María Elena Arpón
Manuel de Blas
José Antonio Calvo
Javier de Rivera
Gothic Horror / Zombies
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The Blind Dead Collection (2005)
14th Dec 05
See individual reviews down this page for plot details.
Welcome to the gothic, day-for-night world of Amando de Ossorio and his creepy Knights Templar on horseback. Zombies on horses? You betcha. This is Anchor Bay’s most welcome collection of the obscure gems, brought together for the first time with a bonus disc on the Knight of Spanish Horror Cinema - de Ossorio himself. These rock-bottom budget Euro-classics have gained slow but steady popularity momentum since their release in the 1970’s and from what this collection boasts, it’s easy to see why, even when you’re getting a little, well...bored.
I’ve always thought the pace of this series is somewhat alike to the speed of the skeletal ghosts themselves, i.e. slow. Dead slow. In terms of atmosphere however, de Ossorio creates a superbly creepy, sustained ambience throughout each entry in the series, and even though lacking in pace they deserve kudos for the sheer weight of iconography and the fresh, original approach to the monsters of horror and, in particular, the undead.
Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971) 3/5
The first film in the collection introduces the Templar terrors for the first time. It takes a small, young cast of characters and places them in peril at the ancient site of Berzano, where the Knights Templar lie undead in their graves, rumoured to hunt for the living at night. It’s not just a rumour.
When young Virginia jumps off a train in a fit of jealousy, she unwisely runs towards the deserted ruins of Berzano. As a direct result of this rather foolish tantrum, she is then officially “missing”, so her friends – hunky Roger and sexy Betty - go looking for her. They also consult a standard-issue wise old man, Professor Candal, who gives them (and us) the low-down on the nefarious history of the Knights Templar before they themselves become imperilled at the Berzano site. This is when we’re treated to rather nasty scenes of their human sacrifices centuries ago when the Templars could actually see what they were doing.
As blind hunters, the Templars now use only their sense of hearing to locate and hack their prey to death. This works really well for dramatic reasons, giving de Ossorio licence to incorporate moments of genuine suspense and fear into the story as we see protagonists making as little noise as possible in an effort to avoid the the Templars' own peculiar brand of hospitality. But there is a lot of walking around in the darkness and opening doors in this film – the kind of long, drawn-out sequences that don’t have quite the same impact in terms of suspense in 2005 as they did in 1971.
The Templars are extraordinary, and their design unique. Their slow-moving, skelatal corpses are a thrill to watch, emerging with wisps of facial hair from the darkness of their coffins then appearing on horseback, huddling around their trapped victims and dressed in their white cloaks, now stained with the soil (and blood) of centuries. Slow motion photography is used to great effect during the Templar scenes, as if this is simply the way they’re meant to look, accompanied by that ominous chanting / slowed-down horse hoof-clicking soundtrack by Antón García Abril, adding to the overall atmosphere of peril and gothic darkness throughout. The same brooding music score is used again throughout the remaining three films in this collection, a factor that helps to imbue the series with a stamp of personal identity.
Overall then, this first entry definitely drags in places but there are just enough strong scenes to make this essential viewing for living dead enthusiasts. The final scene, depicting the ancient Templars boarding a modern-day train and slaying everyone on board, is as powerful today as it ever was.
Picture and sound quality on this 1.66:1 anamorphic subtitled version is as good as it gets for a film of this vintage, and this disc also features the alternative opening sequence for American theatres under the name Revenge of the Planet Ape which, yes, they tried to pass of as an unofficial sequel / shameless cash-in attempt on the monkey magic of The Planet of the Apes. Priceless.
Return of the Evil Dead (1973) 4/5
Amando de Ossorio followed up his first entry into zombie horseback antics with the excellent Return of the Blind Dead in 1973. This story opens with a flashback to hundreds of years ago when the Templars were living, breathing, seeing, religious warriors with a penchant for blood sacrifice. Angry villagers have had enough however, and decide to inflict mob justice by burning out their eyes before burying them alive. But the Templars vow vengeance. They swear to return. And you know what? A few hundred years later, that exactly what happens when Murdo - hunchback village idiot - cuts out the heart of a local girl to resurrect the blind dead.
The dead rise at 16 minutes. This is good. The local village is having their annual party to commemorate their 600 year-old triumph over the nasty Templars, and bring in a handsome pyrotechnics man (and ex-army general) Jack to set the sky alight with celebratory fireworks. It soon transpires that the Mayor Duncan’s fiancée has a history with Jack, and it doesn’t stay history for long, if you know what i mean. The dead arrive into the village square when the party is in full swing and as you’d expect, tend to put a stop to the celebrations pretty darn quick by massacring the revellers en masse.
