Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Final Girl Film Club - Tombs of the Blind Dead

Throughout October, Cody will be participating in the Final Girl Film Club SHOCKtober event with articles posted on a different movie every day of the month.

Today, the 1972 Spanish film La noche del terror ciego/Tombs of the Blind Dead.

With Tombs of the Blind Dead, writer/director Amando de Ossorio created some fantastic horror creatures with a great backstory. The creatures are undead Knights, specifically stated in some translations to be the Knights Templar, an organization that really existed during the Crusades of the Middle Ages, going strong for two hundred years before being disbanded in the early 1300s, when many of its members were arrested (on Friday, October 13, 1307), charged with witchcraft and obscene rituals, tortured and executed. They're not directly called Templars in the film's native language of Spanish, but they are clearly inspired by the true story.

Ossorio's Knights were based out of a castle in Berzano, Spain in the 13th century. They were oppressive lords and masters of the area and would travel the East gathering treasure. Along their journeys, they learned black magic, and eventually turned to performing Satanic rituals in a quest for immortality, torturing virginal girls and drinking the blood from their wounds. When word of their evil rituals spread, the Knights were excommunicated and the members of the organization executed, their corpses strung up for public display. As the bodies hung from tree limbs, crows feasted on their eyes.

The legend of the Knights has haunted Berzano and the surrounding towns ever since, and it is said that the blind, rotting corpses of the Knights rise from their graves during the night and go hunting for humans, hunting them by sound, drinking the blood of anyone they catch.

The concept is perfect, the look of the decayed-to-robed-skeletons Knights is awesome and iconic. At times, the camera will zoom in on their skull-faces while the sound of a scream fills the soundtrack, making it all even cooler.

The story around the Knights begins in modern day Lisbon, with a young woman named Virginia spotting her former roommate Betty at a resort pool. The women are happy to see each other at first and do some catching up, but Virginia clearly becomes uncomfortable when she starts to think about their past together, and becomes even more uncomfortable when her "nothing serious" guy pal Roger meets Betty, takes a quick liking to her and invites her along on their upcoming camping trip.

As the trio take a train ride into the countryside, Virginia gets increasingly uneasy while the train gets further from Lisbon and Roger and Betty get more "friendly". The final straw is when Virginia has a flashback to a lesbian experience she had with Betty in their roommate days. She asks for the train to be stopped to let her off, but is told that there's nothing in the area for miles. They're in the middle of nowhere, but Virginia can see a castle in the distance... She hops off the slow-moving train and makes her way toward the castle and away from her past. Basically, everything that follows in the movie happens because Virginia can't come to terms with her sexuality.

Seeing that Virginia has jumped off the train, Roger and Betty pull the alarm for an emergency stop, but the engineer keeps the train going. They can't stop here.

Virginia eventually reaches the castle, the long-abandoned Berzano castle that the Knights were based out of, where they're now buried in the graveyard on the property. Virginia settles in to spend the night in the castle, which proves to be a fatal mistake. The legends about the Knights are true. That night, they rise from their graves, chase Virginia down and kill her, biting her and drinking her blood until they empty her out.

From there, it's up to Roger and Betty to carry the rest of the film on their shoulders. After they check the castle for Virginia the next day and find that she has been murdered, they set out to find out how and why their friend was killed, and by whom, an investigation that leads them to discover the legend of the undead Knights but also pads out the film's overinflated 101 minute running time with an unnecessary tangent dealing with a group of smugglers led by a rapist. Virginia herself rises as one of the bloodthirsty dead and briefly stalks the streets of Lisbon, but the movie is packed with drawn-out stretches of filler where there's nothing all that interesting happening as it makes its way to the climax, at which point things do liven up a bit. A highlight moment is when the dead are hunting for a potential victim who is trying to be as quiet and still as possible. In the silence, the creatures are still able to zero in on the sound of the person's heartbeat.

The Blind Dead are widely considered to be zombies, a classification that the director didn't agree with, saying that mummies was a more accurate description. There are those who would argue that, since the dead bite their victims with the purpose of drinking their blood, the Knights are actually a type of vampire. Whatever you want to call them, they are badass creatures. I don't think the movie in which they're introduced really lives up to the potential of its villainous creatures, and the slow motion photography doesn't help them out. Tombs of the Blind Dead is an enjoyable movie that's definitely worth checking out, but it could've been more eventful and exciting, the dead could've been given more to do.

Amando de Ossorio obviously agreed that more could be done with the dead, as he went on to make three sequels to Tombs over the next three years.

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