Fright Fest: Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972)
[ SPOIL-O-RAMA, GUYS—DON’T CRY ABOUT IT—HAVE FUN WITH IT… ]
I’d been meaning to check these films out on my own for a while and had a set in my amazon wishlist waiting and ready when I saw this title in the list of choices of films to review. I called dibs and went immediately to amazon to grab this. So, just so I’m clear on what I’m working with, the set I now have is the Blue Underground set of all four Blind Dead films (and that Ghost Galleon that popped off its holder in transit better be watchable when I get to it…) and there is a decent amount of conflicting information (hence, the 1971/2 up top). This film is generally referred to as Tombs of the Blind Dead, but the disc in this set has two versions of the film—the first one I watched, La Noche Del Terror Ciego (The Night of the Blind Terror) is the original Spanish/Portuguese production title and cut; and The Blind Dead. Nowhere in the actual video material does it say the title I’ve always heard this film given, other than the box. Also, on the box it says it came out in 1971, but most other places say 1972.
For fun and thoroughness I’ll also mention that, due to the popularity of the film Planet of the Apes around that time, some American distributors decided to cash in on that and did a ridiculous cut job and intro that tried to repackage the Templar/’Knights-from-the-East’ baddies in Blind Dead as the reanimated apes who’d been wronged (in a particularly blinding way) by the bad hew-manz. This intro is on the disc I have as an extra and I can only imagine what US grindhouse fans made of that bullshit back in the day. And yes, that earns an I-Shit-You-Not Award from me.
I watched the original version and the dubbed English version. The English version was eighteen minutes shorter, and that makes for some pretty obvious differences in parts, but it’s mostly the same film.
I’m going to stick pretty close the La Noche del Terror Ciego since it’s the original and what the filmmakers intended.
The original film begins with credits over spooky ruins and ancient buildings imagery, a setting we’ll become intimately familiar with as the film progresses—then it slams to a woman with grayish hair screaming at the sight of something off-screen—then cuts again to city scenery that eventually ends up at a pool area.
We follow a young woman in a bikini down to a pool area where she recognizes another young woman. This is Betty (Lone Fleming) and Virginia (María Elena Arpón), old friends. Good friends. Depending on which version you watch, you can see how good of friends they were.
They are joined by Roger (César Burner), Virginia’s friend. He likes Betty immediately and invites her to join them on their train trip and camping excursion the next day. On the train, Betty falls on Roger’s lap while reaching for something and Virginia is all ‘uh-uh’ and ain’t having it.
She excuses herself and walks down the train to the rear exterior platform of the car they’re in. Betty follows her out and they talk, leading to a flashback of the two young women in a boarding school of some kind. In the original version, there’s some playful touching that leads to kissing, strongly implying a lesbian relationship in their shared past. The US edit cuts before any implication, effectively keeping them as just old buddies. Roger comes out of the car and Virginia bolts again.
Virginia sits in the train stewing and asks a train worker if they can stop or if there’s a town near. Just at that moment, she sees something like an old castle or something in the distance on a hill and the train worker says there are no towns and they can’t stop. Well, Virginia won’t be stymied by the creepiness of distant structures or that it’s not considered a town or anything like one. She grabs her camping gear and belongings and jumps off the damn train, by Jiminy.
The train won’t stop and her friends can’t convince her to come back from the rear of the train, so they just keep on rolling away.
So, Virginia hikes all the way out across the fields and up to the top of the hill the ancient-looking ruins and shuttered buildings rest upon. We will come to find that this is the abandoned (and some might say… cursed—muahahaha) medieval town of Berzano… but before all that, we the audience will be forced to watch Virginia investigate the grounds and dusty interiors… at length.
That’s why I’ve spent longer on this summary than I usually do—the first chunk of this film is almost comically drawn out. It’s even edited down some in the US cut, but it still runs until almost the midpoint of the film (I’m not kidding; what is effectively the first full act of the film, ignoring what I think they intended the first plot point to be with her jumping off the train, ends a little before the halfway point of the shorter US edit).
Ignoring classic film structures and just going with it, it’s still way too long. Between the train jump and the end of this chunk in almost 20 minutes in each cut—and over half of that is Virginia walking around looking at things.
And yes, as always seems to be my curse… we have now crossed over into…
The reason I spent so much time on that whole first chunk (other than to parody the film’s approach to the same span) is that this is where the film suffers most. It might sound up to here in the review that I didn’t like this movie—which is not at all the case. But that’s the problem I had with it on both edits—incredibly long chunk before great shit starts.
After that point, the film really picks up for me. And that point is… Virginia dying horribly after being stalked and chased by the Blind fucking Dead.
These creations are by far the best thing in the film, and after their painfully slow reveal (complete with Inexplicably Undead Horses and fucking swords!) crawling out of their graves and stone caskets and skulking around Berzano with their creepy little long skeletal hands and tattered, threadbare robes and desiccated, ghastly eyeless faces, the film moves with a quickness. By comparison, at the very least.
