Okay now this film was made in 1971 so I will not heap criticism on the special effects. To say that this film has some great visuals is an understatement, and, for all intents and purposes the other effects, gore and such, are above par for the period it was made.
So why is “Tomb of the Blind Dead” in the Hall of Shame? Simple, it was awful.
Of course, helping it get enshrined here is the fact that not one, not two, but three sequels were made of this movie when the original barely had enough plot for a half hour sitcom. Also adding to the Hall of Shame factor are the emotional attachment you will have with the main characters, that is... None!
I was about as attached to these people as I am to the Teletubbies (only, Tinky-Winky outacts all of the people in this movie).
I have issues with historical inaccuracies in movies. Especially when those inaccuracies exist solely to push the plot of a film through a script. “Tomb of the Blind Dead” is rife with them in its dealings with the Knights Templar. Following the first Crusade the Pope, Innocent III funded a small order of soldiers charged with guarding pilgrims on their way to the holy land in Jerusalem. As the years between Crusades went on these knights, the order of Templar, grew in power and wealth to such an extent that they were a threat to the Pope’s rule.
Thus, the Pope had them excommunicated and killed. Rumors of lost Templar treasure still drive gold seekers today in parts of Southern France, Northern Spain, Northern Italy, and the southernmost tips of Turkey. As with any cultural destruction, the Templars were accused of all manner of ungodly acts leading to their excommunication and extermination. Some of them include sodomy, cannibalism, murder for hire (which was not at all uncommon for the time), and heresy.
The movie at least gets some of this right. The rest... well... it’s not so accurate. But, let’s save that as we move through what little plot there is in “Tombs of the Blind Dead”.
“Tombs of the Blind Dead” was filmed in the lush back country of Portugal and among some of the resort areas along the coast. Overall the scenery is fantastic, which alone may warrant a $.99 rental if you have an interest in Portuguese scenery.
Okay, so the movie begins with a wide shot of a resort beach and recreational pool where Betty Turner (Lone Fleming) is showering. Another woman lounging beside the pool, Virginia White (Elena Arpon) notices her and waves.
It turns out that Betty and Virginia are old friends who have not seen each other in several years. Betty owns a window dressing studio in town “beside the morgue”. Virginia introduced Betty to Roger Whelan (Cesar Burner) a stunningly tanned man.
My God, this man is one huge melanoma waiting to happen...
Anyway, they all decide to take the train to Lisbon together. This is the single slowest train ever put on rails. If it isn’t filmed at a complete stop, it is filed at walking speed. I wonder if trains in Portugal actually travel this slowly? I mean, why pay for the train if you can pass it with a donkey cart?
Okay. One the train Betty and Roger hit it off very well. So well, in fact, that Roger tells Virginia that he wants to be with Betty and not her. Veronica is suitably pissed and stalks off to the caboose.
You will no doubt have noticed the tremendous amount of white smoke in these train sequences. Strangely enough, the train is a coal fired engine which produces thick black smoke, but that is neither here nor there as virtually every scene is bathed in thick white smoke.
I thought the train was in fire.
Anyway, Betty seeks out the despondent Virginia and they have a “moment” together. Betty mentions something about when they were young and Virginia used to come to her with “all sorts of questions” and before you can say thick white smoke, we have a flashback to...
Betty and Virginia is a hotel room, or convent bedroom, or school dorm... It isn’t really clear... Anyway, Virginia is looking at some magazine photos of wedding gowns and clowning around with Betty. Before you can say early 1970’s lesbian fetishism, the two girls are all over each other.
It’s shot really well, really really well...
Um... Okay... So, we’ve established their relationship. Betty and Virginia were lovers. It is suggested that this was a sort of normal cloistered women experimentation thing, but the plot betrays this later. However, since I don’t want to get ahead of myself. We go back to the movie.
More white smoke and we are transported through the magic of jump-cutting back to the caboose where Betty and Virginia share an embrace. Roger shows up and Virginia splits for whichever end of train Roger is not on leaving he and Betty to discuss the current situation. It is a short conversations. Roger says “I like you.” Betty says, “what about Virginia, she’s my friend?” Roger replies, “she’ll get over it.”
Yeah, Roger is a real class act.
Anyway, Virginia convinced that she’s lost both Betty and Roger, asks the conductor where the train will next stop. He explains that the next stop is Lisbon. This prompts Virginia to leap from the train speeding along at nearly one mile per hour. Both Betty and Roger see her walking off into the bushes, rush to the pilot house but the conductor refuses to stop.
Why they don’t simply leap off the train too is never explained. Instead they go along on to Lisbon with only passing curiosity as to what happens to Virginia.
Let me rephrase my previous comment. Both Betty and Roger are class acts...
