Tuesday, January 7, 2014

La Noche del Terror Ciego (Tombs of the Blind Dead) 1972

(Blind Dead Movie Night # 3)

"Don't Move...Don't Breath...Don't Let Them Hear Your Heart Beating... !!"

    Taking a bit of inspiration from George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, adding some creepy European historical atmosphere and topping it all off with some shocking for the time levels of sex & gore, in 1972 writer & director Amando de Ossorio kicked off what can be described as the greatest horror film cycle from the golden age of European horror. Starting with TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD Ossorio’s quartet of films, while although borrowing from the zombie genre, created a wholly original mythos that differed from previous Spanish horror films that had their monsters based upon the more traditional werewolf & vampire storylines. Although referred to as a series each of the four movies do stand on their own with the three subsequent ones after TOMBS each being a kind of re-working of the basic premise from TOMBS.

     The origin of the Blind Dead Templar Knights is tweaked and fiddled with throughout the series, but TOMBS is where the basic premise is laid out. In a flashback to their origin story (placed as a prologue in the U.S. version and slightly edited) the Knights, who after returning from The Crusades have become immersed in blood sacrifice and devil worshipping rites, tie up an un-credited Britt Nichols (Jess Franco regular i.e. LA FILLE DE DRACULA) spread eagle on a wooden rack, slice her open and then proceed to drink her blood vampire-like. As this has been going on for awhile, it finally gets the local populace riled up enough where they proceed to execute the Knights and hang then in trees till the crows eat their eyes out. 

   Flash forward to the present. In an oceanfront resort Virginia (the very beautiful María Elena Arpón) bumps into Betty (the very beautiful Lone Fleming) an old schoolmate of hers and at the urging of Virginia’s boyfriend Roger (César Burner) the trio goes off an a weekend train trip together, in which Roger obviously has some “plans”. Felling uncomfortable with Roger’s advances toward Betty (and with memories of a past lesbian encounter with Betty) Virginia hops off the train and heads off toward a group of buildings which she had spotted from the train. Setting up of the great sequences in 70’s Euro horror, she arrives at the buildings and discovers them to be a creepy old monastery (complete with a REALLY creepy old graveyard). Camping out there for the night, she settles down in her sleeping bag and because of her transistor radio does not hear the Blind Dead slowly rising out of their tombs (in a sequence that is re-used in the 2nd and 4th films) and giving chase on their horses (it’s never explained about the presence of the horses or zombie horses ?? - but they add to the atmosphere & fun).

     As with all Blind Dead movies the plot drags a bit when the Blind Dead aren’t around. TOMBS sets their initial resurrection & attack sequence in the first 30 minutes and then waits until the climax for their next appearance, so we are treated to a rather lengthy middle section that has Betty & Roger investigating Virginia’s disappearance, visiting a professor to get the history of the Templars and rather inexorably hooking up with some smugglers (the leader of whom is related to the professor !?). TOMBS does introduce a plot device however that doesn’t appear in any of the others films and that’s the reanimating of the bitten victims of the Knights. The resurrection of Virginia’s autopsied body (complete with stitches) helps the non-Blind Dead middle section along and her initial rising up from the autopsy table and later stalking of a female victim in a mannequin factory (complete with Bava-like pulsating red light) is a definite highlight.

    The acting is uniformly fairly stale (even in the non-dubbed version) with most of the characters being rather flat, with only Maria Elena Arpón (who was also in the excellent The House That Screamed) as Virginia showing any real spark - and unfortunately she is killed off quickly. In addition the lesbian flashback between Virginia & Betty is unintentionally hilarious with its white gowns, chezzy lounge music & soft focus (not to mention ballroom dancing). Whatever faults are in the movie (as with all Blind Dead movies), they are redeemed by the presence of the Blind Dead themselves with their final attack on a passenger train the greatest scene of horror in the series (especially in the uncut version on Blue Underground's DVD). Ossorio pulls off some excellent set pieces including the eerie mannequin factory (complete with Bava inspired lighting) and the very creepy monastery & graveyard.
   I still give the nod to TOMBS follow-up RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD as the best of the series, but TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD is a classic of Spanish horror and a great place for the uninitiated to dip their toe in (and you'll want the magnificent Blue Underground Blind Dead Collection box afterwards).

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