Death By Cinema – 7 – Tombs of the Blind Dead

“If I must just choose the method of my demise, I choose…

Britt

Death By Cinema!” -Britt Rhuart

Day 7 – Tombs of the Blind Dead

I’ve been putting off seeing this movie for too long. My problem is, if I don’t have a complete collection of a film on DVD, I try not to watch it, as I like to binge my way through film. Look at this month if you need any proof. There is a Blind Dead box set out there, but it’s somehow always alluded me. It’s not even THAT rare or expensive, it’s just I’ve never been in the right place at the right time with the right price to buy it, so I’ve put it off for years. I did however find a copy of the first two films (Tombs and Return of the Blind Dead) in the series on DVD, and I’ve recently been made aware that I have the 3rd film, The Ghost Galleon, in a public domain boxset under an alternate name. This means I only am missing the 4th film, Night of the Seagulls (seriously? We’re going with that title?), so I felt maybe it was time to view this film.

Now, I do know a few things about it. The Blind Dead are basically the zombie Knights Templar. I’m a little interested in the Templar story, so this intrigues me. I know it’s a Spanish horror film by Amando de Ossorio, who made his share of Spanish exploitation films. Also, the Spanish, especially during Franco’s reign had some weird film rules. These influenced horror exploitation and spaghetti westerns alike (BTW, I have to do a Spaghetti Western soon for this month). My buddy Salim has called this one of his 100 favorite horror films, and I tend to trust his word on film. It’s fairly violent. And lastly, and weirdly, at one point in it’s US release, it was rereleased cut with an alternate title… Revenge From Planet Ape. This was of course to cash in on the Planet of the Apes movies, but… what the damn hell? Those two films aren’t just completely different in plot and monster, it’s an entirely different genre! And they never make the Templars look like killer, intelligent apes so… again, I ask, what the damn hell? Well, time for me to dive on in!

