It was in the month of April, April 10, 1972 to be exact, when writer and director Amando de Ossorio introduced the world to the creation that made him famous. This would of course be the Blind Dead.
If you’ve been listening to the Decades of Horror podcast, you heard in the Blind Dead episode the discussion about not only the film but about how many varied – and occasionally butchered – cuts of the four films have been floating around out there over the years. For those of you who haven’t owned a store bought copy since the days of VHS, or even never at all, you need to track down the Blue Underground DVD releases. I’ll be reviewing each of the four films’ DVD releases throughout the month as well as the bonus DVD found in the coffin box set in the attempt to convince you that you too need to have these movies on your video shelf.
So let’s get cracking with the first film- TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD/LA NOCHE DEL TERROR CIEGO
The disc gives you two viewing options when the start menu comes up. One option is labeled with the English language title, the other with the original Spanish title. This isn’t just a fancy way of choosing your language track. Blue Underground obtained two different prints of the film for their DVD releases. One is the most complete English language release version of the film currently available. The other is the most complete version of Ossorio’s original cut still available to us.
Which one you choose makes more of a difference than merely watching an English dubbed version vs watching a Spanish language version with subtitles. The English language American release was recut with scenes moved around as well edited down to a shorter run time. The difference, 83 minutes for the American cut vs 101 minutes for the Spanish release cut, is fairly noticeable not only in how the storytelling gets abridged, but also in the intensity of some of the gore scenes.
A few differences you’ll see early in the film-
Your first noticeable difference is in the very beginning of the film. The American release drops the viewer right into some gore by giving us an opening sequence filled with Templar Knights tying up and bleeding a young woman in order to drink her blood. We see the explanation of what the Blind Dead are, satanic knights who did evil things to earn life after death, before the opening credits hit the screen. This was originally from a later scene in the Spanish cut where the two leads seek information about the possible fate of their missing friend. It’s also a scene where the gore level was trimmed a bit for the American release.
Our introduction to the film’s trio of friends, Betty, Virginia, and Roger, and the intricacies of their relationships to one another is also somewhat condensed in the American release cut. There’s a slightly different vibe to Virginia and Roger’s relationship right of the bat, and what seems in the American release cut like a head scratching flashback to the girls’ time in school together while on the train is on the Spanish cut longer and shows us the girls were more than just friends back in the day.
Some of the differences are in how characters are portrayed. Some extended scenes in the Spanish cut merely serve to prolong some scenes that, given the already slow build nature of the film, some viewers may be fine leaving out of their viewing experience. Some, such as a rape scene, may be more palatable to some viewers in the trimmed and toned down version. The ending also has an ever so slightly different twist in the Spanish cut.
The Story Itself
Our story is largely straightforward, uncomplicated, and (enjoyably) paint by number with the goal of getting us to scenes of undead ghoulishness.
We meet Betty splashing around in the local public pool when she and Virginia spot one another. The two immediately start talking about the old days and what they’re each doing now when Roger pops up out of the pool and invites Betty to join them on the camping trip they have planned for the next day. In the Spanish language version this is actually just a planned trip through the countryside. This explains the rather noticeable absence of any camping gear when the friends gather the next day as well as their rather less than camping appropriate destination.
On the train ride we get Betty flirting with Virginia, Virginia flirting with Roger, and Roger flirting with Betty. This leads Virginia to toss her overnight bags and leap off the moving train. She goes to these extremes after asking one of the men working the train to stop to let her off and him responding in somewhat nervous tones that they never stop in this area. That should have been a hint for her to avoid doing what she’s planning, but then how would we get bloody death if she used common sense?
Virginia heads off towards the crumbling ruins of the castle that was once the home of our satanic knights in order to do a little sightseeing before bedding down for the evening. Our undead knights respond to this intrusion by climbing out of their graves and introducing themselves to her. Virginia tries to flee, hopping onto an undead horse and riding out into the countryside with the mounted undead in hot pursuit. Short story- they catch her and drain her dry, leaving her body in the field by the train tracks.
Her body is spotted the next day by the conductor and his son, but they refuse to stop the train in that part of the countryside. In the meantime, Roger and Betty, after learning the local legends from a way too happy to see the dead returning librarian, decide to go looking for their friend and determine they need to hire a guide. They seemingly hire the first two people they can find, a charming couple who may as well have been named Scum 1 and Scum 2.
In the meantime, in the only example of this we see in the films, Virginia comes back to life and sets out on her own killing spree. This is never explained or expanded on in any way, and that may be for the best. The undead Virginia looks appropriately chilling, and one scene of her on the hunt, playing a game of cat and mouse with her intended victim, is effectively chilling as well as gorgeously shot.
