Tombs of the Blind Dead
Who are these unholy savages who hunt out their victims by sound alone?
This is a film with a strong and mainly deserved underground reputation which all zombie fans really need to check out to help build a picture of the scene that Romero built and Europe furnished. A Spanish / Portuguese co-production, purely for censorship and regulatory reasons, due to Spain being under the control of General Franco and seeking to modernise it’s image in relation to encouraging tourism resulting in allegedly refusing to allow the film to be set in the country. So, as a result the movie was set in Portugal, and by hiring a number of Portuguese crew members ensuring a cross-country production, the producers were able to minimise the control of the Spanish censors over the final released film.
Writer / Director Amando De Ossorio had previously built up a diverse body of work but it was this film (with additional dialogue courtesy of Jesús Navarro Carrión) which would make his name and help kick start the short lived Spanish horror boom .
The cinematography has all the hallmarks of a Hammer production (not surprising considering the period) but does differentiate in tone, being somewhat bleaker in outlook than the legendary British studio often put out, Witchfinder General being a clear exception of course.
Filled with flesh, this film is clearly identifiable as European, and even straddles a titillating lesbian sub-plot which helps create the characters area of internal conflict (not to mention external death) and acts almost as the catalyst for the whole story.
Opening back in the 13th Century, where the Templars, back from the crusades and practising witchcraft learnt on their travels, are performing a rite in which a rather attractive woman is slashed with swords and her blood drank by the aforementioned Templar’s. For this heresy they are hung and crows peck out their eyes, dooming them to an eternity in darkness.
Fast forward to modern day Portugal, and old school friends Betty and Virginia are reunited by the poolside with clear tension between the two and suggestion of a past shared experience. On cue we welcome our third protagonist, Virginia’s boyfriend, the handsome Roger, who can’t believe his luck and invites Betty along on the couples camping trip. This scene more than hints at forbidden lust and freedom which would have been alien to the majority of the Spanish public at the time and, if the opening sequence hadn’t already, firmly sets the film on the Euro-Trash exploitation route.
Due to a falling out on the train, young Virgina decides to run away heading to the abandoned town of Berzano and inadvertently waking the blood-thirsty Templars.
Although it has to be noted that a few questionable scenes exist later (rape for example) which serve no real literal purpose to the film and for better or worse the film quickly moves on from this event to get back top what it does best – eyeless Templars seeking their revenge.
Featuring beautiful women, eyeless horse riding zombie skeletons and violence, this film ticks all the exploitation boxes and stands out as a fantastic example of the, at the time, burgeoning European horror scene, and would go on to spawn three sequels with mixed results.
However it has to be said that the effects in this film are somewhat dated now and the plot undoubtedly will appear a little slow for many modern horror fans, but for the rest of you will fall under De Ossorio’s spell and you are slowly immersed into the story.
These are minor quibbles however, and what is most likely to be the biggest bone of contention for viewers is the sheer absence of logic contained in the film. The living horses and undead templars situation, the slow motion chases (poorly explained by De Ossorio in a later interview) amongst other things but why let a little thing like logical explanations get in the way of a good story, for some films logic is merely an inconvenience, to be avoided.
Nigel Burrell once stated that this film could be seen as “the rising up of Old Spain against the permissive generation, the repressive fascism of the Franco regime […] versus the youth of the day.” and as a result, offers more than simple titillation but rather a snapshot of a disaffected generation, unable to voice their thoughts through direct channels and certainly gives us something to think about, raising it merely above being another exploitation flick, although it is very easy to overlook any subversive message in this film, especially for those of us from a different culture and time.
Despite being filled with dated Fx, illogical character decisions and plot devices it benefits from enough charm and creativity to be rightly heralded as a gem of early Euro-Horror and is well worth a watch,
Please note however, that this film exists in many cuts and many versions and we reviewed the DFW Extreme uncut and uncensored version [Dutch release].