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Blue Underground presents
The Blind Dead Collection (1971-1975)

"Now they've awakened from beyond, and without eyes to see they find their victims by the sounds they make and continue to offer human sacrifices to their evil master."
- Professor Candal (Francisco Sanz)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: September 26, 2005

Stars: Lone Fleming, Cesar Burner, Maria Elena Arpon, Tony Kendall, Fernando Sancho, Esperanza Roy, Maria Perschy, Jack Taylor, Victor Petit, Maria Kosti
Other Stars: Joseph Thelman, Veronica Llimera, Maria Silva, Frank Braña, Jose Canalejas, Loretta Tovar, Barbara Rey, Carlos Lemos, Sandra Mozarowsky, Jose Antonio Calvo
Director: Amando de Ossorio

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, sexuality, violence, gore, torture, rape)
Run Time: 06h:07m:05s
Release Date: September 27, 2005
UPC: 827058300599
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-B+B B-

DVD Review

Although the cinema of Spain was subject to strict censorship under the last years of the Franco regime, occasionally some real shockers slipped out as things began to relax in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Few can compare to the amazing Blind Dead movies written and directed by Amando de Ossorio; with a ferocious sense of gore and excess, copious deviant sexuality and monsters that are chilling like few other zombies, this four-film series is hard to forget. Even if there is some inconsistency from film to film, these are some exceptionally atmospheric horrors that are guaranteed to raise a chill.

The first in the series, Tombs of the Blind Dead (La Noche del terror ciego), released in 1971, introduces the evil Knights Templar with a bang. Friends Betty Turner (Lone Fleming), Virginia White (Maria Elena Arpon), and Roger Whelan (Cesar Burner) are on a pleasure excursion in rural Portugal when sexual jealousies flare. Virginia decides to jump off the train they're riding and heads for a medieval monastery. Unfortunately for her, the monastery at Berzano is the 13th-century headquarters of the Knights Templar, who were devil worshippers performing human sacrifice. The Templars were captured and executed and their corpses left to the crows, who pecked out their eyes. But they had a deal in place with their satanic master for eternal life, and by night the sightless corpses rise from their tombs and feast on human flesh. When Virginia's body is found, the police believe smuggler Pedro Candal (Joseph Thelman) is involved. Wanting to investigate further, Betty, Roger, Pedro and Pedro's moll, Maria (Maria Silva), decide to check out the monastery themselves. Who will survive, and who will succumb to the curse of the blind dead?

The disc includes both the uncensored European version, in Spanish language, and also the US PG-rated version shorn of all the sex, nudity, lesbianism, and most of the torture and gore, as well as the entire rape sequence and much of the climactic and legendary attack of the Templars on a passenger train. The Spanish cut is obviously to be preferred, though the PG cut is interesting for comparison (especially in light of the ad material that prominently insists 'Children Admitted!'). The Spanish cut is gory and horrific, yes, but it's also highly atmospheric, with numerous sequences that are hair-raising in their suspense. The mood is greatly assisted by an amazing score of chants, percussion, and very low piano that all by itself creates an insistent sense of unease. De Ossorio clearly knew a good thing when he had it, for the score is reused for all of the films in the series. Then there are the blind dead themselves, ghastly in appearance in their mouldering robes, with wisps of hair on their skeletal faces. Their bony hands aren't terribly convincing since they don't move, but in another sense it just makes them seem weirder. The crowning touch is the simple expedient of running the horse-riding Templars in slight slow motion, which emphasizes their ghostly character.

The characters are interesting, with numerous quirks and antagonisms that help seal their fates, including a bisexual love triangle between the three leads. A catfight between Betty and Maria as the Templars approach feels a little forced, however. There are nifty tidbits like the morgue attendant (Simon Arriaga), who displays a sadistic streak and perhaps is a bit of a necrophiliac to boot; the one moment of comic relief in this picture is when he proudly unveils a body for Virginia to identify, only it's someone else entirely. Even the police are presented as ineffectual blunderers who have no idea what they're dealing with, jumping to conclusions and keeping blinders on throughout. Two scenes of violence against women are particularly harrowing: a torture sequence that culminates in the Templars drinking the blood of the victim (Eurocult starlet Britt Nichols), and a particularly nasty rape scene. With its use of actual ruins, the film has great production values and stands as a landmark and a classic of horror.

The first sequel was not long in coming. Return of the Evil Dead (El Ataque de los muertos sin ojos) (1973) matches the original in many ways and even exceeds it in others. This time around, the village is called Bouzano, and the Templars lost their eyes through the angry mobs of the village capturing them, torturing them and burning their eyes out, which is not only shown in graphic detail before the credits but again in a flashback later on, just to remind you that they're blind. It's the 500th anniversary of the slaying of the Templars, and Bouzano is having a fiesta to commemorate the event. The Templars promised they would then return and destroy the city, but mayor Duncan (Fernando Sancho) shrugs off any such idea. Jack Marlowe (Tony Kendall) has been brought in to provide fireworks for the fiesta, but there are a different type of fireworks when he realizes that the mayor's fiancˇe Vivian (Esperanza Roy) is an old flame. Alas for him and many other inhabitants of the village, deformed idiot Murdo (Jose Canalejas) wants to get revenge on the cruel people of the village and sets about delivering a human sacrifice to raise the Templars from their tombs. Before long, the entire village is in panic as the Templars rule the streets of Bouzano, slaughtering at will. Only a handful of survivors, holed up in the church, stand any chance, and their factions and hostilities make their odds of survival slimmer still.

