June 18, 2009

DVD Review: Return of the Blind Dead

Two years after Tombs of the Blind Dead became a hit, writer/director Amando de Ossorio returned to the horrific world of the Templar Knights with Return of the Blind Dead. A film that was retitled when it came to the United States as Return of the Evil Dead (the title it retains on this DVD transfer). While it comes comes from the same director, features the same villains, and even a couple of the actors (albeit in different roles). this is a sequel in title only. Pretty much everything about the Templars and their immortal existence has changed from Tombs of the Blind Dead. It all adds up to a lesser horror experience, and while it does up the ante with regards to Templar screen time, that does not make it a better movie.

In the first film, we are told that the Templar Knights were put on trial and hanged until crows pecked out their eyes, rendering their undead souls blind. They left behind the ruins of their fortress. In this film, they retain the immortal mythos of the secrets brought back from Egypt, but they are captured by villagers who burn out the eyes of the damned.

We witness the murders of the Knights by the villagers who catch them murdering a young woman in order to drink her blood. You know, women's blood is the secret to eternal life after all. The villagers go after them with reckless abandon until the very last one is dead.

The tale jumps ahead 500 years to the town of Bernazar, where a thriving, but small, community (replacing the foreboding ruins of the prior film) lives. They are preparing to celebrate the anniversary of their slaughter of the Knights. However, this particular night is going to go considerably different than any of the others they have experienced.

Setting aside the tale of the Knights, we meet Jack Marlowe, a fireworks man brought in to light up the celebration. Wait a minute. Fireworks guy? That's who you plan on being the hero of the movie? I cannot say I have ever seen that profession for a hero before. Actually, I am not sure I have ever seen that in a movie before. Talk about your innovation!

Anyway, Jack arrives and immediately starts eyeballing Vivienne, the mayor's secretary, and a woman he has a past with. This does not sit well with the slimy mayor or his right hand man, both of whom seem to have staked a claim to her. Yes, the woman in this film are quite liberated. In any case, there are some romantic entanglements as the men fuss over the secretary while bigger things are going on out on the edge of town.

Yes, the Templar Knights have risen from their grave and are setting about terrorizing the townsfolk, although they are not after blood this time around, they just want to insert their swords into some warm flesh. Essentially, everything we learned about the Knights in the first film can be thrown out the window. They retain their blindness, but that i about it.

Back in town, news reaches them and they argue about what to do, with interludes to fight of the womenfolk. This gives the slow moving undead Knights plenty of time to move in and wreak some havoc. And by "wreak some havoc" I mean splice in footage from the first film. Yes, there is plenty of that, including a horse chase straight out of the original, complete with some serious day-for-night issues.

Before long, our fast shrinking group of survivors find themselves holed up in an old church with the Templars knocking on their doors. I will admit, there are a few effective scenes in the third act, but it is not enough to save this shoddy film that seems to subscribe to the modern sequel formula. You know, more everything means bigger and better! More people in the survivor group, more bad guys, more killing, and more romance! Now don't go forgetting the rape, the first movie had one, this needs one too! I could have done without this, I am not sure I understand the fascination, it is unnecessary and gratuitous in the worst possible way.

I don't know, this movie just failed to work for me. The Templar costumes are still effective, and many of the scenes with them are fairly creepy, and when combined with the music can make the skin crawl. Problems arise with the story, there seems to be a lot going on between the characters but we never get a decent picture of what. It doesn't help that the acting is over the top and not convincing whatsoever.

Something happened between the first film and this one, but I am not sure what it is. Could it be Ossorio not wanting to do it? That would see to explain the slapdash manner in which the movie is thrown together and the overuse of old footage. Then there is the complete re-writing of the back story. It is almost like the two films exist in two different universes.

Consider the ending of the original and the punch it delivered and you would think the perfect seeds for a sequel were already planted. Alas, it was not to be. Instead, the film just flounders, searching for a direction. It is a shame, too, as the Templars are a pretty interesting enemy.

Audio/Video. This movie is B-side of a double-feature release from Anchor Bay that is long out of print. The widescreen presentation is generally pretty good looking. It is not a bright looking film, actually, it reminds me a bit of a Hammer production in the way it is presented. It is non-anamorphic and played in a window on my widescreen display. The main blemishes come in the form of white marks in the upper right hand corner, much like the cigarette burns that notify the projectionist that a reel change is about to occur. The audio is a mono English dub track that is not all that great, is slightly unconvincing in performance, but matches decently to the mouth movements. Volume is better than the Spanish track used on side A for the original film.

Extras. Nothing, unless you count chapter breaks and the fact the film starts right up when you put the disk in.

Bottomline. It has its moments, mostly during the new Templar attack footage, and during the siege at the church, but it remains a distant second to the original film. The writing and performances drag this movie down. Why they felt the need to rewrite the origins, I will never know. I am guessing it was to make it easier to bring in more characters. Too bad the whole thing backfired. I wonder how the final two films in the series match up? I will need to track those down.

Not Recommended.


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