Soon, there are only a handful of characters left. They take refuge inside the nearby church, believing this to be a place of safety, but, as with all the finest traditions of siege films, a power struggle ensues, where you can’t trust even the Mayor. Can anyone escape the wrath of the Templars?
Return of the Evil Dead is by far the strongest film in this collection. The characters are great value, the pacing measured, the locations suitably eerie and more screen time is given to the Templars than in the other 3 entries. Above all else though, this one has some really standout scenes. Like a good band needs decent songs in order to get anywhere, horror films need scenes that elevate them high above the mire of mediocrity, and this one has it in spades. For example, the issue of whether the Templar's horses are actually alive is addressed here. Guess what? They're not. Living dead horses...now there's something you don't see every day.
It was during this second film in Ossorio’s quartet that I began noticing many strong similarities to John Carpenter’s The Fog. In essence, both stories involve ghostly returners from centuries past (one century in the case of The Fog), seeking revenge for one reason or another. If that’s not enough, the Blind Dead are characteristically accompanied by a mass of fog (or at the very least some heavy mist) and in one scene here, arrive at a couple’s house, summoning them by slow, daunting knocks on the door late at night. And (I’ve started so I’ll finish), a finale in a church? As a huge Carpenter fan, it’s fascinating to see the possible influence these Spanish / Portuguese films – in particular the third Blind Dead film, The Ghost Galleon - might have had on his 1981 chiller. Amando De Ossorio sure gave him a lot to improve upon.
If the final scenes in Tombs… works for you, then check out this climax; chilling, unforgettable, daylight horror in the tradition of The Birds…with a difference.
At 91 minutes, this Spanish version is, again, an excellent anamorphic transfer with gore scenes that were absent from the previous Return of the Blind Dead version, and the disc also features thorough stills and poster galleries, as well as an international theatrical trailer.
The Ghost Galleon (1974) 1.5/5
This film may have come before The Fog, but I’d choose Carpenter’s smoke-filled ghost flick any day. The third film in the series tells the story of a publicity stunt gone wrong. Two pretty models are out at sea on a new prototype speedboat, but before you can say “Blake’s gold”, their little vessel is shrouded in fog and an old, rickety ship appears from nowhere. No, it’s not the Elizabeth Dane, it’s the Ghost Galleon, and as surely as day follows night, one of the girls explores the ghostly ship to investigate. Does she need a reason to go putting herself in obvious danger? Of course not. You don’t need me to tell you what happens next.
Concerned colleagues consult another wise old man - Professor Gruber – who promptly informs them that the girls “won’t come back.” He also says that the galleon they spoke of on the radio transmission has been seen before on that meridian, but that anyone who sighted it was never seen alive again, and also that it “exists in a different dimension”. So they all go and look for it, obviously. Cue a lot of walking around on the galleon, skeletal hands opening box-coffins from within, a Poor Man’s James Caan by the name of Sergio, endless, nauseating screams, very protracted death scenes with little grue pay-off, the usual variation of a background story about the Templars (told by an expert), some ‘Hey, lets split up into groups and go exploring for a while’ scenarios, quite possibly the worst miniature model of a boat you’re ever likely to see, and – one of my favourites – a Professor whose expertise ranges from science to the rites of exorcism. A man of science and religion? Now that’s what I call an expert.
You can probably tell it’s getting a little dull by this stage in the Blind Dead game. While it does retain a robust sense of spectral atmosphere and dread, the third entry has little else to keep its shoddy galleon afloat. Tired, lame formulaic sequences fail to put sails in the only occasionally interesting story but de Ossorio fleetingly conjures a few short moments of the magic we know he’s capable of. Overall though, a disappointment.
The Ghost Galleon is presented here in an English dubbed version, so be prepared for cringe-worthy line delivery, worsened here by the fact that the script itself isn’t up to much. Picture and audio is again excellent. Stills and poster galleries also included.
Night of the Seagulls (1975) 3/5
Moving swiftly along (unlike the general pace of Templar movements), we come to the fourth and final film in the collection, the intriguingly titled Night of the Seagulls. At any rate, this was going to top the rickety disappointment of The Ghost Galleon. Wasn’t it?
Night of the Seagulls opens with a heaving-bosomed young wife being sacrificed by the Templars hundreds of years ago. Yet another fake chest with boobs gets the obligatory Templar knife treatment and they cut out her heart, eat it, share her blood and have a good time in the name of their idol – a statue referred to later as “The Beast of the Sea”. Cut to the present day and a new doctor – Henry Stein - arrives in the village with his wife. The locals are not the welcoming sort, apart from another of the Blind Dead traditional village idiots (who, also traditionally, gets beat up by the backward villagers) who takes refuge in the idealistic young GP’s house.