They arrive at the old castle where Scum 1, Pedro, takes Betty off into the ruins for a bit of overly macho swagger and rape. He does offer her a cigarette afterwards as a bit of a pick me up though. She declines, much to his apparent bewilderment. This leaves Scum 2, Nina, trying to convince Roger to do the beast with two backs with her. Roger will have none of it and instead insists on looking for Betty and Pedro. Given the short distance Betty and Pedro have gone, this should be a breeze. Given the poor job Roger does of finding them, it makes you wonder how he manages to successfully find his own mailbox every day.
The film lets us see Pedro’s bad deed result in the instant undead karma he’s treated to. Of all the places to pick to make his move, Pedro picks the cemetery where the knights are snoozing. They make pretty short and bloody work of him. Of course, they then move on to making short and bloody work of everyone else they can get their boney hands on.
It’s while they’re making short work of our main characters that we see the first sign of the Blind Dead actually being… well… blind. They enter into a room and only realize a potential victim is there when she screams at the top of her lungs. We also see them locate a smarter victim by tracking her heartbeat.
This entire sequence is another area where the version you choose to watch makes a huge difference in the level of violence and gore. The rape scene is clearly implied in the American edit whereas it’s explicitly played out in the Spanish cut. The attack on the living supplies more gore in the Spanish cut as well, showing us more blood, more drinking of blood, and dismemberments the American release edit trims out. The translation for the subtitles on the Spanish cut also make some of the dialogue come off better during this sequence than the dubbed dialogue in the American cut.
Betty flees the Blind Dead, running out into the morning sun and across the open fields. Proving they’re nicer guys than we earlier gave them credit for, our train conductor and his son actually decide to stop when spotting her after only a very short moment of thinking about leaving her there to die. They probably should have gone with their first instincts.
The Blind Dead discover the train is the best all you can slaughter and drink buffet they’ve ever had delivered to their front door, and then they go to town on it. No, they literally go to town on it. After they start their killing spree the train starts to move again. Some of them are left behind, others hack and slash everyone on the train as it chugs along towards the town.
The train is stopped at the station by a rail worker jumping up and pulling the brakes. He then spots Betty, white with shock, pulling herself up out of the coal car. As she staggers away the passengers who had been waiting on the platform start to board the train. Because, you know, if something this strange happens you just carry on as normal. They discover their mistake when the screaming starts.
From the onset of the attack on the train to the almost NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD styled still frame sequence as the film ends; this is another sequence where you see a lot of differences in the two cuts of the film. Again, the Spanish cut is noticeably more violent and extreme with its depictions of the slaughter on the train as well as with showing just who some of the victims are.
How Does It Look?
Blue Underground gives us a remastered print that looks better than damned near any version I’d seen before it. Granted, it’s going to be only so crisp given the low budget nature of the film, its age, and the less than thoughtful care such films often received, but it’s far more watchable than many of the prints that have made their way out there.
This is a good thing too. Amando de Ossorio was a very visual director. He had a flair for creating stylized imagery on film, and he does that here in spades. The Blind Dead themselves are an amazingly creepy creation – looking like death not quite warmed over and just crawled out of the grave after a 100-year dirt nap – and Ossorio finds ways to film them to create beautiful, haunting visuals. The scenes of the Blind Dead riding undead horses through the swirling mist of the night are almost worth the price of the film alone. These scenes are also helped greatly by the genuinely creepy soundtrack.
How Does It Sound?
Damned good. The audio track doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles options for your sound system settings, but both the original Spanish and the English dub are clear with no moments of sound fading or of having the volume bounce from low to high and back again. The music, from incidental bits to the theme used for the Blind Dead’s best moments on film, is crisp and clean with no noticeable pops or glitches.
The discs in Blue Underground’s Blind Dead releases are pretty barren when it comes to bonus features. The first film has no commentary tracks,has no looking back on features or making of features. It does however include the alternate opening (with explanation) created by a fly by night distributor as a part of a campaign to fool movie goers into believing the film was connected to the PLANET OF THE APES film series. If you’re both scratching your head at that last bit and you missed the Decades of Horror podcast devoted to the Blind Dead, go back and give it a listen. We covered that.There’s also a poster and photo stills gallery as well as the original theatrical trailer.
Where Can You Find It?
You can still find TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD/LA NOCHE DEL TERROR CIEGO in specialty outlets, but your best bet is the internet. At the time of this writing the DVD can be found on Amazon for around $8 new as a single disc or in the still available box set containing all four films plus a bonus features disc for around $30. There’s also a 4 disc collection (minus the bonus disc) for the same price as their more recent release.