THE CURSE OF NOSTRADAMUS
(1965), B/W, 78 minutes
Distributed by Trans-International Films
Produced by K. Gordon Murray
Directed by Stem Segar
DVD-R comes packaged as shown in color DVD case wrapped in plastic!
This great flick is creepy and dark, and could nary be more bizarre. I mean, the plot! History’s modern prophet, Nostradamus, is an undead supernatural being, and asks his son, Dracula, to convert a skeptical scientist to mysticism! Beyond fantastic.
And this film is rich in many ways, in substance and nuance, character, texture and setting, especially rich in dialog, like some grand drawing room drama gone mental.
More a riff on Edgar Allan Poe and Grand Guignol than the Universal horror gothic, although there’s more than one passing, botched reference to the 1932 DRACULA.
German Robles plays the Vampire as a psycho-sexual cross between Errol Flynn and Houdini, expressionist yet effective Neo-Machismo. Nostradamus’ cave bears more than a passing resemblance to a grand old Aztec Sun Temple. He says prayers to the devil, and turns into a plastic bat amidst a puff of smoke. He also spends a great deal of time surprising people in their den. Yet as friggin’ bizarre as Nostradamus is, even better is his henchman Leo, a hunchback retard fisherman, replete with rain hat, and a voice straight out of THE FLINTSTONES. He’s funnier than Marty Feldman in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. Damn, he’s funnier than Torg!
Rather than a horror movie, this movie is more like a protracted philosophy debate between Nostradamus’ son and his earthly nemesis, Professor Dolan, in a wordy tug-o-war re: Good vs. Evil, Reason vs. Faith, Science vs. Religion.
As in all the “Soundlab” pictures, the dubbed dialog is wild and rich and convoluted and beautiful, at times simply prosaic. The soundtrack is further enhanced by the downright avant-garde music score.
The lesson of the film is unabashedly spiritual, albeit naive: Modern Science ignores the existence of Evil until overwhelming evidence is presented. Once Science acknowledges Evil (the most difficult intellectual leap, as it involves Faith), Science must resort to the definitive icon of Religion (the Cross) in order fight it. Yow, how Catholic can you get?
The film is talky to a fault, perfectly understandable considering the period and country of origin. There are some weird sound effects too: creaking footsteps that sound like farts, ultra-dramatic organ music which signals the vampire’s approach or exit. There’s a scene with a man being buried alive that’s almost unbearably good/bad. Title credits are superimposed over really cheesy graphics of cartoon bats flying over a moonlit field.
The climax takes place in a most gloomy catacombs, and the end (a close-up of Nosty’s hand buried in dirt), is so downbeat as to be depressed. “The End” title rolls over utter silence, like a moment of prayer for the dead, or the end of the world.
Of course, what’s most intriguing about this and like films is the elemental, virtually idiotic level of plot, a living comic book, thanks to the original, admittedly juvenile Mexican production being shoved through the distorting filter of Murray’s melodramatic, and grammatically surreal, dubbing. This is why the Murray horror films, products (victims?) of a unique and exotic cultural gene-splice, are exciting examples of popular (trash) culture, years after their intended use has expired, ascending to the level of high art.
The uninitiated may find this odd duck unbearably dull, talky and dreary as it is, with nary an action scene in sight, but to us, this is a bonafide masterpiece of weirdo cinema.
* (updated 02-14-06) Thanks to a terrific new book we just received, “Ghouls, Gimmicks and Gold” by Kevin Heffernan, (2004, Duke University Press), we have been able to update the U.S. television release date for this Murray horror title to 1965. The appendices to this study of the horror film in America, circa 1955-1968, include complete listings of syndication feature film packages from many distributors, including American International Television, who subleased the K. Gordon Murray film catalog under the title THRILLERS FROM ANOTHER WORLD. It seems that 1965 was the watershed year for genre film sold to television, with a veritable flood of titles released by both domestic and foreign distribs.
* (effective 05-01-03) After a very brief window of availability, this long-sought K. Gordon Murray title is once again out of print, due to international copyright issues. Used video tapes of this title may be found on online video dealers and auction sites. Stay tuned for further developments!
* In addition to being the first US TV feature patched together from the source films, a ten-part Mexican theatrical serial, TCON also shares the title of the series, LA MALDICION LA NOSTRADAMUS. The other installments are: THE BLOOD OF NOSTRADAMUS, THE GENIE OF DARKNESS, and THE MONSTERS DEMOLISHER.
* Here is some new information on the Nostradamus films, from Jean-Claude Michel:
“Twelve episodes, not ten, were made, as follows:
1/ El dedo del destino
2/ El libro de los siglos
3/ Las victimas de la noche
(these comprised LA MALDICION DE NOSTRADAMUS/THE CURSE OF NOSTRADAMUS)
4/ El destructor de monstruos
5/ El estudiante y la horca
6/ El ataud vacio
(these comprised NOSTRADAMUS YE EL DESTRUCTOR DE MONSTRUOS/THE MONSTERS DEMOLISHER)
7/ El genio de las tinieblas
8/ Mas alla de la vida
9/ El hijo de la noche
(these comprised NOSTRADAMUS, EL GENIO DE LAS TINIEBLAS/THE GENIE OF DARKNESS)
10/ El aparecido en el conviento
11/ El ave negra
12/ La ultima victima
(these comprised LA SANGRE DE NOSTRADAMUS/THE BLOOD OF NOSTRADAMUS)
“These episodes were released in the form of four “features” in Mexican theaters, each of them made of three episodes. These four features were shown theatrically, respectively, on: August 31, 1961, April 13, 1962, December 14, 1962, April 5, 1963.
” ‘Historia Documental del Cinema Mexicano’ mentions that another film, ‘EL TESTAMENTO DE VAMPIRO’, also part of the series and starring the same principals, was shown in Mexico on October 20, 1961 (so, chronologically, the second “feature” in the series). Following are the credits:
EL TESTAMENTO DEL VAMPIRO
Director: Federico Curiel
Co-Director: Alberto Mariscal
Screenplay: Federico Curiel
from a story by Carlos Enrique Taboada & Alfredo Ruanova
Photography: Fernando Alvarez Garces “Colin”
Camera Operator: Raul Dominguez
Art Director: Arcadi Artis Gener
Editor: Juan José Munguia
Music: George Perez H.
Sound Editor: Felipe Marino
Made at Estudios America
Shooting date: from August 13, 1959 to …
Release date: October 20, 1961
Cast: German Robles, Julio Aleman, Domingo Soler”
(David Wilt believes that “El testamento del vampiro” is in fact a re-titling of one of the other features, probably LA MALDICION DE NOSTRADAMUS.)