October Horror Movie Series-Tombs Of the Blind Dead

October 15, 2008

Tombs of the Blind Dead(1971)-Dir. Amando de Ossorio; Blue Underground DVD(2006)

Whether or not you can call this film, and the three subsequent titles that followed, a masterpiece of horror depends upon how comfortable you are with applying such a loose and easily discarded label. The American Film Institute and other compilers of “The Top(insert your genre of the day here) list often talk about “masterpieces” as if going down a checklist and reiterating all the qualifications a movie must meet in order to be considered as such was a rigorous way to test a film’s merit. Simply, we love to canonize and categorize and place things(especially books, movies, and music) in a hierarchical order. I find, however, that a lot of these qualifications can be liberally applied to just about any movie and you will(intentionally or not) end up with the same conclusion. That is the beauty of film. One man’s Plan 9 From Outer Space is anothers’ Citizen Kane. They become almost interchangeable in some cases.

So that brings us to Tombs of the Blind Dead  which is neither Plan 9 or Citizen Kane but an interesting zombie film that involves Knight Templar from the Far East, satanic rituals, virgin sacrifice, the ruins of an old church and monastery where the templars were buried in disgrace, and modern day Portugal where several Spaniards set off for a nice summer holiday. If George Romero used the zombie film as a commentary on American consumerism, racism, greed, and the ability of the military and authority to create rather than solve problems, European imitators seized the opportunity to strew their films with guts, gross out effects, and liberal doses of nihilistic carnage. But this is not Amando de Ossorio’s approach at all. In fact, he seems so intent upon the gothic mood and creating an atmosphere of dread through the use of music, shots of the empty church ruins, and a growing awareness of what the Blind Dead actually are, that grossing out his audience or shocking them with drawn out scenes of chomping zombies is actually pretty far from his mind. In this sense, he does create quite an original film and Amando de Ossorio knows how to play to his own strength. The best scenes in the film, indeed, are when the knights come out of their tombs and are riding their undead horses, chasing down their victim to fulfill the taste for blood they have been cursed with. Here in these scenes all the elements of the film come together and Amando de Ossorio is able to focus on the undead knights with little regard for anything else.

This begs the question, who are these people that are being terrorized by these bloody knights? And that is a question that the film cannot offer a satisfactory answer to. In fact the film almost completely stops working when it is not directly dealing with the knights. Characters feel misplaced, seem rushed in and out of emotional scenes, or even go places that you just wouldn’t think they would go even out of desperation. One gets the sense that the characters are always conveniently placed where they need to be in order to be pushed closer to their own death at the hands of the knights or someone the knights already chomped on, as is the case for a few unlucky people in the movie. That is one of the more conventional zombie movie cliches that just doesn’t seem to fit in this story. What is unfortunate about this film is that some of the things that make it unique are also what prove detrimental to the film’s overall coherence. The music alternates between gothic chants and ambient noises that play on Amando de Ossorio’s tone for the film but this is sometimes interrupted by what feels like a misplaced Nino Rota score which is pleasant to listen to but leaves you a little puzzled at times.

It is not until the end of the movie that you see what Amando de Ossorio’s vision for the film should have been and one can only hope as it is joltingly brought to a close that he builds on that momentum for the next movies of the series.

Up Next for the October Horror Movie Series is famed producer Val Lewton’s unintentionally titled follow-up film to 1942’s Cat People. The multi-facteted Robert Wise directs Simone Simon in 1944’s  The Curse of the Cat People.

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