Monday, April 2, 2012

REVIEW: Tombs of the Blind Dead

Tombs of the Blind Dead
Director: Amando de Ossorio
Year 1972

Tombs of the Blind Dead is one hell of a creepy zombie entry directed by cult Spanish filmmaker Amando de Ossorio. The film expertly dabbles in the occult while fabricating an intriguing and gruesome story about the Templar Knights and their insatiable hunger for flesh. Shot within the tattered remains of an ancient city and showcasing some of the most decrepit walking corpses ever to grace the screen, the film is a masterpiece of moody atmosphere and stylish horror. Tombs of the Blind Dead is the first entry in the Blind Dead series and what a beautiful start it is. Bring on the Knights!

The film starts out with three reacquainted friends, Betty, Roger, and Virginia, as they travel by train across the Spanish countryside. After an embarrassing recollection of a lesbian encounter, that happened years ago between Virginia and Betty, Virginia drastically jumps off of the train and decides to continue her journey on foot and alone. With nothing to see for miles, aside from a ruined city in the distance, Virginia heads in the direction of the isolated town hoping to find shelter. Unfortunately for her, the only things dwelling there are the rotting corpses of the Templar Knights, and they’re starving for some young fresh meat to nibble on. With the disappearance of their friend, both Betty and Roger make for the direction of the mysterious overgrown city, hoping to find out what happened to Virginia. Looks like its dinner time again for those wild and crazy Knights.

This film is unmistakably atmospheric thanks to the masterfully acute eye of director Amando de Ossorio. The whole movie, both within the confines of the isolated ruined city and back in the crowded trappings of the urban locations, is lensed in such a way that it has a tremendous pull towards the surreal. There are a slew of dreamlike sequences that blend themselves into the action of the film, making for a trippy set of moments that emphasize the horror in each particular instance. A great example of this super charging of the surreal comes into play whenever the Templar Knights appear on screen. Everything seems to slow down and the Knights move with a gradual, yet deadly intent that churns down the pace of the film while at the same time unsettling the audience in anticipation of the critical moment when the Templars overtake their victim.

This aspect of the production is an essential quality to any respectable zombie film, but what Ossorio does with this technique is make it fresh and original. The fusion of using historical figures, such as the Templars, and concocting a fictional back-story that has them rising from the dead whenever anyone disturbs their resting grounds, is exceptionally wicked and equally entertaining.  The idea to make their presence palpable by slowing down the film, mirroring the Knights sluggish movements, is imaginably sensible and executed to perfection. Watching as a horde of skeletal ghouls slowly ride by on horseback, all lit by the pale moon, is a haunting revelation and Ossorio nails these tension filled moments with unsettling clarity and demented charm.

The visual look of the decrepit Templars is also a high point for the film. The undead creatures genuinely do look like decaying corpses, as they stalk through the broken ruins of their once thriving city, on the hunt for flesh. Lifeless would be the most accurate description of their appearance, and their quiet persistence when tracking down their prey is creepy to say the least. Another successful reason that these creatures emit so much fear is the simple fact that we aren’t quite sure on what their true numbers are. When they swarm a body, they literally come out of the wood work, appearing from every dark crevasse and unlit corner of a room until you’re finally swallowed up by their sheer overwhelming presence. Much like the traditional Romero zombie, it isn’t the speed of these walking corpses that get you but the size of their hordes that surround you from every angle and close you in to seal your doom. What makes Ossorio’s undead Templar Knights so foreboding, is that they are mostly cloaked by the cover of darkness, using every advantage to creep up on an unsuspecting victim that didn’t have the foresight to clear the dark corners of the room ahead of time.

Tombs of the Blind Dead is also rather gory, showing a great deal of cruel and unusual punishment to its cast of sufferers. Once these walking corpses finally get a hold of you, they begin a feeding frenzy that is anything but nice and neat. It’s a disturbing sight to see a group of hooded skeletal creatures, gnawing away on a previously alive and well cast member, and Ossorio gives us the goods without being too excessive with the gore and as a result, desensitizing us with a  splatter fest. We’re given just enough of the blood letting to let the horrible realization of these grotesque moments sink in, and in that process it makes for a more visceral lasting impression on the audience.

In the end, the best way to describe Tombs of the Bind Dead would be that the success of its atmosphere and focus can be attributed to both Amando de Ossorio and the Templar Knights themselves. The main narrative of the film, the cast of characters, and the whole setup of events, all come secondary in order to showcase these decrepit creatures in all of their blood lusting glory. The mood and look of the film are impeccable, while the acting is acceptable at best, but in reality it doesn’t need to be. This movie is a horror painting come to life, with an insatiable appetite for bringing about engaging, gothic infused, imagery, with a dash of original zombie lore. There is indeed a great deal of subtext to Ossorio’s work on Tombs of the Blind Dead, with the comparisons of a Franco regime degrading the artistic integrity of Spain, but outside of that the film is a moody masterpiece that captures all atmosphere it can muster and obliterates the audience with is overwhelming tone.

If you’re looking for a film that has this aspect of filmmaking down-packed and also unleashes an original movie monster onto the masses, then give this one a go. Tombs of the Blind Dead’s unsettling atmosphere is set from the get go, and it literally lies thick in the air until the shockingly doom-filled moments of the film brings a curtain down on a well established cinematic gem. Ossorio you beautiful bastard! You’ve made one hell of an……

Well this is a nice uncomfortable train ride.

Goodbye shitheads!

Virginia just couldn't put down that Harry Potter book.

I'm sorry sir but we don't serve sideburn wearers here.

You'll be back up on your feet in no time.

It's ok. You'll be as pretty as her someday.

Oops! I think I just crapped my pants.

Watch Out!

Me and my mustache laugh at your feeble attempt to look tough.

Pull my finger.

Don't you dare turn your back on my mustache!

Please do what you want with me, but leave the mustache alone.

Stand still and maybe they won't see you.

Damn you TEMPLARS!

Looks like it's dinner time.

Be still my heart. I think I have the vapors.

You don't want to eat me.... I taste like shit.


  1. Nice review, humorous captions! I found this site via a post you made on IMDB. I never saw the film but read about it in John Kenneth Muir's excellent Horror Films of the 1970's book, a must-have read.

  2. Thanks! Yeah, thinking up captions for the images is fun as hell. You should really check out the film if you enjoy gothic style horror films with a zombie twist.

    I've never heard of John Kenneth Muir's book, but it sounds like it's right up my alley. I absolutely love horror films made in the 70's so I might just have to hunt down this book. Thanks for the recommendation and for checking out the review. Glad you liked it.