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Anchor Bay presents
Tombs of the Blind Dead / Return of the Blind Dead (1971, 1973)

"We can't just stay here and be killed!"
- Jack Murdoch (Luis Barboo)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: July 22, 2000

Stars: Lone Fleming, Cesar Burner, Elena Arpon, Luis Barboo
Other Stars: Frank Brana, Jose Canalejas
Director: Amando de Ossorio

Manufacturer: GTN New Media
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, graphic violence, rape)
Run Time: 03h:12m:00s
Release Date: October 20, 1998
UPC: 013131056198
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ C-B+A- D-

DVD Review

In the early 1970's, Spanish film studios Plata Films and Acla Century produced a series of four horror films featuring the Templarios, a.k.a the Blind Dead, undead, skeletal Knights Templar condemned to seek victims for eternity without the benefit of eyesight. Anchor Bay and Elite Entertainment joined forces in 1998 to release this double-feature DVD containing the first two films in the series, Tombs of the Blind Dead and Return of the Blind Dead, dedicated to writer/director Amando de Ossorio, who passed away in 1996. Both films are low-budget affairs, with melodramatic acting and plot holes galore, but they do have a cult following.

Tombs of the Blind Dead -

This initial 1971 entry in the Blind Dead series is presented in the original Spanish as La Noche del Terror Ciego, with English subtitles. The film opens on Betty (Lone Fleming) and Virginia (Elena Arpon), old friends and rivals who run into each other while on vacation. During a train trip the next day, Betty flirts with Virginia's boyfriend Roger (Cesar Burner); jealous and confused, Virginia jumps off the train and ends up camping out at the ruins of an old Abbey near Berzano. Her intrusion wakes the former inhabitants, the titular Blind Dead, corrupted Knights Templar from medieval times whose eyes were pecked out by crows as punishment. These dark priests rise from their graves to repel the invader, and carnage ensues when her friends come looking for her.

Writer/Director Armando de Ossorio enlivens this otherwise conventional bogeyman flick with a few exploitative European touches—a graphic sequence depicts a young woman stripped, abused and sacrificed by the Knights Templar who became the Blind Dead, and there's an unpleasantly matter-of-fact rape sequence. The creature designs are simple, with crude but effective skull masks under creased, dusty robes, and Egyptian Ankhs (chosen as a symbol by these Knights Templar) abound in the production design. The cinematography and composition are quite good, though some slow-motion shots of the Blind Dead on horseback are creepy at first but grow tiresome and eventually giggle-inducing with repetition.

In good old-fashioned zombie movie tradition, the Templarios have strength in numbers and can roam freely in daylight, but they advance slowly and can only locate their victims if they emit sounds of some sort (even a strong heartbeat will do.) Of course, in keeping with genre tradition at large, their victims scream incessantly at the sight of the creatures and become easy prey. There are a few innovations and surprises here, but Tombs of the Blind Dead is what it is—a low-budget horror picture with some sharp-looking imagery.

Return of the Blind Dead -

This 1973 series entry is more coherent storywise than Tombs..., with an opening sequence dramatizing the fate of the Templars at the righteous hands of the villagers of Berzano. During a 500th Anniversary celebration of the execution, fireworks contractor Jack Murdoch (Luis Barboo) begins to irritate the Mayor and his henchmen—they chase him out of town, where he and his new girlfriend encounter the Blind Dead en route to the village of Berzano to exact their long-simmering revenge. When word reaches the town, the corrupt Mayor's hesitation in evacuating threatens everyone's safety. Holed up in a church, a handful of survivors attempt to fight off the Blind Dead, while the Mayor plots to save his own skin at the others' expense.

Return of the Blind Dead was the second film in the Templarios series, though it's not so much a direct sequel as another story centered around the same undead villains. This edition is dubbed into English and titled Return of the Evil Dead on the source print, apparently to capitalize on the unrelated Sam Raimi hit The Evil Dead. It reuses significant footage from Tombs... as a cost-cutting measure, including shots of the Blind Dead rising from their graves and riding on horseback (inadvertently mixing daytime and nighttime footage!) Lone Fleming returns as a completely different character, and there are some inexplicable continuity issues between the two films. Berzano is no longer an abandoned set of ruins, but a thriving town with the crumbling Abbey nearby. The horses (which appeared quite lively in the first film) are now established as dead, but not blind (they have eyeholes in their hoods.) The corpse-munching tendencies of the Knights Templar in the first film have been replaced by a lust for swordplay in this one, but their ability to roam about in broad daylight has also been taken away. And in this version of the Blind Dead origin story, their eyes were sadistically burned out by villagers' torches, not pecked out by crows.

Return of the Blind Dead, again scripted and directed by Amando de Ossorio, has an evocative visual style similar to that of its predecessor. Creepy shots of the Blind Dead waiting alertly (for eternity if need be) build a nice sense of impending doom, and the film benefits from a touch of humor this time around. The script develops dramatic situations in the style of Night of the Living Dead, with intercharacter conflicts, betrayals, and an attempted rape lending much-needed emotional substance to the story. This release's unfortunate English dubbing is typical, sounding insincere, studio-recorded and... well, dubbed, though the lip-synch isn't the worst I've seen.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Anchor Bay presents both films in their original 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratios. The source prints have minor flecks and scratches, a splice or two, reel-change markers in Return..., some light-level oscillation and significant grain in a few shots, but both are otherwise VERY clean with little visible wear or damage. Floating "cloud" artifacts turn up where grain complicates the compression, and there's some shimmer on thin edges, but the digital master is solid overall with a double-sided disc providing adequate bit-budget for each movie. Detail is quite good considering the films' vintage (with great shadow detail, though some shots are underlit) and color is naturalistic if slightly faded. I've seen poor-quality renditions of both films on broadcast TV and/or VHS videotape, and despite the minor flaws, I can't imagine these films looking much better than this.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoSpanish, Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The Blind Dead films are presented in 2-channel monophonic audio, decoded to play through the center speaker. Despite the age and low-budget nature of these soundtracks, the digital transfers are very clean, nearly hiss-free with good frequency range and dialogue/music separation. There are a few minor pops and brief audio dropouts, some harshness in spots and no subwoofer-level bass to speak of, but they sound MUCH better than I expected.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Anchor Bay's two-sided Blind Dead double-feature disc features no supplements whatsoever. 12 chapter stops are provided for Tombs of the Blind Dead, 10 for Return of the Blind Dead, with static, text-based chapter selection menus. The English subtitles for the Spanish-language Tombs... cannot be switched off, and Return... is presented in English-dubbed form only. Oddly, the disc doesn't appear to be time-coded—my player's LED display just reads "PLAY" throughout both films. A reproduction of the lurid poster art from the German release of the second film (Die Ruckkehr der Reitenden Leichen) is present as a keepcase insert, but this is otherwise a bare-bones DVD presentation.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

The two Blind Dead films on this double-feature DVD are fairly standard European horror fare, not truly terrifying nor particularly original. But director Amando de Ossorio enhances the material with creative camera work, some bold imagery and dramatic lighting, making good use of the films' settings. If you're looking for a cheesy zombie movie, you could do far worse—but these aren't likely to convert the uninitiated. The double-feature Anchor Bay/Elite DVD presents Tombs of the Blind Dead and Return of the Blind Dead with class, sporting clean video and exceptional audio by low-budget 1970's horror movie standards. The films themselves have limited appeal outside the genre, but the disc is a great deal for fans of the Blind Dead / Templarios films.


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