Saturday, September 18, 2010

#92: Tombs of the Blind Dead (Amando de Ossorio, 1971)

Tombs of the Blind Dead is commonly regarded as Spain's answer to Night of the Living Dead. Regarded by whom? I don't know, but this statement appears several times on the DVD case and is repeated in every review of the movie I scanned, so I might as well join the crowd. Both movies feature an army of undead killers crawling out of their graves and inspired several sequels, but the similarities generally end there. Night of the Living Dead is a far better movie, but I don't want to sell Tombs of the Blind Dead short. Ossorio's film is a Eurotrash mini-classic, lovable in its shabby ineptitude, genuinely unsettling fright scenes, hazy lesbian flashbacks, beyond stupid screenplay, unintentional and intentional comedy, and bikini- and hot-pants-clad Eurobabes. Also, lots of lovely on-location Spanish countryside and ultra-macho smuggler Pedro. Quien es mas macho? Pedro es mas macho!

The film opens at the swimming pool of a luxury hotel/resort in Madrid. Two bikini babes run into each other and start conversing. They were roommates and friends in boarding school, but they haven't seen each other since. One of the women, Betty, has just moved back to town, opening a mannequin shop next door to ... the morgue! The other woman, Virginia, is there with a man who she thinks she's dating. The man, Roger, thinks he's still single. He hops out of the pool and is immediately smitten with Betty. He starts hitting on her and invites her along on a trip to the countryside the next day. Betty immediately says yes. No one finds this odd. In fact, most of the characters in this movie make nonsensical split decisions. On the train trip, Virginia starts feeling like a third wheel, but is she jealous of Betty or Roger or some sexy combination? Cut to hazy boarding school flashback, where we discover that Betty and Virginia were more than friends ... they were lovers! Whatever the sexual case, Virginia jumps off the train near a spooky abandoned monastery.

Instead of following the tracks back home, which most of us would do even if we were dumb enough to jump off a train in the middle of nowhere, Virginia settles in for the night at the creepy monastery. She unrolls her sleeping bag, takes off her short shorts, gets naked, smokes some cigarettes, finds some beach party music on her transistor radio, reads a trashy paperback, and tries to get some sleep. Unfortunately, she gets a visit from the dead. The blind dead!
These are no ordinary zombies, however. This group is a bunch of undead Knights Templar from the 13th century who turned to the dark side. They started worshiping Satan, sacrificing virgins, and drinking their blood. They were finally caught and hanged in the town square. Birds pecked out their eyes. Because of their Satanic blood rites, however, these knights get out of their graves every night and go hunting for humans. Because their eyes have been pecked out of their sockets, these knights are blind and hunt their victims through sound. They drink their victims' blood, ensuring continued immortality. These victims become blood-drinking zombies. Got all that? Did I mention these knights ride through the countryside in slow motion on zombie horses? I didn't? Well, they do.

The rest of the film involves Roger and Betty's search for Virginia and whether all this spooky activity is the work of undead knights or area smugglers. They enlist the help of a professor specializing in the knights and his son, head smuggler Pedro. Pedro is the personification of assholish Spanish machismo. He likes to drink rum, bed the ladies, immediately accept insane challenges, participate in date rape, slap ladies in the face, walk around shirtless, tell people what to do, and take cigarettes from his girlfriend's mouth and place them in his own. Another notable character is a lecherous, creepy morgue attendant who provides some solid black humor.
This film is almost avant-garde in its lack of dialogue and abundance of stupidity, but there are some truly thrilling scenes, particularly a run-in with a zombie in the mannequin shop that involves melting mannequin heads, blinking red lights, and a near-Argento mise-en-scene. The knights themselves are pretty sweet horror villains, and the ending provides some nifty nihilistic abandoning of all hope.

This is the kind of movie that's hard to recommend to general movie buffs, but if you appreciate Eurotrash horror and can ride out some rough patches, there is much to enjoy here.

Fun trivia tidbit: Some U.S. distributors of this film drastically re-edited it and gave it the zippy new title Revenge of Planet Ape. Hoping to capitalize on the Planet of the Apes craze, they filmed a new prologue in which a race of super-apes controlled Earth 3,000 years ago. Unfortunately, man killed them, burning out their eyes with pokers, but not before the head of the apes vowed undead revenge 3,000 years in the future. This prologue required editing out all the Knights Templar talk, so we could pretend these skeletal killers were actually super-apes. God bless this stupid world of ours.


m_bey said...

I remember watching this as an Elvira movie way back in the day. It scared me like nobody's business. I would hate to see it with my current jaded sensibilities.

Mintlime said...

I stumbled upon your blog and you do some really awesome reviews (you're a great writer!). I'm a huge B-movie horror fan and I'm always trying to find films that I've just missed out on completely. Please do more reviews more often!