First in the Nostradamus tetralogy
By Mark Voger, author
‘Britmania: The British Invasion of the Sixties in Pop Culture’
Germán Robles had already played the classic, Bela Lugosi-style vampire, with the tux and the cape and the nobleman airs. He got to stretch in the Nostradamus tetralogy. The series’ creators reimagined the real-life Nostradamus as a supernatural being who awakens four centuries after his death, and has as his son (or grandson?) a vampire. As written and played, Robles’ descendant of the original Nostradamus, also named Nostradamus, can be brutally cruel, but he has moments of sensitivity and vulnerability. You could almost all him a harbinger of Barnabas Collins.
Still, the series has its problems, its flaws, most of which are related to the apparent speed with which it was filmed. And the fact that the four “films” in the tetralogy were, essentially, re-edited from a multi-episode serial gives each a choppy feel, and often, an unsatisfactory climax. (Never thought I’d use that expression.)
In the first film, “The Curse of Nostradamus,” we meet esteemed, white-haired Professor Durán (Domingo Soler). It’s the 1800s or thereabouts, and Dolan is president of the Commission on Supernatural Phenomenon. His lovely, devoted daughter Anna (Aurora Alverado) is engaged to his resourceful secretary Anthony (Julio Alemán). Life is good.
At the moment, Durán is basking in congratulations from well-dressed swells during a reception at his home at which Anna plays piano. The professor has just given a speech before the Commission in which he pooh-poohs black magic, superstition, the occult, and the belief in vampires. The Commission, you see, is intent on debunking the supernatural, not promoting it.
Elsewhere, the vampire Nostradamus (Robles) is about to rock Professor Durán’s world.
In a massive, torch-lit crypt, the dapper Nostradamus holds court with his scraggly-haired, hunchbacked slave Leo (Manuel Vergara), who is never without his rumpled Gilligan hat. Nostradamus calls upon his “dear father” to arise. The heavy lid of a stone sarcophagus opens. Inside is the 400-year-old remains of the original Nostradamus — at least, in this fictional universe. Presumably, the corpse would be mummified by now, but its face is concealed by a death mask, with unseeing eyes pointed upward.
“Speak!” cries the younger Nostradamus. “Your son is consumed by the desire for revenge. Speak, my father!”
An echo-y, disembodied voice answers: “At the end of four centuries, I have returned to pass unto you my supreme power!” The voice tells of a family parchment that is “the key to your existence. If mortals seek light and scientific discovery, you will exterminate them. May they know the horror of the curse of Nostradamus!”
Take that, mortals.
Back at the Durán homestead, the party guests have been dismissed, and the professor is in his darkened study with Anthony. Suddenly, the men are joined by a mysterious stranger who — with his sensitive features, meticulously groomed goatee, and cape lined in white satin — could have been just another member of the intelligentsia hosted by the professor that evening.
Naturally, Durán and Anthony are alarmed by this intrusion. We, the viewers, know that the uninvited guest is the vampire Nostradamus, but he introduces himself as “Mr. Erickson” — a shortlived deception, it turns out. Nostradamus soon makes his objective clear.
“I could bring down a plague upon society,” he warns the dumbfounded professor. “The world admires your work as an expert in scientific research, and thus must recognize a famous man whose name has endured through time, and establish his cult again.” That famous man is the original Nostradamus, and the stranger identifies himself as … Nostradamus’ son!
When Durán balks — he just gave a speech decrying belief in the supernatural, after all — Nostradamus pledges to “torture and kill” 13 people unless or until the professor cooperates.
So, unlike most movie vampires, Nostradamus the younger’s only scheme is to implement a P.R. campaign. If Dolan will just play ball and endorse the original Nostradamus, everything will be cool.
Nostradamus makes like the Riddler, supplying Durán with clues to the identity of his victims prior to each of the promised murders. These killings run throughout the four films, which puts them in danger of becoming formulaic or redundant. This problem does occur to a degree, but there are enough detours, new characters and eerie standalone sequences to make each film a unique watching experience.
Nostradamus’ first victim is a man he renders motionless to the point where his family assumes him to be dead, and buries him alive. In an allusion to an early vampire classic, Carl Theodor Dreyer‘s “Vampyr” (1932), there’s a coffin’s-eye view from the victim’s perspective.
The vampire does another surprise “pop-in” at the Durán place — it seems to be his favorite method of keeping in touch — and he reiterates his wish. “My only desire is to revindicate the memory of my revered ancestor,” Nostradamus tells the prof. “You can do this. Since you preside over the committee, you can back this. And if you cooperate, I promise I shall stop there.”
Pretenses at diplomacy vanish when Durán stands firm. “Your stubborn refusal has just sentenced many others to death,” Nostradamus declares angrily.
The vampire continues with his murderous agenda. He calls on an antique shop in town and presents its proprietor, a Mr. Landeros (Roberto Araya), with a book that was printed in 1540. Landeros says he has a customer who will be very interested in the ancient volume. Nostradamus then takes possession of Landeros’ body and totes the book to the home of the wealthy, portly customer.
“I have information about this book,” notes the customer with excitement. “They say it contains the famous prophecies of Nostradamus!” (This is the series’ sole reference to the real-life Nostradamus.) As the customer gets the money to purchase the book, he is shot dead by the possessed Landeros.
The customer’s butler fingers Landeros for the murder. Upon police questioning, Landeros — no longer possessed by Nostradamus — exclaims, “Those eyes! Those eyes!” and leaps to his death.
The next victim is a trainee cop who goes undercover to infiltrate a gang. After falling under Nostradamus’ control, the trainee kidnaps Anna. Armed with a crucifix and a gun loaded with platinum bullets, the professor and Anthony follow clues to a dilapidated castle. There, they find Anna alive, but the trainee — drained of his blood by the vampire — is not so lucky.
Nostradamus flees through shallow catacombs. In pursuit, Antonio fires his gun, triggering a cave-in.
The final frame of “The Curse of Nostradamus” shows the vampire’s motionless hand immersed in dirt. Horror film buffs would find this an unconvincing monster death for a movie climax. And our suspicions would be well founded.
‘THE CURSE OF NOSTRADAMUS’
Germán Robles as Nosradamus; Domingo Soler as Professor Durán; Julio Alemán as Anthony; and Manuel Vergara as Leo
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