They’re blind, they’re dead, and they’re as slow as molasses on pavement in Iceland, but the Knights Templar always get their man (or woman, which is more often the case). Historically, the Knights Templar were a highly organised, efficient, and rock-star popular order of servants in Christ’s army whose French branch had grown so powerful and wealthy that they threatened the rule of the Pope. So, for purely economical and political reasons, the order were branded as heretics, stripped of their wealth, and summarily executed. The remaining Templar went into hiding, splintering off into other groups, and the once elite soldiers of God were no more.
Amando de Ossorio tinkered with history a bit when he opted to use the Knights Templar as the antagonists in his Blind Dead films, making them devil worshiping hedonists whose pact with Satan has given them eternal life; a favour that they repay in the blood of those who cross their paths. Ossorio also replaced the Templar’s Red Cross insignia with the much more nefarious-looking (yet equally benign) Egyptian ankh, burned out their eyes (they hunt by sound alone), and also concocted a way to explain why they were so damned slow; they operate on a plain of existence slightly out of time with our own (even though that still doesn’t explain why their victims can’t seem to ever get away).
Ossorio’s first film in the series, Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971), was an instant smash in his native Spain, and proved to be an exciting and intriguing twist on the traditional “zombie” film. While the plot is about as threadbare as the tattered cloaks of the rotting Templar, and the film moves along almost as slowly as its villains, the knights themselves made for a novel new antagonist, at once romantic and terrifying. While critics dismissed the films as poorly acted, cheaply made schlock, horror fans knew better, embracing Ossorio’s tragic undead as they galloped across the ruins of the cursed village of Berzano, feasting on the blood of those who venture into their territory.
With the sequel, 1973’s Return of the Blind Dead, Ossorio seemed to respond to his critics with a much faster, leaner, and satisfying film, featuring a better set-up (the village of Berzano celebrates the 500th anniversary of its uprising against the Templars), stronger performances, and more Knights! This is my favourite amongst the Blind Dead films, and it seems most fans agree.
The third film in the series, the insipid The Ghost Galleon (1974), took the Templar away from the dry land of rural Portugal and put them at sea, aboard a drifting ghost ship that floats along in an eerie fog. A pair of swimsuit models, working on a seemingly pointless publicity stunt, find themselves dead in the water and directly in the ghost galleon’s path. They radio for help, and the rescue team (consisting of a professor/Templar expert, the kidnapped lover of one of the missing models, and the pair responsible for the publicity stunt) find the ship and everything you’d expect to happen does. The Ghost Galleon is the worst of the Blind Dead series, offering only a few grisly moments to make up for an otherwise slow-moving and uninspired film.
Ossorio brought his nights back to shore for the final chapter in his series, 1975’s Night of the Seagulls. Here, the Templar terrorise a small fishing village, where they return every seven years to sacrifice seven woman seven nights in a row. Why these women wait around for seven years to be sacrificed is anyone’s guess, but the Blind Dead films aren’t known for their logic. It’s a silly premise, but the claustrophobic setting of the small village, and the beautiful cinematography (helped along by abundant amounts of gore and nudity) make-up for it.
Blue Underground presents the entire Blind Dead collection in a fantastic boxed-set, featuring all four films, uncut and unedited (as well as English and Spanish cuts of the first two films), a bevy of extra material, and a bonus disc that focuses on Ossario, himself. The extras include stills galleries, trailers, radio spots, and, my personal favourite, an alternate opening sequence to Tombs of the Blind Dead called Return to Planet Ape. It seems that someone got the bright idea to somehow sell this film as a direct sequel to Planet of the Apes during the height of that film’s popularity, and this opening narration tells of the ape civilisation that once ruled the world coming back from the grave to take its revenge against mankind. This is one of the craziest bonus features I’ve ever seen, and it made me laugh out loud.
The DVD’s are packaged in a really cool embossed coffin-shaped box, with a very comprehensive 40 page colour booklet that covers the history of the series, and features reviews and essays on each.
Blind Dead fans have reason to celebrate as this is one of the coolest collections yet. While The Ghost Galleon is a bit of a dog, the other three films are a blast, and the bonus materials make this set an essential addition to any serious Euro-Shock fan’s collection.