Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead series has long been known as a marker in Spanish horror history, and the start of that comes from 1972’s Tombs of the Blind Dead. It’s easy to see why the main antagonists of Ossorio’s series attracted a multitude of genre fans; unlike the zombies of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, these undead freaks aren’t just the moldering bodies of the regular deceased but Knights Templar complete with full regalia, and this first film in the series even finds them slaughtering a number of civilians with swords in hand. The draw of this monster design is clear, but what about the entirety of the film they populate?
Tombs of the Blind Dead is admittedly paced quite languidly, with a plot that can only be summarized as “loose.” The film takes place in the Portuguese countryside, specifically an abandoned medieval city of Berzano; after an uncomfortable train ride with her boyfriend Roger (Cesar Burner) and friend Betty (Lone Fleming), Virginia (Maria Elena Arpon) decides to leap from the traveling locomotive to spend the night in the creepy cemetery where, we later learn, a virgin sacrifice ensured some Knights Templar could have immortality in exchange for feasting on human flesh throughout the years. Ultimately, the whole movie revolves around these characters searching Berzano, first to find Virginia and then to figure out what murdered her. Along the way we encounter a smuggler and his girlfriend who also decide to stake out the cemetery for some reason, leading to their demise.
It takes a long time for Ossorio’s film to get going, much like the coal-powered locomotive featured in the film. Although gorgeous shots of the countryside and the Templar ruins help set the atmosphere, the film suffers from its start-stop pacing. Once the undead blind knights are introduced, things get slightly more interesting; the costume design is excellent, and the skeletal appendages that burst through doors and windows are effectively creepy when the knights aren’t shown moving at exceedingly sloth-like pacing. But Ossorio’s use of slow-motion shots for undead horse riding, and his tendency to segment the film’s sporadic horror sequences in between lengthy scenes of melodrama and unnecessary investigation, make for a tedious viewing experience.
It’s not until the film’s final moments that Tombs of the Blind Dead really picks up the pacing. A nice extended chase sequence and a visceral train slaughter await the patient viewer at the end of the film, and these moments do show the talent Ossorio has for directing shocking Grand Guignol-style horror. It’s just unfortunate that the Blind Dead’s first foray is often excruciatingly dull, often as aimless as its zombie flesh eaters.
Full uncompressed screenshots from this Blu-ray.
Synapse Films originally released Tombs of the Blind Dead in a 3-disc collector’s edition with steelbook and booklet. Here they have given the film a standard edition on Blu-ray with most of the extras included, leaving out the additional third disc (a CD) and supplemental physical materials. The movie gets a new 2K restoration of the original camera negative completed by Atlas International, with noted color correction and further restoration performed by Synapse Films. The results are mostly great; the film has a pretty robust grain scale that does become fairly pronounced in certain sequences involving bright natural light, but it never appears particularly chunky or obstructive. Details are most apparent in the clothing and special effects textures, although occasionally some softness is noticeable. Opening credits and the film’s final train attack are probably the roughest areas of this transfer, with the opening credits featuring a noticeable judder and the end sequence showing some grit and overall more erratic grain. Color grading seems appropriate and consistent, with fairly warm hues throughout in comparison to XT Video’s German release. While the limitations of the 2K scan are evident and are an understandable factor in Synapse’s decision to not release this film on UHD, this Blu-ray is still an excellent way to watch Ossorio’s influential zombie tale.
Audio is presented with both the original Spanish language track in LPCM 2.0 mono, or an alternate English/Spanish hybrid offering also in LPCM 2.0 mono. Both tracks sound quite good with well-articulated dialogue and a nice presentation of the film’s soundtrack. The Spanish track is presented with translated English subtitles automatically, and the hybrid version offers a choice of subtitles for only the Spanish dialogue or full English option. Do note that the two tracks feature somewhat different dialogue.
