Tombs of the Blind Dead. 1972. Directed by Amando de Ossorio. Screenplay by Ossorio & additional dialogue from Jesús Navarro Carrión.
Starring Lone Fleming, César Burner, María Elena Arpón, José Thelman, Rufino Inglés, Verónica Llimerá, Simón Arriaga & Francisco Sanz.
Interfilme/Plata Films S.A.
Originally Rated X in the UK/PG in the US/16+ in Canada. 91 minutes.
I love any kind of undead horror, whether it’s specifically Romero-style zombies, or even if it’s something different – like Amando de Ossorio’s Tombs of the Blind Dead. This would be the first of four films about his living dead Templar Knights, followed by Return of the Evil Dead a year later in 1973, The Ghost Galleon the next year in 1974, and a final 1975 instalment titled Night of the Sea Gulls.
This is a movie I love dearly, as far as living dead movies go. Now, that being said, if you’re the type of person who worries about very tiny details in a flick about former Templars who became Satan worshippers, only to be hung, have birds peck their eyes, and then RISE FROM THE GRAVE ONCE MORE!
With its share of flaws, Tombs of the Blind Dead is a fun, spooky, and memorable addition to the world of cinematic horror. Often times it gets lost amongst the rest of the good stuff being churned out – in every genre – during the ’70s. This not only has an interesting premise, the screenplay is surprisingly tight, as we build awhile before getting to the outright terror of those horrific Templars.
The cinematography is noticeable right away. So many great shots, but mainly it’s the breathtaking landscapes which grab you. This goes well with the slow build of the plot. After about 25 minutes, the graves start to crack, the ground splits, and the rise of the Templars finally commences! Part of its goodness is a satisfactory anticipatory wait that doesn’t bore you for over 20 minutes starting out.
Once we get to the Knights themselves, it’s on. They’re fucking excellent. Their accompanying ritual-like chants in the score add a thrilling, scary presence to their arrival, the sound of their horses hooves like ghostly rhythm. Ossorio did something innovative with the concept of the living dead, after George A. Romero breathed life into the popular creatures of modern horror. Rather than regular zombies, he uses the Knights Templar to craft a unique mythology and it feels genuinely horrific, in all the right ways. Not just that, the film has impeccable scenery to boot. The locations make the atmosphere, particularly the Spanish locale used for the ruins of the Templars. Many locations across Spain and Portugal provided Ossorio the appropriate physical aesthetic to go with his visuals, making his film both naturally gorgeous, as well as ominous.
Soon as the dead woman reanimates, biting into a fleshy neck, the nastiness begins. Only briefly, without lingering. However, it’s a creepy and effective sequence with lots of build, which is the name of Ossorio’s game. The best part is when we get a flashback to the Templars (in the original Spanish version this comes later in the film; in the English one it’s the initial scene). There’s a dose of horrific, visceral practical effects work, we witness the Templars hack away at a splayed out woman on a woman contraption before biting and sucking her bloody wounds. Some dastardly Satanic rite of sorts.
Using the Templar Knights as undead creatures, gnawing, feeding off victims is disturbing. Adds an atypical flair to the regular zombie-eating-people scenes. Moreover, I feel like this movie might’ve inspired John Carpenter in the design he used for his own zombie-style spirits, the scorned lepers of Antonio Bay. These Templar zombies are truly unsettling. Like ancient books that fall apart after lying about in centuries, tucked away somewhere, they are crumbling, almost ashy and burned. Great costumes and makeup combined. Just seeing them atop their horses, galloping around in formation, the Knights are a sight to behold. Awesome and different look as opposed to so many other zombie pictures over the years. No wonder Ossorio wanted to return to them over and over for another three films.
Most of all I love the end (SPOILER ALERT) because there’s a full circle return. There’s this opening that might confuse people in the original Spanish version, where a woman screams and we’re sort of left hanging as to what’s actually happening. By the finale, the living dead Templars have made it away from the ruins, closer to the cities. They get to a train where blood is shed, more people available for them to feast on. The woman, again, shrieks and watches while the Knights descend on her, ready to feed some more. One of my favourite endings in any zombie flick, to be honest.
There are absolutely missteps and mistakes along the way. But Ossorio’s Tombs of the Blind Dead is an awesome little relic of the early ’70s in horror. All the great locations in Spain and Portugal make for a wicked backdrop. This Templar tale uses the story of the Knights in a fascinating way that draws you in, especially considering half the undead movies out there have a plot so thin you could floss your teeth.
I’d probably even put this movie in a Gothic category, as well as the zombie sub-genre. Either way it’s horror. You get a dose of the bloodthirstiness, some ghostly essence. And oh yes, a little splash of blood now and then. Surprisingly this isn’t as gory as you might expect, which funny enough is a nice change for a zombie movie.
You can do much worse if looking for an undead bit of horror. Much, much worse. This is fun and freaky. Get a copy for Halloween. Scare up an enjoyable night watching these Templars crawl from the grave. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.