A slow and lackadaisically plotted thirsty-corpse movie distinguished by terrific music and locations, and genuinely eerie zombies.
Bumping into her old friend Virginia at a resort in Lisbon, Betty is persuaded by Virginia's pal Roger to accompany them on a camping trip. Clearly uncomfortable with the playful flirtation between Roger and Betty, Virginia hops off the train en route to their destination and camps out instead in
the abandoned monastery at Berzano--which turns out to be inhabited by blood-craving zombies, who kill her in the night.
Roger and Betty discover that the monastery used to be run by the Knight Templars, a satanic sect of monks who drank blood in a quest for eternal life, and were consequently strung up en masse for the crows to peck out their eyes. Legend says they still roam at night, seeking victims by sound.
Enlisting the aid of local smuggler Pedro and his sluttish girlfriend, Roger and Betty visit Berzano at night, where all are killed except Betty, who flees to the nearby railroad. When a passing train stops, she climbs aboard, as do the zombies, killing all the passengers and crew. At the next
station, the stationmaster finds Betty the only one left alive on the train.
TOMBS has three brilliant elements. Anton Garcia Abril's music is downright stunning--and all too often nearly inaudible. Mixed way in the background, it is at one moment choral chants, the next orchestral, followed by ominous avant-garde organ. The main location is equally impressive, a sprawling
stone estate crumbling from neglect. The Knight Templars themselves are the third major achievement. Decrepit mummies in hoods and robes, they are truly creepy, particularly galloping on phantom steeds through the decaying grounds of the monastery.
Unfortunately, they gallop only in slow motion--and stalk even slower. If the protagonists didn't keep getting their feet caught in rotting staircases or standing still while the zombies shuffle to surround them, a few more might have survived. In between the striking segments at the deserted
monastery that begin and end the film, the middle takes place back in the city and is rather creakily plotted, with coincidence piled upon coincidence. A grinning, sadistic morgue attendant appears in a thoroughly laughable sequence, only to be killed by Virginia's reanimated corpse, which then
ambles next door to the shop where Betty happens to work. Similarly Roger and Betty visit a professor of medieval studies to discuss the Templars, just as the police arrive to question the professor about his son Pedro, a smuggler in the Berzano area whom they suspect might possibly have killed
Virginia. Considering the care lavished on the sound and visuals, some of the technical effects are surprisingly cheap. Virginia's reanimated corpse is burned in a primitive double-exposure, flashbacks are signaled by someone offscreen furiously puffing cigar smoke in front of the camera, and
"shocking" images are emphasized by sudden rack zooms.
As is so often the case, the undead are initially aroused (in a manner of speaking) by naked female flesh. Virginia undresses to slip into her sleeping bag and the bells of the monastery begin to toll, calling forth the undead. Later, Pedro rapes Betty in a cemetery (while his slattern girlfriend
is seducing Roger), and once more the bells toll, tombstones topple, and corpses rise from their graves. Of course, sex as a precursor to slaughter is the oldest gambit in the horror-movie handbook, with the good girl invariably the one to survive. But Betty is a "good girl" with a difference. She
tells Pedro, "I've never been interested in men. I had a bad experience as a child," and instead is seen (through cigar smoke) having a past sexual liaison with Virginia. Virginia's jealous frustration in the beginning (which starts the whole plot rolling) is because she desires Roger, who in turn
lusts for her lesbian girlfriend. Betty, on the other hand, spurns Roger's advances, and later Pedro's. Thus in the unique moral universe of the film, her lesbianism, unlike the horny heterosexuality of her companions, renders her metaphorically pure and chaste, protecting her from exsanguination.
Writer-director Armando De Ossorio entered the Spanish film industry in the 1940s. After helming a series of Latin westerns in the mid-1960s, he made his first (semi-parodic) horror film, LA NIPOTE DEL VAMPIRO (aka MALENKA, THE VAMPIRE/MALENKA, THE VAMPIRE'S NIECE/FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD), with
Anita Ekberg in 1968. TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (also known simply as THE BLIND DEAD) was a significant hit in Europe and spawned three sequels: RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD (aka RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD, 1973), HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES (aka THE CURSED SHIP/GHOST SHIPS OF THE BLIND DEAD, 1974), and NIGHT OF
THE SEAGULLS (1975). (Graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations.)
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