Monday, April 18, 2011
The Nostradamus Films
Thursday would have been my Mom’s 67th birthday, so in order to pay tribute to her I’m going to do as I did last year and do a week of horror films. Where last year it was simply a solid week of films from everywhere, what I’m going to do this year is take a look at horror flicks, all of which are from Mexico.
Most of the films this week are from the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. These were in constant rotation in the 1980’s and 1990’s as part of the Commander USA's Groovie Movies on the USA Network. The Commander would run movies on weekends and interrupt them for very funny comedy segments. He was a "horror" host who ran more than just horror films. Strangely the movies that everyone remembers are the black and white ones from Mexico. I have no idea why, but those are the ones that stuck.
Most of the films this week came to American TV and movie screens thanks to K. Gordon Murray, a producer who took schlocky films, redubbed them, and set them out on an unsuspecting world. The poor reputation that many of the films have in the US is due in large part to the chopped up versions we saw on TV. Murray wasn’t beyond cutting and altering these films. The result were films that were good for a chuckle but not really a scare. Sadly most of them are better than the English language versions made them out to be. I know this thanks to the now- defunct Casa Negra DVD line which started releasing many of the films in restored versions with commentaries and other extras. Regrettably the line is gone and the DVDs are hard to come by, though Asian Cult Cinema is selling them.
First up I'm going to do four pictures that will be familiar to anyone who watched Commander USA's Groovie Movies with any regularity; the series of Nostradamus The Vampire films.
The four Nostradamus movies were cut together by K. Gordon Murray from a 12 part Mexican serial. As best I can figure, each film consists of three chapters cut together. The four films in the sequence are as follows:
Curse Of Nostradamus
Blood Of Nostradamus
Genii Of Darkness
The films as separate movies kind of work, but it’s clear from watching the second, third, and fourth, there is a great deal of back story missing. The first probably works the best as a stand alone picture. The others just sort of start and stop randomly.
The plot of the group has one of the sons of the seer Nostradamus arriving in Mexico a century or so ago with his father’s body in tow. He is a vampire who is aided by a hunchback. His father, though dead, will occasionally talk to his son. The vampire crosses swords with a family that is made up of men of reason. They deny that such things as vampires exist and our villain does his best to prove them wrong.
The first film is probably the best since it’s the one that doesn’t get off into weird silliness (one of the later films has a psychic battle that’s just dumb). Actually it has one of my favorite exchanges in film where the vampire confronts one of the family who will hunt him after a party. The old man denies that Nostradamus is a vampire, because he knows everything. Then Nostradamus takes him to task, pointing out that he DOESN'T know everything; he doesn't even know how Nostradamus entered the house. There is a logic and reason at work that runs counter to the silliness of the later films.
I’m not going to lie and say these are great; they aren’t. They are ultimately cheesy fun. I’m sure the dubbing by K. Gordon’s band of dubbers kind of under-cuts some of the suspense, but at the same time the odd line readings add a nice sense of charm. The film's shadowy black and white photography are exactly the sort of thing that I used to get up in the middle of the night to watch on the Late Late Show when I was a kid.
Most people I know first ran across these on the Commander USA TV show. They found them SO jaw-droppingly inane and silly that when they found out the films were going to be on they would re-arrange their schedule to be home to watch them, or at the very least make sure they taped the episodes. Yes, these are "good, bad movies".
Me? I went to great lengths to run the four films down. While Sinister Cinema carries three of them, they don’t appear to have the second one, Blood Of Nostradamus. For some reason that one seemed to be difficult to find and even some dealers at nostalgia shows I'm friends with, and who seem to have every obscure movie you can think of, didn’t have it. I was reduced to over-paying for a copy from one of the big retailers that charges full retail prices for everything...even a DVD-R, which this was.
You’re probably wondering why I would do such a thing. Basically the films are so comfortable to me that they put me to sleep. I took the four films and put them all on one DVD so that when I go to bed at night they'll play in sequence all night. If I wake up I just see they’re still running and I fall right back asleep.
Not high art, but a lot of low brow fun.