Friday, April 13, 2012

Video Cheese no. 3 - CURSE OF NOSTRADAMUS (1960)

Note: This piece is edited from a review originally posted at as part of a series called Video Cheese. Re-posted here with the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.
    "A vampire has a personal grudge against a scientist for his crusade against superstition."
   If I have my facts straight, there was a Mexican serial about a scientist fighting a vampire. This was bought by K. Gordon Murray and edited into a series of films for AIP-TV. The result is the saga of Nostradamus the Vampire. Curse of Nostradamus is the first of the four films. Given the movies are edited together from the serial, each chapter tends to hit the ground running and end rather flatly. Thus, all our exposition is laid out here, and it's a dilly! 

   The Nostradamus films share much in common with the less-favored Mexican monster pics to reach US screens. The dialog is weird, the actors seem to think they're either on stage or in a silent movie, and things move at a snail's pace. The occasional (though far too rare) nice shot composition just makes the faults all the more evident.
   In short, our story concerns Professor Calderon (I think, after a while I found myself unable to recall the names of these characters, even though I wanted to point out how one character had a completely different name when spoken than when written!). Calderon has set out to remove all superstition from the land so we may progress forward on the wings of science and logic. 

   This all seems to be set at the turn of the century, judging from the clothes and such. At a big party to celebrate the engagement of his daughter to his hunky assistant Tony, Calderon is asked about vampires and monsters. He notes such things are the bunk and we cut to a vampire and a monster approaching an old castle. This is our star and his hunchbacked assistant. 

   (German Robles plays the vampire, and played several similar characters early in his career, seemingly in an attempt to become the Mexican Bela Lugosi. Here, he's one of those vampires from the top-hat-and-goatee school -actually, he wears a high derby instead of a top-hat, but this print is so dark and murky I couldn't see this until I saw the sequel film, THE MONSTERS DEMOLISHER.)
   This gets confusing pretty fast due to the slapdash nature of the dubbing. Murray's imports tended to be direct translations, although this one seems different. At the party, characters have conversations that consisted largely of repeating what they've already mentioned. Facial expressions also fail to match lines, reminding one of an old Carol Burnett sketch about how imported movies are sometimes altered (where we see a scene of lovers kissing with the dialog changed to make this man and woman brother and sister). Calderon at one point bugs his eyes in what looks like fury from an insult, then continues in his genial tone. 

   The back-story on the vampire is one of the most convoluted moments we have. The vampire wanders into an old castle and finds the coffin, and ghost, of the original Nostradamus. I had no clue the European prophet was laid to rest in Mexico, but then I didn't know he was Japanese either (see CATASTROPHE 1999/LAST DAYS OF PLANET EARTH).
   Uhh. Nostradamus was apparently a vicious monster who felt himself superior to all mortal men, not the holy man I'd heard about. Maybe the writers meant this to be Rasputin or someone like that, but thought the name Nostradamus would have more impact? 

   Anyway, the ghost hates science and tells the vampire to destroy it. The vampire is also said to be both the son of Nostradamus and the grandson of Nostradamus! And I guess, other than being immortal, he's still human at this point. He seems to become a vampire here, as the ghost lays out the ground rules and tells his offspring he will sleep in the very coffin the ghost is now occupying. Assuming the mantle of Nostradamus, the vampire reportedly has the power to level entire cities! Obviously, the powers we see displayed will be a bit less earth-shaking, but pretty impressive to us non-vampires. He can turn into a bat, hypnotize people, and take over their bodies. Oddly, we'll never see him drink blood until the climax, and even then it isn't out of a need for nourishment. Who this guy was prior to this, except for being descended from the (now evil) prophet and being immortal because of it (?), we never learn.
   Nostradamus also gets the failings of a vampire, such as being repelled by a crucifix. I don't know if he's in danger from sunlight or not, however, as the sun never seems to rise in this town. He's also amazingly arrogant, as all vampires are, going to Calderon and rubbing his (admittedly smug) scientific face in the fact that Nostradamus is all supernatural and stuff. In a whopper of a scene, Nostradamus tells Calderon that the scientist himself will be the one to stop the vampire's plan! Then, to make sure the Professor knows the gravity of the situation, Nostradamus states he will kill 13 people. From there we see one murder convince Calderon that Nostradamus means business, and then taking action to prevent the other murders, with mostly poor results.
   Being the romantic lead, Tony will do most of the heavy lifting while Calderon figures everything out. In the climax here, Tony chases after Nostradamus and tries to kill the vampire with platinum (?) bullets. He chases the monster down a long series of cramped catacombs, wildly firing each time Nostradamus has just moved out of range. I'm pretty sure he was out of bullets by the time he finally faced off with Nostradamus, but they don't have time to go into this. The chamber they're in caves in and Nostradamus is (for now, at least) buried alive. (I think the idea is that the gunfire caused the old place to vibrate and fall apart, or something.) We don't see Tony go back to his revived love in the main hall, or really get much evidence of his escape. We see Nostradamus' hand poking from a mound of dirt (and it does look dead, I must note) and then its THE END!
  What hurts this one is that it's duller than the dirt Nostradamus is buried in! Ever notice how you can sit in your seat and watch a two or three hour movie without complaint, so long as the movie is really good? And then you pop in a much shorter movie, but it doesn't satisfy, so your tail starts going numb half-way through? This is one of those. For a movie lasting under 80 minutes, it had me squirming and checking the clock from the first murder! Republic serials are noted for their fast pace and blistering action. It would seem Mexican serials played to much less demanding audiences. To think, there are three more of these films! (To be fair, the second film is a step up in quality, and definitely moves much faster, although it's still a Mexican monster movie edited from a serial so it's not fantastic or anything. It's been too long since I've seen the third film to comment, and the fourth installment never came my way, so I can't comment on those two entries.)

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