Monday, October 13, 2008

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)

I can't believe I've gone my entire life thus far without having seen the masterpiece that is Tombs of the Blind Dead. Holy shit, this picture has everything one could ask for in a horror film; foreboding atmosphere, creepy creature effects, beautiful women and their naked breasts (be patient!), a terrific score, all followed by a great apocalyptic ending. Sure, the pacing is a bit slow at times, the acting a little off. Big fucking deal, I'll take this one over most horror films that have come out this year (or decade for that matter).

Tombs is the first of a quadrilogy, the others being Return of the Blind Dead, The Ghost Galleon, and Night of the Seagulls. I'll be getting to the sequels immediately. Interestingly the director, Amando de Ossorio, doesn't consider the creatures in his film to be zombies at all (similar to Danny Boyle about 3 decades later) but, instead, they are more mummy-like. This is pretty evident in the picture as they rise out of crypts and organize with their fellow dead. There is clearly an intelligence at work here. Still, this is one of the better pictures to follow Night of the Living Dead. I found it hilarious that the Americans who purchased the rights tried to market their horribly cut version as a follow up to the Planet of the Apes. They re-titled it Revenge from Planet Ape and re-ordered several scenes, cut out almost all of the blood, removed the scene of a child being eaten, removed a rape scene (although, it's still awkwardly implied), etc. There's a prologue (available with the Blue Underground DVD that explains how the humans revolted against their ape captors, tortured them and removed their eyes. Later, the apes rose from the grave and this is their story. Are you fucking kidding me? First, the Templars are not ape like in the least, and Second, see "First".). The English language version included with my DVD was simply called The Blind Dead and, thankfully, did not insert this silly prologue into the film (it's featured as an extra). I watched both versions and was most turned off by the fact that the lesbianism was taken out of the English version. It's removal pretty much renders a flashback that occurs within nonsensical. Also, the dubbing is awful. In addition, no boobs (remember, Spanish language version = masterpiece. English language version = fun time if 6 deep into a 12 pack by the time the movie begins).

The story involves an ancient long abandoned villa in Spain, last occupied in the middle ages by some virgin-hating Templar Knights. Condemned for worshipping Satan, and various atrocities, they were captured and hung from the gallows after which crows pecked out their eyes. Apparently, they were later given a proper burial on their villa where they await an awakening by some noisy tourists who happen upon their un-hallowed grounds. These tourists include a couple vacationing in Lisbon, Virginia and Roger, who meet up with Virginia's college friend, Betty, who clearly has some sort of secret history with Virginia. Here's a clue: Once, in college, Betty pretended to be a guy and then they did it (lesbian flashback). Anyway, the three meet up and decide to take a trip on the world's most unhealthy train (with coal fumes blowing every which way, but at least coal smoke makes for a nice transition to a flashback). Virginia is embarrassed by her past and also jealous of Roger's interest in Betty. Upon seeing some ruins in the distance she jumps off the train (it's also the world's slowest train) and heads for the villa. Roger and Betty yell after her, pull the emergency siren, but the conductor refuses to stop in these parts. Virginia has a nice quiet evening by herself, lights a fire, even listens to a little music on her portable radio. It's the last thing that gets her killed. Templars hate Rock and Roll.

The Templars themselves look like they probably influenced the ring wraiths in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Heavily cloaked, skeletal hands (the one aspect of them I think could be improved with today's technology), faces cloaked in shadow, bearers of swords and, oh yeah, amazingly they ride horses. The horses themselves don't appear dead but I'm pretty sure they were supposed to be. There's a moment where Virginia, in an effort to escape, steals a horse and flees across a field with the Templars in pursuit that was eerily reminiscent of a scene in Fellowship of the Ring. One Templar would probably be easy to escape. Unfortunately, there appear to be hundreds of them. They move slowly and can only find their victims through sound or by feeling around with their hands. It seems the only way to escape is to stand still and keep your heart from beating. Not really an easy task. If you try to run these things will hear your steps and chase you down on horseback. They like to hack their prey with a sword and drink their blood from the still living body. I'm thinking these guys were into the raping when they were alive, but have become so decrepit (in the pants) that they resort to biting their female victims in a somewhat sexual manner (I swear one of the girls killed at the end was close to orgasming even as death slowly claimed her).

Truth be told, the characters are not that interesting. Betty, in her defense, runs a mannequin factory that suffers from piss poor location (too close to the morgue I guess). Roger is pretty much a typical guy; not too cunning or brave. I think my favorite characters were the minor ones. I absolutely loved the morgue attendant. When Betty and Roger are brought in to identify Virginia, he gleefully pulls the sheet off the wrong dead body knowing full well this wasn't the one they had come in to see. Later, Virginia rises from the dead and sucks the blood from his neck but he doesn't really complain too much. I also really dug the smuggler who was the original suspect for Virginia's murder and goes with Betty and Roger to the villa to clear his name. He was a bit like Han Solo actually (good with the women, quick with a joke, a softy overcompensating with a bad attitude), except for the raping. I never really saw Han Solo rape anyone. The raping did seem a bit supperfluous to be honest. It occurs during a night spent in the ruins and Betty is the victim (she doesn't seem that shaken up by it afterwards and calmly refuses the offer of a cigarrette). Roger is unaware as he's occupied with the smuggler's woman barely an arm's throw away. Betty deserves better.

The ending makes up for it though, in spades. I won't go into detail except to say that it involves a train full of innocents, once again, passing by the ruins at just the right (or wrong) time. It's a shame most viewers accostomed to modern horror (i.e., little character development, an overabundance of CG gore, little to no nudity, total lack of charm) won't appreciate this one at all. One friend (we'll just call him Benial) absolutely hated this and couldn't believe my other friend and I loved it. He was pretty sure we were lying. Apparently, a swarm of horse-riding blind dead should be easy to get away from. Whatever, the score is terrific; weird and creepy (I'd buy the soundtrack if I could find it). The sets are sublime as well, loved the authentic ruins and the scene set in the mannequin factory. If you pick this one up (or rent it...fuck that, this is a blind buy if there ever was one) I implore you to get the original Spanish cut. The english language version (besides missing the 30 minutes) has had its balls hacked off and squashed. Fuck man, it's worth it alone for the slo-mo horse chases. Also, the lesbianism.


Beepy said...

What about if the horses were blind as well? I think that you'd stand a chance of escape then.

And why do all these horror movies have a thing about raping virgins? And why, with all these virgin-raping monsters about, are these girls so prissy and pure?

brian said...

Well, when they were alive the Templars preferred the blood of virgins. Now, long dead, they take what they can get.

The horses aren't blind because they didn't have their eyes pecked out by crows while hanging from the gallows. If they were blind, I think they'd be like the Templars (heightened senses all around except for the seeing).