Slipping in just under the wire, we bring a look at some Classic Zombie action from Spain, the 1971 horror goodie “La Noche Del Terror Ciego” aka “The Tombs of the Blind Dead”. This is another of those wonderfully evocative films that a recent perusal of my DVD collection brought back to your Favorite Catgirl’s attention just in time for Halloween. Remembering the creepy and unique imagery of the Blind Dead and their zombie horses galloping across the Spanish countryside, how could I not give it another watch and a review here at the ol’ Litterbox?
The synopsis goes like this: “In 1971, director Amando de Ossorio created what horror fans worldwide consider to be Spain’s homage to “Night Of The Living Dead”. In Ossorio’s nightmare vision, a legion of Knights Templar – an evil order of executed Crusaders whose eyes had been pecked out by crows – rise rotting from their graves, hunting only by sound in a quest for human flesh. The Blind Dead saga begins here, as a nubile young girl’s spur of the moment trip to the ruins of the Templar monastery unleashes a frenzy of lesbian desire, sexual violence and the unholy onslaught of the eyeless undead!”
This one stuck with me since I first saw it years ago… late at night on TV (When most good lil’ Catgirls were all supposed to be fast asleep….), and it’s image of those hooded withered figures riding across the land in slow motion to the sound of Greorian chants scared lil’ Miyuki silly. Naturally I had to pick it up when it came out on DVD!! But is it a Zombie film? Well….. despite writer/ Director Amando de Ossorio’s continued insistence in interviews over the years that his creations were Revenant mummies and not zombies…. Neko herself can assure you they most certainly look and act like the flesh munching fiends we all know and love. Wanna find out for yourself?
Then all you gotta do is “Read On”…..
Our film starts as old school-friends Virginia White (played by Helen Harp) and her ex-roommate from those days, Betty Turner (played by Lone Fleming) run into each other accidentally at a resort pool in Lisbon one sunny afternoon. Everything seems good, the girls catching up on things until Roger Whelan (Cesar Burner), Virginia’s current boyfriend, comes out of the pool and gets introduced to Betty. Things turn frosty here…. and we get the feeling that perhaps there is more to the girl’s old friendship than was immediately apparent. Roger though, doesn’t notice any of that…. he’s a pretty thick guy overall as the movie will show…. and he suggests they ought to celebrate this reunion properly, so he invites Betty to join him and Virginia on a train trip with them the next day. Betty is hesitant at first, trying to beg any excuse not to go, but ultimately gives in and agrees to join them.
At the Train depot the next morning, Virginia and Roger almost have to leave without her, but she shows up at the last second, still trying to avoid the trip altogether with excuses. Roger though, will not have it… and it’s apparent that he’s smitten with Betty, despite his relationship with Virginia. What a creep….. On board the Train the constant flirting reaches a point where Virginia can stand it no longer… and she angrily flees to the rear of the train for some privacy to cry alone. Thick headed Roger wants to go to her but Betty talks him out of it, saying that she’ll handle things. Once they get together we discover that Virginia isn’t angry about Roger…. no, no, no!! She’s actually upset that Betty and him are hitting it off because of the old Lesbian love affair the two of them shared back in school all those years ago and that she’s never really gotten over!! Gasp!! Betty tells her she still fondly remembers what they shared, and they cuddle and kiss… just in time for stupid Roger to show up, embarrassing Virginia who runs away again… this time taking her stuff and jumping off the train in the seeming middle of nowhere to escape the humiliation she feels. Betty and Roger see her… but they can’t get the train to stop so are forced to helplessly watch her be left behind.
Virginia ends up in the ruins of an old Monastery, where she decides to camp for the night before trying to reach the nearest town. Unfortunately, it’s the old haunted Monastery of Berzano, headquarters of the excommunicated Order of the Knights Templar. Crap… that just can’t be good. Naturally, she doesn’t survive the night, as the evil Templars awaken from their sleep of Death to prowl the countryside in search of victims to sate the blood-lust that keeps them in an eternal state of Undeath. They rise with eerie silence from the scattered tombs and graves to a haunting musical score by Anton Garcia Abril, weaving music and Gregorian chants into a thoroughly memorable theme that accompanies our Templars every time they appear with the same impact as John Carpenter’s theme for “Halloween” did years later…. both defining the moment as well as telling the viewer, “Oh, crap!! They’re back!! Run for it!”.
The Templars themselves are shown as withered, cloaked figures… almost more skeleton than body…. moving with almost no sound (Outside of their accompanying theme music, Hehehehe!!) as they gather to mount their equally wasted steeds to ride in exaggerated slow motion in search of their victims. Here Ossorio manages his best work available in what might otherwise be a forgettable little horror film. The Templars themselves are amazingly striking…. original and with a feeling all their own invoking memories that will stay with a viewer long after much of the rest of the film itself is long forgotten. It’s even more impressive when you consider the rather primitive special effects and makeup available to the Spanish director at the time…. these boogymen just plain work on a basic visceral level to evoke a mood that shows the skills of the director beyond the limits of his obviously exploitative low budget material.
Virginia meets her unfortunate and lonely end when the Templars discover her hiding in the ruins. After a short chase scene through the ruins with the Blind Dead, who unerringly pursue her by the merest sounds she makes, even the frightened beating of her heart. She tries to make an escape by riding away on one of the Templar steeds, only to make it as far as the field near the train line. There the mob of hooded fiends catch her at last pulling her down to bite her to death, drinking her blood from her open wounds.
