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Tombs of the Blind Dead
1971, Dir. Armando de Ossorio
I first learned of this movie on The Bad Movie Report , and saw it at Hollywood Video the next day. I decided to pick it up and force my girlfriend to watch it with me. At about six minutes in when she asked me, "We're watching a porno, aren't we?", I knew this was going to be a classic. Armando de Ossorio's Tombs of the Blind Dead is far from a porn, but the first in a four part series of Spanish zombie films that established the standard for Spanish horror. Not as gross-out disgusting as the Italian zombie gore fests, and not as goofy as the Evil Dead, it is the subtlety and pacing of this film that make it truly creepy. Also, there are slightly disturbing scenes and elements in this film that you would not get in an American movie of the era, and maybe not even today.
Our movie begins poolside, as two women, Virginia and Bettie, are discussing things such as their love lives. When Virginia's "friend" Roger steps from the pool, they discuss a planned camping trip. To Virginia's dissapointment, Roger invites Bettie to bring a date and come along. Virginia gets even more pissed when, on the train, Roger and Bettie begin flirting. Virginia excuses herself and scurries to the back of the train, where she is joined by Bettie. When Bettie reminds Virginia of "the things she taught her", we are treated to a lengthy, mostly useless flashback to their lesbian experimentations when they were younger.
Anyway, Virginia decides she is not fully consoled and leaps from the train with her belongings. When alerted, the conductor refuses to stop the train, since he knows they are in zombie country. Then why are they moving so slow you ask? So Virginia can make a safe landing of course! So she meanders off to a ruined abbey and explores the place. After making sure it is cold, dark, dank, musty, falling apart, creepy, possibly haunted, equipped with plenty of places for deranged rapists to hide and a graveyard, and is completely uninhabitable, she of course decides to stay the night. After mooning the camera, she hops in her sleeping bag and turns on some smooth jazz on a transistor radio. Smooth jazz, of course, drowns out the sounds of the dead rising, and we are introduced to the Blind Dead.
These are some truly horrific zombies. Grey and decaying, they fit their ruined abbey wonderfully as they rise from their graves and tombs, and some come galloping out on horses and ... Eh? Horses? The horses seem to be in pretty good shape for zombie steeds, despite the slo-mo effect that comes on every time they ride. This works very well actually, when combined with the echoey sound of the galloping. Quite creepy. Never mind where the stable is, who tends them, and why there aren't huge steaming piles of zombie horse dung everywhere. Anyway, the zombies soon find our heroine.
Virginia screeches and runs from the zombies. She is such a considerate victim, she even stops in every room so the slow moving zombies can catch up. She even does the obligatory "My foot is caught, but I'd hate to have to lose a shoe, they're getting closer, dammit, I like these shoes, AAAA!! they touched me, forget the shoe!!!!" scene. As she makes it to the outside, the lack of continuity between day / night is quite evident. She was just bedding down for the night, not five minutes later it is broad daylight. Virginia proves herself resourceful as she steals a zombie steed. However, the zombie riders catch up to her, throw her from her mount, and well, y'know...
The next day as the slowest train in the universe pulls through zombie country (to get an idea of the speed, think of the little trains that you used to ride on at amusement parks as a young 'un), the conductor's son sees Virginia's body in the field. Again, the conductor refuses to stop. So we cut to Roger and Bettie at the hotel (I thought they were going camping...) discussing Virginia's disappearance. Their waitress tells them that the place Virginia wandered off to was a place called Berzano, which the locals speak about in hushed tones. Were this a Universal horror picture from the 30's, old women would cross themselves at the very mention of it's name. But Roger and Bettie decide to go investigate. They get there and their horses bolt, and the cops show up to tell them that Virginia is dead and they are needed to i.d. the body. We arrive at the morgue and the creepy morgue attendant shows them an old female corpse. Has the zombie attack caused Virginia's aging process to speed up, making her decay and rot? Nah, this weird little bugger just likes showing people dead people. Anyway, the autopsy revealed that Virginia has the bite marks of over a dozen people, but no signs of rape, which proves that the Templars are a bunch of cold fish. You'd think after thousands of years of blind-deadness, they'd be hankerin' for a bit of tail, but no. Our morgue attendant however, is. He is about to do something rotten to Virginia's corpse when he is distracted by his pet bird. So he then turns his attentions to his pet frog, whom he begins tormenting. Virginia rises, chomps on the guy's neck, exit morgue attendant.
