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Sunday, October 06, 2013

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2013-Day 6: TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971)

Virginia (Maria Elena Arpon), a shy type, and Betty (Lone Fleming), a worldly lesbian who runs a manikin factory, encounter each other after several years and arrange to go on vacation together. The two young women were close roommates during their time at a girls' boarding school — and I do mean close, if you get my drift — so they arrange to go away on vacation together, accompanied by Virginia's boyfriend, Roger (Cesar Burner). While on the train to their destination, Virginia finds herself split between jealousy over Roger's none-too-subtle interest in her old roommate/lover and discomfort/embarrassment about her youthful sapphic explorations with Betty coming back to stare her in the face, so she petulantly (and idiotically) jumps off the train in a remote area that sports the long-abandoned, decaying medieval town of Berzano. With no plan and fueled by her tantrum, Virginia makes her way into the town and finds, to her fatal horror, that it's the resting place of the Knights Templar, a group of undead Crusades-era holy warriors who gained infamy back in the days by practicing black magic and drinking the blood of ritually-sacrificed virgins in a bid to gain immortality. When they were executed by the Church for their crimes, the knights were hanged and crows  devoured their eyes before the knights were buried. 

In the days of yore, the Knights Templar prepare to sup on the blood of a virgin.

Once buried, the knights periodically rose from the grave, complete with undead horses in medieval equestrian kit, to hunt the living by sound for their blood, and Virginia finds herself their latest victim. Upon reaching their destination and knowing Virginia had fled the train for reasons unknown to them, Betty and Roger head to the deserted town to find their missing friend — while noting the terrified reactions of the locals upon hearing of where the duo intend to go — and what they find is a nightmare of implacable undead horror from which there is no possible escape.

I'm the first to admit that I'm not big on Euro-horror (with the exception of Hammer and other U.K. examples), so when I finally sat down to watch this Spanish/Portuguese effort I honestly did not expect much. Sure, TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD had a heavy rep, but so did plenty of other Euro-horror flicks that disappointed the hell out of me. With that in mind I watched the dubbed international version and thought it was crap. I was ready to send the disc back to Netflix when I went online to read other people's opinions of the film and found that the dubbed version rearranged some of the sequences along with featuring a pretty bad English language translation that slightly rewrote and dumbed-down the story, so I gave the subtitled, un-fucked-wth Spanish original version a chance. I'm very glad I did, because TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD now finds itself on my list of Top 20 all-time favorite horror movies from any point of origin, and I bought the DVD. It's creepy as hell, very atmospheric, and has a terrifically bleak ending. There are also numerous scenes of indelible horror, such as when Virginia rises after her autopsy — with visible stitches from her post mortem —  and makes her way to Betty's manikin factory, where she attacks Betty's assistant. The place is filled with unmoving, staring clothing store dummies and eerily lit, so when it all goes down it's flat-out nightmarish. The same can also be said of the incredibly bleak ending...

Undead Virginia visits Betty's manikin factory, with dire results.

And while very much undead, the Knights Templar are a rather unusual breed of zombie. They feast not on flesh but blood, and their attacks cause their victims to eventually rise from the grave in search of sanguinary sustenance. That aspect has led to much discussion among horror fans as to whether the knights are zombies as such creatures are usually classified, or if they are vampires. The confusion is understandable and the knights certainly do not adhere to the Romero model of what we now commonly consider a zombie, per se, what with the blood-drinking and active witchcraft, but neither do they fit what we consider the common rules for the standard vampire suckfaces. The knights can function just fine in broad daylight and the cross has no effect on them, which is a good thing for them since they wear the raiments of crusaders in the name of the Church and occupy a Christian graveyard during their downtime.

The Knights Templar, aka the Blind Dead: Exactly what the fuck are they?

If you ask me, they're neither classically-defined zombies nor vampires, but instead a pack of very nasty, martially-trained, decaying spooks who are simply undead and fucking horrible, and that's good enough for me. And I don't know for certain, but I'd bet good money that the folks who designed the Nazgul for Peter Jackson's THE LORD OF THE RINGS epic trilogy took a good, long look at the Knights Templar for inspiration.

I've only seen this first of the four Blind Dead movies but I want to see all of them. Unfortunately, following TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD I was only able to obtain the final installment, NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS (which I intend to cover as part of this month's review series), because the four-film boxed set is out of print and the individual DVDs of the remaining films, RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD and THE GHOST GALLEON, are a bitch to obtain, but I'll take what I can get. Anyway, I dig the Blind Dead and urge any who are intrigued to Netflix this first installment immediately, remembering to stick strictly to the subtitled Spanish option. And while low on gore, TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD does have a lurid sequence in which we see the knights making random slices on a hot topless virgin and sucking on the bleeding wounds in intimate closeup, so parents may want to think twice before breaking this one out for the under-twelve set. 

Being a Knight Templar is not without its perks.

The aforementioned schoolgirl lesbian angle is also present, but there's no nudity when it is flashed back to and that sequence's content is tame enough to air during primetime. (There's also a rape scene that kind of comes from out of nowhere but, as such things go, it's not as graphic as it would have been in other films I can think of. Still nasty, though.) So, bottom line, gorehounds will probably be disappointed but all others should definitely check this one out. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


Poster for the original Spanish theatrical release.

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