Random Thoughts While Watching the Film:
Ok, before I even get to the regular film, I just watched the “alternate” intro for Revenge From Planet Ape saying men fought superintelligent apes 3000 years ago, killed them, and took out their eyes. The leader of the apes the vowed to come back and kill men. This doesn’t make any goddamn sense! First off, Planet of the Apes takes place in the future. Second of all, I’ve seen photos of the Blind Dead. They’re clearly dead humans with their eyes removed. You think this prologue helps alternate film? It doesn’t. Now go stand in a corner and think about what you’ve done!
The intro is interesting. We just see a bunch of ruins and hear creepy music and chanting. I think it sets the mood fairly well. Plus, I love the Spanish architecture and scenery. Though the skeleton hand and the woman screaming in apropos of nothing is a bit a a buzzkill for me. But then we go to the Spanish coast, and it’s lovely.
Oh, the version I have is in Spanish and subtitled. However, I think it’s good to watch films in their original intended language. It just means I’ll have to pay closer attention. I also realize that the English dub is reedited, so… yeah, this is different.
I love that the point of reference is “by the morgue,” as though that’s a common feature in every town. I have no idea where any of the Phoenix morgues are… actually, that might be good to know in case of zombies.
And here’s a lesbian subplot. This is very common in European exploitation films of the 70s, though I’m slightly more familiar with Jean Rollin and Jess Franco’s ventures into that field.
Here’s the first sense of unease as Virginia, one of the women, has jumped from a train and the conductor of the train is not willing to stop for her. Oh, and she just arrived at the creepy abandoned ruins for the credits.
While this movie is very slow paced (at least thus far), it’s making good use of the creepiness of silence. There is no soundtrack, no ambient noise except for Virginia’s steps and the wind. I like the sound design.
While this build up of Virginia walking around the ruins is nice, they need to hurry the hell up and have something happen.
I’m guessing now that it’s night and she’s getting all naked, something will happen. I hope.
And here we go… mist is rising from the graves in the graveyard. Very cool, creepy feel to it. Now I like that they are taking they’re time because at least something is happening, something with suspense. The graves opening and skeletal hands coming out is really effective.
Wait, some of them are riding horses? And not skeletal horses? Where did they get horses? How to they care for them and- they tried to do a jump scare by finally showing the Templars face while I was typing. The jump was a bit too cheesy for my taste, but I love their look.
Now that jump scare where she opens a window to see the face of one of the Templars was effective, because it wasn’t in relation to nothing, but was still surprising. I also really like that the Templars are very slow and methodical. It adds to their creepiness.
I like that they even slowed down the Templars rising on their horses. They’re clearly galloping, but are barely moving faster than a trot. Makes them look more ghostly. And them pulling Virginia off the horse just looked very cool and… they cut away from the death? What? I mean it’s fine, it adds to the mystery, but it’s not what I expect. This is a European exploitation film! Come on, I expect a level of sex and violence here!
We do cut back to her corpse later and… yeah, those are some creepy as bite wounds.
The swinging lamp in the morgue on the face of the creepy morgue attendant is awesome. Really add stop the eerie feeling of the film. I did laugh during that scene for a moment though, because first the mortician unveiled the wrong corpse. This wasn’t a film error either, this just added an unneeded jump scare and was more funny than scary.
Finally we get to the legend. They’re called the Knights Templar in the credits, but in the Spanish language, they’re called “los Guerreros de Oriente” or Warriors of the Orient. I’m gonna keep calling the Templars, because it sounds cooler. Anyway, these cats were excommunicated for worshipping the devil and now they rise from the dead to hunt humans and drink their blood.
So one of the morgue assistants is a rape apologist. She wanted to be bitten to death, they all do. Look at how she was dressed. That’s pretty much what the dude said. We do still have creepy, wrong corpse revealing morgue attendant doing more cringeworthy stuff to Virginia’s corpse. But she rises from the dead and bites his jugular. It’s cool though, the frog he was torturing escapes alive.
Actual subbed quote: “The Templars are back? That’s great!” Anyway, they go to a professor who gives them the same info they got previously, but more. So, why did we need the first scene of information? Couldn’t the professor just tell all?
The back story’s pretty much showing in flashback, but narrated by the professor. It’s cool to see the juxtaposition between the live and dead Templars. And they’re just riding horses and hitting a girl with swords. And… oh, Jesus, that’s actually really brutal! Especially because there’s one shot where you see the broadside of the sword go directing into the skin of the boob. Seriously, I was wondering where the violence was… right there.
So the reason the Templars are blind is because after they were caught and killed, their eyes are removed by crows. It’s also food they’re setting up that the Templars hunt by sound, which is really unique.
We see Betty, the other girl, putting together mannequins and, damn, they look realistic. I thought that Betty had a disembodied head for a minute there. Dead Virginia then slowly stalks Betty in the room full of mannequins, real spooky like.
I am actually conflicted about Virginia being back from the dead, as it makes it more or less a standard zombie story, whereas the Templars are not your average zombies. Luckily, she’s dealt with fairly quick (she ends in fire), so hopefully we can get back to the Templars.
At about the 3/4 way through mark there are some problems as the film gets too into plot and becomes a bit boring for about 10-15 minutes.
Well that’s a brutal ass rapes scene, especially of a character we really like, Betty. Just thankfully, no Templars were involved with the rape. Hopefully the Templars bite his dick off… and here they come!
Yeah, sure shoot at the Templars, I’m sure that’ll really work there, Sparky. You better run, squirrel.
The cat fight inside while the Templars stalk the main guy outside is extremely weldon and edited. Plus, then chopping his arm off was nice and unexpected.
Oooh, this chase of Betty is good. She knows she has to remain quite, but through solid cinematography, editing, and sound design we see them finding her based on her heartbeat and breathing. Very well done from all those aspects.
The final chase of Betty across the countryside is very smartly done from Betty’s character aspect, remaining quite right up until she gets close to a train. Then it’s a rave between Betty, the Templars, and the train. I will say, the Templars look just are creepy in the dawn’s light.
Oh, God, the Templars made it onto the train and they’re slaughtering it’s passengers very slowly! It is so well done. The most memorable scene of which shows blood dripping onto the face of a now catatonic child as her mother is killed and… the Templars begin to drink the blood of the kid?!? What the ever-loving, damn hell? Now, that’s what you call a risk.
Now the train pulls into a station and the station attendant finds blood and Betty still alive. The movie ends with passenger getting onto the train and finding… well, I guess we know they find the bodies. But are the Templars still on the train? It’s unclear as the film ends in a long freeze frame that slowly pulls out, leaving us to make up our own minds.

I really liked this movie overall. The pacing was (mostly) wonderful, the sound was very well done, the cinematography was grand and sweeping, and the monsters (The Templars) are extremely unique. Now, the pacing could be and often was a problem in that there were several scenes that just got way too boring, however whenever the Templars got involved or were about to get involve the slow, plodding time of the film really worked well. The sound is minimalistic and really works with the vibe of the film. While I would never call this film a masterwork, the cinematography is reminiscent of a Dario Argento or Mario Bava in places. In other words, director de Ossorio did a wonderful job with a minimal budget and a modicum of talant. I can’t comment on his other films, but I’m guessing this is his best work. Finally, The Templars. Somehow they are able to mix aspects of the supernatural spectacle of ghosts, the blood fetish of vampire, the look of skeletons, and the relentlessness and primal hunger of zombies. Yet, they are none of these and somehow all of these. Their look is important and distinctive. The ending is one of the better endings for a horror film I can think of, definitely up there for me personally in exploitation standards of yesterday’s The Fat, Black Pussycat. Really, this is just a well done story all around. Like I said, there are problems, the biggest being that while the slow and plodding bits were the best about the film, they could also be the worst and the most dragging. There were some subplot scenes that went nowhere. A large portion dragged. Most of the jumps scares were unnecessary, the movie is scary enough on its own. But when the film was on, it was amazingly on. If you’re looking for a great obscure horror film to watch on Halloween, Tombs of the Blind Dead is a solid choice!

Tomorrow, I’ll do a review of a movie with the reputation of being one of the worst monster movies ever, Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks. See you then!

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