Wednesday, October 3, 2012

[Series 31] THE BLIND DEAD SERIES

TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971)


SYNOPSIS: A woman who is hanging with her male friend-crush runs into her old roommate from girls' school.  Roommate joins the trip, turning company into a crowd, and the woman leaps off a moving train to get away from her infuriatingly flirting friends.  Unluckily, she arrives at the city where, in medieval times, members of the Knights Templar tied women to racks and slashed women's racks with swords in a bid for immortality.  Caught and punished, they were strung up until their eyes were pecked out by crows, but return in our modern times as zombies with facial hair(!!!) who ride horses(!!!).  Said zombies are still blind, but have a heightened enough sense of hearing—if your hearts beats too rapidly, they'll find you and bite you to death.

WHAT WORKED:
THE TEMPLARS!  They haven't gained the sort of cult traction that Leatherface or Pinhead have, but they're definitely among the coolest of movie monsters.  They're actually used fairly sparingly here (just two big scenes, really), but it's gold whenever the Templars are ominously stalking across the screen or riding horses in slow-motion, on the hunt for city dishes.  Every other scene kind of falters in comparison and you're mostly just reduced to a child, whining, "When are they gonna show the Templars again?"


Skillful direction and plotting leads to some intriguing choices.  Stylistically, this is fully a child of the artsy/surreal Eurohorror of the seventies.  It's not as outlandish as Argento's stuff would get, but the redly-lit mannequin factory and the scene in which a woman tries to mute her beating heart with her hands bring the nightmarish, dreamlike strangeness.  I especially loved the flashback scene—the gang is on a train and one girl has a flashback to her school dorm days, BUT THE FLASHBACK INCLUDES TRAIN SOUNDS AND SMOKESTACK SMOKE!  Huh?!  Director Amando de Ossorio links stuff together very well as well—one girl appears behind flames as she's disrobing (to protect her womanly secrets from the viewer) and then later appears behind flames in a different way.  Ditto the Templar bites mirrored in later sexual-harassment body kisses.

  
The setting of the Templars old town is pretty unsettling by itself.  Giant crumbling edifices of very ornate stonework.  Like the Templars themselves, the film is pretty restrained about showing very much of it (lots of interiors, lots of nighttime scenes [great for makeup, not for arches]).  But what's here is quite spectacular.


ANY scene at the morgue!  Every horror movie needs a creepy-cool morgue attendant and this one has one of the best.  When we first meet him, he's instructed to reveal a victim's body so her friends can identify it.  But he has this barely-contained excited look on his face and seems so delighted that I expected him to whip the sheet away like a tablecloth-pulling magician.  ALAKAZAM!  I also enjoyed the other morgue guy's observation that the girl deserved to be bitten to death because she was dressed like a slut.


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
As mentioned, the non-Templar scenes do tend to drag somewhat.  It definitely feels like the filmmakers were most concerned with the zombie scenes and treated everything else as just a way to get there.  The characters aren't especially compelling and (lesbian schoolgirlisms aside) are mostly just as shallow as most horror flick people.  The dialogue is pretty blasé, too, with some exceptions.  So, basically, all the components that make movies movies don't work here, but OMG THE TEMPLARS!


Viewers who are used to our modern-day gorefests might be disappointed that TOMBS is a relatively bloodless affair.  Tit-slashing and laser-clean arm-hacking are essentially it, although there is a fair amount of blood sloshed around.  Don't worry, the Templar designs more than make up for it!


APING OTHERS' SUCCESSES:
I just found out about this two days ago, but when this film was released in America, PLANET OF THE APES had just turned out to be a huge hit.  So the distributors of TOMBS re-cut it with the prologue below to try to hitch a ride on the APES gravy train.  If you have seen TOMBS, you will know how ridiculous this is.  Exploitation forever!


RATING: 5


RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD (1973)

SYNOPSIS: In Bouzano, Portugal, the residents are preparing a festival to celebrate their victory over the evil Templars 500 years before (said victory ended with the Templars' eyes being burned out so they couldn't find their way back to the village after death).  The local porcine politico mayor hires a fireworks expert for the event, unaware that the expert has a romantic past with the mayor's fiancee.  Thanks to the efforts of a local hunchback, the Templars return and wreck the party.


WHAT WORKED:
The Templars (again). They used the same designs for this film, but there are more Templars, both in terms of number and in terms of screen time. You get more Templars for your money!  It doesn't take forever for them to show up, either, as they're riding around and killing people and trampling hunchbacks in a jiffy in RETURN.  And they knock on doors this time.  So polite!

All of my complaints about TOMBS have been addressed here.  RETURN has real characters (well, I mean, this isn't an Altman film, but at least people have motivations and relationships here before they die).  The mayor, his flunky Dacosta, fireworks expert Marlowe, deformed guy Murdo, even the governor's maid is memorable!  The actors also act at an acceptable level.  There's more gore (this movie loves dribbled blood!).  The script is better, too, tighter and more thrilling.  Amando de Ossorio had gotten more proficient at juggling and weaving storylines, so the first film's stop-and-start, "Now let's leave the Templars and go chat by the pool for 10 minutes" thing doesn't recur.  This even has a scene or two of comedy and it miraculously doesn't ruin the film!


For action involving slowly-moving zombies on zombie horses using swords to kill people slowly, the action here is spectacular.  It's choppily-cut (appropriately so) and the zombie knights vs. villagers armed with rakes scene should be the object of its own class at film school.


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
It's a little annoying that much of the film is so dark, but you understand once you see certain scenes with the Templars.  The prop versions used for fire work look really bad, like Halloween decorations from Dollar General.


