Tombs of the Blind Dead Review

Tombs of the Blind Dead enjoys a reputation as a key example of Spanish horror cinema; this particular disc’s sleeve describing it as the country’s Night of the Living Dead. Yet unlike Romero’s 1968 effort it hasn’t quite achieved classic status, but rather exists as a sizeable cult amongst hardcore genre fans. As such we come to it with certain expectations. We’re not just hoping for an enjoyable zombie flick as we normally would with this kind of film, we’re after something distinctive. And certainly, the generic framework – stupid people doing stupid things; locals governed by superstition; the walking dead – is there to be built upon.

The dead in question are the Knights Templar. Quite why they’re walking amongst us isn’t particularly interesting (the usual occultist nonsense), yet their conception is. Indeed, the invention which has gone into them was enough to fuel three official sequels as well as numerous rip-offs. As the title explains they happen to be blind, but this isn’t all. Using only sound (a heartbeat will do) to detect their prey, their rotten skulls still boast beards if not eyes, they ride on horseback in slow motion, and they demonstrate vampiric qualities. All really quite simply, yet all utterly effective.

It’s this level of invention which proves to be Tombs of the Blind Dead’s greatest strength. Writer-director Amando de Ossorio is particularly adept at conjuring atmospheres, at juxtaposing the old and the new: the sun bleached ruins populating the Iberian landscape and the jet setting poolside lifestyle of his chief protagonists. And there are no real longueurs to his film because of this. Even when his characters do the most stupid of things – an overnight stay in a deserted, dilapidated village – we’re still sucked in by the sheer beauty of the surroundings.

Moreover, this serves to override the film’s more commercial concerns. Tombs of the Blind Dead is an exploitation movie, yet such elements have to fight with the visual stylings and only occasionally succeed. A lipstick lesbianism flashback remembered on a railway journey finds the steam from the train invading its visuals, whilst the gratuitous nudity is often reinvented into something more intentionally disturbing (though the BBFC have cut 16 seconds worth of sexualised assault). Admittedly we still get a nasty rape scene with overt misogynist undertones and some of the stylistic tics err on the dated side (crash zooms being de rigueur in 1971), though for the most part de Ossorio is able to rise above the more dubious aspects.

Indeed, they’re often easy to ignore given that it’s the narrative which causes greater concern. For all its inventiveness and imagination Tombs of the Blind Dead remains a superior B-movie and not a genuine classic simply because story-wise it fails to match its other qualities. Despite presenting a set piece early on which reveals the Knights Templar in all their glory, the central narrative thread concerns a couple finding out about their existence. In other words there’s far too much screen time spent in the company of people trying to catch up with the audience – and this really isn’t necessary. As such the suspense comes in fits and starts whilst de Ossorio has to employ various contrivances (an infamous smuggler just so happens to be the son of a leading expect on the Knights Templar) in order to get back to a similar set piece. Ultimately then, we have a film half excellent and half average, though the excellent side does more than enough to explain away most of the fuss it attracts.

The Disc

Tombs of the Blind Dead is being released either as part of Anchor Bay UK’s The Blind Dead Collection or as an individual release. Understandably, it is the boxed set which holds the meatier extras, though if picked up on its own buyers will still be treated to a fine presentation. We get the film in its original Spanish version (save for the 16 seconds worth of BBFC cuts), in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio and anamorphically enhanced. On the whole the presentation is fine: colours are as vivid as should be expected, the clarity only wavers on the long shots and the English subtitles are optional. Indeed, it may very well be the case that we are getting the film in as good as condition as possible; the only genuine flaw that I could notice was some moderate flicker during the opening credits and minor, barely discernible instances of damage on occasion.

As said, the soundtrack is the original Spanish mix and not some horrendous English dub. As well as the original mono recording, we also get the choice of optional DD5.1 and DTS offerings. Of course, the purists (myself included) will favour the original, though it must be said that the additional remixes do a pretty good job. Thanks the discordant score and effective sound design, there are enough elements to justify the upgrade and both come of rather well.

The disc’s extras are all welcome even if they don’t add up to a great deal. The alternative opening sees a portentous prologue added which attempted to cash-in on the success of Planet of the Apes (apparently, the apes were eventually killed by the humans but swore that they would rise again – in the form of the blind dead – and wreak their revenge, prompting the alternate title of Revenge From Planet Ape!). Plus there’s an impressively comprehensive collection of lobby cards, posters, production stills and the like. And we also get scratchy trailers for all four official films in the series. As said, all of these pieces are welcome, though the weightier extras are to be found on the fifth disc of the Blind Dead boxed-set.

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out of 10

Last updated: 19/04/2018 07:09:48

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