Bettie and Roger learn from Nina, Bettie's assistant at her shop (next door to the morgue) that Berzano houses the remains of the cursed Knights Templar. They go seek out Prof. Cantall, who knows of such things, and looks an awful lot like one of the undead Templars. After the obligatory, "I'm a busy man, leave me be!" (even though all he seems to be doing is struggling to stay awake) he tells them the story of the Templars, accompanied by flashback. The Templars performed rituals to try and attain eternal life, were punished by the church, and hung until crows came and pecked out their eyes. Hence, the blindness factor. In the flashback, we are treated to one of the scenes we would not get in an American film.
The Templars lash a maiden to a cross, and circle her on horses slashing her with broadswords. They must have selected quite a hardy young maiden, for they are taking mighty big swings and she has only scratches. Or perhaps its the fake rubber torso, quite obvious in the blood - sucking - from - the - boobs scene. They (Roger, Bettie, and the Prof., not the Templars) are interrupted by the police, who ask the Prof. about his son Pedro, who is a two bit hood living with his gang in boats near Berzano. He is also suspected of killing Virginia. The Prof. weeps, and Roger and Bettie decide to seek out the son.
But back to Nina. Virginia leaves the morgue and creeps into the shop, right before Nina is called and warned to lock the door. Nina does, but not before finding Virginia's morgue sheet. So what would you do if you found a large sheet covered in blood in your shop? That's right, exactly what Nina does, throw it out the door and lock yourself in. Virginia attacks Nina and of course, the lock is jammed. Nina manages to evade Virginia and make it to the phone, which she abandons when Virginia is right behind her. For some reason, there is a bunsen burner going in the shop. Nina inadvertently knocks over the table with the burner and Virginia is engulfed in superimposed flames.
Bettie and Roger find Pedro, and convince him to come spend the night at Berzano, to prove his innocence. He does, and brings his slut girlfriend. They arrive at Berzano, and they immediately girl - swap. Roger and slut girlfriend wander off to investigate, and Pedro tries to put the moves on Bettie. We learn that Bettie is a full fledged lesbian, so Pedro rapes her. Cue the zombies. They rise, and despite the fact that Pedro has a switchblade, nibble him to death.
They then go in search of the others. Roger tries to hold them off with a pistol, but gets his arm hacked off for his troubles. The girls squabble over whether or not to open the door for Roger, and we get a minor cat fight. They eventually do open the door, and Roger minus an arm stumbles in, and so do the zombies. Slut girlfriend begins screaming, so the zombies focus on her and nibble away. Before Roger expires, he instructs Bettie to be quiet. They are after all blind, and rely on sound, so if they can't hear you ... of course. So Bettie stands stock still and silent, except for one thing. Her heartbeat becomes increasingly louder, and the Templars hear it. She runs from them, dodging the slow buggers, and makes it out onto the grounds of the abbey. Since Virginia already did the shoe thing, it is left to Bettie to do the obligatory, "I'm getting away, oh shit I sprained my ankle, now I have to hobble to get away!" routine. Somehow, when Virginia couldn't out - gallop the mounted Templars on a horse, Bettie manages to put good distance between herself and the knights with only one good wheel. So she runs through the field, and here comes good old slow moving train. The conductor's son decides he's had enough of Daddy's domineering ways and stops the train to help Bettie. He of course is killed, as is his father by rather weak slashes from the Templars. Bettie sneaks into the coal chamber, and the zombie knights board the train, slaughtering the passengers.
On the train we get another disturbing scene. As the Templars hack and slash, we get a shot of a terrified little girl, who is drenched in the blood of her dead mother, who is still holding her. And this is no quick flash, Ossorio draws out the scene until we are quite sure what's going on. This disturbed even me, and I managed to watch all of Cool Runnings. So the train rolls into the next station, a quite insane Bettie emerges from the coal, and the Templars slaughter everyone who gets on the train. The End.
IN CLOSING: All in all, Tombs of the Blind Dead is not a terrible movie. There are a lot of obligatory things happening, and there are some implausible events, but as far as horror goes, it succeeds in creating and sustaining a creepy mood without resorting to gross out tactics. Definitely worth the rent, you should be able to find it.