Extras include three new audio commentaries on the originial Tombs of the Living Dead cut. Troy Howarth offers an extensive dive into the film’s themes and he doles out information about the respective actors, interspersed with some passages provided by Lone Fleming; a second track with Fleming moderated by Calum Waddell provides a more conversational reminiscence of the film, even touching on Fleming’s appearance in Return of the Evil Dead; the third, with Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn of Naschycast, is certainly podcast-esque in its accompanying critique and historical context of the movie, another conversational look at the film’s score, Ossorio’s ducking of censorship, and more. It’s also important to note that there seems to be a careful decision between all of the collaborators to not tread the same ground as the other commentaries, which is always welcome.
Also new to this release is a feature-length documentary about Spanish zombie horror cinema. It’s not completely focused on Ossorio’s Blind Dead series but it does spend a great length of time discussing it, as well as a few other features on Spanish cinema including The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, the films of Paul Naschy, and even Jess Franco’s Oasis of the Zombies. This one’s definitely worth a watch for its informative content. A previously released introduction to the movie by film historian Marcus Stiglegger is presented in German with English subtitles, covering the Blind Dead series’ influence and some historical background of the Knights Templar. An alternate opening sequence with the American title Revenge of the Planet Ape is also presented, which was a rather odd attempt to market the film as a Planet of the Apes sequel. A music video for Salem’s Pop’s “Templar’s Tears” is included, basically a VHS-ified montage of the virgin sacrifice scene. Finally, still gallery and theatrical trailer round out the extra on the first disc.
While the second disc contains no bonus features, it does house the US cut of Tombs of the Blind Dead known simply as The Blind Dead. This version is 20 minutes shorter and basically removes a lot of what makes Tombs of the Blind Dead so interesting, namely its grue. The rape scene is cut, the virgin sacrifice is moved to the beginning of the film, and ultimately this is a lesser version of the film in most respects. Presumably Synapse has used the same 2K scan for much of this cut’s transfer since it does appear relatively the same; however, the English title sequence is obviously from a different source and a little rougher in quality. This also gets an LPCM 2.0 mono English audio track with English subtitles.
DISC 1 – ORIGINAL SPANISH-LANGUAGE AND ENGLISH/SPANISH HYBRID SOUNDTRACK VERSIONS
NEW 2K restoration from the original camera negative provided by Atlas International, with extensive color correction and additional restoration by Synapse Films
High-definition (1080p) Blu-ray™ presentation of the original uncut version
Optional English subtitles for the Spanish sections of the hybrid soundtrack
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the hybrid soundtrack
NEW Audio commentary with horror film historian and author Troy Howarth
NEW Audio commentary with star Lone Fleming
NEW Audio commentary with Rod Barnett & Troy Guinn of the NaschyCast podcast
NEW Marauders from the Mediterranean – a feature-length documentary exploring the history of the Spanish zombie film, featuring interviews with: Night of the Living Dead writer/producer John Russo, Sitges Film Festival deputy director Mike Hostench, film critic John Martin, academic Calum Waddell, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue director Jorge Grau, Tombs of the Blind Dead star Lone Fleming, actors Helga Liné, Manuel de Blas, Antonio Mayans and Jack Taylor, Paul Naschy’s son Sergio Molina, author/film critic Kim Newman and academic/writer Steve Jones (1080p, 1:28:54)
Revenge of Planet Ape – alternate U.S. opening sequence (1080p, 3:23)
Awakening of Spanish Horror Cinema – Featurette (1080p, 14:24)
Salem’s Pop “Templar’s Tears” music video (1080p, 3:21)
Original theatrical trailer (1080p, 2:39)
Still gallery (1080, 3:20)
DISC 2 – THE BLIND DEAD (U.S. THEATRICAL VERSION)
High-definition (1080p) Blu-ray™ presentation of the re-edited U.S. theatrical cut of the film
Lossless English PCM 2.0 mono soundtrack
Optional English subtitles
Tombs of the Blind Dead is certainly an influential film in zombie canon, even if this first outing is a bit more tepid than its subsequent sequels. Synapse Films has provided a nice transfer and a host of extras that make this Blu-ray a great upgrade from previous DVD collections.
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