Tombs of the Blind Dead [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Synapse Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (26th October 2023).
The Film

In Lisbon for holiday, Virginia (The House That Screamed's María Elena Arpón) runs into former schoolmate Betty (Demon Witch Child's Lone Fleming) who has a business making fashion display mannequins. Virginia is perturbed when her boyfriend Roger (The Man Called Noon's César Burner) impulsively invites Betty on their camping trip; and seemingly with good reason as he flirts with her friend during their train trip towards the Spanish border. Put off by her boyfriend and disturbed by emotions awakened by memories of her school days with Betty, Virginia jumps off the train at first sight of a hilltop village. Unfortunately, she discovers that the medieval village is entirely deserted… or so she thinks. As she settles in for the night in one of the habitable buildings, a church bell tolls, summoning mummified knights from their tombs in search of her warm blood.

When Virginia's mutilated body is discovered the next day, the police believe it to be the work of Pedro (Human Beasts' José Thelman) and his smuggling gang who operate not far off from where she was found; however, Pedro's librarian father (Tepepa's Francisco Sanz) tells Roger and Betty that the village of Berzano was where villagers revolted against the Knights Templar, a Holy Order who returned from the Crusades with strange beliefs involving devil-worshipping, blood-drinking, and virgin-sacrificing. Believing this to be superstition, Roger and Betty team up with Pedro and his moll Maria (Curse of the Devil's María Silva) to camp out at Berzano and catch the real culprits.

Director Amando de Ossorio's follow-up to his vampire film Malenka (or Fangs of the Living Dead) – which was intended to be more of psychological thriller before the producers compromised his vision with more overt horror and comic elements – Tombs of the Blind Dead became one of the seminal Spanish horror films of the seventies (and the fantaterror genre overall) alongside the Paul Naschy vehicle Werewolf Shadow (Ossorio having once advised Naschy against making horror films in light of his earlier experience in the genre). While obviously influenced by Night of the Living Dead, the film achieves a more Gothic atmosphere in a contemporary setting in its contrasts between the resort settings and the ghost town of a village – the Monasterio de Santa María la Real de Valdeiglesias which made appearances in a number of Spanish horror films from the period – and the contrast between sexually-liberated flesh and moldering mummies (not zombies) with rake-like fingers that are strong enough to wield medieval swords.

The film's subversive element of drawing parallels between the corrupt religious order of the Templars and Spain's then-fascist dictatorship by not only setting the film in Portugal but also creating a sense of irreality around the Templars who not only ride on horseback in a slow motion which also effects the targets of their pursuit. More overt is the film's depiction of Spanish (or at least Latin) machismo from the flashback featuring the Templar's sadistic sacrifice of a maiden (Jess Franco starlet Britt Nichols) to chauvinist characters like Roger and particularly Pedro who rapes Betty as a means of "seeing to" her apparent frigidity. Indeed, the film's four female characters seem more resilient, with Virginia putting the Templars through their paces in her ill-fated attempt to evade them, Betty's meek-seeming assistant Nina (The Hot Nights of Linda's Verónica Llimerá) fighting off Virginia's reanimated corpse – after it has murdered the perverted morgue attendant (Django's Simón Arriaga) who remarks that Virginia was "asking for it" dressed as she was – and Maria and Betty who engage in hand-to-hand combat with each other during the climax while both Pedro and Roger discover their guns are useless against the undead.

Working in radio and more of a jobbing director earlier in his career, Ossorio became a genre stylist with the success of the film and followed it up with three sequels – Return of the Evil Dead which was a more action-oriented loose restaging of the first film's plot, The Ghost Galleon set aboard a Flying Dutchman-like vessel, and Night of the Seagulls which had a lower budget but recaptured some of the first film's atmosphere – along with an Exorcist-retread Demon Witch Child, the jungle vampire picture The Night of the Sorcerers, and a gory take on Germanic folklore with The Loreley's Grasp and retired after taking on a few "S" classification softcore films. The Templars were also mined for exploitation value in the Gothic Cross of the Devil (a film scripted by Naschy who was to star and direct before the producers imposed former Hammer director John Gilling on the production) as well as by Jess Franco in the sexploitation film Mansion of the Living Dead, both of whom drew from the writings of nineteenth century Spanish fantasist Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (who Ossorio apparently claimed did not inspire his take).


Tombs of the Blind Dead was released theatrically in the United States as "The Blind Dead" in a version running just eighty-three minutes that brutally pruned the film's sex and violence. It was this version that Atlas International initially offered Redemption Films in the U.K. when they sought the rights for video and only undertook a vault search when the master was rejected and unearthed what was then labeled as a Spanish-language "director's cut" running 102 minutes. Redemption struck a transfer from a print element for their uncensored Dutch Benelux video edition and a BBFC-cut British tape while a new print was struck from the negative for Elite Entertainment's 1997 laserdisc. That master was subsequently released on VHS tape by Anchor Bay Entertainment followed by a 1998 DVD which paired this cut with the English-dubbed export version of its sequel Return of the Evil Dead. When the film received an anamorphic upgrade, it was through Blue Underground in a coffin-shaped boxed set with HD-mastered transfers of all four film (although mastered in HD, the transfer of the first film was a PAL-to-NTSC conversion which was corrected for the subsequent single-disc edition). As with the U.K. cassette release, the Anchor Bay UK DVD release (also available in the The Blind Dead Collection) was subject to BBFC cuts to the rape scene and the flashback sacrifice.

Like the Blue Underground editions, Synapse Films' 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen