The Tombs of the Blind Dead

"Very Good"

The Tombs of the Blind Dead Review


Spanish horror cinema was never able to break out of the European schlock ghetto like Italian genre cinema was. Few American cinephiles that recognize Dario Argento (Suspiria) know the name Amando De Ossorio. Unfortunately most of those who do inhabit a twilight realm, hovering somewhere between grindhouse horrors and the nether reaches of the mainstream. De Ossorio wasn't a consummate craftsman but he was a visionary. His films tend to be weak on plotting (a charge leveled at Argento frequently) but extremely atmospheric and horrifying.

It is because De Ossorio lets this series of four films linger on his marvelously designed "zombies" - the eponymous blind dead - that the films have achieved such vaulted cult status. Unlike traditional zombies, the blind dead are wholly un-human. They have aspects of both vampire and ghoul and roam about the nightmarish Spanish countryside on skeletal steeds (true night-mares). Ah, but these guys are blind, right? As the ads touted: "Don't let them hear your heart beating!" These are indeed, Goyaesque hallucinogenic visions come to life.

Silly but ultimately effective, the blind dead series was a staple of '70s and '80s horror host ghoul-o-vision theatre shows and stoner all-night parties. While De Ossorio wasn't a craftsman like Hitchcock or Argento, he made heartfelt, and -- in due course -- exploitative, films that gave audiences a thrill ride. The world truly would be a poorer place if small, inventive films like these didn't exist.

Tombs Of The Blind Dead (1971)

The film that started it all, Tombs of the Blind Dead is De Ossorio's European homage to the Night of the Living Dead. It is not a ripoff of Night... but rather an elegiac counter-vision that is much more fanciful than Night... and wholly continental.

The story is a meager one: three vacationing friends accidentally awaken the blind dead Templar knights who lurk in an old monastery. The knights roam the countryside looking for fresh blood. Since they are blind (the reasons for this are explained in a gruesome flashback) they hunt by sound. It's a neat twist, and there are numerous nerve-racking sequences in which the wasted knights slowly stalk their prey by listening for the sound of her beating heart.

Aka La Noche del terror ciego.

The Return Of The Evil Dead (1973)

The second film in the series, The Return of the Evil Dead, while hampered with a lame title (the Spanish title makes more sense: The Attack of the Blind Dead) is actually a better film than the first. We've got all the historical ballyhoo about the knight's dreaded condition out of the way so we can get to the good stuff: lots of creepy shots of our shriveled blind guys wandering the countryside.

The setting is a Spanish village celebrating the 500th anniversary of the dreaded Templar knights' defeat. Tony Kendall, Euro B-movie star, is a pyrotechnics display guy who arrives just in time for the whole affair to be eclipsed by the arrival of the titular dead. Everything goes to hell, to put it mildly. (Future auteur Pedro Almodóvar even shows up.)

De Ossorio really succeeds on this second outing with a tighter pace, brilliant handheld camera work and a more complicated, involving plot.

Aka El Ataque de los muertos sin ojos.

The Ghost Galleon (1975)

Beating John Carpenter to the idea, De Ossorio sets this third blind dead entry aboard a rotting ship swathed in thick fog. Where the previous films ran on a steady buzz of shock and blood, this entry is more about oppressive and wraithlike atmospherics. While it's less jarring, it's also certainly the creepy sleeper of the quadrilogy.

The plot is even more bare bones on this outing with a trio of nitwits on the high seas encountering the ostensible ghost ship that hold a cargo bay full of seagoing blind dead.

Lots of wandering about the pretty limited ship sets makes some of the film feel quite forced and drunker viewers may need to be frequently roused, but this is a nice addition to the series and a welcome reprieve from the headlong horror.

Aka El Buque maldito.

Night Of The Seagulls (1976)

Effectively wrapping things up, Night of the Seagulls moves the action to an isolated beach community that seems to be practicing unhealthy Lovecraftian rituals on the beach at night. A flock of seagulls presages the coming of shadowy figures... or, who are we kidding? It's just the blind dead crowding the beach in search for sustenance of the RH kind.

Night of the Seagulls has bits and pieces from each of the previous movies in it. We've got the atmospherics from Ghost Galleon, the gore from Tombs, the camerawork and tight pacing from Return, and a fantastic ending that gives new meaning to the word "gooey."

Blue Underground does a marvelous job in packaging this entire series in a crafty, but sturdy, coffin shaped box. Inside you will find all four films in widescreen (spotless transfers) rounded out with fitting and surprising extras and a fifth disc, a feature length documentary about filmmaker De Ossorio, who recently passed away.

Aka La Noche de las gaviotas.

(The above rating is for the series.)

Blind? Check. Dead? Check.



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Betty Turner, César Burner as Roger Whelan, María Elena Arpón as Virginia White (as Helen Harp), José Thelman as Pedro Candal (as Joseph Thelman), Rufino Inglés as Insp. Oliveira, Verónica Llimera as Nina, Simón Arriaga as Morgue keeper, Francisco Sanz as Prof. Candal (librarian), Juan Cortés as Coroner, Antonio Orengo as Train engineer, María Silva as Maria, Britt Nichols as Sacrificed maiden (uncredited), Pedro Sempson as Train engineer (voice) (uncredited)

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