Though comparatively obscure on this side of the pond, director Amando de Ossonio’s Blind Dead series (consisting of four films), was hugely popular and had a significant influence on Spanish horror cinema of the ‘70s.
The first, 1971’s Tombs of the Blind Dead, is kind of interesting from a historical perspective, with a tone and aesthetic that would be emulated (if not flat-out ripped-off) by many other directors. However, the narrative is sort of dull and disjointed, not helped by certain gratuitous elements that haven’t aged too well.
The story has two girls and a man taking a train for a weekend in the country. In a fit of jealousy, one of them, Virginia (Maria Elena Arpon), jumps off the moving train (!) and finds an abandoned old castle to hold up for the night. Later, a bunch of ghouls rise from their graves, chase Virginia on horseback and then kill her.
The next day, the other two, Betty (Lone Fleming) & Roger (Cesar Burner) worry about their missing friend. They see the castle in the distance, thinking Virginia may have gone there, but none of the locals are willing to talk about it. For good reason, it turns out. The place is populated by the undead Knights Templar, who were executed centuries earlier for heresy and sacrificing virgins, their eyes eaten by crows after being hanged (hence, the whole blind dead thing).
|"Guys...I think I scared off our DoorDash driver."
Tombs of the Blind Dead is very atmospheric and the Knights themselves are wonderfully creepy creations. The deliberately-paced sequence in which they first emerge from their graves is truly chilling, as is their initial slow-moving relentlessness. However, there are ultimately way too many of these scenes, which grow increasingly laborious as the film progresses. Elsewhere, some unintentionally humorous moments tend to undermine the tension, such as characters who suddenly can’t move while being stalked or refuse to get back to their feet after falling down. The goofy climax on-board a train is particularly chuckleworthy.
Ossonio also inserts leering scenes lesbianism and rape, neither of which serve any narrative purpose, as well as a flashback sequence which shows the Knights whipping a nude woman to death before sucking on various parts of her body. Not only are these scenes glaringly gratuitous, the rape scene in particular might leave a bad taste in the viewer’s mouth, since the entire story is put on hold just to show it.
But hey, those were different times, when such scenes were likely a genre expectation. And if nothing else, Tombs of the Blind Dead is a great looking film filled with haunting, sometimes disturbing imagery. In a lot of ‘70s European horror - not just Spain - style and tone often trumped logic or plausibility, so in that respect, the film is pretty successful.
Whether one likes the film or not, Synapse Films has put together a nicely restored Blu-ray release with enough substantial bonus material for us to at-least appreciate its impact on the genre. One feature-length documentary thoroughly explores the history of ‘70s-era Spanish horror, which was pretty-much jump-started by Tombs of the Blind Dead.
2 CUTS OF THE FILM - Original Spanish version and U.S. theatrical version (the latter is severely truncated).
MARAUDERS OF THE MEDITERRANEAN - An excellent feature-length doc covering the history of Spanish zombie films, all essentially arriving in the wake of the original Night of the Living Dead. The Blind Dead series is prominently featured.
AWAKENING OF SPANISH HORROR CINEMA - Another interesting historical retrospective.
3 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) By author Troy Howarth; 2) By actor Lone Fleming; 3) By Rod Barnett & Troy Guinn.
ALTERNATE U.S. OPENING SEQUENCE - When it was hilariously re-branded (and re-plotted) as Revenge of Planet Ape.
MUSIC VIDEO - “Templar’s Tears,” by Salem Pop (features segments from the film).