. Dolan and Anthony visit the Madison home only to discover that the head of the household has been dead for some time. The two soon discover that it's actually the son that Nostradamus is after. Again, we get some more heated conversations between the vampire and Dolan in his study. Nostradamus then sends Leo to kidnap the professors daughter, Anna. With both Dolan and Anthony holding watch over Peter Madison's son, the guard is down for Leo to steal Anna away. Leo is unsuccessful, though. Anthony fires on him before he is able to get Anna away. There is a brief plot point that reveals Leo to have an infatuation with Anna, but this goes nowhere and is abandoned almost as quickly as it is introduced.

While that's going on, the vampire enters Dolan's home and manages to get the little boy out and takes him back to his castle. There's a nice scene where the creature prepares to put the bite on the young Peter, but the rising sun sends Nostradamus scrambling for his coffin. Soon thereafter, both the professor and Anthony follow Leo back to the vampires castle in the hopes of finding the little boy as well as the location of the vampires lair. It is here we discover just what a poor shot Anthony is as the villainous hunchback tries to manhandle them both. Finding the little boy there, they also find the coffin of Nostradamus. The vampire toys with them appearing and disappearing causing them to waste all their platinum bullets. This is a nicely done sequence and a highlight of this second entry.

This second film also has some daytime scenes and is also the first wherein the professor attempts to convince the other members of the Society For the Abolishment of Superstition that there is a vampire in their midst. What's funny about this scene is that the society members treat Dolan with as much disdain as he showed the vampire the first couple times he visited him in his study. However silly the dubbed dialog is, the society members then explain to Dolan that each of the deaths have a logical and scientific explanation.

This is interesting considering that Nostradamus is so concerned with the populace being assured of his existence and his powers being a major threat to civilians, that his elaborate methods of execution denounce any evidence that such a creature is responsible. It's not until the fourth film that the vampire threatens violence on a grand scale.

After Nostradamus targets a condemned criminal, Joseph McTagerson, as his next casualty, this threat is again misleading as the vampire intends to use McTagerson as a vassal for his revenge. The scene where he is hanged is very surreal what with the executioner and the few in attendance surrounded by darkness. The following scene wherein two Burke & Hare types plan to use McTagerson's body for some experiments only to have him rise up from his slab in the morgue is pretty creepy, too.

During the last half, we are introduced to the character of Igor. The last descendant of Count Craddock, the first recorded vampire killer from the 13th century. Claiming that his entire lineage has been battling the undead for centuries, Igor and his descendants are also impervious to the bite of the vampire. This section of the film builds a decent amount of suspense as Dolan thinks that Igor is indeed Nostradamus himself.

The character of Igor is brought to life by Euro genre veteran, Jack Taylor. He provides some unintentional hilarity with his exaggerated facial expressions and bugged out eyeballs which recall films from the silent era. Igor's penchant for inflated facial contortions reaches an apex in the next entry.

This second film is a slight bit better than the first one as the supernatural and horror elements are more profound and the character of Igor is a fascinating addition to the series. During the concluding moments, Igor, Dolan and Anthony head back to Nostradamus' castle and kill his vampiric servant using Igor's killer cane. Hiding elsewhere in his bastion, the destruction of the revived convict weakens Nostradamus bringing an abrupt end to part two. Part three brings a lot of cliffhanger style excitement delivering the best entry in Nostradamus series.

The Genie of Darkness (1962) review

THE GENIE OF DARKNESS 1959 (1962 English version: Trans-International Films, Inc.) aka NOSTRADAMUS, EL GENIO DE LAS TINIEBLAS

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

Directed by Federico Curiel; 79 minutes

Igor informs Dolan and Anthony that the key to Nostradamus' existence is held within a mysterious parchment that is hidden in an unknown location. Meanwhile, the vampire takes Anthony under his control and sends him to get information as to what Dolan and Igor are up to. Using his magic to discover the location of the hidden scroll, Igor discovers that an old witch, Rebecca, the mother of Leo the hunchback, possesses the document.

