Friday, December 3, 2010

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)

Title: Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)

Director: Amando de Ossorio


Right now I’m playing catch up with all these European horror films I never got around to seeing, and it’s been an interesting journey! I recently had a chance to check out Burial Ground: Nights of Terror (1980) (which by the way had zombie monks in it as well!) and some of the Coffin Joe movies which I will be reviewing in the coming weeks. But with Tombs of the Blind Dead I got my first taste at the “Blind Dead” series of films. This zombie franchise from the 70’s consists of the following films:

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)

Return of the Blind Dead (1973)

The Ghost Galleon (1974)

Night of the Seagulls (1975)

Tombs of the Blind Dead was the first one, and it’s about a threesome of friends who are going out on a pleasure trip. The threesome consists of two girls named Virginia and Betty and a dude named Roger. Roger invites both girls on a train ride to the country for some R&R. Smart dude! Two girls for one guy, that’s a sweet deal any way you look at it. Everyone is having fun and having a great time when suddenly, disaster strikes! One of the girls turns jealous when Roger pays more attention to the other. The jealous girl decides she doesn’t want to play fifth wheel so she jumps off the train in the middle of nowhere! She begins to wonder through the countryside until she stumbles upon an ancient citadel. What she doesn’t know is that these ruins are inhabited by The Blind Dead! These undead blood drinkers pop out of their graves and suck her blood! It isn’t long before her friends decide to the ancient ruins to try and find her. Will they find their friend? Will they escape the terror of the blind dead?

The big draw with this movie is of course seeing the Blind Dead, which were a treat to look at in my book. We actually get to see a flashback as to who these Templar Knights used to be when they were alive. We get to see them performing a satanic ritual that involves whipping a young girl until she starts to bleed so they could feed on said girls blood and live forever! These creatures are deadly in numbers, and if they manage to corner you, you are screwed, as one of the girls in the film discovers. There is this awesome sequence in which the blind dead manage to corner a girl in a room. She realizes that the zombies are blind, so she tries to keep her mouth shut and the noise she makes to a minimum as she hides in a corner. Problem comes when the Blind Dead zero in on the beating of her heart! So during the scene, while she is trying to be as quiet as possible, we hear her heart beating! Boom Boom, Boom Boom, Boom Boom! The camara zooms in and out with every one of her heartbeats as the Blind Dead slowly creep up towards her. Great sequence!

Those of you expecting a fast paced splatter fest of a zombie movie should be warned, this is not that kind of a movie. Tombs of the Blind Dead is a film that gives more importance to suspense and atmosphere than fast paced thrills or the ever popular gore. The Blind Dead themselves are extremely slow moving, and you almost get the idea that you could simply run past them and you’d be alright. But still, there is something spooky and haunting about these Knights. The image of these walking skeletons, with their black hole eyes and their rotting beards is quite striking, seeing them move in the night, with the wind blowing in their beards and cloaks makes for some truly satasfying atmospheric imagery. Even those scenes shot in the day time have this spooky vibe to them because the localizations were so lonely.

The backs tory behind these Templar Knights is that they used to be servants of God. Their job by the way, was killing all those Turks who didn’t want to turn into Christians. That’s such a Christian thing to do isn’t it? Kill all those who don’t think like you! So they went out to war but at the same time, they ended up adopting a whole different set of beliefs from the Turks. So suddenly the Knights went from worshipping God in heaven, to worshipping Satan and performing black magic rituals, like feeding on human blood to extend their lives forever. Speaking of these Templar Knights, the images of them riding their ghost horses were awesome and brought back memories of Hammer Films Night Creatures (1962) which had similar images of skeletal figures riding on their ghost horses.

A problem that many have with this movie is that the characters keep doing stupid and improbable things over and over again. Though one could argue that this is the M.O. for many horror film characters, sometimes the actions of the characters on Tombs of the Blind Dead make you question their intelligence. First, we get the girl who tries to run away from her two friends by jumping off the train they are riding in. Not only would this never happen, it is simply a seriously stupid decision! Would you jump of a moving train simply because your friends are making out? I would simply go to another car or something, but not jump the freaking train! I doubt any girl would do something like that. On top of things, the runaway girl stumbles upon an ancient abandoned citadel, and what does she decide to do? Spend the night in the old cathedral that’s what! Again, this is a highly improbable scenario. The girl remains as calm as ever, she simply pulls out her sleeping bag, her nightlight so she can do some night reading, she even takes out a little radio. You get the feeling that she’s slept in spooky abandoned cathedrals before because she doesn’t even look scared. At all! This is one tough cookie! When this girls disappears, her friends decide to employ the help of thugs to help them look for her. Who in their right minds would enlists the help of criminals to find a lost friend? On top of things, these thugs are sexual deviants! Then when the Knights suddenly show up, they don’t run away, they run deeper into the Cathedral!

There is this whole side story about the two girls having a lesbian encounter many years ago. That whole story feels totally unnecessary. What was the point of showing how these two girls had a lesbian encounter during their teenage years? It served no purpose at all to the story! Yet we spend sometime in a flashback that is never referenced ever again. Maybe it was to give the film a bit of an edge? Make it a bit exploitative in this sense? Speaking of the exploitative nature of this film, when it was released in the states it was actually called Revenge from Planet Ape! The title change was made to capitalize on the success that Planet of the Apes was enjoying at the time! The dvd includes the alternate opening sequence that used the title Revenge from Planet Ape. It has this really ridiculous voice over that connects these movies with Apes. The voice over tries to convince us that the Blind Dead are corpses of dead apes who have come back for revenge, because humans annihilated their entire race! Hee-la-rious! Other scene that make this film exploitative in nature: the monks performing a ritual in which they whip a girl, make her skin bleed and suck on her blood. But of course before they do so they take off all her clothes. Theres a rape scene that comes straight out of nowhere as well!

