Review Date: October 9, 2005
Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 9/27/2005
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: Yes (Tombs of the Blind Dead)
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: Yes (Return of the Evil Dead)
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes (The Ghost Galleon)
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes (Night of the Seagulls)
George A. Romero may have birthed the modern zombie film in 1969 with Night of the Living Dead
, but American filmmakers sure took a long time to follow suit. Instead, Spain of all places was the first to really start to build on Romero’s classic, with such zombie classics as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
and Tombs of the Blind Dead
presented zombies very much in the Romero mould, but director Amando de Ossorio conceived of something completely different with his Blind Dead films. For his zombies were knights, sadistic warriors brought back by mysticism rather than by nuclear uncertainty.
De Ossorio Made four films in his Blind Dead series, but up until now you’d hardly know that. Despite being homegrown hits in Spain and drive-in steeples of the seventies, they’ve largely been forgotten, with the last two not even receiving any legitimate North American release on DVD. The first two films, Tombs of the Blind Dead
and The Return of the Evil Dead
were packaged as a double feature through Anchor Bay, but even then the second film was still severely cut. It is fitting then, that Blue Underground’s new release of The Blind Dead Collection
is encased in a tomb, since these films have largely been buried. The dirt has cleared though, and unearthed are the unrated cuts of all four of Amando de Ossorio’s inventive and original zombie films for the first time ever in North America.
TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD
It seems fitting that a film as original as Tombs of the Blind Dead
would begin not at the start, but at the end. It starts with the scream of a frazzled Betty (Lone Fleming
), which hints at the horror that is to follow. The film then moves to a countryside resort, where Virginia (Helen Harp
) and her boyfriend Roger (Cesar Burner
) are taking to some swimming and relaxation. It is there that they stumble into one of Virginia’s old school friends, Betty. Virginia and Betty recall old times, then are about to depart when Roger decides to invite Betty along with him and Virginia on a train trip they are taking. Betty agrees, and onto the train they go. The train travels the scenic landscape, but deep beyond its tracks, in the depths of the woods, lie the bodies of the old knights templar, just waiting for their next victim.
Virginia and Betty, it is revealed through flashback, had more than an innocent history together. While staying together, they experimented with homosexuality, and seemed perfectly content with each other’s company. That was the past though, and now that both are practicing straight relationships, the two suddenly find themselves competitors for Roger’s affection. Unable to take it, Virginia decides to jump off the train and shack up in the woods for the night. In her journey through the woods she finds the abandoned medieval town of Berzano. It was there that the knights templar sacrificed their various female victims in a bid for eternal life. The knights were caught and executed by the high order, their bodies left on display for the crows to peck their eyes out. With the sacrificed blood of nubile women in their hearts they continue living, but without their vision. They are thus the Blind Dead, and on this day they rise.
Virginia becomes the knights’ first victim, and Roger and Betty are soon to follow. In a bid to find Virginia, the two of them go off into the mystical land of Berzano, where they meet up with a couple gypsies who the police have pegged as Virginia’s murderers. We, of course, know better. After the sun sets and the couples settle down in Berzano, the knights make another deathly appearance. They slowly crawl from their tombs and then gallop in methodical slow motion atop their rotting horses. What ensues is a night of terror, and one that Betty will be screaming about for years.
Tombs of the Blind Dead
is a film much more inventive and original than it is given credit for. Its originality is downplayed immediately upon comparison to Night of the Living Dead
, and in the case of the first film, the comparison doesn’t really hold up. Yes, the Blind Dead are zombies, but so was Jessica Holland in I Walked With A Zombie
some 26 years before Romero was ever a name. The idea of the zombie is not one unique to Romero, and de Ossorio takes it and adds a whole new spin on it with his knights templar. de Ossorio’s zombies are much more dried and decayed than Romero’s, and their ragged shawls and dirty bones foreshadow the dry and disgusting effects that would come to be used in other European films like Zombie
and Burial Ground
. Indeed, with his knights, de Ossorio created the make-up benchmark that all European zombie films would emulate in their clay-based prosthetic work. The look alone of the zombies is enough to sustain the film, which is good considering that is all the later films have going for them.
The way the knights are shot is particularly fresh too, moving away from realism and into the realm of fantasy. The knights ride their horses in ominous slow motion, the reverberation of the horses’ hooves echoing throughout the sound stage. While the movie seems to exist in real time, the knights do not, and it’s this play with time and space that makes the film unique and at times unsettling. In the way they slowly but surely plod on, the knights are presented as this spiritual entity that is impenetrable. They keep their course, unbound by time or by space. They go to their own beat, and not even today has cinema ever beat at a similar pulse.