Anthony reports back to Nostradamus that the whereabouts of the lifeblood of his lineage has been known. Nostradamus then retrieves the scroll and kills Leo's mother for her insolence. Later sent to kill Igor, Anthony is rescued from the vampire's magic by Igor's magical cane. The stage is set for a final confrontation between Igor and Nostradamus. With the help of Leo, the vampire triumphs over his adversary.

With his most powerful enemy out of the way, Nostradamus threatens to make Nora Peyton, a woman, as his next victim. When this effort again proves futile for the determined vampire, a chance meeting with a painter causes Anthony to recall the exact location of Nostradamus' coffin. Professor Dolan, Anthony and the Society members converge on the mansion. Leo alerts his master and the two make their escape. Finding his coffin empty, Dolan states that they must take the ashes from his resting place as the vampire sustains his life from lying atop the ashes of his ancestors. By removing them, the creature will be destroyed by the time the sun rises. Dolan delivers the ashes to Dr. Schiller, which in turn, sets up the wicked vampires next victim.

This is easily the best film out of the entire quartet. The film packs an amazing amount of atmosphere and action in its brief 79 minute running time. With so much going on, this is the most episodic of the four pictures. The first portion deals with the location of the sacred parchment and the departure of Igor. It turns out that Leo's mother is a witch living in a ramshackle cabin adorned with cauldrons and candles affixed atop human skulls. The goofy dubbing rears its amusing head yet again as Rebecca the witch is voiced with a New York accent. When the vampire shows up he's not pleased by the fact that his adversaries have discovered his scroll, nor Rebecca's hateful comments. To punish her, Nostradamus burns her alive in her hut.

The action continues when Igor discovers Anthony has been under the creatures power. He saves him and takes off to duel with his nemesis alone. What follows is easily the funniest sequence of the entire series. Igor looks to Nostradamus stating, "You are looking at your Rival!" The vampire, with a piercing stare, retorts with, "Prisoner!" The camera then zooms in on Igor, his eyes nearly bugging out of his head and yells out "Rival!" The camera then zooms out from Nostradamus who again yells "Prisoner!" and yet again from Igor. The two partake in this brief yelling match before Leo sneaks up behind Igor and breaks his back.

The presence of Jack Taylor will no doubt bring a bit of excitement to Euro horror fans as he has appeared in a slew of Spanish horror pictures as well as two of the Mexican vampire films described here. Some of Taylor's more recognizable roles were in several of Amando De Ossorio's moody and atmospheric horror movies like NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS (1973) and THE GHOST GALLEON (1974). Taylor can also be seen in a handful of Paul Naschy movies such as DR. JEKYLL & THE WEREWOLF (1972) and THE MUMMY'S REVENGE (1973). He also appeared in two films for J.P. Simon, THE FABULOUS JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1976) and the nasty giallo/slasher exploitation classick, PIECES (1981). Taylor often played roles as a professor of some sort and these suited his demeanor.

The next segment has professor Dolan and Anthony taking off to protect Nostradamus' next target, Nora Peyton. They meet this bizarre woman who demands they leave. Upon explaining, the two are allowed to stay. They find letters to Nora from Claude, her lover, and searching the house, it appears no one has lived in the mansion for quite some time. To their surprise, they learn from a policeman that the woman has been dead for over three months! We soon find out that it was Nostradamus that has resurrected her body to claim her as his undead bride. Refusing his advances, he orders Leo to bury Nora's corpse. It is here that the powerful villain begins to doubt his ingenuity and ability to destroy professor Dolan.

