N: Night of the Seagulls (1975)

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Dude... are those EYES? Come ON!

Dude… are those EYES? Come ON!

So here we are, on the fourth and final entry of Spanish director Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead series. Over the course of the series, the Templars have been:

  1. Revenants who emerge from their graves whenever anybody  trespasses in their haunted cathedral
  2. Revenants who emerge from their grave either because of the Village Idiot’s human sacrifice, or because it’s the 500th anniversary of their execution by peasants who had enough
  3. Revenants who got dug up with their treasure and took over a galleon to lure ships into “another dimension” for blood sacrifice to continue their immortal but sucky existence.

In Night of the Seagulls, the Templars are lording over a remote fishing village where every seven years, the villagers must turn over one of their children (preferably pretty girls, apparently) on seven consecutive nights, or the Templars will kill everybody. This happened once before, we are told, though why there’s still a village there is never addressed.

blinddeadseagullsWe don’t even get to find that out until the mid-point of the picture; Most of our time is spent with the new doctor who has been assigned to the village (Victor Petit) and his wife (Maria Kosti), who are told by the departing doctor:

  1. Don’t go out at night
  2. Don’t get involved in anything
  3. Transfer out as soon as possible

They of course ignore all of these good pieces of advice, especially when the orphan girl they’ve hired as a maid (Sandra Mozarowsky) is chosen as one night’s sacrifice. The doctor frees her in the nick of time, which means there is a Templar get-together at his house.

BlockadeAs I said, the backstory (which changes with each successive Blind Dead movie) isn’t revealed until the midpoint, and the appearances by the Templars to that point feel rather rote and uninspired. Some footage is obviously recycled from the first movie, and though there is one instance of the most famous of the Templar’s traits – that they are blind and have to hunt by sound – that remains a factor that also received dwindling attention as the series progressed (I also have a question about the efficacy of hearing-based predators in a locale with constant rolling surf and seagulls, but let’s get on with it).

Once we get into zombie siege territory the movie takes off. The doctor’s ramshackle residence is pretty indefensible (again, the opportunity for the sound of hammering boards over windows being what attracts the zombies is wasted), and those flimsy boards are no match for ghouls wielding broadswords. The Templars slowly make their way in, and it is a pretty effective sequence, even if there are a couple of side-trips into the realm of nonsense. The fact that the heroes discover the Templars are very flammable and do not exploit that knowledge is, amazingly, not the stupidest thing that is done.

"This is surprisingly effective! Let's never do it again!"

“This is surprisingly effective! Let’s never do it again!”

On the even-numbered films in his trademark series, de Ossorio also destroys the Templars at the end (Oooh, spoilers for a 40 year-old movie). The method used here is so obvious that you wonder why the villagers didn’t freaking do it years ago.

"Just wait until Stuart Gordon comes along!"

“Just wait until Stuart Gordon comes along!”

Night of the Seagulls does have its good points – the zombie siege, the fact that the Templars are apparently worshipping Dagon – but it is dragged down by tedium. de Ossorio is a firm believer in the magic of threes, which usually bears some tasty cinematic fruit – but going through the sacrifice ritual three times, without the Templars being portrayed with the same awful decaying majesty of the previous films, and no build in suspense, brings the series to a close in a less than satisfying manner.

Damn near every clip on YouTube is too freaking dark, so be warned:

Buy Night of the Seagulls on Amazon

G: The Ghost Galleon (1974)

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It appeals to my warped sense of symmetry when a review featuring a horrible Spanish galleon is scheduled to run on Columbus Day.

When you want to talk about Spanish horror movies, there are two series that are going to jump out of the spooky box at you: Paul Naschy’s El Hombre Lobo flicks, and Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead movies. I wrote about the inaugural Tombs of the Blind Dead back in the day, and the sequel, Return of the Blind Dead (duh) last year. And with this offering, we see that the Law of Diminishing Returns is sadly in action.

Worthless rich dude Howard Tucker (Jack Taylor) and model agency owner Lillian (the always welcome Maria Perschy) are working an ill-considered publicity stunt: two of Lillian’s models on Tucker’s new boat design will strand themselves in the ocean, be discovered, and Step Four: Profit! Except that the two run afoul of a weird patch of fog and the derelict 16th century galleon adrift therein. The galleon rams their boat, they go on board, and are not heard from again.

So Tucker, Lillian, Tucker’s hired muscle Sergio (Manuel de Blas) and model Noemi (Barbara Rey) head out on Taylor’s yacht to find them. Noemi is the friend of one of the missing models, and has been doing stuff like threatening to go to the cops about the whole thing, completely unaware that this is a bad way to deal with villains and/or rich people. For her efforts she has been kidnapped, raped by Sergio, and brought along for the trip. Also accompanying them is Professor Gruber (Carlos Lemos), a scientist at a meteorological service who assured them there is never fog in that part of the ocean, but there is the occasional ghost galleon.

ghost-galleon-18Well, needless to say, this amazingly doomed quintet is going to find the galleon, and their launch is going to vanish, because the Professor tells us they are in another dimension. Gruber has an almost Russell Johnson-esque grasp of a number of scientific disciplines, including how to do an “exorcism” that will keep the zombie Templars at bay for 24 hours (which is a pretty crap exorcism, if you ask me).

