The four entries in the Blind Dead series of films, all of them directed by the late Amando de Ossorio between 1972 – 1975, made for some of the most effective horror fare to come out of Europe that decade. Inspired by the legend of the Knights Templar (an order who flourished in the 14th Century before being disbanded following charges of heresy and witchcraft), the Blind Dead films thrive on atmosphere, haunting visuals and a disturbing sense of creeping dread, mixed in with a healthy dose of swinging seventies pop style and fashions – big hair, knee-high go-go boots, mini-shirts, short shorts, long sideburns and bell-bottom jeans.
The first film in the series, Tombs of the Blind Dead, is an obvious high-point and has one of the most basic set-ups in horror movie history. After a brief pre-credits sequence set in the Middle Ages, depicting a bunch of Templars tying-up a half-naked woman and sacrificing her in one of their blood rituals, the film cuts to modern day Spain, where young couple Virginia and Roger (María Elena Arpón and César Burner) are taking a dip in a motel swimming pool as they prepare to embark on a weekend country getaway. When an old school friend of Virginia’s named Betty Turner (Lone Fleming) runs into the pair, Roger wastes no time in inviting her along with them, despite the fact that Virginia is clearly uncomfortable with having Betty around (a flashback sequence reveals the pair had a secret lesbian relationship while at school together).
En route to their country destination via steam train, Virginia becomes increasingly agitated by the attention Roger is giving Betty, and she grabs her small bag of belongings and simply jumps off the rear carriage of the train, finding refuge in a decaying old castle she comes across, where the Blind Dead – the resurrected corpses of the Templars who had their eyes pecked out before being executed centuries earlier – rise from their graves surrounding the castle and kill Virginia as she attempts to bed down for the night. After her body is discovered in a nearby field the next morning, covered in cuts and dozens of bite marks, Roger and Betty decide to investigate the castle and the legend of the Templars, after a local fills them in on the legend and claims that they must have been responsible for the killing. While the young couple find themselves fighting off the Blind Dead (who despite having no vision have a heightened sense of hearing that allows them to find their prey), the deceased Virginia comes back to life and starts terrorizing the local townsfolk, though she quickly goes up in flames inside a creepy factory filled with mannequins.
The most effective and impressive aspect of Tombs of the Blind Dead is its overall ambience, including the use of coloured lighting gels to create some bold visual dynamics, and of course the look and depiction of the Blind Dead themselves. Skeletal, armed with swords and cloaked in rotting robes, they move slowly but deliberately and menacingly, some of them mounted on robe-covered horses, as they guide themselves by the screams and sounds of their terrified victims. A cacophony of slow, echoed chants and moans, played whenever the Blind Dead are on the hunt, adds to the haunting and baroque atmosphere, and provides a strange juxtaposition to the cheesy but terrific lounge-tinted soundtrack score by Antón García Abril.
Tombs of the Blind Dead proved to be a popular hit, not just in Europe but with grindhouse and drive-in audiences across the globe, including the US and Australia, and de Ossorio quickly followed it up with three sequels: Return of the Blind Dead (aka Return of the Evil Dead, 1973), The Ghost Galleon (aka Ghost Ship of the Blind Dead, 1974) and The Night of the Seagulls (1975).
The Australian DVD release of Tombs of the Blind Dead viewed for this review, put out by Shock under their Cinema Cult sub-label, is unfortunately a bare bones one. Though the 16:9 print is a decent looking transfer, though a little dark and high in contrast (the print itself bears the alternate title of simply The Blind Dead), it is a trimmed version of the movie that is missing some gore and nudity (including a rape sequence), and is only available to watch in an English-dubbed version. No extras are included on the disc.
While the Cinema Cult disc might be worth picking up if you insist on being a completist and see it cheap enough, a much better release to track down is the The Blind Dead Collection, released by Blue Underground in the US in 2005, which features all four films (with English subtitles and extras) housed in a coffin shaped box, and also included a bonus disc featuring a documentary on Amando de Ossorio, as well as a 40-page illustrated booklet on the Blind Dead series. It’s a release that does this terrific and highly original series justice.
Available on DVD from Cinema Cult.