RETURN reuses footage from the first film, mostly Templar stuff, which is admirable in budgetary terms, but it kind of takes you out of the film if you watch the series all in a row, as I'm doing.  Calling this a "retread", as some have done, isn't fair, though.  Some scenes and concepts are appropriated (if you liked the first film's rape scene, you'll LOVE this one!), but it's its own thing.  Even if it's more a reboot than a proper sequel, I'd say that this is the definitive version of the Templar story.

"We suggest you bring at least one large partner to hold you tightly"!!!



RATING: 6


THE GHOST GALLEON (1974)


SYNOPSIS: Seriously, this is the plot.  A sporting goods company has this brilliant idea to put two (super?)models adrift in a boat in the North Sea.  Once they are "rescued", the press that descends will be all, "What a great new model of small boat!"  Unfortunately for the ladies, the first large boat that they encounter is the ghost galleon which contains the coffins of the Templars.  Don't even bother trying to work out how they got on the ship after the events of REVENGE—I'd just look at the Blind Dead movies as Uncle Remus-type tales, which aren't necessarily interconnected.  The jerks from the sporting goods company enlist the help of a researcher and take a yacht out in search of the haunted ship.  It's alleged by the "expert" that only small boats can see the ship.  Granted, it's a pretty dinky yacht, though.  Guess what happens next?  Worst episode ever!

HORROR OF THE ZOMBIEZ

WHAT WORKED:
The galleon setting fits the Templars well—it's desolate, creepy, foggy, the works. There's not enough ship to accommodate horseback riding, but otherwise it's one of the film's strengths and a better movie would have used it to better advantage.



The Templars still look cool, although they aren't on screen nearly enough in this film. Conceptually, GALLEON does offer some of their finest scenes—grasping through a balustrade for a dangling woman, rising out of the ocean, and appearing in full daylight (on a beach!) for the first time.  The Templars of this film are well-executed and don't ever look like spookshow dummies.


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
Where to begin? Well, the plot is farcical.  That wouldn't be an issue if this were a so-bad-it's-good movie, which is what I was hoping to see at the outset (when the modeling agency lady drops all of the papers out of her clipboard during a dialogue scene and it doesn't look planned at all), but the movie quickly lets you know that it's going to be a boring bad movie instead of an entertaining one.  WAY too much time is spent with characters that no one could possibly ever care about, time that could have been devoted to Templar mayhem.  The pacing of this thing drags so much that I HAD to take three breaks and watch the pirate song from "Lazy Town".  The dialogue and acting are blech, there's minimal onscreen violence...it's almost like the series reverted to the bad habits of the first film, only it's worse because we've been with the Templars for THREE movies now and they're just not enough to save this on their own.

The science "expert" makes things up as he goes along and generally imports the film's ridiculousness by the boatload. I hate to keep harping on the yacht, but goddamn it look:


Plus the exorcism!  Performed with a burning cross!  THE KLAN WERE JUST TRYING TO KEEP THE BLIND DEAD AWAY, YOU GUYS.

So, yeah, it sucks!  Even the trailer is too long and dull, although I do heart, "And I could learn to do all the important things, like fixing my hair!" with COMPASSION in scary screamed font:



RATING: 2

NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS (1975)


SYNOPSIS: After the disastrous last outing, it's a relief to see that this movie doesn't bother linking with the previous film's conclusion.  Can the tragically-named NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS save this series?  A doctor and his wife arrive at their new post, a remote seaside village full of dicks who refuse to take their grocery orders.  Soon, their sleep is broken by the peal of bells and screeches of seagulls and they learn that a different girl is taken to the beach every night for arcane ceremonies.  Nice local gal Lucy and malformed village idiot Teddy are their only allies as they must contend with hostile villagers and the group to whom girls are being sacrificed: yep, the Templars.

WHAT WORKED:

I really dug the prologue in a bad art kind of way, especially the modest costume displayed by the chick in the medieval coach.  Everything covered, even using a wimple, but with a boobs-exposing dress, lol.  


The characters are generally plenty flat (he's a doctor! and he's concerned!), but Teddy is pretty fun whenever he's on screen.  I'm not sure how the actor decided that making a Hacksaw Jim Duggan face and skulking around like a stroke victim was the best way to make this character live, but I am glad that he did.  The acting ain't bad overall, although there's not much for the actors to do, given the script's limitations.


I like the idea of the Templars running a protection racket ("Give us your daughters and we won't raze your town"), even though the movie doesn't really capitalize on the idea as much as it should've.  The whole concept of the amphibian-seeming god is also promising and likewise isn't exploited nearly enough.



WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
It's not as bad as GHOST GALLEON, but whole huge swathes of this are super-slow and boring. Transplanting the Templars to a new setting and setting up new heavies in the form of the village collaborators was a good idea, but this script ain't the best ever.  SEAGULLS at least tries to get you to care about the characters, even if it mostly fails at that task.  So, basically, it becomes, "Hey, what's that one girl doing now...oh...she's dead."  Or "Look, it's that guy with the shirt."  The characters are essentially as interchangeable as the Templars themselves.

I know it saves money, but it's pretty annoying seeing the same "Templars rise" scenes repeated for the FOURTH time in the series. SEAGULLS's sins in this respect aren't as grievous as RETURN, but why would you keep going back to that first-film well when you have two other entries to choose from at this point? It makes the "Blind Dead" series feel like a cheap TV show, like the undeads rising is the equivalent of the transformations into a cat on "Manimal".



Bonus Cathedral song about this film that is way better than this film:


RATING: 4



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