Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)

a.k.a La Noche del terror ciego
The first of Amando de Ossorio's Blind Dead series is effectively creepy and well directed, but poorly written. Blue Underground R1 DVD.

The Film

Old school friends Virginia and Bette bump into each other on a beach, Virginia introduces her friend Roger and he suggests that the trio take a trip into the countryside for the weekend. On board the train, passions flare between Roger and Betty, and Virginia decides to jump off - she finds herself in the abandoned medieval town of Berzano, but after settling down for the night finds herself persued by undead knights who rise from their tombs. At their destination, Bette and Roger become concerned about Virginia and after heading of the legends surrounding Berzano, they head to the town, only to find their friend dead. However, when a friendly professor's son is accused of the murders, they return to the town to find out just who killed Virginia...

Written and directed by Amando de Ossorio, Tombs of the Blind Dead exists in the awkward space between art-house and exploitation cinema. From the opening, the ongoing conflict between de Ossorio (who wanted to make a sophisticated horror film) and his producers (who felt that sex and blood would sell best) can be seen - an unnecessary flashback to a lesbian encounter between Virginia and Bette serves no purpose to the plot but is very effectively directed none-the-less, with the sounds of the train continuing behind and even some smoke wafting across the screen. The exploitation themes continue to plague the script throughout, with some gratuitously illustrated violence, a completely unnecessary rape scene, and a short sequence straight out of a zombie film (a very unsubtle reference to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) that inspired this film), that makes no sense at all to the plot. The storyline around the Professor's son is rather poorly written - the police seemingly suspecting him of killing loads of innocent people, and yet doing nothing to try and arrest him (or indeed explain why a smuggler would bite someone to death). The background to the Knights (note: they are not identified as Templar Knights in the Spanish cut of the film) is interesting, if rather brief (not explaining their non-virginal blood lust, or night-time only appearances), and their rituals seem rather simplistic. On the plus side, characterisation is stronger than many films in the genre (if rather cliché) and in one clever scene, bordering on self-parody, Bette's workshop is illuminated by a flashing red light (in reference to the Mario Bava school) which she explains away as the result of a neon light testing centre upstairs. The film's climax and ending are suitalby effective and fit well with the tone of the film.
Fortunately, the film does have some tense and scary sequences, thanks to strong direction by de Ossorio, and a highly effective soundtrack. After jumping from the train, Virginia spends almost 10 minutes exploring the ruined town in complete silence, with just the sounds of the wind and creepy music to help build tension - this very slow paced scene stands as contrast to many of the more action packed horror films of the day. The rising of the Knights is a particularly effective sequence, and ranks as one of the best "undead rising from the tomb" scenes ever filmed (to the extent that the same shots were used again in 2 of this film's sequels, and "borrowed" in several other films) - and towards the film's climax, as the Knights rise again, we get more similarly effective scenes. The Knights themselves have a horrifying skeletal appearance, very distinct to the more humanoid 'zombies' of the George Romero film canon, and are shown in slow motion that gives them an unearthly feel. Antón García Abril (who also scored Paul Naschy's Werewolf Shadow (1971)) gives this film a strong theme with demonic chanting set to strangely atonal electronic music, although the lounge music used in several other scenes is rather generic.

None of the big names in cult cinema are here, and the standard of acting is generally poor. María Elena Arpón as the short-lived Virginia gives the best performance, while Lone Fleming and Bette and César Burner and Roger give decent but rather unimpressive turns. Francisco Sanz (recognisable from a variety of Spaghetti Westerns, including Django Kill (1967)) gives a brief but effective turn as the Professor.

1971 was a good year for Spanish horror, with Paul Naschy's daft but entertaining Werewolf Shadow (1971) finding sucess across Europe and beyond. In comparison, Tombs of the Blind Dead should have been a much better film, boasting a strong soundtrack, effective direction and some geniunely scary scenes - however it is let down by a rather poor script and some crudely inserted exploitation elements (rather more subtly included in Werewolf Shadow) and is generally less entertaining than the Paul Naschy film. However, it was financially sucessful, and lead to a trio of sequels, and inspired a variety of similar productions, most notioriously Jess Franco's sex fueled Mansion of the Living Dead (1982). Partly recommended to euro-cult/horror fans in general, 
Tombs of the Blind Dead is the second best film in the franchise (behind its sequel) and a must see film for fans of Spanish horror, if only to see the missed potential.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? No-one of note.
Directed by anyone interesting? Amando de Ossorio - a lesser known Spanish director who shot all four official Blind Dead films, as well as a variety of even more obscure horror titles.
Is it scary?There are a number of atmospheric scenes that might prove scary.
Any violence/gore? Some very bloody deaths.
Any sex? Some mild nudity in two rather vivid rape and torture scenes (still cut in the UK)
Who is it for?
Spanish horror fans will certainly want to see this, and it is partly recommended to all euro-horror fans.
Good Soundtrack?A decent track, with a very good title theme from Werewolf Shadow (1971) composer Antón García Abril.

Similar Films

Sequels:El Ataque de los muertos sin ojos  [a.k.a Return of the Evil Dead] (1973) - an interesting sequel.
El Buque maldito  [a.k.a The Ghost Galleon] (1974) - a low ebb for the franchise.
La Noche de las gaviotas  [a.k.a Night of the Seagulls] (1975) - the effective final chapter. 
Inspired by:Night of the Living Dead (1968) - George Romero's seminal zombie chiller.
Led to:Mansion of the Living Dead (1982) - Jess Franco's perverse, sex-filled riff on the Blind Dead.
Also of interest: Werewolf Shadow (1971) - an enjoyable Paul Naschy horror released at the same time as Tombs.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour
The print is decent with good colours and minimal grain/print damage - although some scenes are very dark and there is a general blurr and some flickering on many moving shots.
Audio Original Spanish audio - sounds fine.
Subtitles English - translates the Spanish track and reads well. The text is yellow.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Original American theatrical version of the film. Under the title The Blind Dead, this print runs several minutes shorter, and has some noticable edits (some of them superior to those used in the Spanish print). The print is much grainier, although the audio (a decent English dub) sounds strong.
  • Alternate Opening Sequence - titled Revenge from Planet Ape, this is a short voice-over prologue added by one distributor to US prints of the film attempts to daftly promote this film as a sequel to Planet of the Apes. Very interesting.
  • Original US theatrical trailer. Good condition.
  • A detailed poster and stills gallery. Manual scrolling.
AvailabilityReleased as a single disc as detailed here, or the same disc is available as part of the Blind Dead Collection boxset, along with a bonus disc and detailed booklet. 
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? An Anchor Bay UK release contains the Spanish print of the film plus the trailer/alternate opening, but is cut by 16 seconds - (two shots of nudity during the rape and torture scenes).
Cuts? The film is believed to be uncut. The print used is Spanish language.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 22nd October 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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