Blind DeadModern
audiences primed for arcane treasures in the wake of DVD’s seemingly
ever-engorged hard on for the neglected of Euro-cult cinema have been
given a early Christmas present with Anchor Bay’s superlative ‘Blind
Dead’ Collection. And what better way to celebrate the birth of a
future flagellate than to witness the philanderings of a peculiar thorn
in the church’s side – the Knights Templar.

assassins subjugated by the very higher powers whom they pillaged to
protect centuries ago, director Armando De Ossorio’s gothic vision
reanimates this relentless (and eyeless) cult to pursue to the wanton
and the wicked (not to mention the atrociously dressed) through the
photogenic Portuguese desert plains. Sure to be granted an abundance of
discursive column inches once Dan Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’ swaggers its
way to the screen, De Ossorio’s ‘Blind Dead’ quartet is a surely no
more veracious take on the exploits of the erstwhile followers of St
John during the crusades.

Tombs Of The Blind Dead

inaugural outing, 1971’s "Tombs Of The Blind", sees a generic set up
spun out in an unusual manner: a gaggle of gadabouts, sunning
themselves (presumably) in the Gulf Of Cadiz decide to take a trip. But
resulting sexual tensions betwixt coifurred Roger and former schoolgirl
lovers Virginia and Betty is cut short when Virginia, leaping off the
train in an effort to escape her own rapidly reanimated personal
demons, stumbles upon the real, decrepit and blood craving thing in the
ruins of an ancient temple. The ensuing investigation into the
discovery of Virginia’s bloodied body by a cadre of colleagues and
officials, provides intrigue, grand suspense and brooding atmosphere.

frame one, the anchor of the picture’s efficacy is its striking sound
design. Atmospherically persuasive, it’s a guttural cacophony, perched
unsettlingly between chorale, Gregorian chant and music concrete.
Passages of primal directness presages ‘Suspiria’, making it a wonder
composer Anton Garcia Abril wasn’t launched like a Latin Goblin to
stymie the airwaves of the early 1970s.

firmly rooted in the same cinematic niche, produced during the decline
of the Franco regime that let a host of other artists loose on the
world with little money but a wealth of ideas, Ossorio’s vital economy
extends to his stylistic choices. Skillful composition and dextrous
photography (here courtesy of Pablo Ripoll) are key to any picture
without resource to gluttonous set pieces. One extremely effective
sequence in ‘Tombs…’ sees a neon-glazed mannequin shop beset by the
mummified Virginia, back from the dead and terrorising a prey of her
own. In a neat visual echo of her first scenes, undressing amid dancing
flames from a campfire in the ancient ruins, Ossorio chooses to frame
her fiery demise among the scalding, viscous faces of melted shop
dummies: a symbolic urban sacrifice of a rural demon in factory of

attention to low-fi craftsmanship – made readily apparent beyond the
pall of muddy VHS on the fine transfer here – promotes an assured pace
over gore and guingol. Not to say that the picture isn’t bloody. A
deliciously grim flashback sequence assigns the Knights their latter
day reputation as purveyors of sadistic, occult ritual. Then there are
the potent images of the feasting dead, like oversized rats gnawing
carrion, swarming with ghastly poise about their victims.

Blind DeadSuch
superlatives can’t hide all flaws, however. For all its abundance of
character, it’s ironically the characters themselves who prove the weak
sauce in a piquant stew. As Nigel Burrell notes in ‘The Knights Of
Terror’, his excellent 1995 treatise on the series, despite the moral
abandon of the tale, the fascist leanings of Franco-era Spain are
imprinted on the film. If not apparent in the previously censorable
acts depicted – violence, lesbianism, sexual deviance – then certainly
the characterisation of the acts’ perpetrators is "reactionary" at
best, puerile and misogynistic at worst. Roger and jaunty bastard
smuggler Pedro, who assists in the quest for Virginia’s killers are
horrendous incarnations of masculine brusqueness and smarm. The biggest
loser, though, is Betty, who’s "sapphic tendencies", as Burrell calls
them, could have been apt for subverting the overripe shorthand of
genre convention. But instead she is treated as merely another deviant,
befuddled and helpless. In an alarmingly futile move by Ossorio, Pedro
attempts to "cure" Betty of her lesbianism during a distasteful but
thankfully minimally protracted and dispassionately shot rape sequence.
This rather wretched attitude, while not particularly noteworthy in an
era rife with shoddy interpretations of gender politics, never the less
dampens the picture’s considerable cumulative power. Side note: the UK
edition of the film has had 16 seconds of Betty’s rape scene excised
and while censorship is nothing one would advocate, in this instance it
is to the detriment of perhaps extreme retentives only. Rape fans
should head for Region 1.