Gruber also finds the ship’s log that explains how the Templars came to be on a ship (I was wondering): the crew apparently picked up a slew of Templar treasure, and brought the bodies, too, maybe? So the satanic templars now drift in their magical fog, drawing in victims for blood sacrifice that will allow them to maintain their immortality.


This, at least, is pretty cool. Too bad it’s at the end.

If in Return de Ossorio opened up the action to encompass an entire village, in Galleon it closes back down again drastically – he gets a lot of use out of those galleon sets, probably built for another movie entirely. We also see way too much of the most woeful miniature ship I have ever seen.

The Templars, so creepy in the last two movies, seem to be pretty perfunctory in their roamings this time, and too often the puppetry is obvious and sub-par. Perhaps they seem less ominous because in their previous movies, they were pretty relentlessly homicidal. This time, they have to drag their victims away to… well, we never find out, which could be terrifying, but first we’d have to care about the characters, wouldn’t we? I admit that all the Blind Dead movies have depended on people making stupid choices, but this time out we are talking about complete imbeciles.

We are spared yet another revisionist origin story, but that also robs us of one of the few things that gives them their identity: no mention is ever made of their blindness, or their reliance on tracking their victims by sound. Noemi’s encounter with the zombies is the one instance of true horror in the whole enterprise, and even then that’s because it is so sadistically drawn out.

the-ghost-galleon-1974-bloody-mouthThis is by far the weakest of the Blind Dead movies (that I have seen. I can only imagine Night of the Seagulls will patiently wait to ambush me next year). Its reputation hasn’t been aided by having numerous other names pasted over its beginning through the years. Most people will recognize it better under the utterly generic Horror of the Zombies, which I believe was the title when it appeared on the USA Network’s Up All Night over and over again. Not to mention the piggy-backing title Horror of the Evil Dead, or the Brentwood disc I viewed where it was called Zombie Flesh Eater. Singular. Not Eaters.

Needless to say, there is no flesh eaten.Whether or not this would have improved the movie, I just don’t know.

“An important film!”

R: Return of the Blind Dead (1973)

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What, we’re back to Spanish horror already?

This is, to no one’s surprise, Amando de Ossorio’s sequel to his 1972 Tombs of the Blind Dead, which is a really good horror movie. It introduced an alternate version of the Knights Templar (whose actual story makes for a good read) who were executed for practicing black magic and birds plucked out their corpses’ eyes. In this alternate alternate version, the Templars are still drinking virgin blood, but this time it’s the villagers, not the Church (with a capital “Ch”) who get fed up, burn out the knights’ eyes and then set them (or at least some dummies dressed like them) on fire. The one Templar allowed to have lines swears they’ll be back.

blind_dead_coll01Sooo, 500 years later, the very same village is having a party to celebrate the legend of the death of the Templars, and an “American” named Jack Marlowe (Tony Kendall) is there to provide the fireworks. He got the gig through an old girlfriend (Esperanza Ray) who is now the secretary/mistress of the corrupt mayor (Fernando Sancho).  The relationships get stupidly complex, but never mind that, there’s zombies.

The semi-deformed caretaker of the ruins where the Templars got torched, Murdo (Jose Canelejas) kidnaps a girl and sacrifices her the night of the festival, but we’re not really sure if it’s her blood or the Templars deciding they’d better make good on that “coming back” business. In any case, the Templars are back, and they’re a creepy bunch, because they actually look dead. They get on their zombie horses and ride for the village, stopping at the occasional house or railroad station to murder the occupants.

82Intriguingly, the Mayor and his goons have advance warning of the Templar’s approach, yet do nothing about it, resulting in a wholesale slaughter in the town square. After Marlowe and the Mayor’s suddenly civic-minded goons manage to clear a way for the surviving townfolk to run away, they barricade themselves in a church to hopefully survive the night. At that point, we’re into fairly traditional zombie siege territory, with the occupants splitting into factions and the Mayor getting several people killed just so he can escape.

There are two minor scenes of the Mayor calling the less-than-useful Governor for help which I think are supposed to be comedic but just slow everything down. Apparently the legend of the Templars is very well-known, because Useful information About Undead Knights is dropped at important points. “They’re supposed to be attracted to sound!” “They’re afraid of fire!” “They’re supposed to go back to their graves at dawn!” But in this version of the Templar story, they haven’t been seen for 500 years… where is this information coming from?

return-of-the-evil-dead-ataque-de-los-muertos-sin-ojos-1Tombs of the Blind Dead ended with one hell of a devastating bloodbath and the dreadful promise of carnage to come. Return has a more upbeat ending, which feels like a cheat, somehow. Overall, it’s not quite as good as its predecessor, but it definitely has its moments, and whatever else, you have to admire its efficiency: the Templars rise from their graves at the 16 minute mark, and then we’re off to the races. That, my friends, is some significant bang for your horror buck.

The Blind Dead on Amazon