Judge Paul Corupe thinks they've made amazing advances in restoring the eyesight of blind corpses.
Don't let them hear your heartbeat!
One of the pinnacles of the Spanish horror boom of the 1970s, the Blind Dead quadrology has retained a firm cult status over the last several decades, thanks in no small part to its wildly imaginative monsters—a mounted faction of undead, skeletal Knights Templar, spreading their medieval wrath in present-day Portugal. Loosely based on the Templars' purported evil misdeeds in the 12th Century, writer/director Amando de Ossorio's low-budget, gothic-tinged Blind Dead shockers—Tombs of the Blind Dead, Return of the Evil Dead, The Ghost Gallon, and Night of the Seagulls—are exceptional, if not always well-crafted, horror epics that have been collected on DVD for the first time by underground cult heroes Blue Underground.
Facts of the Case
Each of the four films in the Blind Dead series chronicles the afterlife exploits of a sect of satanic Knights Templar. Drinking the blood of virgins from nearby towns for their eternal life rituals in the 12th Century, the Templars were eventually overtaken and killed by the horrified villagers, who burned out their eyes so they would be unable to find their way back and exact revenge. More than 700 years later, the mummified corpses of the evil Holy Order are finally poised to rise again, and continue their reign of terror.
• Tombs of the Blind Dead
• Return of the Evil Dead
• The Ghost Gallon
• Night of the Seagulls
In most surveys of cult film, the Blind Dead films are usually lumped in with the zombie film explosion of the 1970s and '80s, a horror phenomenon that later gripped Italy by storm; but in all truth, the series really deserves more respect than that. Certainly, each film draws on the gut-munching work of zombie kingpin George A. Romero, whose Night of the Living Dead was as much a sensation in Europe as it was at home, but Tombs of the Blind Dead and its bastard offspring are really some of the most unique horror efforts committed to celluloid; ingeniously conceived, atmospheric shockers with truly spine-tingling killer creatures.
Few low-budget horror films have a back story as historically rich as the Blind Dead films. A 12th century sect of holy warriors formed to protect pilgrims during the Crusades, the real-life Knights Templar eventually became extremely powerful and corrupt as the their influence grew throughout Europe. After the Pope dissolved the Order of the Knights Templar in 1312, its remaining members were arrested, tortured and executed for a variety of wildly heretical acts, including murder, homosexuality and devil worship—whether those accusations were actually true will probably never be known. Still, the Templars persisted, going underground in Spain and eventually being exonerated in Portugal. Despite much scholarly research devoted to the Order, the Templar's mythology remains vague and mysteriously sinister—perfect fodder for a history-steeped horror film in which past atrocities come back to haunt the present.
And it's these ghostly Templars that really carry the Blind Dead series. Grim Reaper-styled skeletal monstrosities with eyeless gray-green skulls, wispy beards and tattered robes, the Templars are some of the most impressible and memorable monsters ever to appear on screen. Riding on similarly fossilized horses and armed with rust-bitten swords, each death and decay-ridden knight is part zombie, part mummy and part vampire, a nightmarish amalgamation of the most recognizable figures of horror in literature and film. Shot in slow-motion atop their steeds with purposely out-of-synch hoof beats, de Ossorio creates some fantastic and intrinsically eerie sequences with his creations, as they bang on doors with the handles of their swords or stand ominously at attention, waiting out their intended victims.
De Ossorio's first Templar tale, Tombs of the Blind Dead, is an unforgettable and highly original genre classic. Although the origin of the blind dead Templars is marginally less gruesome here than in it is in later films (we learn they were hung from trees as examples, until birds ate their eyes out) the film demonstrates the evil rites that consumed the sect, with a few graphic scenes that have them drinking the blood and eating the hearts of a bevy of young girls. While admittedly stronger than many of the later chapters, the cheap, melodramatic love triangle plot of Tombs of the Blind Dead is barely passable—as with later slasher films, de Ossorio's characters are little more than fleshy fodder for his nightmarish scenario. The pace drags in many of these establishing sequences, but the film becomes much more interesting once the Templars arise, and the characters find they must exploit the blindness of their pursuers to survive.
Owing a much bigger debt to Night of the Living Dead, Return of the Evil Dead is less a sequel than a complete re-imagining of the first film. Where Tombs of the Blind Dead regrettably "passed on" the resurrection curse to a zombified Virginia to wreak havoc back in the city, here we get much more screen time for the knights, and that results in a much more violent and gory film which is often considered the best of the four. Indeed, the plot is slightly stronger and the characters are more clearly defined, as they barricade themselves in an old church and succumb to internal strife, an obvious nod to Romero's classic. Giving the film a political edge, however, the greediest, most heartless individual turns out to be the Mayor, who is not above any underhanded trick to escape the fate that surely awaits him and the others.
After watching two films about 700-year-old blood drinking warriors returning to life, I was fully prepared to suspend my disbelief for The Ghost Gallon, but the second Blind Dead sequel is needlessly fixated on explaining precisely how the phantom 16th century ship is stocked with the coffins of 12th century: it apparently exists "in another dimension." Relocating the action on a ship may seem like purely a cosmetic change, but it again changes the dynamics of survival, and de Ossorio manages to add some interesting twists here, including an exorcism, despite his limited setting and obvious miniscule budget—probably the smallest of all the Blind Dead films. Return of the Evil Dead upped the ante on gore and thrills, but the slackly-paced The Ghost Gallon only has one onscreen death—not to mention just the barest semblance of any plot.