Okay. Now we get about twenty minutes without dialogue as Virginia looks for a suitable place to camp out for the night. She ends up in the ruins of a nameless monastery and explores virtually every inch of the place before settling down for the night.
Some little tidbits of half-decent film-making here as she essentially scopes out all the obstacles she’ll have to avoid as she runs for her life later in the movie. However, it’s done in a way that doesn’t scream “I am telegraphing a later scene” which, considering some of the films in the Hall of Shame, is a nice refreshing change.
This just goes on and on and on though. Why does Amando De Assorio choose to linger on long shots of Virginia climbing over retaining walls and walking through empty rooms? I have no idea other than to suggest he wanted to impart a feel of the ruins. Okay, I can deal with this but the technique never gives us a sense of scope or layout. All in all it is like looking at snapshots of segments in a maze with no big maze view to give us a frame of reference.
Here we get our first look at the cemetery inside the ruins too. It is sufficiently creepy with several crooked Irish (yes Irish) and Egyptian (yes Egyptian... why do you keep asking?) crosses over covered and uncovered tombs.
Virginia settles on a cozy little spot beside a huge fireplace and sets about making a fire. Strangely she chooses a clump of very dry twigs. In the normal universe a clump of twigs such as these would pretty much evaporate at the touch of a match with a satisfying “foomp!” sound. But here they burn, and burn, and burn. Why does she choose these? Simple, the fire obscures her, though on slightly, as she slips into her pajamas and cozies down for the night in her sleeping bag.
Careful viewers will notice that the fire is in fact a gas fire, but hey, suspend your disbelief dammit!
Virginia turns on a small transistor radio (remember those!) and starts reading a book. Cut to the cemetery where all of the headstones, remember those multiethnic crosses, are wiggling almost imperceptibly. This is a pretty cool shot actually.
Cut back to Virginia still reading.
Cut back to the cemetery as corpses begin rising from their appointed graves. The special effects are pretty good too considering when this was made.
Okay we cut back to Virginia STILL READING.
Now some of the corpses are on horseback?!? No explanation as to the location of the horses of the dead are located, but they look healthy enough to be actual living horses. Hmmmmmm... Anyway.
The corpses look pretty cool, for corpses at least, desiccated skin pulled tight over dry skulls, flowing gray tattered robes, and skeletal hands (or armored gloves). Some of them even have little goatee beards.
They move in slow motion and make no sound. They even ride horses in slow motion which really adds to the ethereal nature of the scene.
Finally Virginia figures she’s heard something, gets dressed, and goes to investigate. She stumbles into the corpses and starts a merry chase through the ruins. At one point she catches her foot on the steps and loses a sandal (CLUE!!) and drops another off one of the parapets of the monastery (CLUE!!) before finding a ghost horse and hopping on its back.
This is rather silly. I mean, it’s supposed to be a corpse horse right? So why would the Blind Dead leave it there unattended? Never mind. Virginia rides off at a full gallop, a slow motion gallop I might add, as the Blind Dead give slow motion chase.
It actually looks pretty cool. They catch up to her not far from the railroad tracks and shove her off the ghost horse then draw swords and...
Cut to Betty and Roger having breakfast at a hotel.
Roger explains that he called ahead to Lisbon but Virginia never showed up. They ask a waitress if there are any hotels between where they are now and where Virginia jumped ship. She says no, but offers that if Virginia spent the night out around “Berzano” then bad things have probably happened to her.
When pressed for more information she apologizes for telling old wives tales and leaves.
Roger and Betty ask the manager where they can rent horses to go and look for Virginia. Why horses and not a jeep or something I have no idea. But all things being equal, I guess a horse is as good a conveyance as anything else.
What surprises me is how close the monastery is to everything. Apparently it is less than a mile from the railroad tracks, and it is within horseback distance of the hotel, so theoretically, Virginia could have found safer lodgings. Not only that, but why in the hell didn’t she just follow the tracks once the train moved on? At least that way she would have ended up somewhere civilized...
AHHHHHH... I’m overanalyzing again!!!
Okay we cut to the two engineers on the same train that led us to where we are now in this movie. One of them notices Virginia’s body out in the grass. Time to get the police involved.
Roger and Betty arrive at the monastery and stop right in the center of the graveyard. As soon as they dismount, the horses spook and high-tail it for greener pastures (Muahahahahahah! Didn’t think I had that in me did you!). Here we get some of the sillier dialogue of the film as Betty notices, after about five minutes, that they are standing in the middle of a graveyard. How she could not have noticed earlier is unknown to all who watch “Tombs of the Blind Dead.”
As they explore the ruins Roger stumbles upon one of Virginia’s sandals stuck in the stairway. Strangely they do not find her bedroll and radio. I guess the Blind Dead put it up on E-bay or something... Anyway, as they wander around the ruins some more they are intercepted by two police officers who happen also to be there investigating Virginia’s death.
