Written and directed by: Amando de Ossorio
Starring: Lone Fleming, Cesar Burner & Maria Elena Arpon
Reviewed by: Brett H.
ďLet us offer our sacrifice to the darkness. We shall perform this rite that the blood of the virgin may grant us a life beyond the bounds of the grave.Ē
I donít think Iíll ever forget the excitement that was in the air for the horror community when Blue Underground officially released the much sought after Blind Dead films on DVD in late 2005. Although Amando de Ossorio's series consisted only of four films, collectors and the curious never had an easy time tracking down the complete treasures of the Knights Templar. The first two films had been released by Anchor Bay in the companyís infancy and went out of print as the DVD boom skyrocketed while the latter two films in the series lamented in public domain hell and found their way into my collection easily by the way of Brentwood Entertainment; the earliest company to take advantage of PD horror ten packs. Even though the original Anchor Bay double feature was out of the price range of most horror fans, we got our fill by buying up such films as Burial Ground, which featured a cheap, yet effective visual variation on the Blind Dead Knights. In 2006, Severin released Mansion of the Living Dead, a Jess Franco tribute to the de Ossorio creation and fanís woes and endless searches were finally laid to rest. But, with Blue Underground picking up the old Anchor Bay reigns (which would eventually become a common occurrence), horror fans new and old were able to experience some of the most unique and haunting characters in horror history. Close your eyes and open your ears. Youíre in for a real treat.
Old friends Bet (Lone Fleming) and Virginia (Maria Elena Arpon) meet up at a swimming pool where Bet is spending the day with her friend, Roger (Cesar Burner). After becoming acquainted, Roger invites Virginia to spend a few days with himself and Bet in the country. While there is obvious tension on behalf of Bet (ouu-la-la, boarding school lesbian encounter!), the trio agrees to meet at the train station the next day for their voyage. Upon boarding the train, Virginia becomes flirtatious with Roger and despite the fact that he insists upon he and Bet being just friends, Bet is not at all thrilled at her actions. Bet jumps off the train in the middle of nowhere and takes off, leaving her former friends in the dust. She stumbles into the crumbled medieval town of Berzano, abandoned for years. But inside this castle, sheíll stumble upon a centuries old nightmare. A cult of satanic knights that tortured, raped, pillaged and were publicly executed before finally being laid to rest. But these Tombs of the Blind Dead donít contain their corpses wellÖ
Tombs of the Blind Dead is a prototypical classic Spanish horror film. Spanish horrors have always been a vast compound of hundreds of horror films that came before them that seemingly bridged the gap between the old and subtle and the more in-your-face nature of the 70s grindhouse archetypes. Itís so enjoyable to witness a film that is overwhelmingly gothic like a Universal or Hammer classic whose terrors are so implied yet still manages to shove the naked chests and squirting crimson in the face of the more modern viewer. Tombsí main setting is dark, old and lush; a series of connected buildings that were once new and exquisite but now seem to have been standing and abandoned for so long that they seeming have stemmed from the earth, from the very soil that contains the bodies of its demonic former occupants. The visual atmosphere above the ground acts as a mirrored extension of the horrors resting beneath it.
Underneath that ground and soon to emerge from their tombs are the Knights, who appear as a dank, rotted zombie, but probably could be more succinctly described as mummies. They wear cloaks and hoods that have absorbed hundreds of years worth of filth and have sunken in, skeletal features with facial hair, but are strong enough to move the stone covers of their own tombs. They move slowly like a zombie horde but unlike the typical living dead, they use ancient horses as a method of transportation, cloaked in the same dingy clothing that covers their bodies, much like in F.W. Murnauís Faust. This proves to be a major selling point of the creatures as it heightens the tension and makes for more ďrealisticĒ chase scenes in their ongoing quest to suck the blood of virgins and kill all trespassers. Hiding will do you potential victims no good as the satanic cultís eyes had been pecked out during their executions. The Knights Templar hunt via sound and your own heart is all they need to track you down and sacrifice you to their dark master.
Hand in hand with the cool characters and creepy setting is the soundtrack, which chimes in and out at all the right times. As the Templars emerge from their graves, one can hear the sound of rolling thunder and fire; sounds from hell that drown out the screams and torment going on below. Gore is of the essence for a film of its age as an arm is chopped off and bodies sliced from the edge of the cultís blades. One of the most disturbing kills occurs when a Knight slashes the body of a mother and a vast amount of blood drips down onto her young childís face. And there are the subtle things like stairs breaking, fires blazing and an odd-ball coroner that are staples of gothic chillers. The plot is slow moving and generally focuses on a very small group of people who slowly and surely meet their deaths. Even when the Templars are on horseback, the scenes are in slow motion, milking every tense moment.
Blue Undergroundís DVD presents both the original version of the film and the English re-cut, which changes scenes around and omits a lot of bloody titillation. The disc is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen and like the different cuts, each print has its ups and downs. The English version is at times brighter, but shows more noise and artefacts while the Spanish cut remains darker, but has generally less annoyances. Itís unfortunate that the film wasnít a bit brighter to easier show off the creepy looking Knights, but the darkness does add to the atmosphere. Audio is mono and clear. Special features are sparse on the individual release with an alternate opening, a trailer and a stills gallery. If you pick this one up, youíre probably going to want the limited edition box set with all four original films, a bonus disc devoted to Amando de Ossorio and a great 40 page booklet housed in an appropriate coffin box. Tombs of the Blind Dead is a slow moving Spanish classic that is a must see for all fans of creature features with ample amounts of all the things that make horror great. Itís not perfect and it does have some small inconsistencies (why in the world are the Templars so powerful, yet sometimes swing their swords like goofy puppets?), but youíll be too engulfed in the atmosphere and monsters to worry too much about it. Buy it!
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