Lone Fleming and Joseph/Josˇ Thelman return from the original, but in different roles unrelated to the first film. The characters are rather better developed this time around, though they are more numerous. Particularly nasty is the mayor, who not only refuses to acknowledge reality until it's much too late, but has the viciousness to use a small child as bait for the Templars to make his own escape. The siege situation is reminiscent of far too many zombie movies, beginning with Night of the Living Dead, but it's pretty well handled overall by de Ossorio. The story is more linear and compactly told than in the first film, which tends to jump around a bit much, and constitutes a fairly satisfying whole. The best part about the film is that the Templars are revived before 20 minutes have elapsed and they get substantially more screen time than they did in their debut. They're still quite effective, and have the added shiver of an electronic echo added to the footsteps of them and their horses, increasing the unearthly feeling that they have. The story makes better use of the need to be silent, with several attempts to evade the sharp ears (or whatever) of the Templars sprinkled through the picture, making the heroes seem a bit more sensible than one usually finds in horror films. There are a few effects shots (usually of stomachs being pierced by swords) that are utterly unconvincing, but on the whole it's a worthy followup to Tombs. The old Anchor Bay version of this film suffered from about a dozen cuts of gore, violence or nudity, all or nearly all of which have been reinstated here. The US version (which is even more heavily cut and substantially re-edited) is also included on a second layer.

It's not entirely clear whether there are two or four Blind Dead movies; the same Templars appear in the third and fourth pictures in the series, but there's no express reference to their blindness in these latter efforts. The Ghost Galleon (El Buque maldito/Horror of the Zombies, 1974) is the weakest of the four by far. A pair of models, Kathy (Blanca Estrada) and Lorena (Margarita Merino) have been sent out to sea in a tiny motorboat by agent Lillian Barbie (Maria Perschy) as a publicity stunt for tycoon Howard Tucker (Jack Taylor). But their plans are spoiled when Kathy's lover, Noemi (Barbara Rey), shows up demanding answers. To prevent Noemi from going to the police, Lillian and Tucker agree to take Noemi out by yacht to pick up the girls, a task given some urgency after a distress call is received. It seems that even though they're in the North Sea, they've drifted into a deep fog with a tropical heat and stumbled onto a centuries-old galleon that stoves in the side of their boat. Clambering aboard, they are distressed to learn that the ship carries the undead Templars (blind or not), a situation made no better when their rescue party falls into the Templars' clutches as well.

Although the first two films have a driving, forward narrative, the third is rather lacking. Part of that may be the quickness with which it was put together; its copyright notice date is 1973, which means it was shot almost immediately after Return. Long sequences are devoted to waiting for the Templars to show up, wandering around the ship or slow pursuit by the Templars as the prey stand still screaming. The result is fairly dull stuff for the most part. Things aren't helped at all by incredibly cheesy effects, with a laughable model of the galleon heading the list. Even the Templar makeup looks slapped together this time around (possibly as a result of them being seen in better lighting). De Ossorio's misogynism continues to be expressed by yet another rape sequence and the generally brutal treatment of Noemi by Tucker's assistant Sergio (Manuel de Blas). One could excuse this as a situation for the story in one or even two films, but it starts to take on the appearance of a pattern after three in a row. There are a couple positives, however. One is the incredibly nasty sequence in which one of the victims, vocal cords ripped out, struggles to get away only to be dragged back exactly the same way, to be beheaded and devoured by the dead. The other redeeming feature is a grim ending that is right at home with the bleak conclusion of the original film.

The final film in the series picks things up a bit again. Night of the Seagulls (La Noche de las gaviotas, 1975) continues the theme of the sea, with the Templars set up in a castle at the sea shore. Henry Stein (Victor Petit) has come to the nearby village with his wife Joan (Maria Kosti) to serve as the new doctor. But the villagers are openly hostile and the old doctor warns them both away. The cruelty of the villagers is exemplified first in their vicious mistreatment of halfwit Teddy (Jose Antonio Calvo), and even worse, by their periodic offering of their young women as sacrifices to propitiate the Templars. When they seek to sacrifice the doctor's new housekeeper, Lucy (Sandra Mozarowsky), he decides to take matters into his own hands, and take the fight to the Templars. But perhaps they will take matters to him first for meddling in their rites.