The iconic shots of the knights rising from their graves or riding on their death stallions are alone reason to see these films, but the first two films offer an intriguing mix of characters and relationships. The first is most interesting in the way the first third is all about a love triangle and sexual experimentation and repression. In the way it focuses on the females’ lesbianism and their battle over Roger it comes across like a glamorized soap opera. The second gets even more melodramatic with the affair between Vivian and Marlowe and then the adoptive drama of the little orphaned girl at the end. Most horror films rely on cutout characters that seem to exist only to be chased or killed by the bad guy. The characters in the first two Blind Dead films are in no ways complex, but they are interesting in that they have lives outside of the horror film. They have typical soap opera dilemmas, and in de Ossorio’s focus on their melodramatic exploits it gives the film a kind of trashy personality to go along with all the bloodshed. It is like a combination of those cheap late night horror movies with those sleazy Brazillian soap operas that show up when you should be in bed. The focus is always the zombies, but the credence of the overwrought character drama of the first two films gives them weight when the templar are still in their tombs.
Another interesting technique de Ossorio uses in Tombs of the Blind Dead
is to contrast the empty and lifeless visage of the dead knights with that of mannequins. Betty works at a mannequin production plant, and the monotony of her assembly line job is brought out by the cookie cutter process of the mannequins’ assembly. Their parts are interchangeable, and yet she must make them at all hours of the day, in many ways she isn’t much different than the lifeless zombies, who just sort of plod through their ritual of sacrifice. Mannequins also serve as Betty’s way to cope with the loss of Virginia, shown in great montage when Betty is piecing together one of their bodies while thinking of her past love. If the knights are able to exist above time and space, then Betty is able to do similar by playing god in her fabrication of mannequins. Everyone needs to cope with death, and her way is to simply recreate life through her assembly position.
For a story as simple as Tombs
, it is surprising just what de Ossorio is able to pull off with this first film. The amazingly shot zombie sequences are the ticket, but the soft focus melodrama and the metaphoric mannequin assembly scenes all ring with artistry. The gore is great when it needs to be, including some nasty body slitting, but de Ossorio has enough skill to infuse the quieter scenes with beautiful imagery and rich mythical subtext. Although he hardly develops the knights, they seem like such a believable and fascinating entity. There is something sympathetic about the way they have become strictly impulsive creatures, just plodding along for whatever victim lies in their path. In a way they are more interesting than the indecisive characters, who never seem to know what they want or spend too much time moping about their lives. The knights just move forward with their ritual goals of sacrifice, and despite their shadowed and hollowed faces, they remain totally compelling.
films have been done to death over the years, but Tombs of the Blind Dead
remains one of the true originals. More spiritual and less talky than Romero’s Night of the Living Dead
, its effectiveness comes from the surreal nature of the imagery. Romero went for a documentary look with Night
, and with Tombs
de Ossorio brings out a much more stylized canvas. The images are hauntingly dream-like, when much of the genre previously was not. The zombies too, are much more exaggerated in their decay than Romero ever achieved. They never have any dialogue nor any sort of emotion, but yet you’ll be pressed to ever forget their moments of revival. Rising from their tombs, the blind dead changed the lives forever of their victims and of their audiences; after seeing de Ossorio’s blind dead, you’ll never look at the undead subgenre the same again.
RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD
The Return of the Evil Dead
starts off in the past when the knights were not yet undead. Although living, they are imprisoned for their acts of gruesome sacrifice. Thus, in front of all the townspeople, they are executed. Continuity with the first film be damned, their eyes are burned out with a torch rather than pecked out by birds. They are buried, but we know they’ll be back.
The film jumps to present day, where the town celebrates the 500 year anniversary of the knight’s execution (morbid, much?) and stage festivities in the square. In the background lurks Murdo (Jose Canalejas
), a simpleton with more than just simple thoughts on his mind. He sees the celebration, and then later fireworks technician, Jack Marlowe (Tony Kendall
) and the mayor’s trophy wife, Vivian (Esperanza Roy
), necking in the graveyard, which entices him to carry out a heinous deed. He will sacrifice a virgin for the templar knights, bringing back the legend he loves so much. When the blood flows red, the knights rise from the dead, and onward they go in search of more sacrificial bodies.
Eventually, Jack, Vivian and Vivian’s wife, Mayor Duncan (Fernando Sancho
), all end up barricaded in a townhouse as the knights stalk the streets. A father and child join them, as well as a few other bystanders, and together they attempt to escape the templar. The confined space brings out the melodrama, as Jack, Viv and Duncan face their love triangle head on. The knights may not be able to see, but they hear just fine, and make their way across the town, listening for Jack and Vivian’s every movement. With the knights stationed outside their door, the group is forced to play a waiting game with the knights. Impatient antics bring allow the knights into the group’s personal space, and the group will have to use smarts if they want to send the dead back to their tombs.
