BLIND DEAD DISAPPOINTS
I was noodling around IMDB, going after some actual facts to accompany this review, while at the same time thinking, “I need a good start to this,’ and, ask and ye shall receive.
I almost never quote anonymous net-reviewers, but this comment is dead-on and is probably more concise than anything I could say, so, thank you Vze2v8xZ, whoever and where ever you are: “Most people in de Ossorio’s films are…mentally, physically, and morally inept and have the survival instincts of lemmings.”
The Blind Dead movies were made in Spain in the 1970s (1971-1975) and concern a group of corrupt medieval knights who do so many nasty things that the locals grab them, put their eyes out, and burn them to death. Disregarding the likelihood of a bunch of stick-waving villagers doing this to well-armed, armored, trained, and fortified knights, and disregarding the fact that, even though burned to death they walk about and wield swords so effectively that they slaughter the 20th century descendants of these villagers (who still wave sticks, but mostly just clumsily try to run away) with consummate ease, this is not a bad idea for a movie.
In fact, it’s such a good idea that de Ossorio, the Spanish auteur who conceived of and directed these films, basically makes the same movie four times. Each attempt is somewhat more sophisticated and over-all better than the previous one. Given three or four more tries, he might have come up with something great, but instead we get something at the end of this evolutionary line only moderately entertaining.
The first movie, TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (Spain 1971; US 1973) gives us the basic background. These medieval dickweeds are sacrificing all the pretty girls in the village to their unnamed pagan gods, so the villagers hang them, let the crows poke their eyes out (in all later iterations they burn their eyes first, then the rest of them), then apparently bury them in pretty fancy tombs from which they eventually emerge some centuries later to take their bloody vengeance. It should be mentioned that the knights are never called Templars, and instead are referred to as “los Guerros de Oriente” (warriors from the orient) though they look utterly European and dress very Templar-ish. In later interviews de Ossorio does refer to this as the Templar series, so we can safely infer that these are about the Templars. Space limitations prevent me from delving deeply into their actual history, but, yes, there was an actual order of medieval knights called the Templars, yes, they were all burned to death; not, however, by peasants, but by kings who were jealous of their wealth (which they had stolen fair and square from the Saracens) and joined in a conspiracy to accuse them of all sorts of insane things so they could wipe them out and attach their treasure. Which they did.
The plot of TOMBS is poorly developed, to say the least, but even so plot holes abound. (Where’d they get their zombie horses, for instance?). The characters are all irrational and mostly unlikeable. Rape (which occurs far too often in these films) is off-handedly casual and inconsequential. Literally. Once a rape happens in these movies it’s as if it NEVER happened. Nobody even mentions it, which is the very definition of gratuitous. The action sequences, especially the ending one in which the victims fail to escape from their sloth-like attackers, are sometimes ludicrous.
However, de Ossorio can do atmosphere. As with all the films, the locales are well-selected. The photography is eerie, if at times too dark to fully follow. The zombie make-up is excellent. The zombie attacks are sometimes well-executed, sometimes (as mentioned above) ludicrous. The zombie horses are cool, and I’ll forgive him their sudden appearance. Rating: 4
The second movie, RETURN OF THE BLIND [sometimes EVIL] DEAD (1973) does have a more ambitious plot with more fully delineated and complex characters. But when the Blind Dead attack the village everyone shrieks and throws their hands up in the air. The nameless masses flee and are slaughtered wholesale. The core characters (good and bad alike) flee to the church where they hole themselves up in a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD scenario, a movie which this series owes a large debt to. Again, nice atmosphere, nice setting, some pretty nice photography. The plot ends on a total deus ex machina. They could have used a more attractive lead actress. You’ve got to wonder what ever happens to the little girl. Rating: 5
THE GHOST GALLEON/HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES (1974) moves the story out to sea where the Blind Dead now inhabit a creaking old hulk of a sailing ship that bumps into other vessels every now and then and the Blind Dead sustain themselves off the blood of their passengers. Not a winning survival strategy. The plot device that gets our heroes (actually, anti-heroes) out to sea is ludicrous in the extreme. At least the actresses are more attractive, but they fail to take advantage of that with a lack (I think; the film was so dark I may have missed some) of nudity. More unsavory rape. The idea to change locales was a good one, though limiting yourself to a rotting old ship, while atmospheric, is, well, limiting. Also, other reviewers have complained about how dark (visually) this film is, so I don’t think that it was just my tv. Rating: 5
NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS (1975) is the best of the series. Again, great atmosphere, nice locales, a nice stab at characterization, and a nice moral ambiguity wherein the villagers are as culpable (if not more so) than the Blind Dead themselves. Better action sequences, though, really, how frightened can you be of bad guys whom you can just walk up behind and stick with a flaming torch? Better looking (and more capable) actresses. The horses are back. If you have to see one of these films, this is the one. I may have been a little tired of these by now, and the rating may have suffered. I give it a 7. I’ll revisit it sometime in the future and see if it sits better.
If, despite my warning, you feel compelled to see all these films, Blue Underground has produced a nice box set that comes in a cool coffin-shaped box. They’re readily available (including my copy!) right now on eBay for around $30. Supposedly these versions are uncut, though someone was complaining mightily on IMDB that the first film is missing at least one sequence (that actually didn’t sound all that crucial). Do check and make sure you get the uncut versions, or you’ll miss out on all the nudity, which actually is quite tame by today’s standards, though often presented in exploitive ways that frankly was not all that exciting.