Film Review: The ‘Blind Dead’ Film Series (1972-1975)

Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead tetralogy is a pretty unique take on the zombie movie formula. In his stories, the undead are actually members of the Knights Templar. Each film begins with a flashback of the knights doing some sort of heinous act, usually torturing young naked women. This is to foreshadow that they are evil and into Satanic rituals… or they just party a little too hard.

Each movie is pretty much the same with just a few minor changes to differentiate each chapter. Ultimately, the Knights Templar do some messed up shit, the people fight back, the knights claim they are immortal, generations later they wake up from a dead slumber because some hottie decided to sleep in their tomb (or meddle around their ghost ship).

So I figured that since these films are really just rehashes of the same thing, it would make more sense to review them together.

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972):

Also known as: La noche del terror ciego, lit. The Night of the Blind Terror (Spain), Crypt of the Blind Dead, Night of the Blind Dead, Legend of the Blind Dead, Tombs of the Evil Dead, Revenge From Planet Ape
Release Date: April 10th, 1972 (Spain)
Directed by: Amando de Ossorio
Written by: Amando de Ossorio
Music by: Antón García Abril
Cast: Lone Fleming, César Burner

Interfilme, Plata Films S.A., 101 Minutes

Review:

Tombs of the Blind Dead kicked off the tetralogy. It is also the best story of the bunch but I do prefer the second film a hair bit more.

There is a train that happens to roll through the Portuguese countryside near a haunted tomb of the long dead Templar knights. The main girl in the film jumps off of the train because she’s nuts and doesn’t do anything logical throughout the entire film. She spends the night in this tomb, which wakes up the warrior Catholic zombies. She dies. Her friends that were initially on the train with her, go back to investigate. They obviously discover the cause of her death, a hoard of white robed, sword-wielding zombies that are too slow to properly swashbuckle.

The film isn’t well shot and it is poorly lit, as darkness takes over the screen and obscures too much of the picture. Regardless, these are still some of the coolest zombies in cinema history.

One cool thing about the undead in this film is that they have horses. They are slow like zombies but their steeds of death can outrun any human trying to hightail it away from the site of the haunted tomb. I thought it was weird that their horses were just hanging out for centuries and that they don’t freak the hell out from the zombie state of their masters but it is revealed in the second film that the horses are undead too. That wasn’t so clear in this movie.

Tombs of the Blind Dead is entertaining enough to kill ninety minutes or so. It is not a great zombie picture but very few of them are.

Return of the Blind Dead (1973):

Also known as: El ataque de los muertos sin ojos, lit. Attack of the Blind Dead (Spain), Return of the Evil Dead, Mark of the Devil 5: Night of the Blind Terror
Release Date: September 14th, 1973 (West Germany)
Directed by: Amando de Ossorio
Written by: Amando de Ossorio
Music by: Antón García Abril
Cast: Tony Kendall, Fernando Sancho, Esperanza Roy, Lone Fleming, Frank Braña, Luis Barboo

Ancla Century Films, Belén Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

This chapter in the series is my favorite, overall.

I’d say that the first chapter is a better movie, as the ideas and the concepts are still new but I liked this one for the fact that the undead knights take on a whole village and that it was action heavy and flew by pretty quickly, until the last act of the film, which then slowed everything to a halt.

The people in this chapter are at least not as stupid as the people from the first movie. They’re still idiots but at least there is a couple and a young girl that survive this time. Plus, that finale was pretty good and suspenseful.

The highlight of this film is when the village folk are burning effigies of the evil Knights Templar and then the undead knights show up to spoil the party, putting their swords through all the villagers, trapped within the stone walls of the small town.

Return of the Blind Dead, from a narrative standpoint, is the most fluid picture. It is also the least hokey out of the tetralogy.

The Ghost Galleon (1974):

Also known as: El buque maldito, lit. The Damned Ship (Spain), Horror of the Zombies, Ghost Ships of the Blind Dead, Horror of the Evil Dead, Ship of Zombies, The Blind Dead 3, Zombie Flesh Eater
Release Date: June 28th, 1974 (West Germany)
Directed by: Amando de Ossorio
Written by: Amando de Ossorio
Music by: Antón García Abril
Cast: Maria Perschy, Jack Taylor, Barbara Rey

Ancla Century Films, Belén Films, 89 Minutes

Review:

The Ghost Galleon is where the series took a big shit on itself. Although, it did introduce some cool elements to the mythos and it has the best sequence out of all the films. Unfortunately, most of this is a big piss sandwich.