Remember my comments about Tombs of the Blind Dead
being improperly labeled as a Night of the Living Dead
clone? Well, forget I said that when talking about the second film. The knights templar themselves can never seem cliché, and again they are presented with haunting style and deathly vigor, but the plot they have to go through is not nearly as original. It’s basically Knight of the Living Dead
, with a group of people from different class and age combined to shelter themselves from the zombies outside. It is much talkier than the first film, again emulating Romero’s path by having the barred individuals slowly turning on each other as the closed space slowly brings out the greed and bigotry that lies dormant in even the most civil of souls. All the while the knights wait outside their house, slowly breaking through the boards until the group must face them head on.
Where Romero went for realism, both in his zombies and in his dialogue, de Ossorio operates on a much more stylistic plane. His knights are always stylish and larger than life in the way they are captured in unwavering slow motion, but Return
of the Blind Dead¸ like the first film, also has some wonderfully soapy melodrama. The love triangle between Viv, Jack and Duncan plays to high camp, and the stuff about the little girl being parentless is ham-fisted and kind of humorous. The blend between over-the-top melodrama, the bombastic zombie sequences and the onslaught of gore creates this total stylistic excess throughout the second film. By far the goriest film in the series, this features some nasty scenes of eye burning, decapitation and greatest of all a scene where the beating heart is cut out of one of the victims. The gore is larger than life, but then again so are the zombies and all the melodrama.
Compared to the first film, everything is one-upped. There is more backstory for the zombies, more gore, more melodrama, more action, more deaths, more everything. In having the zombies at roam through most of the film, just lurking throughout the street corners, I was reminded of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2
. In that one, Freddy is most prominent, escaping from the dream world to slice and dice his way through an entire pool party. There was great thrill in seeing him plow through a huge sect of immoral teenagers, but at the same time, it was too much. Freddy works because he is a dream-like entity, and one that prays on you when you are alone in thought. The knights templar are very much like that too, their slow motion horse riding in the first film seeming to exist only in a dream world. When they suddenly become characters on the street, their ties to surrealism dissipate and the impact of their presence is lessened. De Ossorio gives us more the second time around, but it is inevitably less. The knights, much like Freddy, work better on a more personal level, and when you bring them out into the real world you take away their inherent horror.
The heightened narrative, gore, knight presence and melodrama will no doubt please a lot of viewers even more than the first film, but it’s the quieter moments that work best in the film. The ending, which I wouldn’t dare spoil, features one of the best usages ever of silence. There is no guiding orchestral score to lead the viewer through the emotional plot points. There is only silence. The blind knights are forced to rely on their hearing, and with the soundtrack ominously silent, so must we. The ending progresses with such subtlety that it really comes of shock when compared to the overstated rest of the film. It is like War of the Worlds
, but with zombies, and de Ossorio’s restraint is refreshing when the entire film is the much less interesting opposite. The quiet of the finale in Return of the Evil Dead
is without a doubt the greatest moment of the whole series. It is so good that it makes the hollow excess of the rest of the film seem totally deliberate so that when the minimal finale does hit, it hits hard. The first film may resonate more on the whole, but Return
is a fine sequel with a fantastic finale.
THE GHOST GALLEON
It was established in the first film that the knights brought back with them occult sensibilities after traveling to the orient. It was the oriental desire to spiritually live on forever through sacrifice, and the knights lived that to a T. However, if The Ghost Galleon
is any indicator, the knights didn’t just learn from the Orientals, they became them. Now outfitted with long, pensive beards, the knights look less like the tombed dead and more like spiritual philosophers. No matter, since they can still rip apart a girl’s remains like nobody’s business.
The Ghost Galleon
takes place almost entirely on a ship, as the zombies are revived when the nubile scent of a couple young women fill their noses in the bottom hutch of the boat. Kathy (Blanca Estrada
) and Lorena (Margarita Merino
) are a couple of television personalities who find themselves on the ghost ship after a trip to find the perfect location for their propaganda videos finds them lost. They get aboard the ship, and shortly after the bearded templar come and feast on their egos.
Noemi (Barbara Rey
) is roommate to Kathy and begins to question her extended absence. The two both modeled together and at one point even shared lesbian feelings towards each other. Afraid Kathy is using the boat trip as an excuse to avoid their relationship, she embarks on a search for the ship along with a few others. When they reach the ghost galleon, they all realize that Kathy wasn’t avoiding anything…not even the knights templar. The knights killed her, and Noemi is next, as the knights slowly corner their victims on the confined corners of the ship. It will take smarts to drown the deadly demons, but it’ll take more than water to keep these knights from coming back.