Although a weak story still dominates most of the action, Night of the Seagulls is in many ways a return to form for the series, yet another variation on the Templar legend that lacks continuity with the earlier films. The horses, absent from the last installment, are back, and so are the ominous clip-clopping of their hooves that adds so much atmosphere to the proceedings. There are some imaginative touches here that keep the long-in-the-tooth story interesting, such as the bizarre silent conspiracy as the black-clad elders solemnly offer up their young to keep themselves alive that in many ways makes the townspeople as corrupt as their supposed zombie masters. Keeping the focus on a husband and wife rather than a small group of one-dimensional adults is also a definite improvement, but de Ossorio still has difficulty in trying to elicit audience sympathy for their fate. Despite this sequel's seemingly ridiculous title, we eventually learn that the nocturnal cries of the seagulls are actually the screams of the Templars' past virginal victims!
While a great amount of care was taken in the design and preparation of the undead Knights Templar, the same attention to detail does not carry through to the rest of the picture. Each film is noticeably hurt by time and budgetary constraints, not surprising since de Ossorio scripted the Blind Dead films at night after returning from his job at a bank, and they were largely shot during his vacations. This is especially a problem with The Ghost Gallon, which wears its budget on its sleeve with some laughable model work that almost undermines the whole film. Likewise, the newcomers and minor Spanish character actors that make up each cast—the only people de Ossorio could afford—are also pretty terrible and forgettable, putting even more focus on their wraith-like predators.
A scratchy Tombs of the Blind Dead/Return of the Evil Dead double feature DVD was released years ago by Anchor Bay, but Blue Underground's beautiful remasters can easily be considered the definitive versions of these films. Tombs of the Blind Dead is presented in both an 83-minute English dub as well as an uncut 97-minute subtitled Spanish version that adds considerable gore and plot development originally unseen in North America. The Spanish transfer looks just great, boasting bright colors, rich detail and no discernable print artifacts, while the dub is slightly less impressive, with weaker contrast in some of the night scenes. The Return of the Evil Dead disc also boasts two different versions—an uncensored Spanish cut running 91 minutes and an 87-minute English dub. The Spanish version, making its North American debut, is a little bit grainer than the first film, but it's still impressive, just a slight notch below the first film. The Ghost Galleon is just about as good as Tombs of the Blind Dead, although the picture itself opts for dull greens and blues, so it often seems a little darker than it should. Things finish up on a fine note with another solid transfer for Night of the Seagulls, which, like The Ghost Galleon, can be watched uncut in English or in the original Spanish with subtitles. Audio is an acceptable mono all the way around, with only the very occasional audio artifact to contend with.
Despite some great technical presentations, there are fewer extras than you might expect on this set. Besides an alternate opening sequence found on the Tombs of the Blind Dead disc under the title Revenge of the Planet Ape (which tries to pass the film off as a Planet of the Apes sequel!) each disc includes just a few trailers and a standard still and poster gallery. The majority of the set's extras are found on the last disc, entitled Amando de Ossorio: Director. Here, you'll find the subtitled Spanish documentary "The Last Templar," a far-too-brief 24-minute affair that features an overview of de Ossorio's career with comments from film historians, biographers and peers, including Paul Naschy. It's most interesting when it delves past the Blind Dead films to look at de Ossorio's other work, such as the banned anti-capital punishment film, The Black Flag. "Unearthing the Blind Dead" is the final on-camera interview with de Ossorio before his death, and it digs a little deeper into the saga of how these films were actually put together. "Farewell to Spain's Knight of Horror" is four pages of text on de Ossorio that is easily trumped by the included box set booklet, "Knights of Terror" by Nigel J. Burrell. This is a very nice little publication, offering extensive plot descriptions and analysis, with a history of the Templar Knights and tons of advertising artwork and stills. And let's not forget that the set comes packaged in a very cool coffin box, emblazoned with the ankh, the graveyard symbol of the Templars' immortality!
Renowned for their fine work in resurrecting obscure classics, this is Blue Underground's most momentous undertaking of 2005, an absolute must for the cult film fanatic. While I would have liked a few more extras, this long-awaited set captures some of the most chilling films Euro-horror has to offer.
Not guilty, now pass that virgin's blood highball over here!
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice, Tombs Of The Blind Dead
Perp Profile, Tombs Of The Blind Dead
Studio: Blue Underground
Distinguishing Marks, Tombs Of The Blind Dead
• Alternate Opening Sequence
Scales of Justice, Return Of The Evil Dead
Perp Profile, Return Of The Evil Dead
Studio: Blue Underground
Distinguishing Marks, Return Of The Evil Dead
Scales of Justice, The Ghost Galleon
Perp Profile, The Ghost Galleon
Studio: Blue Underground
Distinguishing Marks, The Ghost Galleon
Scales of Justice, Night Of The Seagulls
Perp Profile, Night Of The Seagulls
Studio: Blue Underground
Distinguishing Marks, Night Of The Seagulls
Review content copyright © 2005 Paul Corupe; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.