Her friends meanwhile finally reach the resort hotel they were traveling to, expecting her to return once she’s calmed down enough to face them again. When that doesn’t happen, they start asking questions about the strange ruins they saw near where Virginia jumped from the train, but all they receive in return is mostly frightened silence. A maidservant hesitantly tells them; “You mean Berzano. It’s been deserted for over 100 years.” Her fear of punishment from the hotel management about spreading old wives tales about the place and scaring away tourists keeps her from saying more, but this only makes our heroes even more determined to rent horses to ride out to the ruins for a look for themselves.
By now her body has been found by the passing train, and the police called in. naturally they run into Betty and Roger at the ruins and they get taken to the station for questions and to identify Virginia’s body at the morgue. We get the sense that the police don’t buy much of their story, but seem never to take them seriously as suspects even with the possibility of the sordid “love triangle” between the three. From here it’s “Scooby-Doo” time… as Betty and Roger track down local historian, Professor Candal (played by Francisco Sanz) who tells them the whole story about the Templars and their legend.
We get a nifty lil’ flashback sequence to those olden days while the professor tells his story, as the Grandmaster of the Templars leads a Satanic ceremony at the Monastery wherein a beautiful young girl gets tied to a cross and chopped to bloody bits by the mounted Templars as part of their pact to the Devil to gain eternal life. It’s creepy and evil (even with the laughably fake looking closeups of rubber breasts being chopped open by swords) and gives the film it’s prerequisite moment of exploitative nudity. He ends his tale with the eventual capture of the Templars by the Church who tried and convicted them for their vile acts against God and man. Excommunicating them, their ultimate fate was to be hanged to death and their bodies left strung up from a tree for public display, until crows plucked out their eyes. It’s a grisly story interrupted by the police who’ve come to talk no to them about the crime, but the professor. Interestingly enough it seems, the professor has a reprobate of a son named Pedro who leads a gang of scurvy smugglers that the police feel might have murdered Virginia to bolster local superstitions about the place and help hide their illicit activities in the area. Convenient , huh?
Here things get weird…. with Virginia awakening in the morgue and going all carnivorous on the creepy attendant. She’s obviously now a zombie too…. and this is what made lil’ Miyuki (and all these years later, grown up Miyuki too…) absolutely certain that those naughty Templars were indeed Zombies…. as their bites were indeed “catchy” like all zombie bites are supposed to be. After escaping the morgue, she’s drawn to the mannequin studio of her friend Betty and tries to put the bite on Nina, her shop assistant, who manages to fight her off and then destroy her by setting her ablaze in the shop. So much for poor Virginia…
From here our two heroes travel to see Pedro, convincing him it’s in his best interest to help them solve this murder as the police will never stop bugging him and the other smugglers till the truth behind it all is known. Naturally there’s really only one way to do it…. and that’s to bring the slutty local girl, Maria he’s making time with and come with them to Berzano and spend the night. Wow…. now that sounds like a dumb plan. Yep… it’s no great stretch to know that they’re all gonna die.
But now it wouldn’t be much of an exploitation movie if getting them all dead didn’t first involve some nasty rape (Poor Betty at the hands of scurrilous Pedro) and some stupid seduction (Maria and “pretty boy” Roger… so “obviously” broken up about losing Virginia a scant day or so ago) before our evil Templars can show up to go on another killing spree, finishing off our group one by one until only Betty is left to stumble to the Train for help. This time the Engineer and his son, the coal tender, actually stop to try to help (something that would have been helpful waaaay back when Virginia needed them…), giving the Templars a chance to catch them and board the train killing everybody on board except Betty, hiding in the coal car. When the train rolls into the station, nobody at the throttle, the conductor finds the now insane Betty, her hair bleached white by the horrors of her experience…. Oh, yes…. and a whole train car full of dead passengers and evil hungry zombie Templars….. Yikes!! Game over, roll those credits!!
This one is a hoot. Far from a perfect film, with lots of plot holes and inconsistencies it none the less stands as a great lil’ example of mid 70’s Euro horror the way I remember watching them in the mid 80’s. Ossorio really outdid himself in the imagining of the Templars, making them as fresh and original a movie monster as any other I can think of as a child. The film spawned 3 other less remarkable sequels and was most obviously a great influence on John Carpenter who uses much of the same atmosphere and imagery for his own film “The Fog”. If there is any quibble at all with this one, it would be in the lack of any really sympathetic characters in the story…. Virginia comes the closest… and it makes one have to depend on enjoying the story merely as a vehicle for the Templars themselves. Neko gives this one 4 “Meows” out of 5… and that’s mostly due to their inclusion as truly menacing and very effective objects of terror. Without them… the film would definitely have failed…. and you wouldn’t even be reading about it here.
If you haven’t seen it, your Favorite Catgirl promises it’s definitely worth a look. It’s available worldwide, in it’s original Spanish language version, which is far preferable to the severely edited English language version. There’s even a strange version with additional edited footage and voice narration that tried to make it into some sort of unauthorized sequel to the “Planet of the Apes” movies…. no kidding!! I’ve never seen that, but it’s sometimes seen on DVD’s as an extra (But sadly not on my copy of the film….). Sounds trippy!!
Trailer? C’mon now….. Would this lil’ Catgirl ever leave you hangin’?