In this chapter, a couple hotties on a tiny boat get lost in a fog. They then get hit by a large wooden ship. The women, at different times, decide to explore this pirate looking vessel. Both of them end up having a really bad time and we are treated to one of the most bloodcurdling zombie kills ever captured on celluloid. Not because it is violent and awesome but because the damn girl literally screams for like five minutes and it is the most annoying scream I’ve ever heard. I can’t necessarily blame the filmmakers, as the scream came to me courtesy of the English dub track. But man, I really wanted to punch my TV because that bitch wouldn’t friggin’ die.

I do like the pirate ship and the swashbuckling aesthetic of this chapter but the story isn’t exciting and the film, overall, is boring as hell.

But we do get rewarded for sitting through this drab movie, as the final sequence is the best in the series. It shows our two heroes escape the wrath of the Knights Templar, as they reach the beach after drifting on a piece of wood all night. Once they collapse in the sand, the living dead, in their robes, rise one-by-one out of the water and slowly walk up onto the beach, surrounding the exhausted heroes, who open their eyes to see their doom finally huddling over them.

Also, the glowing demon skull in the film was a nice touch.

Night of the Seagulls (1975):

Also known as: La noche de las gaviotas (Spain), Don’t Go Out at Night, Night of the Blood Cult, Night of the Death Cult, Terror Beach, Night of the Evil Dead, The Blind Dead 4, Zombi 8, The Bloodfeast of the Blind Dead
Release Date: August 11th, 1975 (Spain)
Directed by: Amando de Ossorio
Written by: Amando de Ossorio
Music by: Antón García Abril
Cast: Victor Petit, Maria Kosti, Sandra Mozarowsky

Ancla Century Films, Profilmes, Pérez Pareja, M. Flor, 89 Minutes

Review:

Night of the Seagulls is better than The Ghost Galleon but not by much.

We return to a beach setting in this one, as de Ossorio probably enjoyed the nautical theme of the previous chapter and its beach ending.

In this chapter, a doctor and his young wife move to a small coastal town. The locals don’t like them because locals of villages never like outsiders, especially in horror movies. The doctor and his wife are eventually confronted by the town’s dark secret; every seven years, the undead Knights Templar rise out of the sea and haunt the village for seven nights, demanding the the sacrifice of a young woman. It is up to the doctor and his wife to try and save one of the young girls from a horrible fate.

While this is a better movie than The Ghost Galleon, it is the least interesting. It’s as if de Ossorio ran out of good ideas and just threw together some lowest common denominator horror tropes. Maybe this was just an effort to capitalize on the success of the series but it was lazily crafted and didn’t open the door for any further sequels.

The undead Knights Templar would not rise again.

Film Review: The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)

Also known as: La dama rossa uccide sette volte, lit. The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (Italy), Feast of Flesh, Blood Feast, The Corpse Which Didn’t Want to Die (US alternate titles), Horror House (Germany)
Release Date: August 18th, 1972 (Italy)
Directed by: Emilio Miraglia
Written by: Emilio Miraglia, Fabio Pittorru
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Barbara Bouchet, Ugo Pagliai, Marina Malfatti, Sybil Danning

Phoenix Cinematografica, Romano Film, Traian Boeru, 98 Minutes

Review:

Italian giallo pictures were a sort of bridge between film-noir and slasher films. No, they really were. The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is a really good example of what I mean when I point that out.

This film is a murder mystery. These two wealthy sisters from a wealthy family have had a violent sibling rivalry their whole lives. There are parallels between them and the legend of the Black Queen and the Red Queen. The sister who is the modern version of the Black Queen believes that she is responsible for the death of her sister, who is believed to be the new incarnation of the Red Queen. Some time later, murders start to happen that are tied to the Red Queen persona. Did the sister somehow survive? Is the guilt-ridden sister in danger? The entire film is a well written mystery and not all that easy to figure out.

The Red Queen exists as a gimmicky, mysterious killer that wields sharp objects. She is a true slasher while the film itself is constructed like a film-noir.

While this giallo is not directed by Mario Bava or Dario Argento, it is still a giallo picture of the highest quality. This is a tremendously good murder mystery and it encompasses all the things that make a giallo spectacular: great cinematography, an emphasis on vivid colors and high contrast lighting, solid direction, insanely beautiful damsels and a cool unidentified killer.

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is a beautiful movie. Sure, it has blood and is full of unsavory acts but giallo movies could take the grotesque and turn it into a colorful and alluring cinema landscape. It is gritty, it is pretty and while it can feel fantastical, it doesn’t feel outside of the realm of possible reality.