Inspector Olivero (Rufino Inglés) drives them all back to police headquarters where they talk around the rumors of something bad happening at Berzano, and some of the local legends related to the ruins. Another inspector thinks this is a crock of crapola. Strangely the actor playing the other inspector is not credited, and for the life of me I can’t remember his name. So I will dub him Inspector No-Name.
Curse of the forgetful living...
Roger and Betty identify the body. This is a weird little scene as the morgue attendant seems to he having a hell of a time not exploding with laughter. He keeps shifting his eyes around, yet a weird smiles stays stretched across his face.
With a flourish worthy of Siegfried and Roy, the Morgue Attendant uncovers the body of a really old woman. Obviously she is not Virginia. Inspector Olivero snaps “no, the other one.”
Repeat scene, this time we see it is in fact Virginia and she is covered with weird bites. A few theories are bandied about concerning wild dogs and other animals, but these are all dismissed.
Anyway, Roger and Betty are steered towards Professor Cantrell who is the local authority on myths and legends, but we won’t meet him for a while.
Cut to Betty putting a gawdawful wig on one of her mannequins in the mannequin shop. She works with another young woman named Nina (Verónica Llimera) who relates the “old wives tales” of Berzano. Apparently the stories were told to frighten the local kids, but she doesn’t seem all that skeptical... As she tells it the story is that the dead rise from their graves and eat misbehaving children. She then decides that talking about it is no fun and turns her attention back to mannequin assembly.
The shop, by-the-way, appears stuffed with naked mannequin parts and pieces, and because of a neon sign above the skylight, is bathed in flashes of deep-red light. It’s an eerie place.
Roger and Betty go to see Professor Cantrell who narrates a long and incorrect history of the Knights Templar while a completely unrelated scene in flashback unfolds before our eyes (unless we are the Blind Dead... then we would already know this). The scene consists of the knights strapping a buxom young woman to a cross and slapping at her with swords from horseback for a while. Actually, this seems to have no effect other than to make her scream for a really long time.
After a few minutes of this we get some obvious special effects as a latex breast is cut open. How obvious is it? Well, we can see the seam where the two halves of the torso are glued together.
Yeah, it’s that bad.
Okay, once the blood is flowing a bunch of the knights suckle at her dying body.
There, don’t you feel enlightened?
See, it seems that all this blood drinking and assorted other nastiness really pissed off the local chapter of the Catholic Church as well as all the local townspeople. Rather than politely ask the Templars to get out, they alternate between hanging, beheading, and burning them to death. Once they are killed then the bodies are hung in local trees so the local crows can pluck out their eyes.
See, blind and dead, the Blind Dead.... It all makes so much sense now!
Inspector No-Name appears and tells Cantrell that he is full of crap the suggests that smugglers, local to the Berzano area, probably are responsible for the murder. Cantrell disagrees until No-Name mentions Professor Cantrell’s jerk of a son Pedro.
Pedro, you see, is a pirate. He is not only a smuggler, he is the ace boon smuggler of the Berzano area. Professor Cantrell shuffles off never to be heard from or seen again.
Inspector No-Name also vanishes from the movie at this point.
Cut back to the morgue where the Morgue Attendant is playing with a frog in a goldfish bowl. He has clipped some forceps on the little amphibian and is talking to it. Apparently the Morgue Attendant is a little light in the brains department.
Virginia wakes and shuffles up to him. He tortures the little frog some more. Virginia then chews out his neck. Note that the Morgue Attendant is at least five times the size of zombie Virginia but he puts up no resistance at all.
The last shot we get is one of the frog hopping around in the Morgue Attendant’s blood.
This whole scene is ridiculous as never has the film mentioned that those bitten by the Blind Dead become zombies. It gets worse too...
Cut to Nina working in the mannequin shop. Remember, the shop is “right next to the morgue” as we have been informed at least ten times. Virginia gets inside and shuffles around after Nina. Actually this is pretty creepy as the place is covered with naked mannequins and Virginia blends in pretty well.
Nina is no pushover though and torches the zombie Virginia with some superimposed fire.
Cut to Roger and Betty arriving at the dock where Pedro Cantrell (Joseph Thelman) is getting his conjugal jollies with Maria (Maria Silva), the village bicycle. We know she is the village bicycle because she perpetually smokes cigars and snaps at all the younger girls.
She is actually kind of pretty. She loves rough men, and tells everyone in the movie this over and over again until you are praying for the Blind Dead to eat her. But that comes later...
Roger convinces Pedro to come with him and spend the night in the ruins. Why? I have no idea. They drag Betty and Maria along too. Okay, things are starting to wrap up now and in case you haven’t guessed the Blind Dead are soon to make an appearance.
