Third in the Nostradamus tetralogy
By Mark Voger, author
‘Britmania: The British Invasion of the Sixties in Pop Culture’
Ever wonder what the home life of a vampire’s slave is like? From its first frames, “Genie of Darkness” gives us the inside scoop as we watch Leo (Manuel Vergara), slovenly servant of Nostradamus (Germán Robles), glom a home-cooked meal prepared by his witchy mama Loretta (Fanny Schiller) in her fetid hovel.
But Leo’s iffy repast is interrupted when he receives a sudden astral projection that Nostradamus has been killed. Ever loyal Leo rushes to his boss’ side, and revives him.
Meanwhile, good guys Professor Durán (Domingo Soler), his secretary Anthony (Julio Alemán) and their new teammate Igor (Jack Taylor) plot how to track down the vampire. The professor, who has begun studying live bats under glass, theorizes that the vampire can be tracked using sound, the way bats do.
Igor tells Durán and Anthony something he learned by being the descendant of a long line of fearless vampire killers: that Nostradamus must be in possession of an ancient parchment in order to remain alive. (This was referenced in the first film of the tetrology.) The parchment was buried with Nostra’s papa, the original Nostradamus, upon his death in 1470. Declares Igor: “You destroy the parchment, and you annihilate him, too.”
Unbeknownst to the group, Nostradamus later seizes control of Anthony. Igor learns the whereabouts of the parchment by reading the billowing smoke from his handy-dandy enchanted urn. (That little wonder can tell you anything.) The coveted document, it is revealed, has been stashed in the abode of … Loretta, mother of Leo!
You’ve heard of henpecked husbands? We learn that Leo is a henpecked son. Loretta has nothing but criticism for her boy, who she believes has been ill-treated by Nostradamus. Where are all the riches and powers Leo has been promised? Loretta intimates that she knows of a certain party who would pay handsomely for the parchment.
It’s too bad for her that, just as she speaks those damning words, Nostradamus does one of his infamous surprise “pop ins.” Loretta immediately falls on her creaky old knees and begs Nostradamus for forgiveness, claiming that she only threatened to sell the parchment in order to scare Leo.
“Let us hope so, Loretta,” Nostradamus says impassively, and for a brief moment, we believe he might actually spare the woman’s life. Silly us.
No sooner is the parchment safely in his hands, when Nostradamus orders Leo to step outside. While menacingly holding up a lit lantern, Nostradamus commands Loretta to become motionless. He then casually tosses the lantern, which sets fire to some fabric near the floor. As the flames spread, Nostradamus commands Loretta to laugh. The toothless hag stands there, immobile and cackling, as she is surrounded by flames. Leo — not the smartest vampire’s slave who ever hunched a back — hears his mother’s laughter and thinks she is OK. He is mistaken.
The anguish on Leo’s face, as it dawns on him that his boss has killed his mother right in front of him, makes me wish Manuel Vergara had been nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Horror Film that year. (That’s an Oscar category, right?) Vergara was no Laurence Olivier, but this was his Olivier moment.
When Professor Durán, Igor and (the possessed) Anthony reach Loretta’s hovel in search of the parchment, they find a smoking, burned-out shell. The professor receives his latest victim prediction from Nostradamus: the next to die will be “one among you.” Oooh!
Anthony later stumbles to the Castle of the Marquis, but an unexpected party awaits him there: Igor. Following a tussle, Igor regains psychic control of Anthony and sends him back to the professor.
And now … it’s monster-demolishing time.
With his trusty ivory-topped cane in hand, Igor locates Nostradamus. Via a bit of editing trickery that anticipates kung fu movies, Igor jumps down from a high place in the crypt. (First he jumps; then the camera cuts to Nostradamus “watching” Igor’s descent; and then we see Igor land, ready for action. It’s badass.)
Like the Montagues and the Capulets, or the Hatfields and the McCoys, these adversaries share a long, bloody history. One is the last of the vampires; the other is the last of the Crudics. What now?
First, the two lock into a semantic argument: Is Igor now the rival of Nostradamus, or his prisoner? (“Prisoner!” “Rival!” “Prisoner!” “Rival!” they shout at each other again and again. It’s kinda goofy.) Igor’s omnipresent cane, we now learn, has some sort of power over vampires. He uses it to hypnotize Nostradamus into unconsciousness. The vampire’s eyes roll back in his head, and he drops — an easy candidate for a heart-staking.
Then Leo sneaks up behind Igor and wraps a thick arm around the avenger’s throat.
What happens next takes place off screen. Back at the professor’s home, Anthony receives an astral projection and blurts out: “Igor is dead!”
Next we see the distinctive cane of Igor — a storied weapon in the centuries-old Vampire Wars — being gently laid upon a shelf, like a newly acquired trophy, by the hand of Nostradamus.