It was clear in the first two films that de Ossorio was more skilled at setting up scares than he was setting up story, but in The Ghost Galleon
it is all one and not the other. The story, or what remnants there are of one, is told in such a clunky and poorly stringed fashion that the first response is confusion. We’re at a fashion shoot for five minutes, then a woman unrelated to the shoot comes in and starts talking about a boat and a roommate we know nothing about. Then we’re on the boat, but it seems to be in flashback since Kathy has been missing for months. Or maybe it isn’t. A group of misfits suddenly find this boat only hours after setting sea, when its been established that Kathy has been lost for months without any sign of spotting her location. Then these corpses just start rising from the boat, and they have beards. It is just one discontinuous mess, and the confusion of the start quickly disintegrates into disinterest as the film continues to lumber to its conclusion.
One of the biggest faults, and in Galleon
there are many, is de Ossorio’s total ignorance this time around to the story of the templar. You could re-title the film Zombi 6
and nobody would think twice, since the fascinating history of the blind dead is almost totally negated this time around. The back story of the knights isn’t even mentioned until an hour into the ninety minute film, and even then the description is minimal. Why are they now on the boat, and why have their skulls suddenly grown a beard? There really is no logic or reason for any of the dead’s actions, and the lack of story makes them as scary as a Halloween mask on October 31st. Without a story the blind dead are just guys in suits, and it’s tough to find any interest above the surface value of their grotesque getup.
The first two films, although undeniably weak in story, at least had interesting characters with several personal problems and quirks. It was fun to see love triangles and jealousy unfold, but here the characters are so shallow and underwritten that there really is nothing to care about. Just boring victims finding themselves one by one alone on the boat just long enough for the knights to rise and eat them. If the knights are just trick or treaters in suit, then the actors in these films are just archetypal victims without any personality. They may as well just be wearing bull’s-eye targets, because that is how arbitrary their presence is in the film.
Without a story it is near impossible to be interested in anything else in the film, however nice the visuals may be. De Ossorio makes liberal use of the fog machine, and if there is one unspoken rule in the horror genre, it is that fog NEVER looks bad. With its blue hues, the fog has a great look to it, and there are several scenes in the film that benefit from wonderful composition. Some of the best shots in the series are in this film, but its tough to recall them amidst all the boring plotting. The ending is also of particular note, with some wonderful shore-side shots of the knights as they rise from their watery graves. Without a plot though, its really just too little too late. De Ossorio knows how to compose a shot, but writing a script is not quite second nature to him, and in this third effort, he’s all but run out of ideas.
NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS
In probably the only bit of continuity in the entire series, Night of the Seagulls
takes place on the costal shores where The Ghost Galleon
left off. Apparently the knights spent their fare share of time on the coast before they died (who knew?), and we are treated to a flashback as the film begins. It is medieval times and a couple get lost on their trek through the countryside. They stumble upon an abandoned town at night. They knock on the town doors, but they are greeted only with the footsteps of horses. Those knights are at it again, and before you can say “seagull” the man is killed and the woman offered up as a sacrifice. The knights cut out her heart and offer it to their god, a stone statue looking as if it were left over from the subliminal scenes in The Exorcist
. Oh, and then the girl gets eaten by crabs.
The film then jumps to present day, where the Stein family, Henry (Victor Petit
) and Joan (Maria Kosti
), find themselves outsiders in the same costal town. Henry is a doctor, and it appears that many take offence to his medicinal practice. Indeed it seems that the townsfolk prefer methods a little more old fashioned in nature – human sacrifice. On the anniversary of the templar knights’ death the townspeople seek out beautiful women they can unclothe and sacrifice to the stone god. One woman a day for seven days, during which point the knights gallop on through the shoreline. The women may die, but their screams live on through the seagulls, who circle the town with their deathly cries.
In an inversion of character from The Return
of the Blind Dead, Night of the Seagulls
this time takes a sympathetic stance towards the town crazy, Teddy (Jose Antonio Calvo
). Teddy is unfairly abused by the local villagers, and finds solace under Joan’s loving hand. There is little time for friendly bonding however, as the group must do battle both with the blind dead as well as the disturbed townsfolk. The people of the remote fishing village are determined to finish their deathly ritual, regardless of whose next. Death comes with the frequency of the waves, and with the chill of the seagulls’ cries.
The continuity faults in placing the knights on a ship and giving them beards in The Ghost Galleon
seem like small beans when compared to the logical jumps in story between Night of the Seagulls
and the rest of the film. This movie seems to be less about the actual knights and more about a seaside city of ritualistic zealots. There are the standard shots of the knights riding slow motion on horseback as we’ve come to expect, but they honestly don’t really do anything. They will ride on horseback then it will cut to a bunch of the townspeople in cloak taking off another female victim to the sacrificial ocean alter. Perhaps being tombed so long in The Ghost Galleon
has turned the knights onto a life of increased fitness, where their aims are to exercise more than exorcise. They ride off and the townsfolk go out and kill, as if the seams of the blind dead films are giving out to the ritualistic pull of The Wicker Man
Problems also come from making the knights less a standalone force of terror and instead turning them into a bunch of slaves to a cult. They were so individually motivated in the first three films, and yet suddenly they become bitches to a fat frog statue in the fourth. Remember when it was revealed that Michael was controlled by a cult in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers
? Well, this is the living dead equivalent.