luminaries of the piece, however, were never going to be any other than
the titular tomb dwellers (‘mummies’, as Ossorio was at pains to point
out – despite a preponderance for blood supping and allusions to Romero
that would signal them out to be either ‘vampire’ or ‘zombie’). Filth
encrusted spectres, they are both striking and gracefully malevolent
whether striding, ruthlessly over ruined tombstones or riding in
temporally displaced slow motion across the plains. It’s hard to
imagine Peter Jackson and Ralph Bakshi, in searching for a visual stamp
for their Nazgûl, weren’t familiar with Ossorio’s unique and terrifying

with an elegantly apocalyptic air, the dread quietly expands beyond the
parameters of isolationist horror that the genre knows so well, the
ghastly tendrils of the Templars creeping beyond their dilapidated
necropolis, ensuring this gothic fantasy unhinges the nerves many Euro
potboilers might leave unscathed.

disc itself is of note primarily because few have seen this ethereal
dismemberment in as good condition as this, if ever at all. A welcome
treat for fans of the series comes in the shape of not only the full
and frenzied trailer package for the terrific quartet, but also the
hyperbolic and utterly surreal US marketing pitch, which attempted to
convince a cine-illiterate exploitation crowd that the film was in fact
a belated sequel to none other than Franklin J Schaffner’s ‘Planet Of
The Apes’.

The Return Of the Evil Dead

less time than it would take the Templars to hoof it in decelerated
motion across a crepuscular continent, the expected sequel emerged.
Building upon the unsteady framework of half-myth, half-exploitation
laid out in ‘Tombs’, Ossosio’s second stab at archaic survivalist
horror, ‘Return Of The Evil Dead’ is in perhaps every respect the most
honed and heady of the quartet.

Much as ‘Evil Dead 2’ would 20
years later, ‘Return’ appears to gloss over the apocalyptic dénouement
that seeped from Tombs blistering finale. Beginning in flashback, a
veritable Frankenstein’s mob lavishes both the bloody cult and the
movie screen in indignant, Old Testament retribution. Five hundred
years later to the day and the small town of Berzano is celebrating the
quashing of the Knights’ tyranny with symbolic fiesta and fireworks.
Little do they know that one of their number’s perverse tendencies are
about to reanimate the Templars from their slumber for one more night
of vicious unrest.

The most immediately notable departure is
series composer Abril’s more pastoral score. Though remaining committed
to the haunting gutturalisms of its predecessor, there is a thematic
resonance to the music that evokes an eerie nostalgia. But for what:
the townsfolk for a more peaceful time? Or, more sinisterly, an implied
wistfulness for either the idyllic headrush of mob violence, or the
longing for the deathly ritual of the Knights themselves? Whatever the
case, it casts an effective, melancholy shroud over the vibrant
celebrations onscreen.

Blind DeadThis
poeticism is also discernible in the early intercutting, reminiscent of
documentary and art film of the early 1970s signalling, perhaps, that
Ossorio’s aim is commendably (if only relatively) higher here. More
sanguine in artistry and sanguinary in execution, Ossorio seems to
realise his strengths. More importantly, he realises which of these his
audience responds too. The attention to character, after ‘Tombs’
horrendous displays of caricature, is welcome even if it’s at almost
‘Peyton Place’ pitch. Town officials are philanderers and cowards,
their daughters sleep around with Carnaby Street-clad no-goods, and the
Crazy Ralph hobos – traditionally the characters within genre
iconography who "see all" – are the homicidal instigators of the very
crimes to which they bear witness and warn the remaining dramatis
personae about.