More like noir and less like slashers, the film surrounds itself in opulence and beauty but that is typical of a giallo picture. Part of why this film works so well as a piece of art is because it is engulfed in lavishness and luxury.

It takes place in beautiful European locales and all the characters are models and involved in the fashion industry. It feels like a peek into high society but shows the underbelly and the hidden darkness that exists, even in the lives of those who are all smiles and diamonds, all the time. But the beauty is there to give contrast to the darkness and the grotesque and it’s how this all comes together that paints this moving canvas.

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is a fine giallo and one of the best I have seen that wasn’t directed by the maestros Bava and Argento. It also gives us a young Sybil Danning, who no straight man would turn away from.

Film Review: Vampire Circus (1972)

Release Date: April 30th, 1972 (UK)
Directed by: Robert Young
Written by: Judson Kinberg, George Baxt, Wilbur Stark
Music by: David Whitaker
Cast: Adrienne Corri, Anthony Higgins, John Moulder-Brown, Lalla Ward, Robin Sachs, Lynne Frederick, David Prowse

Hammer Film Productions, Rank Film Distributors Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 87 Minutes

Review:

“The Circus of Nights! A hundred delights!” – Michael

Vampire Circus is a little known Hammer Studios film from the early 1970s, when they were on their way out as a dominant horror studio. It came out at the same time that Hammer’s Dracula series was winding down.

I have always liked Hammer’s non-Dracula vampire spectacles, however. And to fanboy out a little bit, Vampire Circus has always been a favorite of mine. That may have something to do with Darth Vader himself, David Prowse, being in the film, as well as one of my favorite Doctor Who companions of all-time, the second Romana, Lalla Ward. Realistically, I just love the premise.

The story is pretty original and really fun. A troupe of circus gypsies shows up in town and captivates the people. The reality is that they are vampires out to get revenge on the town for killing their master Count Mitterhaus.

Speaking of which, the opening sequence, which features the original defeat of Mitterhaus, is one of the best things Hammer has ever created. It was also a great way for director Robert Young to start his career, as it was the opening to his first feature film.

Vampire Circus is really imaginative and it certainly isn’t a cookie cutter vampire flick. The circus twist is really cool and freshened things up for the genre. Everything from the live performances to the animal stunts just added a really cool vibe to the picture. It certainly had a bit more flair than other Hammer vampire movies.

Additionally, the cast was really good. I really enjoyed the performances of Adrienne Corri and Anthony Higgins. Higgins was particularly mesmerizing as the sexy male vampire that transforms into a black panther. Skip Martin, as the sinister dwarf, was a big highlight too. He was legitimately scary and intimidating for a little fellow. He played up the creepy clown shtick quite well, before creepy clowns were even a thing.

The style of the film mimics what was the norm for Hammer’s gothic horror pictures. Even if it may have felt dated for the time, its creativity certainly makes up for it being stylistically derivative. Plus there is a naked body painted tiger lady that rolls around all frisky and seductive.

Vampire Circus is probably only a good film for those who love the work of Hammer Studios in their heyday. But if you are one of those people, this is a unique experience that deviates quite well from their typical formula while not venturing so far away that it isn’t a Hammer picture.

Plus, Count Mitterhaus, Emil and the Gypsy Woman were pretty cool villains, as was their troupe of circus themed henchmen.

Film Review: Daigoro vs. Goliath (1972)

Also known as: Kaijū Daifunsen–Daigorō tai Goriasu, lit. The Monsters’ Desperate Battle–Daigoro vs. Goliath (Japan)
Release Date: December 17th, 1972 (Japan)
Directed by: Toshihiro Iijima
Written by: Kitao Chitaba
Music by: Toru Fuyuki
Cast: Hiroshi Inuzuka, Shinsuke Minami, Hachiro Misumi

Tsuburaya Productions, Toho, 84 Minutes

Review:

To celebrate the studio’s tenth anniversary, Tsuburaya Productions put together something special. They also didn’t channel their mega-sized Ultraman franchise or Kaiju Booska, instead they gave us something new and original.

Daigoro vs. Goliath is a very kid friendly kaiju motion picture. It is lighthearted and cute but it is still satisfying for any true fan of the genre. It also has a pretty interesting story and one that is rather original.