Once at the ruins the characters do horror-movie-victim-stupid-thing-number-one, the split up. First Pedro and Roger go off to look around while Maria and Betty have some “girl time”. This means that parts of Betty’s character come to light that will make the average viewer gape in stupid silence.
She is a lesbian due to a bad experience she had with a man some time ago. If that is the case then why in the hell didn’t she tell Roger that he wasn’t ever going to “get any”? Rather than let her lifelong friend go off and get herself zombi-ized?
I hate when these things happen! I mean, Roger must have suspected something, right?
Maria again professes her appreciation of “rough men” by that we learn later, that she means rapists like Pedro.
Everyone gets back together then splits up again for one reason only, to facilitate the rape of Betty. Pedro and Betty go off together while Maria immediately puts the movies on Roger. Roger, not having “gotten any” from Betty, takes Maria instead.
While out walking the subject of sex comes up between Betty and Pedro. Betty again explains that she doesn’t like men, but this just makes Pedro anxious to prove her theory that all men are animals wrong.
He does this by raping her. Way to prove a point Pedro...
Yeesh... This was wholly unnecessary!
Roger begins to worry about Betty after Maria explains that he is probably turning on the charm. He arrives just as the rape ends.
Betty goes back inside as the Blind Dead begin rising from their graves.
Pedro attacks them with a switchblade knife and is immediately killed and eaten. He does not become a zombie. Why? Why in the hell not!! I mean, if you are going to establish a chain of events earlier in the movie you have to follow through, right? Isn’t that just common sense!
Not for this flick though.
Roger runs back to the intact part of the ruins which are now barricaded by Maria and Betty. Maria doesn’t want him to come back in and every time Betty tries to open the door Maria slaps the shit out of her. We get a long cat fight here for no good reason, as the Blind Dead inch closer and closer to Roger.
The Blind Dead cut off Roger’s arm (it actually looks okay too). Why didn’t he run? Why did he just stand there pounding at the door like an idiot!
Betty gets her hands on a pistol and shoots Maria. She opens the door and Roger tumbles inside sans one arm. The Blind Dead (boy am I tired of typing those two words...) go for Maria then as Roger mumbles, “don’t make a sound... they can’t see you...”
Roger then dies, and no one in their right mind will care either.
Betty high-tails it out of the ruins with the Blind Dead in slow motion horseback pursuit. It is now apparently mid-afternoon as the sun is a lovely shade of blue. I guess they bought those really cheap night filters...
As she runs the train is again passing the same field where Virginia leapt off, then was killed. Betty, being the star of a horror movie then loses the ability to move for no apparent reason. The younger of the train conductors throws the brake and leaps off the train to assist her. By assist I mean attempt, poorly, to carry her to the train as the slow motion Blind Dead are bearing down on them. Now Betty is completely limp making it impossible for either of them to move faster than a snail. She also makes no effort to help herself onto the train.
The Blind Dead catch up with them and kill both train conductors and all the passengers in an orgy of quick-cut bloodshed.
Betty hides, though more like flops, into the coal car as the train speeds off to the next station while the Blind Dead happily (I think) consume the petrified passengers who put up no resistance at all.
The train pulls into the next stop and the platform conductor notices that no one is at the controls. Since the trains moves about as fast as glacier he leaps aboard and throws the break.
Some passengers, tickets and baggage in hand, enter the train car and are consumed by the Blind Dead. Cut to Betty screaming on the platform. Freeze frame.
I am probably a little harder on this movie than I should be, but there were so many times when things happened for no apparent logical reason that my appreciation for the good parts of this movie vanished very quickly.
I am still annoyed with the whole rising from the dead after being eaten by the dead bit. This was completely unnecessary and made the whole film seem disjointed.
I could have done without the rape too.
“Tombs of the Blind Dead” is part of an Anchor Bay double feature DVD also featuring the sequel, “Return of the Blind Dead.” Each film contains a trailer and that’s it. Both films are presented in wide screen, which is very nice.
“Tombs of the Blind Dead” is presented in Spanish with English subtitles while the sequel is dubbed into English. I speak a little bit of Portuguese, enough in fact, to realize that some of the English subtitles were incorrect translation of Spanish.
That was pretty funny.
Okay, should you buy this disk? Well, it is a zombie movie, sort of, so I guess if you are a completist it warrants purchase. I picked mine up for less than $10 so it is a pretty good deal, especially if the sequel is better than the first film.
The picture quality is good, though I did notice some artifacting in the dark scenes.
For a fun drinking game, pick up a bottle of vodka, and whenever you see the Blind Dead Templar with the zombie goatee everyone shouts “Lenin!” and takes a drink.
You should be smashed long before the train massacre.