I also have to give them credit on the Virginia escape—she goes all Tomb Raider style, climbing for her life up crumbling stone to get away from the Blind Dead, then hops on a surprisingly agreeable Inexplicably Undead Horse and hauls ass out of Berzano. Sadly for her, the Nazgûl-like Blind Dead horsemen (who are always shown in slow-motion, which is glorious) catch up to her and descend upon her waiting flesh…
After Virginia’s body is found, there’s a lot of new characters, plot, and fun to be had. Betty and Roger find out from a hotel worker (whose place of employment they’ve been chilling at since a little while after letting their friend waddle off toward a creepy old abandoned medieval town on a hill in the distance while the sun was going down) that the place Virginia was heading toward was Berzano, a curse-ed, old, evil town the locals only whisper about.
That gets them moving. They rent horses from the hotel and ride out, unaware the same father and son train worker team have seen their friend’s dead body in basically the same field where they let her wander off the day before.
They run into investigators looking into Virginia’s death, who then take Betty and Roger to identify her body. That scene is hilarious for two reasons—the morgue has an Inexplicably Swinging Light going back and forth for absolutely no reason… the entire scene. The morgue assistant is a creepy guy who’s way too excited to be in a morgue and it’s hard to say if the source of his creepiness is supposed to be sexual in nature or just that he really likes being around dead bodies and frogs in jars and such. Once again, not talking mess here—this guy is one of my favorite parts of this film.
Before I just go through the whole movie giving every single thing away and all that, I’ll just say the rest of this film is a mess. It’s a fantastic, lovable mess, but definitely a mess. There’s a flashback to the origins of Berzano’s ghoulish denizens (which is moved to the very beginning of the non-Planet-of-the-Apes-bullshit English edit; also, all the gore is cut out of the very watered-down English edit pretty much across the board), a history professor or something whose son is a smuggler and that son has a vampy femme fatale girlfriend of sorts who of course gets into a cat fight later in the film (during an en masse Blind Dead Attack, no less).
There’s a rape scene that I think was supposed to make you really want this one character to die horribly, but by that point in the film, I already wanted him to anyway. That scene is also cut to shit in the English edit and it’s more an implied quick sexual encounter that the young woman just seems kind of confused about.
One of the Blind Dead baddies even gets to use his sword and hacks a dude’s fucking arm off—that gets totally cut from the English edit and you’re supposed to think he just like… died (maybe from Blind Dead bites?).
Oh, and Virginia comes back to life and starts attacking people then gets set on fire. No big.
So yeah, this movie is kind of a bonkers mess… that I was thoroughly entertained by.
WHAT I LIKED:
- THE BLIND DEAD themselves. Just incredibly spooky in appearance (despite their almost adorable ‘creepy little long-fingered hands’ (as I dubbed them while we watched the original edit) and a rickety-looking one here and there) and the one scene where their blindness is actually used as a device makes them even creepier for a couple minutes.
- Gory meanness of original version. The flashback has knights cutting a young maiden multiple times and it cuts to close-ups of bleed-y foam latex and such and goes for it. The knights descend upon her and go to town. There’s a kill very late in the film my wife and I were a bit surprised by, even as seasoned horror fans and vets (that of course is completely taken out of the English edit). The arm chop is great—Yojimbo-level even—so it’s a shame it’s not even in a widely distributed version of the film.
- Virginia (María Elena Arpón). Even though the early chunk she’s in gets a lot of flak from me in this, she does a great job with simple (and long-winded) early material, then gets a great Final Girl worthy escape that sadly fails, then gets to come back as a creepy… I dunno… like… revenant? Sure, revenant.
- Creepy Morgue Guy. Doesn’t even seem to fit in the movie. He’s fodder for a death scene eventually, but he gets way more weird personality than I’d expect for that kind of role. I love that.
- This Shot:
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
- Pacing. I’m not kidding about the beginning chunk. In the shorter English edit, the Blind Dead are seen about 30 minutes in (to an 80 minute film) and then a bunch of things driven by Virginia’s death happen but the connections are sometimes laughable and thin at best, then we’re back with some new friends in the group and our Blind Dead buddies again at Berzano for about 20 minutes until the end.
- English edit is censored to ridiculous levels. I’m sure there were probably reasons for this, but it’s still an inferior film, other than maybe being a bit more brisk and flowing more smoothly here and there.
- And even in the original cut, it feels like it ends right when it really gets going and firing on all cylinders of gory, mean madness.
I’ll give La Noche del Terror Ciego………7.5/10
[ …and the English edit The Blind Dead…..5.5/10 ]
PATRICK LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and short stories. By day, he works at a state college in Southern California, where he lives with his wife and young daughter. His stories have appeared in anthologies published by April Moon Books, Bold Venture Press, Sirens Call Publications, Indie Authors Press, PHANTAXIS, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick’s first novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL, was released June 2017 by April Moon Books.
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