The entire film is such a departure from de Ossorio’s original vision in Tombs of the Blind Dead
that its tough to come to terms with the story de Ossorio is trying to present. This is less a zombie film than it is some pretentious European art film, with several shots insipidly lifted from much better films by Ingmar Bergman. De Ossorio may be skilled at presenting horror, but he is far from esteemed when it comes to drama, so its unsurprising then that Night of the Seagulls
totally falls flat with its emphasis on high brow imagery. The most derivative lifting comes from the scenes of sacrifice on the shore, where the cloaked townspeople look less like characters from a blind dead movie and more like grim reaper rejects from The Seventh Seal
Each of de Ossorio’s films are quite different in scope, with Tombs
a true original, Return
a siege picture, Galleon
a ghost ship clunker and Seagulls
a seaside meditation on cults, but it is with the last two pictures that de Ossorio deviates from the captivating scope of his first two movies. Tombs
were these two great films that really developed the legacy of Spain’s most famous living dead, but Galleon
worked to all but totally ignore the legend and Seagulls
goes even further by destroying the foundations on which the series was developed. The final film is hardly even about them, as they are controlled by a frog and are secondary to the cultish actions of the townsfolk. Considering how solid the finales on all three films are, the climax of Seagulls
is emblematic of the poor execution that plagues the entire film. There really is no big encounter with the knights at all, since the movie has deviated so far from its course it chooses to focus on that stupid frog. The knights are basically just left standing there, until finally their eyes start to bleed. Oddly enough, their actions echo the feelings of the audience. Seagulls
bleeds with boredom.
While de Ossorio’s Blind Dead films may not be consistent in either story or overall quality, he must be commended for creating such an original screen villain. Even if the stories are shite, the iconic imagery of the knights riding their death stallions across the rural plane is enough to make these films an unforgettable contribution to the canon of horror films. Even if you remember nothing from the latter two bores, you’ll never forget the blind dead themselves. They were original for their time, and persist in being original today because of their obscurity. Seldom few know about the blind dead films, and its all the better. The Blind Dead have come, carved their niche, and nobody is around to exploit their popularity. No sequels, prequels, remakes...the Blind Dead stand alone, and in horror that’s becoming an increasing rarity.
While it would be easy just to flat out commend Blue Underground for the impressive restoration on this set, for they’ve done a great job at not only cleaning up the films but also presenting them in all their variations, but with each disc comes its own set of commendables and flaws.
Tombs of the Blind Dead houses two different transfers on the same disc. The first is for the 97-minute Spanish cut, while the second is for the 83-minute English cut. There are huge differences with the transfers, starting first from framing. Both are for the most part 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, although the English cut crops off slightly more than the Spanish. Also, the credit sequence on the English cut is presented in what looks to be pan and scan (see introductory “The Blind Dead” picture). Compositional concerns aside, the actual image quality differs considerably between the two transfers.
Tombs of the Blind Dead (Spanish Version)
Tombs of the Blind Dead (English Version)
Looking at the two transfers, it is clear that the Spanish version is head and shoulders above the English version. First off, the English cut is dirty and filled with dust and scratches. There looks to have been no work done cleaning up the English print. The Spanish cut however, is shockingly clean, with not a spec or blemish to be found on the whole print. Considering the film is an extremely low budget Spanish horror movie from 1971, that feat alone is jaw dropping. It only gets better though. The Spanish cut also features a much deeper and richer color palette, with colors that really pop off the screen. Flesh tones look a perfect peach color, while the countryside greens come through with true vibrancy. Compare that with the high contrast English cut, which has unnaturally saturated colors that make the film look more like a colorized version of a black and white film rather than a true color film. There is little color differentiation in the English cut, so a shirt with subtle gradients of red in the Spanish cut will look like one solid oversaturated crimson.
Not only does the high contrast English print register some fake looking color saturation, but the contrast itself is so high that much of the image is lost in the blacks. There is little gradient difference from light and dark, so once the frame starts to get dark in the English cut, the visual information becomes lost. If you look at the included pictures, you’ll notice how in the dead girl’s picture much of her hair looks completely black in the English cut. The Spanish cut on the other hand, provides more detail in the darker parts of the screen, making for a much discernable image. Finally, the English cut is much grainier than the sharp Spanish cut, making it clear that the Spanish cut is the only way to see the film. The differences between the two cuts of the film is akin to the differences between the Anchor Bay version of Zombie
and the Blue Underground version. One looks terrible, while the other looks near flawless.