Amando Ossorio, the director of these films says that the Blind Dead aren’t zombies, that they are closer to being mummy’s. To me they are one and the same, they are walking dead. Walking Dead = Zombies in my book. Though these zombies are different then others, they aren’t all that hell bent on eating human flesh or brains, what these guys feed on is human blood. So in a way, they can also be considered vampires. Whatever the case, this movie has an original angle to it with these Templar Knights gone rogue. The ending is pretty cool, not gonna spoil it, but it sets it self up nicely for a sequel. This isn’t the best zombie movie ever, but it has some atmospheric moments in it that will make it worth your while. I will be checking out the rest of the Blind Dead films, so look out for those reviews in the near future.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Amando Ossorio, the films director next to one of his creations

The Blind Dead Collection (Tombs of the Blind Dead/The Ghost Galleon/Return of the Evil Dead/Night of the Seagulls/Amando De Ossorio)Tombs of the Blind DeadTombs of the Blind Dead/Return of the Blind Dead


venoms5 said...

I first caught this one in the mid 80s on Elvira's Movie Macabre. Great stuff. The scene of the blood spilling onto the little kids face at the end was shown on the TV showings, but cut from the VHS tape of all things.

Some of the stupidity of the characters I could understand, though. Maria Perschy was into her male friend, so seeing him click with her tagalong female companion kind of pissed her off. I can somewhat understand why she would have jumped from the train. Her female friend liked women and apparently wanted to change her, so when she was attracting the charms of a guy she was interested in, it pissed her off enough to want to get away.

The scene you mention showing the Templars sacrificing the girl in the flashback, they're actually cutting her with swords prior to sucking the blood from her body. You should check out the oddly edited English version (not the APE titled one) at some point, Fran, as they shuffled a lot of stuff around. TOMBS is one of my all time favorites. The two pics above the Ossorio posed photo are from the third and second films respectively, so that gives you a clue as to what to expect with those. Personally, the third film is awful save for a couple spots.

Like some of his other movies, John Carpenter seems to have borrowed from Ossorio's second and third films for his THE FOG (1979).

Also, Ossorio seems to have been fascinated with rape as there's a rape scene in the remainder of the movies, at least in the second and third films. I forget about the fourth one. I hope you have a good time with these, Fran, but the first two are definitely the best in my book. I REALLY want the score on CD. It's a crime it hasn't been released yet. It's perfect Halloween music!

Mr. Fiendish said...

pfff, I like this movie waaaay more than anyone should. I think it's a perfect film.

Dempsey Sanders said...

I enjoyed these, especially the first and second but did't watch them until very late on, in fact i don't think I saw any of them until the late 90's.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

An excellent review Franco, and an excellent little film. TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD has a genuine atmosphere of evil, the sexploitation elements and soft focus photography at times undermine the sense of dread, but this film figures prominently in any history of Spanish - the rest in the series are forgettable dross though.

I Like Horror Movies said...

The graveyard scene (infamous for being reused throughout the entire series) is one of my favorite moments in Horror, so rife with creepy atmosphere and sweet ass undead zombie mummy vampire horses!

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks to everyone for commenting!

@Venom5: I understand wanting to get away, but damn, actually jumping from the train!

That rape scene seems to come out of left field, but I guess it makes sense, since they guy is a criminal.

So you think Carpenter borrowed from these movies for THE FOG?! Now Im really interested in checking out the rest of the movies! Cant wait to see the rest of them!

@Mr.Fiedish: I did enjoy it, I hope the rest of the series continues in quality, though I've read they go down a bit as the series progresses.

@Shaun: Agree about that atmosphere, I loved those scenes when the bells start to ring in the night, signalling the entrance of the Blind Dead...awesome sequences.

@CarlManes: Really man? They reuse those sequence again and again? That kind of sucks!

venoms5 said...

In RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD, a village celebrates a centuries old centennial of the Templars destruction (100 years, 500 years, I forget). They show up to crash the party. At one point, the Templars even knock loudly on the door of potential victims.

In HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES, the Templars travel around in a ghost ship enshrouded in a supernatural fog.

Whether Carpenter saw the movies, or not, the similarities are to obvious to ignore, at least for me.

Franco Macabro said...

Wow, that sounds like that celebration they do in THE FOG, and the ghost, too similar. I need to see these movies as soon as possible.

Is HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES the one that is also called THE GHOST GALEON? I need to check that one out! Yeah, now that you mention it, it does sound pretty similar.

venoms5 said...

Yeah, GHOST GALLEON and HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES are the same movie. It's also called SHIP OF THE ZOMBIES if I remember right. The BU DVD thankfully has the full audio during the closing shot. All other VHS versions I'd seen of that one go silent during the very last scene. Just keep your expectations VERY, VERY LOW when you get around to GHOST GALLEON.

Roderick Allmanson said...

This movie's spectacular - nice review


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