For those of you that missed it and others that want to see Darrell’s talk in pen and ink (or rather pixels). Here it is.
Don’t miss the next Fright Club screening event when we bring Christmas into our hearts with Christmas Evil with a Skype Q&A with Lewis Jackson.
Good evening, welcome to Fright Club for tonight’s screening of one of the finest European cult shockers of the 1970s, Amando de Ossorio’s chilling TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD.
By the early 70s the horror marketplace had become saturated with Hammer Films’ Dracula and Frankenstein series, Spaniard Paul Naschy’s revival of the werewolf via his character Waldemar Daninsky, the comeback of the zombie in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and so on. Horror was booming, but largely with orthodox and over-familiar monsters that were perhaps becoming a little stale. The time was right for a new, original terror threat to emerge, and it did so via another of the crop of exciting new Spanish directors, Amando de Ossorio. Spanish horror has gone through a purple patch in recent years with the [*REC] series, the excellent ‘Six Films to Keep You Awake’ sextet made for television, Mexican Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish-set and very personal wartime duo THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and PAN’S LABYRINTH, and acclaimed one-offs such as THE ORPHANAGE and JULIA’S EYES. However, the period from 1968-1975 brought about the first major wave in Madrid mayhem and Catalan chills.
This first flood of Spanish horror production arrived during the final years of the reign of the country’s fascist leader, General Franco. Possibly a challenge to the ageing General’s grip on power from the artistic community, but equally likely to be the result of Spain’s surprisingly healthy economy at he time. Horror films were somewhat suppressed here in the UK under our right wing government of the 80s, but seem to have thrived and been encouraged in a 70s Spain ruled over by an even more oppressive regime. This period was bookended by a pair of classic films from director Narciso Ibanez Serrador, who made LA RESIDENCIA (THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED) and the magnificent WOULD YOU KILL A CHILD?, before creating the tv gameshow 3-2-1, while filmmakers like Carlos Aured, Leon Klimovsky, Paul Naschy, Juan Piquer Simon and Javier Aguirre offered up reams of more traditional vampire, werewolf, zombie, Frankenstein, mummy and monster flicks. King of the Spanish horror scene was probably Jesus Franco, who made so many movies that it is almost impossible to keep track of them. TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD’s director Amando de Ossorio made a couple of spaghetti westerns and a children’s movie in the mid 60s before tackling his first horror subject in 1969, MALENKA LA VAMPIRE, released overseas as FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD. It’s an entertaining vampire movie with elements of comedy and sex contained within, but is rather frivolous and daft compared to what came next.
Ok, boring history lesson. During the 12th and 13th centuries, an order known as the Poor-Fellow Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon was founded, and endorsed by the Catholic Church. They became known as the Knights Templar, and as well as fighting in the Crusades, the order dealt in finance and helped to create early versions of modern banking systems. The Knights Templar fell out of favour following the ultimate failure of the Crusades, with Christian forces unable to gain a foothold in the Holy Land by the end of the 13th century. Meanwhile, King Philip IV of France, who was heavily in debt to the order, had noted that the Knights Templar were no longer trusted by the general populace, suspicious of their secrecy and their initiation rituals – the order soon found themselves the target of accusations concerning their practices, and in 1307 many of the members were arrested, tortured, forced into giving false confessions, and burned at the stake.
Which is where our story begins. De Ossorio saw in the legends of the Knights Templar an ideal opportunity for a new kind of horror film, riffing a little on recent American hit NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD but bringing history and a peculiarly European feel to it all. TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD has the Knights Templar reviving in modern day Portugal, cloaked, mouldy, on horseback, and moving in an eerie slow motion that will haunt your dreams for weeks after seeing the film. These creations are sensational, and the story uses their eyeless status effectively, as they react to sound in order to trace and claim their victims. The Blind Knights Templar are a ruthless bunch, relentless, silently going about their murderous business. Lengthy scenes on board a train and at a ruined monastery are as creepy as you’ll get in horror cinema of this era, and the movie’s success led to three equally effective sequels, 1973’s RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD, 1974’s GHOST GALLEON, and 1975’s NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS. Another 1975 movie, THE DEVIL’S CROSS, directed by Hammer Films refugee John Gilling, also briefly features the blind sect, just in case you need a further fix after watching the box set of the four official series entries. I particularly recommend GHOST GALLEON, which if you like your horror slow burning and suspenseful, has plenty of edge of your seat, breathtaking set pieces, despite some dreadful special effects which look as though they were shot in De Ossorio’s bathtub. In 2009 a Spanish film called EL RETORNO DE LOS TEMPLARIOS, aka GRAVEYARD OF THE DEAD, attempted a very amateurish revival of the Knights Templar, and German filmmaker Andreas Schnaas has also used the characters briefly a couple of times in his movies DON’T WAKE THE DEAD and UNRATED.
So, are the Blind Knights Templar a variation on the zombie? De Ossorio always reacted against this description, stating that they were mummy-like figures who feed like vampires, and who, unlike the living dead, possess an intelligence and a purpose in what they do. Bizarrely, there was an attempt by one film distributor to convince unwitting English-speaking audiences that TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD was part of the then-successful PLANET OF THE APES series! A version was prepared under the new title REVENGE FROM PLANET APE, editing in bleak location shots in a bid to suggest a post apocalyptic setting, and adding a narrated voiceover at the beginning explaining that the Knights were the revived corpses of intelligent monkeys! This crazy version probably only ever played at a handful of American drive-in cinemas, but the TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD DVD does feature the altered prologue as an extra feature! So next time you find yourself talking to movie buff pals about the PLANET OF THE APES series, throw this one into the conversation and watch their bemused faces.
Here the new prologue added to make Tombs an Ape movie!
Anyway, here’s the classic TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD. No chimps, no gorillas, no orang utans, more monk than monkey. And one of the eeriest movies of its era. Tickets please – all aboard the death express…
– Darrell Buxton
NEXT FRIGHT CLUB SCREENING – CHRISTMAS EVIL with Skype Q&A with Director Lewis Jackson. Tickets here – http://www.derbyquad.co.uk/film/christmas-evil-18