Original sin, too, oozes from the dialogue:
characters are accused of not seeing things; they ignore vital,
cautionary phone calls; they tend/chose not to notice the obvious
deceptions – both of the head and of the heart – rife within their
officialdom. They are as blind to their general fate as to that at the
hands of the soon-to-be-resurrected Knights. If John Carpenter looked
to the resurrection of Virginia in ‘Tombs’ for ‘The Fog’s malefic
morgue reshoots, he surely looked – with a more trusting and paternal
eye – to this more confined sequel for his magnum opus’ main
(dismembered) body.

If the opening is condensed James Whale,
much of the disarming levity on display can be traced to his influence.
The town’s governor and his maid have a quaint piece of business when
the oft-telephoned cries of the town threaten to disturb a farcical
bedroom fumbling. It’s uncertain whether this tonal non-sequitur is
plucky or merely a lapse in Ossorio’s careful ambience, but it rounds
the piece, humanises it and for that, feels refreshing.

When the
carnival is cut short by the anticipated appearance of the Knights,
action becomes king. And what action it is. Forsaking the gradually
malevolent threat of Tombs, the set piece massacre of the community,
trapped in their festively strewn town square, is economically, but
vividly mounted. Shocking and invigorating in equal measure, only our
surrogates seem to get out alive. Locking themselves instinctively in
the sanctuary of the church, the mayor, his rival, his wife and her
lover are holed up with another family, desperate to escape, but
powerless to leave. Straight-forward action has given way to Romero
allusions yet again, but this being Spain (or Portugal – it becomes
increasingly less clear throughout the series which it is), of course
the farmhouse has become the house of God.

Safe, momentarily,
from the savagery of the slayers outside, it now turns to the
survivors’ inner demons to challenge life and limb. Tempers fray,
fingers point, and the most powerful moment in the picture unfolds, an
extraordinarily callous sequence of Lewton-worthy anxiety, involving a
child, a coward and an ornate dagger. Latching back onto his initial
crosscutting technique, Ossorio ratchets the tension up here with a
simultaneous underground escape attempt (sadly followed by the
recapitulated – though mercifully less indelicate – rape scene).

it’s not all aces. Perfunctory characterisation robs the taut dramatic
situations of much needed weight and while the plot clips along at an
invigorating pace, too often the pacing and build to the terror that
made for such atmosphere in ‘Tombs’ is lost. Many of the practical
effects (aside from the always-inspired Templar makeup) are also
strictly pantomime level, with ‘dummies set alight’ not projecting half
as much angst as a ‘flailing mummy ablaze’ ought.

But the
eventual payoff for all is gloriously blood thirsty, leading to a
rigidly perturbing finale. As incongruous within the mythology as it
is, there isn’t a more finely pitched scene in the series. The army of
Templars initially seems to betray their super-auditory powers, but is
actually revealed to be, like the vampires they are, crumbling under a
new dawn following this night (of the living dead). They stand frozen
in ghoulish repose round the village, impassive and oblivious, unable
to witness the remaining living who creep from the church into the
morning mist, through their ghastly ranks to safety. Too much like
climax of ‘The Birds’ for Ossorio not to be brazen in his homage, the
(once more) imminent apocalypse seems every bit as abrupt and absurd to
these bucolic survivors as it must’ve done to Tippi Hedren and Rod
Taylor. And now to us.

As purposefully grainy and grimy as when
the Templars first plundered the town of Berzano, the superb quality of
the disc is as much as any fan could wish for. Trailers and a vivid
gallery of promotional art are included.