Moving on to Return of the Evil Dead
, we again have two different cuts of the film, although the difference in visual quality is not quite as staggering as in Tombs
. In terms of framing, both versions are presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, like the first film, but the English cut has a bit more headroom while the Spanish version has a bit more room on the bottom. In terms of transfer though, the winner this time is actually the English cut, which bests the longer Spanish version in basically every category.
Return of the Evil Dead (Spanish Version)
Return of the Evil Dead (English Version)
It is clear from the opening frame that the English cut offers much stronger colors, with beautiful flesh tones and some nice uses of blue haze later on in the film. The difference in color between the two cuts is most evident at the finale, with the Spanish version looking overly blue and washed out. Much of the colors are completely muted by the blue tone, whereas in the English version all the flowers and greens on Vivian’s dress register with vibrancy. When you look at the Spanish version, you’ll also notice that it looks much darker and less detailed. Although not as high contrast as the English version of Tombs
, the Spanish version here is rather unflattering and overly dark at spots, causing a loss of visual information in the blacker portions of the frame. The excessive grain on the Spanish transfer makes the darker portions tougher to watch, especially considering the English cut looks much less grainy.
Unlike the sterling Spanish transfer of the first film, the best transfer from Return
still suffers from some slight print damage and a fair bit of grain. The English cut of Return
is never as clear or as clean as the Spanish cut of Tombs
, but it still is without a doubt the best the film has looked on video. The problem is, is that the Spanish version is the only way to watch the film (more on that in the supplements section) and as a result the inferior Spanish transfer will have to suffice for most die hard fans. The Spanish version is by no means a bad transfer, it is certainly watchable and at times nice, but on the whole only mediocre.
The Ghost Galleon
is presented uncut in a single version, and the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks good. The grain will be a noticeable detriment, as it was in the Return
transfer, but it isn’t a distraction by any means. The entire film makes elaborate use of a blue hued fog and it comes through pretty rich on this transfer. The blues look very vibrant here compared to the washed out blues in the finale for Return
. This is a film that takes place mostly in the dark, and I would have liked it if the transfer were lightened a bit. There are many sequences where black levels are a bit too much and it becomes somewhat hard to make out what is happening on screen. The print itself is very clean, with only a few short segments displaying any sort of speckling or scratching at all. Lastly, saturation is very lifelike, with skins, skies and oceans all coming through with the appropriate color levels. Again, the transfer isn’t as good as the Spanish one on the first film, but this is still great work by Blue Underground.
Last up is Night of the Seagulls
, which flies in at 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Like the other films, Blue Underground has provided the transfer here with some vibrant colors, the color depth and saturation again accurate and appealing. Like the other transfers too though, Seagulls
is outfitted with a fine coat of grain throughout. It is light, but still noticeable, and certainly acceptable for a film of such age and obscurity. There are some day for night sequences here that look pretty ugly, dark and colorless, but that is more fault of the filmmaker than it is Blue Underground’s transfer. Some of the day scenes look overly washed out, with the sky looking like a white offset rather than a rich blue. The film often has an unflattering haze to it and comes through often as rather soft. These are more complaints again about the film itself, which is without a doubt the worst looking of the series. Still though, thumbs up for another solid if not perfect transfer from Blue Underground.
While there was variance between the six video transfers on this set, the sound is decidedly less diverse. All four films come with English and Spanish mono tracks, and they all sound similarly flat. The English dubbing is quite bad throughout the films, with The Ghost Galleon
being the most embarrassing. There are some imperfections in the sound that pop up in each of the films, with a bit of buzzing and hiss that pops up for a few minutes in the Spanish cut of Return of the Evil Dead
. There is also a slight audio drop out in the Spanish cut of Tombs of the Blind Dead
as well. Naming all the flaws would just be nitpicking though, as these films have been through a lot in their thirty year run. On the whole, it’s great enough that Blue Underground has provided the option to view each film in either English or Spanish (the first two films have a longer Spanish-only version and a shorter English-only version). There are faults in all the audio tracks, but the fact that they are preserved is alone cause for celebration.
The Blind Dead Collection
comes packed together in a small little coffin complete with text with a silver sheen and a textured leather pattern throughout. Inside are the four films, each packaged in their own standard amaray case, the bonus disc housed in a smaller mini-amaray case, and then a forty page reproduction of Nigel J. Burrell’s Blind Dead bible, “Knights of Terror”. Although the last two films are lackluster at best, the packaging of this set alone will make you want to spring for the whole collection. It is a hansom set, and stands alongside Anchor Bay’s book of the dead as some of Region 1’s best horror packaging to date. Enough about presentation though, as there are supplements peppered throughout this release, on the bonus disc, booklet and the individual films themselves.