The third portion of GENIE OF DARKNESS has Anthony meeting a painter in the street. Carrying a canvas of a castle, Anthony suddenly recounts the whereabouts of the vampires coffin. The Society For the Abolishment of Superstition, now convinced that Dolan hasn't lost his mind, heads out to the citadel to obtain Nostradamus' ancestors ashes. Taking the remains to Dr. Schiller, Dolan rather foolishly sets up his friend as the next victim. In the meantime, Dolan has been experimenting with new methods to snare vampires. One is a type of sonar device that emits an incredibly high frequency sound that will cause the creature great pain. Leo the hunchback is also given more to do here than any of the other movies and the sequence where he slyly manages to snatch a new coffin for his master is humorous in addition to being well thought out for a man of his limited abilities.

The movie closes with Nostradamus hypnotizing Schiller's assistant, Charlie, into killing him. This scene is pretty violent as Charlie smashes Schiller with a stool. Schiller then shoots him twice before Charlie shatters the stool over his cranium for a second time. Nostradamus is present in bat form shortly before Dolan and Anthony arrive believing they've beaten the vampire as they toss his ancestors ashes out into the open air amidst the rising sun. Of course, they haven't won as there is still one more movie to go.

The Blood of Nostradamus (1962) review

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

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

Directed by Federico Curiel; 82 minutes

"If by ten o'clock tomorrow evening I haven't got Wilkinson, you will be the only one responsible for what happens! I'll send pestilence...and death and hunger down upon the entire city! Don't forget it professor. If by tomorrow evening I don't have my hands on that man, I'll murder citizens by the hundreds!"

Nostradamus informs Professor Dolan that he is very much alive having substituted the ashes of one of his victims for that of his ancestors when Dolan threw them to the wind. The vampire then sends Dolan a mordant letter stating that the chief of police, Andres Rojas, is to be the next victim on his list.

Notifying the police of Nostradamus' threat, Professor Dolan receives a package that is instrumental in his pursuit to destroy the monster. Meanwhile, the chief of police nearly goes mad worrying about the possibility of his impending death. At the same time, Professor Dolan perfects his electromagnetic machine that nearly destroys Nostradamus. Inspector Rojas is killed anyways by one of his own men (with a little help from Nostradamus' dark powers) during a solar eclipse.

Failing to kill the vampire yet again, Dolan and Anthony go to see Nostradamus' next victim, Olga, a singer, who promptly discredits their stories of vampires. Amazingly, the vampire has gotten himself a date with the actress. She soon learns to her horror that her date is a member of the undead. Anthony tries to save her, but Olga is killed. Anna is attacked but saved by Anthony and his platinum bullets scare the vampire away. The arrogant vampire then proclaims a colleague of Dolan's, Tomas Wilkinson, as his next victim. When the Professor and Anthony prevent him from killing his target, Nostradamus states that if he doesn't claim his quarry by the following evening, he will wipe out people by the hundreds.

Later, Leo is captured and Tomas is hidden inside a church away from the clutches of the vampire. Tomas is killed by Leo, but Anthony manages to shoot the hunchback in the process. Nostradamus then uses his black powers to entrance the minds of those in the city to become suspicious of Professor Dolan and destroy his laboratory. The mad mob of citizens then plan to burn professor Dolan at the stake. This sets the stage for a final death struggle between the professor and the evil Nostradamus.

Some things you learn about Mexican vampires from watching these four films:

1. A Mexican vampire fears an Antioch cross.
2. A Mexican vampire is seriously weakened by platinum bullets.
3. Mirrors can be used to locate Mexican vampires by way of magic; preferably from characters named Igor.
4. High frequency waves can give Mexican vampires a serious migraine.
5. Magical canes are the only means to completely destroy a Mexican vampire.

This fourth and final installment is almost as good as GENIE OF DARKNESS (1962), but mildly loses its way during the police chief section. An effort is made to instill a lot more characterization for some of the human portrayals in addition to giving professor Dolan's daughter, Anna, something to do for a change. The chief of police is presented as a rude and boorish individual. Also, some attention is paid to a disbelieving songstress who has recently become infatuated with Nostradamus himself. The pervasive Mexican prince of darkness is longing for a date! While some scenes may have been eliminated from the English export versions, It's hinted at in the previous movie that Nostradamus longs for some female companionship much as the character of Dracula did in his many cinematic incarnations.