Leo then wordlessly hands his boss a box of ashes. As Nostradamus sprinkles them around his father’s sarcophogas, he says, as if in prayer: “Here they are, my dear father, just as I promised. These are the ashes of our enemy. In destroying Igor, I destroyed his lineage. You need not worry any more about this adversary. And so tonight, I end six long centuries of harrowing persecution.”
(Sometimes when a fictional character dies, you feel it. What is behind this? It’s a mystery how characters can get inside us — more so when you’re watching a forgotten old monster movie from another country. But I mourned Igor. I was just starting to realize how cool he was.)
Anthony and Anna visit a turban-wearing medium in the hopes of locating the parchment. During the session, the medium is temporarily possessed by Nostradamus, and verbalizes clues to the next killing. Acting upon these clues, the professor and Anthony enter what appears to be an empty private home.
While snooping around, they encounter a somnambulant blond woman named Nora (Rina Valdarno) who stares into space and speaks in a monotone while clutching an ornate candlestick. In bursts Nora’s frantic fiance, Claude (Carlos Nieto), who loudly proclaims his love for her. Before the night is through, Claude will be shot dead by the town crier.
It turns out that Nostradamus and Nora go way back, and he has long-held romantic designs on her. In fact, he wants no less than to make her his vampire bride. “Nora, I offer you great existence in the kingdom of darkness … you can rule all mortals with your power,” he professes in what amounts to a marriage proposal (sans the ring or the knee-bending).
“I care nothing for you or your wickedness,” Nora replies in her eerie monotone. Nostradamus’ response? He orders Leo to bury her.
Anthony discovers the whereabouts of the Castle of the Marquis via a fortuitous fluke. (He spots it in a painting; buys it; and prevails upon the artist for directions to the castle.) The Commission on Supernatural Phenomenon, who now believe the professor’s story about Nostradamus, decide to storm the castle bearing torches — one of many Universal Pictures references. There, they find and abscond with what they believe are the ashes of Nostradamus which, like the parchment, the vampire needs to sustain his immortality.
Durán gives the ashes to a Dr. Schiller (Carlos Hennings) for analysis. He also gives Schiller a pistol loaded with platinum bullets, just in case. Working through the night, Schiller asks his lab assistant to get some coffee. A fluttering bat enters; the assistant falls under Nostradamus’ control; he and Schiller kill each other simultaneously.
Durán and Anthony return to the laboratory to find the two dead men. But they also find ashes. “We’ve won!” exclaims the professor as he throws handfuls of ash out a window. “This is justice! This is our victory!”
It’s the lamest “death” of Nostradamus in any of the four films.
‘THE MONSTERS DEMOLISHER’
Germán Robles as Nosradamus; Domingo Soler as Professor Durán; Jack Taylor as Igor; Rina Valdarno as Nora; and Fanny Schiller as Loretta
Written by Federico Curiel, Alfredo Ruanova and Carlos Enrique Taboada
Music by Jorge Pérez | Cinematography by Fernando Colín
Produced by Víctor Parra and Alfonso Rosas Priego | Directed by Curiel
There was a kid in high school called Donnie. He was what we used to call a “hood” back then. He carried a pocket knife, smoked cigarettes, mouthed off, did bad stuff, and had crazy eyes. He was the kind of kid — he once coaxed my little brother to the back of Crest Lanes, the bowling alley where everyone played pinball, and said, “I got somethin’ to show ya.” Then he pulled out a handgun.
Anyway, the thing with Donnie was, he wasn’t really so terrible. I don’t think he had any friends. He would latch onto someone for a week or so before finally giving up, and then he’d move on to someone else. As much of a social outcast as I was, I got my turn. For a while there, it was me ‘n’ Donnie, hangin’ out and doin’ bad stuff. Donnie’s family lived in a nice house with a sunken TV room that had custom built-in couch cushions in a ’70s “Brady Bunch” print.
One Saturday afternoon when I was there, I knew “Genie of Darkness” was playing on Channel 17, and I asked Donnie if he’d mind if we watched some of it. We lucked out: We tuned in just as Nostradamus was killing Loretta. When that fat old witch stood there laughing amid the flames, me ‘n’ Donnie were transfixed for a few moments. Donnie proclaimed, “That was f***in’ cool!” Then he said: “Not a lotta people like horror movies. You ‘n’ me are, like, the only ones.”
I knew damn well Donnie didn’t really like horror movies. But I was touched that he so wanted to be my friend, he pretended to be someone who does.
More on the Nostradamus tetralogy
Above is “El Genio de las Tinieblas” (that is, “Genie of Darkness” en espanol). YouTube now has a cool translation function; click around and you’ll find it.
Fanny Schiller — unforgettable as the witch burned alive by Nostradamus in “The Genie of Darkness” — had a career that dated back to the ’30s. She dubbed the character of the Fairy Godmother in the Spanish-language version of “Cinderella,” among several more Disney classics. The above tribute is also en espanol.