The Tombs of the Blind Dead
DVD sports two different cuts of the film, the original 97 minute Spanish version and the 83 minute English cut. The Spanish film is the only way to go, not only because the image looks much better, but also because it contains all the juicy good bits. The graphic gore, tantalizing fire-lit nudity and uncensored lesbian lovemaking are all presented in complete form, and all are well worth seeing. Not only that, but the English version destroys the structure of the original film by making it less dreamy and more linear, presenting the templar flashbacks at the start rather than in the middle where they belong. Spanish is the only way to see it, and considering how sparse the dialogue is, those with a dislike for subtitles will not have many to dislike in the first place.
As for non-film extras, an amazingly bizarre alternate opening sequence is included to try and tie the film in with the Planet of the Apes
series. The title sequence leads us to believe that the knights templar are not knights at all, but instead apes who have come back from the dead after losing a ceremonial battle to humans several years ago. The sheer misguided ingenuity of trying to pass the film off as one of Dr. Zaius’ stepchildren truly has to be seen to be believed. What a great find by Blue Underground. The other extras are boringly normal by comparison, with a short little poster and still gallery and a terribly narrated English trailer for the film
Return of the Evil Dead
also features both the Spanish and English cuts of the film, with the Spanish running four minutes longer than the English at 91 minutes. Like the previous film, key gore bits are removed, like the oft remembered beating heart sequence. There is also less limb slicing in the English cut too, which is a definite detriment. A graveside frolic is also removed, cutting down the sexual content of the film almost entirely. The film is also slightly restructured, although not as badly as the first, in its English version.
Both the English and Spanish trailers are included for the films, separated onto menus for each cut of the film. The English trailer is particularly entertaining, as the narrator of the trailer boasts that Return of the Evil Dead
is “a testament to dramatic realism”. Knights who come back from the dead and are held together only by bones and are able to suddenly ride horses that appear out of nowhere. Realism. A poster and still gallery is included, and it is interesting to note that there is much more nudity in the stills than there is in any of either cuts of the film. It begs the question as to whether or not there is still some lost footage somewhere out there.
There is only one version of The Ghost Galleon
, and with it comes the Spanish theatrical trailer as well as the marketing campaign for the English title of the film, Horror of the Zombie
s. The English ads consist of a trailer, a TV spot and a few radio spots. It is a wonder why people went to see these films, because the marketing campaigns for all the films are pretty dull. A poster and still gallery is also included, with some cool poster artwork from overseas.
Lastly, the Night of the Seagulls
disc features only an English trailer and a poster and still gallery. It is a shame distributors didn’t try to emulate the marketing used for Tombs of the Blind Dead
in trying to tie the film to the Planet of the Apes
franchise. I for one would have liked to see an alternate opening sequence claiming that the seagulls are in fact reincarnated progeny of Cornelius and Zira. But alas, such a supplement is nowhere to be found.
The rest of the extras are housed on the bonus disc entitled Amando de Ossorio – Director
. While an entire disc devoted to the director of these films is nice, the truth of it is that the extras run little over thirty minutes and seem somewhat sparse. “The Last Templar” is a Spanish documentary dedicated to de Ossorio, with several Spanish critics singing him praises and pointing out the originality of his Blind Dead series. The rest of his canon of films are also discussed, with some welcome clips from his first effort, the nourish The Black Flag
as well as the Anita Ekberg vampire flick The Fangs of the Living Dead
. Discussion is mostly devoted to explaining the cultural context in which de Ossorio worked, and how he had to battle censorship and disrespect by making a number of provoking horror stories. Stars from the Blind Dead films also offer a word on the director, from Lone Fleming and Esperanza Roy from the earlier ones to Jack Taylor. De Ossorio himself is even featured at the end, honestly admitting that The Ghost Galleon
was “horrible”. The doc serves as a great primer to de Ossorio’s much neglected work, but at only 26 minutes it is much too short to really cover his films or his lives with any real depth.
Even shorter is the 11 minute interview with de Ossorio entitled “Unearthing the Blind Dead”. There is a disclaimer at the start apologizing for the bad audio, but it isn’t really much of an issue since the interview is in Spanish with English subtitles. In the interview, de Ossorio explains how movies were a way of escape from his radio job, and since he only ever had four weeks off at a time, all his films were made with incredibly compressed time schedules. He also disproves Romero’s influence on his films, rightfully pointing out the originality of his knights templar. De Ossorio never tries to glorify his role as a filmmaker, and in the end the interview ends with a simple but honest note. “I made movies how I want and that’s it.”