In the previous movie, it was the dead Nora Peyton whom Nostradamus desired. At the moment she refused him, he began his slow descent into self doubt of his own capabilities. This is pushed further in BLOOD OF NOSTRADAMUS when he hooks up with Olga, the singer at the club, the Golden Rooster. There is a great scene where Nostradamus is waiting for her in her dressing room just after she has gotten a visit from Dolan and Anthony. While she sits in front of her mirror, she happens to notice that her date casts no reflection! This leads to a great sequence that puts both Olga and Anna in danger.

Anthony arrives in the nick of time to save at least one of the ladies. It is here where you see Nostradamus bear his fangs (blood and all) for the first and only time in this series (at least the only time in the export versions). The bat effects, fake as they may be, are better than the stiff contraptions seen in many of Hammer's vampire pictures. The wings flap rapidly and on a couple of occasions, some animation is used for shots of the bat flying out of windows.

During the first two movies, Nostradamus possesses a confident and arrogant personality that nothing can impede his mission of vengeance. Everything he predetermines comes to pass, but near the end of the third chapter, the vampire begins to doubt his powers and his abilities to combat Professor Dolan. Initially, the vampires intent was simply to vindicate the name of his pedigree, but after restoring his ancestral name, Nostradamus continues in his crusade to destroy the professor and Anthony as the two proved to be worthy adversaries against his power. Nostradamus is in tears at one point begging his father to help him locate the victim he has designated since the location by which Wilkinson has been placed (inside a church), prevents the vampire from finding him.

There's a defining Bondian rapport between Nostradamus and professor Dolan. On countless occasions, Nostradamus could easily destroy the professor or make him a member of the undead. Instead, he prefers to use more diabolical means to do away with the professor. To simply kill Dolan outright would be "barbaric" or "uncivilized" when he could derive more pleasure by refuting, or terminating the professor in a more lavish manner. In this fourth film, Nostradamus plans to do just that by using the people in the city to kill the professor by burning him at the stake! Not only that, but it is here that the mad vampire plans widespread death and destruction.

But this mass annihilation is only out of desperation since Dolan has gotten the upper hand by hiding Nostradamus' next victim inside a church, a place where the vampire cannot reach. It seems that this series as a whole was constructed to be something more than just a typical string of horror pictures. As already mentioned, there is an attempt to do much more with the vampire character than merely a one dimensional force to be reckoned with. Far different than the more famous portrayals by Christopher Lee, sympathy and pathos for antagonists in such productions were few and far between.

There are some humorous moments, both intentional and otherwise. One funny piece of dialog comes near the end while Dolan, Tony and Anna work on the professors electromagnetic machine. A knock comes at the door which prompts the professor to say, "Why don't you answer it, Tony. It's not Nostradamus, he doesn't knock before he comes in." The hilarious dubbed dialog is here just as in all the prior entries, and much of it comes from the hunchback, Leo. However, there is one striking sequence found here. Nostradamus, sensing victory, calls forth the spirits of Hell to dance to his proposed triumph. He plays a violin while the shadows of damned souls can be seen dancing on the walls of his lair.

Ending on a high note, these four movies offer up some tawdry thrills and laugh inducing moments, but I can't help but think the original versions paint an entirely different picture than what is presented here by K. Gordon Murray. Nonetheless, all four movies are very enjoyable and worth the time of any lover of old horror movies. Despite the comical dubbing, there is undoubtedly a different approach to this material than was normally afforded these kinds of productions. It's a shame that the now defunct, yet excellent DVD company, CasaNegra never got around to restoring this quartet of vampire thrillers in its original language with subtitles as they no doubt would have brought a better appreciation for this series.
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