Franchise Corner Entry: BLIND DEAD
The debut appearance of Amando De Ossorio’s “Blind Dead” is Spain’s answer to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, trapping a disparate bunch of characters in a confined space with the slow-moving undead outside in a bleak Romero-inspired narrative ending on a typically sour note. Excommunicated as a result of their devil worshipping antics, the Knights Templar in the medieval village of Berzano received a death sentence and had their eyes pecked out by crows, returning in the present to menace a group of young folks as the cadaverous, hooded title characters. Unique figures of fear, the Blind Dead’s revival is conveyed in a brilliantly atmospheric sequence in which shuffling tombstones, skeletal hands emerging from coffins and the menacing chants of Anton Garcia Abril’s ominous score combine to create a huge sense of anticipation. De Ossorio gets distracted by soft-focus flashbacks to tentative boarding school lesbianism (the heroines wear their hair in pigtails to convince us they are teenagers) and by a characteristically gratuitous 70’s cemetery rape scene, but a lot of the bizarre comic relief works: gotta love the morgue worker who offers his considered views on women to anyone who will listen: “They’re all asking for it – the way they dress…!” All of the women are sluts, victims or feeble virgins, but the movie has many stand-out, frightening scenes, including an image of a dead character rising up from her morgue gurney to attack a coroner in the foreground that John Carpenter duplicated for THE FOG. The most graphic gore is enclosed within the flashback mutilation of a beautiful blonde – a sequence which, along with the rape, never survived the BBFC-censored UK video versions.
RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD **** Spain 1973 87 mins
This sequel has a flashback prologue in Berzano that contradicts the revelation in TOMBS that crows pecked out the eyes of the Knights Templar (here, an angry mob burn them out), before cutting to modern day, swinging Berzano where locals celebrating their “victory” over the Knights are menaced by the risen Blind Dead. Although it has much more action than TOMBS, De Ossorio’s follow-up repeats many key elements from that film – bloody, breast-baring sacrificial flashbacks, an unpleasant sexual assault and enjoyably wacky comic relief (including a grinning, village-idiot caretaker). The Blind Dead themselves, however, are employed even more effectively: there is a fabulously eerie shot of them waiting, absolutely still, outside the building wherein the characters have taken refuge. There are bravura scenes of mass panic, notably a set piece in which the Blind Dead terrorise a party of screaming revellers, and significantly more arterial spray and beheadings than the earlier film. It reaches a THE BIRDS-inspired climax in which the survivors have to silently pass through an unmoving gathering of the Blind Dead without drawing attention to themselves. In retrospect, this movie’s parallels to Carpenter’s THE FOG are worth noting : the central irony of a town having a celebratory anniversary party while their grim history rises up to attack ; the barricading of the central characters inside a church ; and the very FOG-like sequence in which a couple are disturbed by the undead banging at the front door. These elements, plus the aforementioned scene in TOMBS, strongly suggest John Carpenter saw and admired the BLIND DEAD franchise.
THE GHOSTLY GALLEON *** Spain 1974 87 mins
In De Ossorio’s third BLIND DEAD film, a husky voiced blonde gets embroiled in a top secret swimsuit modelling assignment overseen by a total bastard who barks orders like “Lean back and stick them out!” She winds up exploring the fog-enshrouded ship of the title alongside a polo-neck wearing, moustachioed millionaire (Jack Taylor) who scoffs at the legends associated with the galleon (“I don’t believe in Santa Claus!”). When the slow-moving Blind Dead begin their rampage on the ship, the girls, following the series tradition, stand still and whimper. This oddly restrained entry has no nudity (even missing its chance for gratuitous lesbianism!) and minimal gore, but retains some of the atmosphere of its predecessors, notably an excellent extended sequence (mostly without music) of a young woman exploring the creaking ship while the Dead shuffle after her. It’s weighed down by the usual anonymous dubbing and laughable dialogue (“Why don’t you just sit there on that case – relax and keep an eye on things, I’ll be right back!”), but certainly eerie in its best moments, including a fashionably downbeat ending in which the Blind Dead enigmatically rise from the ocean to claim the two survivors who arduously made it back to shore.
NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS *** Spain 1975 85 mins
Despite an anti-climactic ending – inferior to the creepily resonant final scenes of all three previous films – the fourth and final BLIND DEAD picture is livelier than its ambient but plodding immediate predecessor. The Olde Worlde prologue continues the series trend for flashback footage of the Knights Templar enjoying a spot of heart-ripping and virgin-sacrificing in the good old days before they became the shuffling Blind Dead. The “virgin” (yeah, right!) in this sequence loses the most compelling battle of the film: the fight to keep her large boobs from being unleashed by a scandalously low-cut period dress. In a nicely macabre touch, over-size crabs crawl gruesomely over her corpse after the Knights have done their business. In the present, a doctor with a wardrobe full of polo neck jumpers moves to a strange coastal town with his wife, where the locals are even less friendly than those in the average Hammer pub, spending their evenings clad in robes, tying virgins to rocks on the beach in a bid to keep the Blind Dead supplied with satisfying goods. The seagulls of the title reportedly represent the spirits of the sacrificed girls. With the best slack-jawed village idiot of the series, this movie falls back on the series’ standard Romero-influenced scenario of a small group of characters barricaded in a single building fending off the Blind Dead, and delivers some suspenseful set pieces. As always, anytime the Blind Dead are on-screen, accompanied by the rumbling, ominous strains of Anton Garcia Abril’s moody score, the movie hits its stride. They remain among the genre’s most mesmerising monsters.