The hero kaiju, Daigoro, is raised in captivity due to the guilt people feel over killing his mother years prior. Basically, Daigoro’s mother went on a rampage while she was trying to protect her infant child. The Japanese military defeated her, leaving the infant kaiju helpless. Diagoro survives by donations from the people who feel that it is their duty to take care of him. However, as he keeps growing larger, caring for him is no longer financially viable. The government devises a drug that will control his size. All the while, a meteor strikes Earth, bringing with it, the evil kaiju Goliath. As things tend to go with these pictures, the two giant monsters engage in fisticuffs a few times.

When it comes to special effects, Daigoro vs. Goliath is a mixed bag.

While I like the overall look of the monsters, the suits seem to be cheaper than what was used even in the Ultraman franchise, at the time. Being that this is a big motion picture to commemorate Tsuburaya’s first ten years as a studio, I feel like they could have done a better job constructing the monster costumes. They feel like they are just thrown together or leftover Ultraman kaiju suits that were quickly retrofitted. They fold in on themselves whenever the actors inside move and they just look sort of floppy and chintzy.

However, there are still some fantastic visual effects employed throughout the movie. Most notably, there is some great matte work and composite images. The scenes where Daigoro is in the foreground with tiny people just behind him, whether he is walking across the sand or sleeping on it, look incredible for the era and for something that obviously had a limited budget.

Additionally, a lot of the props came off well even if they were made to be deliberately hokey or just used as comedic devices.

Daigoro vs. Goliath, is happy, lively and amusing. It is entertaining for those who love Tsuburaya’s work, especially in their heyday. While the film isn’t a special effects extravaganza, everything else sort of makes up for it. There are fun characters and the premise is endearing. This isn’t a kaiju classic but it is bizarre enough and unique enough to stick out in a sea of Godzilla clones.

 

Film Review: Solaris (1972) & Solaris (2002)

*written in 2014 when I did these as a double feature.

I spend every November coming down from my month long horror marathon that is October. How do I come down? By having a month long science fiction marathon.

With that, I wanted to rewatch the original Russian Solaris from 1972. I figured that I’d also watch the 2002 American version, as I had never seen it and am a pretty big fan of the original.

So let me get right into each film.

Solaris (1972):

Release Date: May 13th, 1972 (Cannes)
Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky
Written by: Fridrikh Gorenshtein, Andrei Tarkovsky
Based on: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Music by: Eduard Artemyev
Cast: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet, Vladislav Dvorzhetsky, Nikolai Grinko, Anatoly Solonitsyn

Creative Unit of Writers & Cinema Workers, Mosfilm, Unit Four, 166 Minutes

Review:

“You love that which you can lose, yourself, a woman, a country.” – Kris Kelvin

Solaris follows a man who goes to investigate strange happenings at a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. People have claimed to have been seeing weird things. The main character, Kris Kelvin (played by one-time actor V. Statsinskiy) arrives at the station and pretty quickly starts experiencing strange phenomena. Mainly, his wife, who committed suicide years earlier, appears on the ship with no recollection of what happened to her. More weirdness ensues and I can’t say anything else without spoiling too much of the plot.

This version of the film generally follows the novel it was based on but takes some of liberties and comes off as more of a Russian art house film in a science fiction setting than a straight adaptation. The result of that is that this is one of the greatest Russian films of all-time. In fact, it is the best Russian sci-fi film I have ever seen.

It isn’t as epic and grandiose as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which obviously influenced this picture in style, but for its limited budget and coming from a communist country at the height of its power, it is more than interesting and pretty damned impressive.

The acting isn’t what I would call fantastic but it isn’t a distraction. For the time and for employing a one-time actor, there really aren’t any complaints about performance.

This is a beautiful film. It does run a bit slow at times but the story keeps you locked in and the relationship between Kelvin and his resurrected wife gets pretty intense and feels truly authentic.

Solaris (2002):

Release Date: November 29th, 2002
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Steven Soderbergh
Based on: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Music by: Cliff Martinez
Cast: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone

Lightstorm Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Can you tell me what’s happening here?” – Chris Kelvin

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, a director I am not a big fan of, this version of Solaris is quite different.

This film doesn’t attempt to remake the Russian classic. Instead, it tries to make a more faithful adaptation of the book. I can only compare this to being like the remake of The Shining, which was made at the insistence of Stephen King, who thought Kubrick’s version strayed too far away from his source material. Point being, just because this is a better adaptation of the source material, it doesn’t make it a better film.

I like George Clooney and here he plays Chris Kelvin. The name’s spelling was changed by Soderbergh because apparently Americans can’t understand the cooler looking Russian spelling of the name. Anyway, Clooney, who is pretty much always a pimp, is an emasculated version of himself in this movie, as he mopes around over his dead wife and never really shows off that famous Clooney chutzpah.

