When Amando de Ossorio made Tombs of the Blind Dead (La noche del terror ciego) he had been active in the Spanish film industry as a writer and director since the early 1950s, mostly working on Westerns. After having a minor hit with the 1969 vampire film, Fangs of the Living Dead he decided to follow it up with another horror film. The result spawned three sequels and secured the director’s place in genre history.
Synapse Films have recently restored Tombs of the Blind Dead for an upcoming Blu Ray release and that print premiered as part of this year’s Fantasia film festival. As a long time fan of the entire Blind Dead franchise, I was curious to see how it compared to previous releases.
Virginia (María Elena Arpón, The House That Screamed, Disco Rojo) is in Lisbon with her boyfriend Roger (César Burner, The Man Called Noon) when she runs into her schoolmate and former lover, Betty (Lone Fleming, The Last Kamikaze, It Happened at Nightmare Inn). She agrees to join them for a weekend in the country but things don’t go well and she jumps from the train in the middle of nowhere. She takes shelter in an abandoned monastery which proves to be a fatal mistake.
The next day Roger and Betty go out looking for her, despite being told of the area’s sinister reputation. They don’t know that her body has already been found, or that she’s woken the remains of the Knights Templar who have several centuries of human sacrifices to catch up on.
Watching it now, almost fifty years after it was released, it’s hard to believe that Tombs Of The Blind Dead was considered shocking in its time. The print released in the US was cut by a full fifteen minutes to get a PG rating. By today’s standards, the violence is fairly tame and frequently undercut by primitive effects. However, a shot of flames superimposed on a burning body looks remarkably like today’s bad CGI.
However, what hasn’t diminished with time is the incredible atmosphere and nightmarish sequences of the blind Templars stalking their victims that de Ossorio crafted. The Blind Dead themselves look like they just crawled out of their graves. Skeletal, dressed in filthy hooded robes and filmed in slow motion their appearance is still impressive even after repeated viewings.
Having had their eyes pecked out by crows while they hung on the scaffolds, the reanimated Templars hunt their victims by sound. Tombs of the Blind Dead’s sound design distorted and exaggerated things like the sounds of the horse’s hoofbeats, the character’s breathing and heartbeats. Combined with the slow-motion footage, the result isn’t easily forgotten, especially the first time we see them on horseback.
The print being shown at Fantasia is the uncut Spanish language version created from a new high-definition scan of the original camera negative. It looks gorgeous, certainly better than any print I’ve seen previously. The downside to that is it makes it obvious that several scenes were shot day for night and increases the cheese factor of some of the effects. Still, Tombs Of The Blind Dead holds up quite well for an almost fifty-year-old film. And if you’re considering buying Synapse’s limited edition, you’re probably already a fan and know what you’re getting.
For those unfamiliar with it, Tombs Of The Blind Dead is still an excellent film and an introduction to both a unique form of the undead and an important director of European horror films. In some ways, de Ossorio and his creation may have been too closely connected, despite directing excellent films like The Night of the Sorcerers and The Loreley’s Grasp he never duplicated the success of the Blind Dead films. And despite several attempts to reboot the franchise without him, most recently with Curse of the Blind Dead, nobody has been able to duplicate his results.
Tombs Of The Blind Dead will screen on Saturday, August 07th at 11:30 PM and again on Monday, August 09th at 9:00 AM. You can check the film’s page for details and to buy tickets.