Keeping the maritime connections alive from the previous film, the village women dress in black cloaks and tie up a different pretty young thing on the beach every night for seven nights every 7 years, as part of an ancient deal with the Templars to avoid unnecessary extra bloodshed. Each night, the “Horsemen of the Sea” rise from their nearby graves and ride the beach on slow-mo horseback, untie the buxom offering and take her to their cave for some knife-in-rubber-chest action, while the seagulls fly every night, believed to be carrying the souls of the sacrificed girls. Despite the prudent advice of his predecessor, young Dr Stein gets mixed up in this whole affair and eventually destroys the stone idol, causing the Templars to fall for the final time.
This village setting and the suspiciously silent villagers themselves adds to the sense of claustrophobic dread to the final film of the saga. Its otherworldly-ness tends to render the unfolding events as existing uniquely in a Blind Dead vacuum. The Templars, as usual, make this essential viewing as de Ossorio captures them in all their skeletal glory, ghost horse galloping on the deserted beach. There is the usual quota of day-for-night photography here, as with the other films and although the shadows are annoyingly off-putting at times, it’s best just to go with the flow and be thankful he managed to get it made at all. And that it's here in such stunning quality. Overall, this is a pretty worthy ending to the Blind Dead tales.
Another still and poster gallery is included on this disc, and the English language transfer in 1.85:1 ratio is excellent despite the overall haziness of the aesthetic finish, as if de Ossorio rubbed Vaseline on the lens.
It’s probably a blessing that de Ossorio left the Blind Dead films at the fourth instalment. The lack of pace in the final two films (especially in The Ghost Galleon) really begins to hint at someone who was either running out of ideas or running out of money. The latter was more likely case – these films are micro-budgeted, complete with a few amusing acting mistakes reminiscient Ed Wood’s “No, that would happen in real life” methods – but there is no doubting that the first two, in particular Return of the Evil Dead, conjured more moments of genuine horror chemistry than its successors, regardless of the budget.
Amando de Ossorio 4/5
The fifth disc in this collection, simply entitled Amando de Ossorio, is a profile of the man who fought to leave his mark on the international world of film horror. The Last Templar is a 25-minute documentary featuring interview snippets from the man himself, as well as various writers, actors, colleagues and friends, the most regular contributor being likeable biographer Rafa Calvo. This is a fascinating insight for Blind Dead fans worldwide. His interesting early work is focused upon briefly with a look at his Madrid-based advertising career and his audacious first full length film, The Black Flag (featuring a one character monologue lasting for 90mins!) through to his westerns before getting to the heart of the matter with the eyeless saga.
One of the most interesting stories here tells of how de Ossorio failed to acquire financing for his first Blind Dead film, after which he went to work on incredible artwork designs and the famous Templar masks that have since rightfully gained their eternal place in international living dead history. When he showed this material to the producers, they were then convinced enough to furnish him the funding he needed to make the first instalment.
Unearthing The Blind Dead is a 10-minute interview with the writer-director shot not long before his death. Here. We see a man who, although modest about his efforts, doesn’t really care too much anymore. He briefly talks us through his early life and work in short films, advertising, through to the gothic horror he was remembered for, not forgetting to give credit to his contemporaries – Jesus Franco and in particular Paul Naschy – for helping to shape a local film industry suited to his aims. It is in this interview he tells of how he failed to find producers for a fifth Blind Dead picture, in which the Templars would fly. Judging by the budgetary constraints evident in the existing saga, it’s not hard to figure out why de Ossorio’s ‘flying Templars’ script never left the page.
For all its faults, Amando de Ossorio's gothic saga is a significant milestone in the development of the international horror film. Anchor Bay's marvellous box set features the best prints of these obscure films you have ever seen, and for icing on the cake the set comes with lovingly restored artwork and a 40 page booklet on the man and his slow moving, blind corpses.
Versions Tombs of the Blind Dead AKA:
Also known as:
A Noite do Terror Cego (Portugal)
Crypt of the Blind Dead
Mark of the Devil, Part 4: Tombs of the Blind Dead (USA)
Night of the Blind Dead
Noche de la muerta ciega, La
The Blind Dead (USA)
Return of the Evil Dead AKA
Attack of the Blind Dead
Mark of the Devil 5: Return of the Blind Dead (USA)
Return of the Blind Dead
The Ghost Galleon AKA:
Also known as:
Ghost Ships of the Blind Dead
Horror of the Zombies
Noche del buque maldito, La
Ship of Zombies (USA)
The Blind Dead 3 (USA)
Zombie Flesh Eater (USA)
Night of the Seagulls AKA:
Don't Go Out at Night (UK) (video title)
Night of the Blood Cult
Night of the Death Cult
Night of the Seagulls (USA)
Terror Beach (video title)
The Blind Dead 4 (USA)