June 17, 2009

DVD Review: Tombs of the Blind Dead

While the Italians were going through their giallo cycle and America was getting ready to ramp up the slasher film, the Spanish had the blind dead. Tombs of the Blind Dead began a four film cycle of films dealing with the terror of the Knights Templar. The films suffer from a low budget, which seems like the calling card for any horror film from this era. However, it sports a lot of elements that help it rise above the typical, although it does not quite reach the status of classic.

As the film opens, we meet Betty and Virginia while they lounge at a public pool. The two are old friends, reunited after a long time apart. They have the standard conversation, commenting on the other's looks, asking if the other is married, how their job is going, you know, typical stuff. Of course, we do learn that Betty's business is right around the corner from the morgue. It certainly is an odd place for a detail like that, do you think it could be a little bit of foreshadowing?

Anyway, Virginia introduces Betty to her sort-of boyfriend Roger and immediately sparks begin to fly as Roger and Betty waste no time getting down to the flirting, despite Virginia being right there. Must be something about Latin blood. Roger invites Betty along on a camping trip, to which Virginia is not pleased, not pleased at all.

The trio get on a train to head off to the hotel (wait, I thought it was camping? ah, never mind the details). The flirting continues with Virginia getting even more perturbed. Betty tries to make nice, which leads to a flashback showing the two women as bi-curious lesbian lovers (gratuitous, but without nudity). I am not quite sure how that fits, unless Virginia is jealous of Roger?

Virginia, fed up with where this trip is heading, jumps off the train with camping gear in tow (that's why they need it! It all makes sense now) and heads off across the open field towards some ruins in the distance. Back on the train, Roger tries to get the train to stop, but the conductor knows better, this is not a good place to stop and he keeps the party rolling.

For the next ten or fifteen minutes the focus is completely on Virginia as we follow her through the ruins. This is where things begin to pick up, Sure, it slows down again for a bit, but this sequence in the ruins is extremely tense and nicely shot.

As night falls, the Templar rise from their graves in search for blood. Who do they find? You guessed it, Virginia! And she looks, er sounds delicious! Sounds because, as we learn in the one significant scene of exposition, the Templar baddies had their eyes plucked out by crows leaving them to track by sound. So, what have we learned about being attacked by undead Templar Knights? Yes, be very, very quiet. Of course, sometimes a loud heartbeat will do.

I am not worried about offering this much detail. When it comes right down to it, this movie is not so much about Templars as it is about building tension and unleashing terror.

In any case, Virginia is a goner and Betty and Roger to uncover the mystery. They begin investigating and then learn (during a scene of exposition with a local historian) that a smuggler operates in the area. Is he responsible for Virginia's death? We know not, but they don't, not yet anyway. The police gave them the idea, but seem disinterested in the follow up.

Soon enough the couple are teamed with Pedro the smuggler and his promiscuous girlfriend. The investigation turns into a game of switcheroo as romantic partners are split, the smuggler girlfriend attempts to seduce Roger, while Pedro rapes Betty. It is rather disturbing how matter-of-factly the scene takes place, and when its over it is treated as consensual. I cannot say this scene sat well with me.

Fortunately, by this time we are steaming towards the climax (sic), the Templars are up and out of their graves, the good guys are on the run and we are in for a good time. Without giving this away, the entire final sequence leading to the end is effective and rather stunning.

The acting is not all that great, neither is the script. They do a decent enough job of getting us through the story, but they never make me care all that much about them. In the end, that is all right, so long as other elements step up to the plate.

Directed by Amando de Ossorio, the film has a great visual style. Inventive camera work and very nicely staged set pieces help give the film a realism and tension that the actors and screenplay just cannot deliver. Whenever the Knights show up the terror is palpable. He really knows how to put fear into the viewer. It doesn't hurt that the look of the Knights, while simple, really works well.

Audio/Video. This movie is one half of a double-feature release from Anchor Bay that is long out of print. The video, while non-anamorphic is in the proper aspect ratio of 1.66:1. It is not a bright transfer, but it is very clean and has a good level of detail. The audio, on the other hand, is decidedly mediocre. It is the original Spanish track with English subtitles, it is clear, but the volume is awfully low.

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

Bottomline. The ruins, the costumes, the wonderful cinematography, and the great sense of dread leading up to the fantastic ending make this movie very worthwhile. No, it is no classic and there are definitely some problems, it is a movie worth checking out, especially for fans of films from this era, or those curious about films of this era.



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