Things really do pick up again here, with the makeup in particular looking a lot better. Interestingly, in the flashbacks, the live Templars move very much like the ancient dead ones. This time around, however, the dead ones seem to be able to function just fine in daylight (or perhaps the more simple explanation is that the day-for-night processing was bungled). There are some interesting poetic touches, such as the notion that the seagulls calling at night are the souls of the young women sacrificed. The bleak setting is quite effective, with the hardscrabble terrain providing one explanation as to why the villagers are so desperate (though they ultimately do come off just as villainous as the Templars themselves). Finally, a Lovecraftian vibe is injected into the story as the god of the Templars is revealed to be an obscene toadlike thing to which they feed human hearts. The inevitable house siege is well-executed, with the inhabitants alternately being resourceful and horror-stricken at the assault. The finale is effective and quite satisfying, especially as a coda to the entire quartet.

Individually, these films have a vibrant power and strike a unique chord. As a set, they have an even greater effect, so long as you're not insistent on continuity or exact consistency from film to film. De Ossorio shows a consistent command of his visuals, from the eerie flashing red light over a row of mannequins in Tombs to the ghostly horses riding in slow motion up to the Templars' castle in Seagulls. The cleaned-up and uncut versions of these films should go a long way towards getting them better known and appreciated.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes
Anamorphicyesyes


Image Transfer Review: On first blush, these transfers look terrific. Closer examination reveals that there has been a little over-enthusiastic application of digital noise reduction, resulting in flickery tree branches and the like. There's also significant ringing and other compression artifacts visible. Tombs and Return are, not surprisingly, significant improvements over the old nonanamorphic Anchor Bay renditions of these films. However, the Anchor Bay version of Tombs runs 1h:41m:03s, versus the Blue Underground 1h:37m:03s timing. A cursory inspection didn't reveal anything missing, but the timing discrepancy matches the 4% speedup one would expect from a PAL source, so it may be that the Blue Underground disc was derived from a PAL video master. The transfer is free from conspicuous PAL/NTSC ghosting, however. Return looks pretty similar, but Ghost Galleon is strikingly better, perhaps helped by an RSDL presentation that allows for a more relaxed bit rate. The source materials seem to be in significantly better shape as well. Seagulls is very grainy indeed, but except in very bright sequences, sparkliness is avoided. Despite the defects noted, these are an enormous step above the heavily cut and dupey bootleg versions of these films previously circulating.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoSpanish, Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The Spanish and English mono tracks are acceptable for the most part, if undistinguished. The first reel or so of the Spanish version of Return has an annoying electronic buzz running through it, and there's an annoying audio pop. Galleon sounds fine, with nice sound design on the wind sweeping over the ocean. The English track on Seagulls is rather tinny but the Spanish track sounds quite fine.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 100 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
6 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
5 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Poster and Still Gallery
  2. Revenge from Planet Ape
  3. Radio spots
Extras Review: Blue Underground provides a variety of extras that are interesting though none provide the depth of analysis one would really like to see. There is a 40-page booklet that is a reworking of Knights of Terror by Nigel Burrell. This booklet includes unnecessary synopses but some thoughtful criticism of each of the films, and it's copiously illustrated with stills and artwork for the respective movies. It also provides a brief history of the actual Knights Templar, should one want to pick up the historical basis for these pictures. The extras on each of the principal discs are accessible only from the menu for the English-language versions of the film, which seems a peculiar design to say the least. The exceptions are the original Spanish trailers, which are accessible only from the menus for the Spanish versions of the films. One of the more fascinating extras is the prologue from a theatrical attempt to turn this into a Planet of the Apes movie; the sheer effrontery of offering a medieval zombie movie as Revenge from Planet Ape is amazing. Each disc includes the film's respective US trailer, presented in anamorphic widescreen. Each disc includes a gallery with over dozens of stills, numerous international posters, about two dozen lobby cards and excerpts from a pressbook to boot.

There's also a fifth disc that's fairly short in running time, but contains some valuable information. The Last Templar (24m:53s) is a 2001 documentary overview of de Ossorio's career made right around the time of his death, with interviews from the director, Jack Taylor, Lone Fleming and Esperanza Roy, as well as members of crew, film historians and other notables such as Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy. It's full of rare clips and interesting factoids, such as the notion that de Ossorio shot the first Cinemascope footage ever taken in Spain. De Ossorio also remarks on the eroticism that the French and German producers always demanded in the films, and decrying their lurid tendencies. Unearthing the Blind Dead (10m:41s) is an interview with de Ossorio primarily devoted to these four films. He's humorous about the limitations of budget etc. and quite unstinting in his self-criticism. Finally, there's a four-page article in PDF form from Shivers magazine that covers much of the same ground, serving as an obituary of sorts for the director. The whole package of five discs is presented in an amusing black coffin box bearing the Templars' ankh symbol.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

De Ossorio's bloodthirsty undead Templars come to DVD in a beautiful restored package that any horror fan will want to own. Unlike many supposed horror films, these can be quite scary, featuring a constant sense of dread with little relief.

 


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