Long ago and far away
By Mark Voger, author
‘Britmania: The British Invasion of the Sixties in Pop Culture’
Once, there were four Nostradamus movies. Not Nostradamus the prognosticator with the ZZ Top beard. This Nostradamus was a vampire played by German Robles (1929-2005), a Spanish actor who became a movie star in Mexico. Robles was no stranger to vampires, having played bloodthirsty Count Lavud in an excellent horror movie, “El Vampiro” (1957), and it’s very good sequel, “The Vampire’s Coffin” (1958). In his tuxedo, cape, coffin and fangs, Lavud was a classic, Dracula-style vampire, a nobleman doing ignoble things.
But Robles’ Nostradamus is a bit of a twist on the vampire theme. He’s a fastidious 19th-century vampire with an impeccably maintained goatee who wears gentlemen’s clothes. He even wears a derby. Where most vampires are all about the kill, the teeth on the neck, Nostradamus enjoys the occasional game of cat-and-mouse — threats and boasting disguised as genteel conversation — with Professor Duran (Domingo Soler), his white-haired nemesis.
Federico Curiel’s four Nostradamus films were edited from a movie serial. I haven’t seen them since I was in ninth grade, when Dr. Shock (a.k.a. Joe Zawislak) showed them on his Channel 17 show “Scream In.” I recall that when you circled the movies in the TV section of The Philadelphia Inquirer, you didn’t always realize they were Nostradamus movies. (Two of the films don’t name-check Nostradamus in the title.)
For the record, the films are, in chronological order, “The Curse of Nostradamus” (1960), “The Monsters Demolisher” (1961), “The Genie of Darkness” (1962) and “The Blood of Nostradamus” (1962).
I remember not thinking they were the Best Horror Films Ever. But when they came on, I always watched them. First of all, they were monster movies, which must be watched regardless of quality. But sometimes they were eerie, and Robles was always entertaining. I have memories — some vague, some specific — of the films.
I’ll never forget a freaky scene in which Nostradamus kills a toothless old witch by rendering her immobile and setting fire to her hovel. What made it super creepy is that the witch, though powerless to circumvent her own death, smiles and laughs as the flames engulf her. Weird! I think it happens in “The Genie of Darkness.”
I also distinctly remember that Nostradamus has a vampire slave named Leo. He was played by Manuel Vergara, who was also in “Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters” (1962) looking pretty much the same. Leo has dark, scruffy hair and a scruffy beard, and wears a Gilligan hat. Best (worst?) of all is the way Leo is dubbed in the American versions. He sounds like the claymation dog Goliath from the religious kiddie show “Davy and Goliath.” Or Moose in Archie Comics. Very “duhhh.”
There’s a song by Bryan Eno titled “Dead Finks Don’t Talk” from his 1973 debut solo album, “Here Come the Warm Jets.” At the 3:10 mark, a lyric goes, “Oh perfect masters / they thrive on disasters / they all look so harmless.” That’s what Leo sounds like. Every time I hear the lyric, I think of that dopey vampire slave Leo from the Nostradamus movies. (In the same song, Eno does a mocking imitation of his onetime nemesis, Bryan Ferry, at the 1:14 mark.)
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the Nostradamus tetralogy lately, because I just did a deep dive into Mexican monster movies for my RetroFan magazine column. (The piece is scheduled to run in RF #26, shipping April 2023). I didn’t write extensively about Nostradamus, but the exercise reawakened long-held questions that, for my personal sanity, need to be answered. So I sent away for the four films. They are now in my possession, and I am chomping at the bit. I got the dubbed-into-English versions (by distributor K. Gordon Murray of Coral Gables, Florida). I wanted to see and hear the exact same movies that Dr. Shock aired when I was a punk. But finally, I will watch them in release order, and give them all the attention that I, in my dotage, can muster.
Anyway, I’m gonna watch me some Nostradamus for the first time in 50-plus years. I know, I know. That just sounds sad.
As I type this — about three weeks after writing the above — I have finally rewatched the Nostradamus films. Below are those long-held questions about the series, plus my findings now that I’ve immersed myself in All Thing Nostradamus.
Q: Does each movie work as a “standalone”?
A: No. They are quite episodic unlike, say, the Universal mummy series, which can each be viewed as a one-off. However, on Dr. Shock’s “Scream In,” the Nostradamus films aired randomly — not chronologically, not concurrently — as if they were standalones. Dr. Shock first showed “The Blood of Nostradamus” (the fourth film) on Oct. 7, 1972; “The Monsters Demolisher” (the second film) on Nov. 25, 1972; “The Curse of Nostradamus” (the first film) on Feb. 17, 1973; and “Genie of Darkness” (the third film) on March 3, 1973. This could have been confusing for viewers, but in those days, you were just overjoyed that there was a monster movie, any monster movie, on TV.
Q: Does each movie have a proper climax? In other words, does Nostradamus die at the end of each, and get revived in subsequent ones? Or are they just “cliffhangers”?
A: The first three films end in cliffhangers, although in each case, it is (unconvincingly) intimated that Nostradamus dies at the end. The fourth film has a proper climax, and you really feel like Nostradamus is dead — especially considering that, well, who’s gonna do a Nostradamus remake?
Q: Is there any redundant footage from movie to movie? (The “Aztec Mummy” trilogy is brutal on this front.)
A: Not a frame. Not even a flashback.
Q: Are there any continuity gaffes, such as inconsistent character names?
A: The continuity is solid. The only inconsistent character names are, forgivably, the result of Spanish-to-English translations. Professor Duran becomes Professor Dolan. Antonio becomes Anthony. Anita becomes Anna. Landeros becomes Landers. Rebeca becomes Loretta.
Q: Since the four Nostradamus movies were edited from a movie serial, are there any serial scenes (or other footage) that weren’t used in the four films? “Lost” footage — to we Yanks, at least?
A: I can’t say for sure, of course, but this doesn’t appear to be the case. It looks like the butchers used every part of the animal.
Couldn’t drop that Eno bomb without a payoff, now, could I?