A text-based overview of de Ossorio is also included as a DVD-ROM only supplement called “Farewell to Spain’s Knight of Horror”. It runs four pages, and considering there is a forty page booklet included in this set, it seems a bit redundant. Burrell’s “Knights of Terror” book though, is a wonderful inclusion, and is prove positive that great supplements can come apart from the discs themselves. The book first starts with an introduction and then has a lengthy essay on the actual history behind the legend of the templar knights. A synopsis and then review follows of each of the four films, and the whole supplement is filled with photos. It makes for a great little read, and considering this is a book that is sold on its own, its great to have it in this set as an extra.
Although a featurette on each film would have been nice, or even some historical commentaries, Blue Underground has still done some good work on the extras to this set. Having the films uncut is good enough, but having the alternate (and much different) English versions of the first two films is a real plus. Add for a couple interesting supplements throughout the movie discs, a short sweet bonus disc and a nice little booklet, and what we have here is a pretty robust little set. Considering the fact that the final two films in the series haven’t even had a legitimate North American release until now, it’s quite the treat to actually be holding a set as well packaged and complete as this.
What a fine breath of fresh air this set is. Up until now, talks of zombies have been oversaturated with discussions of Romero and Fulci, but with this Blind Dead Collection, Blue Underground proves that there is a whole legacy of memorable zombie films from Spain that are equally worthy of fan attention. Amando de Ossorio’s blind dead films are relics that do the impossible by standing alone in a genre that is often characterized with recycled characters, concepts and ideas. They were wholly original when they first debuted in 1971, and thanks to their obscurity they remain as such. The knights templar are some of horror’s scariest creatures, and even if some of the last two films are lacking, the knights always make their mark in haunting slow motion. They’ve remained, in their obscurity, Spain’s best kept secret, but Blue Underground has finally unearthed them for the world over.
The video transfers for the four films are generally all solid, although the English print for Tombs of the Blind Dead
and the Spanish print for Return of the Evil Dead
are a considerable step down from the transfers from the other versions of the first two films included on this set. Still, there is a good transfer for each of the films in one form or another, with a clean print making up for a grain that seeps through each transfer. The audio is not without its hiccups, but overall the English and Spanish variety is enough to please viewers of all preferences. As for extras, its not quite as complete as a five disc set with a bonus disc would suggest, but the bonus disc does provide a satisfying, if brief, overview of Amando de Ossorio’s career. While more video based supplements would have been nice, the forty page booklet and the quality tomb packaging make this a tough set to overlook. Up until now its been extremely tough to find any of the films on DVD, so packaging them all together in a sleek little set will make it accessible for even the casual fan to pickup and experience.
This is a set that has been a long time coming, existing only as a few lines on Blue Underground’s website for a couple of years now, but this set has most definitely been worth the wait. Blue Underground has done the most admirable thing a company can do in making sure cult films like the blind dead series will never be forgotten. These films come to life with these new transfers, so any fan of the undead is going to want to watch this entire set. Anyone else looking for something exciting to offset all the drivel coming out of American horror these days will find great pleasure in this wholly original series. North America has largely turned Amando de Ossorio a blind eye, but thanks to Blue Underground the blind can finally be seen.
Tombs of the Blind Dead
Movie - A-
Image Quality (Spanish) - A
Image Quality (English) - C-
Sound - C
Return of the Evil Dead
Movie - B+
Image Quality (Spanish) - B-
Image Quality (English) - A-
Sound - C
The Ghost Galleon
Movie - C
Image Quality - B+
Sound - C+
Night of the Seagulls
Movie - C-
Image Quality - B+
Sound - C+
Supplements - B-
Tombs of the Blind Dead
- Running Time - 1 hour 37 minutes (Tombs of the Blind Dead) SPANISH
- Running Time - 1 hour 23 minutes (Tombs of the Blind Dead) ENGLISH
- Running Time - 1 hour 31 minutes (Return of the Evil Dead) SPANISH
- Running Time - 1 hour 27 minutes (Return of the Evil Dead) ENGLISH
- Running Time - 1 hour 30 minutes (The Ghost Galleon)
- Running Time - 1 hour 29 minutes (Night of the Seagulls)
- Not Rated
- 5 Discs
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Spanish mono
- English subtitles
Return of the Evil Dead
- Alternate Opening for "Revenge of the Planet Ape"
- Theatrical trailer
- Still and poster gallery
The Ghost Galleon
- Theatrical trailers
- Still and poster gallery
Night of the Seagulls
- Theatrical trailers
- TV spot
- Radio spots
- Still and poster gallery
Amando de Ossorio - Director
- Theatrical trailer
- Still and poster gallery
- "The Last Templar" documentary
- "Unearthing the Blind Dead" interview with Amando de Ossorio
- "Farewell to Spain's Knight of Horror" article (DVD-ROM only)
- "Knights of Terror" 40-page booklet
- Collectable coffin box