The sets in this film were done in a pretty cookie cutter early 2000s sci-fi style. Everything was sterile and nothing was inspiring. This film was far from the visual masterpiece of its Russian predecessor. In fact, there was nothing about this film that seemed unique or displayed any sort of real creativity in the design process.

This was a piss poor attempt by Soderbergh, I was basically bored shitless and I fought really hard not to hit “STOP” on the BluRay remote.

So the real question is: does this deserve to be put through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Why, yes it does! Let’s see here… the results read, “Type 3 Stool: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.”

Film Review: Five Fingers of Death (1972)

Also known as: King Boxer, Tiān xià dì yī quán, lit. Number One Fist in the World (Hong Kong)
Release Date: April 28th, 1972 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Jeong Chang-hwa
Written by: Chiang Yang
Music by: Chen Yung-yu
Cast: Lo Lieh, Wang Ping, Wang Chin-feng, Bolo Yeung

Shaw Brothers Studio, 97 Minutes

king-boxerReview:

Five Fingers of Death (or King Boxer, as it’s also known) is a stupendous martial arts film from Hong Kong. It came out just before Bruce Lee helped the genre explode internationally. It may be less popular than the pictures of Lee or Jackie Chan but it is absolutely amazing and I rank it above the majority of Lee and Chan’s work.

The film stars Lo Lieh. While he never became an international superstar like Lee or Chan, he was in a ton of films and worked hard to give great performances on screen. He may not have been as accomplished as those two bigger stars, as far as his fighting abilities, showmanship and charisma but he could still hold his own and was better than most.

The film follows Lieh’s Chao Chih-Hao. He leaves his first teacher to train under a more advanced instructor. While at the new school, he becomes caught up in its rivalry with a local tyrant and his lethal henchmen. Over the course of the film, Chih-Hao impresses his new teacher enough to be given the secret of the Iron Fist technique. Everything comes to a head in a tournament but the film goes beyond the traditional climax, as things continue beyond that.

The film has a lot of intertwined characters and stories but it does a good job of managing it all and giving us a non-traditional plot structure. Just now revisiting it for the first time in years, I’m pretty sure that The Karate Kid, the original one, took the bulk of its story from Five Fingers of Death. Seriously, the more I think about it, the more connections I make between the two films. Except people didn’t get murdered or have their eyeballs ripped out in The Karate Kid.

The fight choreography is really good. The cinematography is also really solid. I have always enjoyed the scenes where Chih-Hao channels the Iron Fist power and the filmmakers use hot red lights to highlight his hands.

Five Fingers of Death has also held up really well, especially in comparison to other Hong Kong kung fu movies. It feels like a top notch production with superior camera work, lighting and a very pristine look.

 

Film Review: Asylum (1972)

Release Date: November 17th, 1972
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Robert Bloch
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Robert Powell, Herbert Lom, Barry Morse, Patrick Magee, Charlotte Rampling

Amicus Productions, Cinerama Releasing Corporation, 88 Minutes

asylum_1972Review:

Amicus was kind of like the lesser known little brother to England’s Hammer Studios, who were the masters of 50s, 60s and 70s gothic horror. In their heyday, they made some horror anthology pictures. I have always been a bigger fan of full length horror pictures with one cohesive story but I like seeing some of the lighter ideas explored in anthology films. Sometimes an idea is good but it doesn’t need 90 minutes.

What drew me to Asylum initially was the fact that it “stars” one of my favorites, Peter Cushing. I put that in parentheses because he is barely in the film. That was pretty common in anthology pictures, however. He wasn’t even the main character of his story though, so it is somewhat disappointing.

The film also features Patrick Magee, who I have loved as an actor due to how great he was in A Clockwork Orange and also for his roles in Barry LyndonThe Masque of the Red Death and Dementia 13.

One story in the anthology features the always beautiful and alluring Britt Ekland and the greatly talented Charlotte Rampling, who is very young in this.

Some of the stories here are fairly creepy but overall, the film isn’t very good. It is a bit slow in some sequences and I found certain points to be boring, actually. The first story, which features crawling disembodied limbs, is the highlight of the film. Everything else goes downhill from there. The Ekland and Rampling story is interesting enough to hold your attention but it isn’t anything entirely new. The final twist ending also isn’t that fantastic, as it has been done a million times over. Granted, it may have felt fresh and unique in 1972.

Asylum is a good enough film to kill some time on a rainy day but it isn’t a classic, by any means. It fits well in the Amicus catalog but they did produce much better films.