Featured image: The Blind Dead in Tombs of the Blind Dead. (Courtesy of Fantasia.)
Directed and written by Amando de Ossorio. Starring María Elena Aprón, Lone Fleming, César Burner. Runtime 1h 41 min. This film played in the Fantasia Retro section at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival on August 7 and August 9.
Tombs of the Blind Dead is a 1972 Spanish zombie film, and one of the selections of the Fantasia Retro section at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival. The restoration for the writer/director Amando de Ossorio’s film looks beautiful, and the concept of the film is exciting, as well.
In the 13th century in the area of Berzano, in Lisbon, Portugal, there was a sect of knights – the Knights Templar – who were involved with human sacrifice in hopes to achieve eternal life. They were excommunicated and hanged, and left for crows to eat their eyes; so now they come out at night, eyeless and undead.
The location of the film is one of the best aspects here, as an abandoned medieval city in ruins. It would be a cool place to adventure through and tell spooky stories; and the cemetery there is naturally creepy. It doesn’t seem like the team had to do too much with the set, perhaps only altering the cemetery the most as that is where the Blind Dead rise each night. People are wary of the area, and it begs the question: If no one is around to see it; do the Dead really rise? (Answer: Of course.)
Our main characters come in the form of Virginia (María Elena Aprón), her friend Roger (César Burner), and Virginia’s old college roommate Betty (Lone Fleming). The roomies happen to cross paths at a hotel in Portugal and they plan a day trip. The trio are in a sort-of love triangle, and while on the train on the back cart, the steam from the train transitions the memory of a steamy romance between the two roommates.
Annoyed by the memory and Roger and Betty’s potential romance, Virginia jumps off the train and walks to a nearby ruins, in Berzano. The friends on the train want to stop, but the train conductor never stops in that area, and for good reason. That’s a fine set-up for the premise, but the admittedly bizarre thing is that she explores the area and still decides to pull out her sleeping bag, listen to music, read a book and sleep in the ruins, before she’s met by her nightly visitors.
I found these zombies felt more like vampires given their obsession with ingesting blood. Granted, Tombs of the Blind Dead was one of the films made early on before George A. Romero completely helped establish the “zombie” identity, as only 1968’s Night of the Living Dead had been released.
Movements of zombies were still being found, but these Blind Dead feel like they’re moving through molasses. They hunt through the character’s obnoxious screaming, and there isn’t much tension in these horror scenes as the Blind Dead slowly lumber towards the victims as they scream in place. The Blind Dead themselves look fine for 50 years ago; they’re creepy with their sunken eyes, though some of the small skeleton hands really gave me Scary Movie 2 vibes and I just started laughing.
There is one great visual, though, set to some great music where the Blind Dead menacingly gallop on their horses. It’s cinematic and the sounds are fantastic, perhaps a less fantastical version of the Wraith-bound horsemen in Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, and at a speed slightly too slow.
I think it’s the molasses-like horror sequences that let the film down. I think it’s because we’re so used to the speedy zombies of years of the genre, especially with the lightning-fast zombies in Train to Busan. The characters are also dry and you don’t necessarily care about them, so that’s where there’s no tension when they scream in place, about to be killed. However, for a product of its time before the genre knew what to do with zombies, it’s an interesting entry with a strong mythology and concept, even if it’s not much more than that.
Tombs of the Blind Dead played in the Fantasia Retro section at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival on August 7 and August 9.