The Ghost Galleon

quicker to emerge, presumably in the face of a rapacious mid-70s
exploitation boom, the third instalment appeared less than a year on
from ‘Return’s quiet triumph. The ravages of not enough time are plain
to see even before the opening credits have finished their calligraphic

Dress sense has never been the series’ strong suit, so
this instalment seems to mete out punishment for the previous couplet
of sartorial crimes by setting itself in the fashion world.

on a search for her friend (and, naturally, lover) Kathy, model Noemi
uncovers a non-sensical plot by her employer to scam oceanfaring
vessels into "rescuing" a "stranded" speedboat containing skimpily –
and company – dressed clotheshorses. The exposure that any ensuing news
coverage of the PR hi-jinx would bring appears to be the ultimate, if
odd, goal.

And so the most stilted and listless (in the case of
the inept model ships featured in the film, quite literally) entry in
the series again reinvents the Templars’ overture to the contemporary
world. When the speedboat disappears, this pot-boiler thrusts the
pursuing Noemi and co. into an encounter with the aforementioned gothic
vessel, one that seems to traverse multiple dimensions and gobble
scantily clad lovelies as keenly as the picture itself chews through
poorly plotted minutes. On board, the Templars, inexplicably ensconced
in moulding caskets, await inquisitive (and presumably shipwrecked)
souls to drain and dismember.

Blind DeadAnd
there is the first of many visible flaws in the piece. ‘Ghost Galleon’
relies on a more inane brand of the supernatural and uncanny, rather
than the bold incongruity of "real life" malevolence that coursed
through the first two instalments. This immediately betrays the
perverse underpinnings of not only the Templars themselves but also
those who unwittingly summon them, through desire, act or original sin,
a strong thematic pulse within the Blind Dead series. It becomes merely
another haunted house mystery, one of who’s outcome we are only too
aware to be mystified (at least for the reasons Ossorio might wish).
The scant gore on offer does little to temper the disappointment for
fans of the series’ more hematic elements which, while not always
explicit, contextualised the medieval inclemency and the Knight’s
cruelty in neat cinematic shorthand.

Lest it be feared
equality had been paid lip service this time around, the now de rigour
rape scene plays out, regardless of proximity to the ghoulish action,
remaining but a blunt set up for a later death. The knowledgeable
pedagogue is replayed from ‘Tombs’, here more of a bumbling soul than
worthy academic, imparting a further Templar backstory before hitching
along on the doomed journey.

An obvious template for much of
the central action would appear to be ‘Dracula’s (though more
explicitly ‘Nosferatu’’s) Demeter sequence. The opaque photography of
the Dead’s crude sarcophaguses is surely in reference to the tenebrous
monochrome of Max Schrek’s perpendicular arrival in Murnau’s classic.

par for the course in Ossorio’s world, atmosphere wins over logic and
atmosphere saves the picture from descending into uninvolving misfire.
Atmosphere is legion here and there’s always a corner of the screen
lovingly designed, dotingly captured, and winningly atrophied. The
lacklustre model work aside, it’s a triumph of production design.

fatalism of the series hasn’t been degenerated or diluted either. In
fact the picture matches the stark desolation of ‘Tombs…’ in its
ebbing moments better than either the previous ‘Return’ or the final
chapter, ‘Night Of The Seagulls’, does. More EC Comics than Henry
James, the final 2 minutes have the verve and chilling invention the
remaining 85 so sorely lack.

Admirable is the series built on
successive instalments that, while understandably most concerned with
hard cash returns, seems intent on exploring, however successfully,
narrative potential rather than pandering to whimsical exploitation or
expectation for its generic thrills. Whatever their myriad sins, the
Blind Dead films, like their titular beasts, are resolutely

The disc, though markedly less impressive than
those for the film’s ancestors, is still a commendably stygian
presentation of an atmospherically photographed production. Trailers
(in the form of its US title ‘Horror Of The Zombies’) are all on board
to the delight of fans and to the detriment of trailer editing
enthusiasts everywhere.

