Sunday, October 11, 2009

See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Eat Me

Having gorged on my share of highly fattening Italian zombie cinema (I'm still picking the cheese and intestines out of my teeth), I didn't expect much from Spanish filmmaker's Amando de Ossorio's Knights of Templar series. Yes, I'm clearly an ignorant American who can't tell the difference between Europeans. Thankfully, 1971's Tombs of the Blind Dead, the first entry in this four-film set, has its own refreshing take on the undead mythos complete with a slow and spooky tone that actually left me unsettled. Yay.

Quick Plot: While on vacation in Lisbon with her swinger-ready boyfriend Roger, thirtysomething Virginia bumps into her former college roommate/tepid ex-lover Betty (you know, 'cause all female coeds "experiment"). They quickly catch up and Roger, clad in the world's most pimpin' bathrobe, invites the attractive mannequin factory owner to a couples' camping trip and train ride. Annoyed at Roger's shameless flirtation, Virginia leaps off board and decides to spend the night in an abandoned medieval town which unfortunately enough, happens to be occupied by a band of crusty, Ghost of Christmas Past-ish monsters. Our bland brunette makes a valiant effort to escape, but once the shamblers hitch up on horseback, the poor lass doesn't stand a chance.

Back in the civilized world of Portuguese society, Betty and Roger visit the world's laxest morgue to identify the body of their friend/lost third in the threesome that wasn't. Later that evening, Virginia's corpse awakens to take a bite out of the slightly sadistic coroner's assitant. Betty and Roger visit the town historian (about as quaint a film profession as a candlestick maker or milkman, but anyway) and learn that the village is haunted by the the Knights of Templar, a power-abusing group of noblemen who sacrificed virgins (well, whipped them to near death then sucked blood out of their nude bodies) to Satan in return for eternal life. Legend has it that the townspeople strung up the naughty knights and left their deaths at the hands--or beaks--of eye-pecking crows.

It's a great setup for a different breed of monster, but the real beauty of Tombs of the Blind Dead is how sparingly Ossorio uses his shuffling man-eaters. There is no real mass feasting we've become used to seeing in similarly styled films of the time, but the attacks are incredibly effective due to the careful choices made to build each scene. A creepy soundtrack cues up medieval monk chanting as these giant grim reapers gallop atop white stallions. Since the knights are blind and hunt by sound, our characters are forced to play Marco Polo rounds of life or death. The score sometimes kicks in at the wrong times, but it's refreshing to watch a film that doesn't rely on gigantically overblown sound cues to tell us danger is a'comin.

I didn't notice just how invested I was in this film until one of the final scenes. I won't spoil a film that I recommend you seek out, but let's just say that I caught myself holding my breath as our heroine attempts to crawl to safety with a horde of horse-riding dead soldiers silently in pursuit. Even though that's the kind of emotion horror films are, by definition, supposed to be riling up, it's hard to remember the last time I felt so on edge in an actual moment of action.

High Points
An early attack in a freaky mannequin workshop (no, there is no other type) is sufficiently suspenseful in an almost Hammer Horror style

The sole special feature is pretty damn amazing: an alternate prologue that explains how man once rose up against his simian oppressors by poking out their eyes and seizing control of planet earth. That's right: in order to cash in on a big little 1968 adventure, an alternate title for Tombs of the Blind Dead was Revenge From Planet Ape. The absurdity is a beautiful thing

Low Points
It's a horror cliche that I'll never accept: so you work alone late at night in a mortuary. No stereo, no traffic, or any other ambient noise of any type. How do you not hear the sound of a body dismounting from its gurney as it approaches the back of your neck for a midnight snack?

Character was clearly an afterthought to the script. While Lone Fleming gets to dig a little deep with Betty's confused sexuality, some of the plot choices by other actors feel a little too silly to believe

Lessons Learned
When the world gets as quiet as it can possibly be, you will hear the obnoxiously deafening sound of your own heart beat. So will the zombies.

Decorators are harmless

In order to sway a criminal smuggler to accompany you on a dangerous mission into a haunted town, simply bait him with subtle hints that he may be slightly nervous. Sample approach:
Badass Criminal: I won't go.
Metrosexual: I understand. Are you afraid?
Badass Criminal: I'm coming!

Contrary to popular belief, not all women enjoy a smoke after being raped

With its carefully drawn atmosphere and unique spin on an easy genre, Tombs of the Blind Dead was an exciting surprise for me. If the entire series maintained this level of quality, I'd suggest a buy; however, most reports I've heard seem to single out this film as head and shoulders above the other three. Having not yet seen these movies, I personally can't speak to that but I would plan a Netflix sampler before putting heavy money into this set.

Important Note: The Blue Underground DVD offers you two cuts of the film: Tombs of the Blind Dead, in dubbed English, and La Noche del Terror Ciego, in Spanish with subtitles. Being lazy and of worsening eyesight, I started with Tombs but quickly realized that something was off. If a young virgin is being stripped and torn apart in an exploitation flick, would the filmmakers really be so restrained as to not show her bosoms? Sure enough, the Spanish version is a gorily nude 14 minutes longer and apparently much more fluid than the chopped up American cut. Without question, put on your reading glasses and watch this one (even if, like me, you have your own boobs and don't necessarily require a few shots of prosthetically chewed up ones). Just don't forget to switch back to Tombs to check out the insanely wonderful attempt to ride the ape train. 


  1. This is a fun series. I think I have only watched three of the four so far though. If I remember right, each film is given its own title, so at first I didn't know they were all part of a series. Do you plan on checking out the other films as well?

  2. From what I've read, the series is loosely connected by the Knights of Templar but have no linear storyline. Also, I think the Knights themselves vary a bit from film to film as to their origin and kill style.

    I'm definitely putting the rest of the films on my queue, but probably won't rush into any of them to avoid zombie fatigue. I'll try to go in order although I don't think it matters that much.

    Did you enjoy the others?

  3. From what I remember of them, there is no linear story line. They are each their own story with the zombies being the only thing that connects them. Of course with these zombies, it makes it obvious they are connect.

    I liked each film well enough. Since they aren't films I have watched a million times, I don't remember as much about them as other films. I seem to remember that there was always something that happened that stuck me as silly, but that happens a lot in horror films lol.

  4. I'll put the rest on my queue to scratch my zombie itch when it rears its undead head. It's nice to know that the order doesn't matter!

  5. There is a definite feeling of diminishing returns here though, so if you get them out of order don't let a dud deter you from the next in your queue.
    That sadi, the spooky, slow-mo horse back knights are very very cool

  6. Good to know Vish. It's funny because I didn't find the Knights that scary until they hitched up to those horses and the music started playing. It doesn't hurt that I have a minor fear of stallions.