Night Of The Seagulls

so to the final, inimitably named episode for these towering creations
of ambling Euro-horror. Either in deference to a genre favourite or due
to a heightening of ambition, ‘Night’ begins in heady rural Hammer
territory of the past as a cadre of Templars snatches a maiden from her
village, sacrificing her bloody carcass to a Puzazu look-a-like Sea God

Dr Stein and his wife, arrive in a small coastal town to
take up residency after the town’s native practitioner decides that
inland is the safest option during what appear to be troubled times. In
the bleak, desolate and perpetually crepuscular village, Stein remains
committed to his oath, despite the unsmiling, black garbed inhabitants
impressing a deep suspicion of outsiders at every grim utterance. But
when the young women of the village begin to mysteriously disappear,
the revelation of a perennial, seven-yearly scourge upon the town from
the sea can mean only one thing, and the Stein’s aren’t quick to
believe until they witness the horror with their own eyes.

perhaps no surprise (or if it is, it’s a pleasant one) that the film
finds the more ambitious Ossorio using some lyrically macabre imagery
here. During the ensuing sacrifice sequences the most enigmatic shots
are the swarm of crabs, which teem toward each violated and abandoned
corpse, deftly echoing the mollusc-like husks of the Templars.

his motives, Ossorio’s direction is defiantly attuned to this
ever-evolving world. More formal and ritualistic, it’s no wonder many
critics have picked up on the influence of H.P. Lovecraft exhibited by
this stately installment. Composition and mood maintain their
prominence and the initial flashback ritual features the bloodiest
depiction thus far of the occult rites in which the Knights are
steeped. From the off, too, there is a purposeful, ever-present aural
threat of the sea flowing through the soundtrack. Although Blind
quartet is not explicitly inter linked, it’s impossible to ignore the
final image of shore-bound horror in ‘Galleon’ casting a shadow over
the proceedings, perpetuating the series’ overriding theme of temporal

Blind DeadThe
characters themselves, from the outset, have a different role. The
Templars are no longer startling marauders, but an almost accepted part
of a particularly wretched routine. There is no joyful, festive, even
pro-active compulsion to be quashed here as in so many of the other
damned communities. It’s even possible that the very facism that
doggedly (if coarsely) informed ‘Tombs’ has come full circle. Certainly
the crumbling of youthful, forward-looking pysches in the face of
grimly predestined traditionalism is an overriding component of
‘Night’s impact. Even the inhabitants’ apparel removes any element of
modernity from the township. Berzano represented a vibrant population
in ‘Return’ but two films later, the Dead undoubtedly prevail. Their
ways cannot be countered and succumbing is the inexorable result: a way
of life, and death.

Unique also is the character of the
departing physician. An elder (and presumably a worldly one) who has
lived with the knowledge of this inhuman blight, rather than tragically
sitting out the inevitability of evil like so many of the series’
sages, he flees actively, consciously from it. The wisdom of three
films, like the aural reverberations of the sea, overshadows ‘Night’,
perhaps enabling those characters willing to look beyond convention, to
the malevolence that informs it, leave with their life if not much in
the way of salvation.

Our leads, somewhat perversely within
genre convention, are no more than perfunctory ciphers for the audience
(rather than surrogates for them), the game being to wring the tension
out of their witnessing of the interaction between the village and its
sightless foe. They are dislocated from the action, the proverbial two
witnesses to the Bible’s inevitable Horsemen. The waves and the
ever-present cries of the titular gulls in ‘Night’, themselves given a
deathly and poetic significance during the story, better pronounce the
pastoral potency of the horror portrayed. This quiet apocalypse is as
gripping as any conventional monster mash. The Knights galloping
through the churning surf toward a rock-shackled victim on the
shoreline is one of the series’ most compelling images – in the end,
it’s not the Stein’s who are in danger, it’s life’s progress itself.

as enigmatically and ambiguously as it began, the saga is conceivably
no more than a single blow in the bloody swath of possible Templar
mythology. There are untold permutations of these preternatural
assailants, beyond John Gilling’s unofficial follow-up ‘La Cruz del
Diablo’ and countless flatteringly sincere imitations. Perhaps they are
overdue resurrection.

Almost granular, the transfer is a
justifiably grainy and bleak affair. Totally in keeping with the
photography, it is well detailed and damage free. Trailers accompany.

last two films in the series are presented in only English dubs in the
Anchor Bay UK box. But the language of terror is universal.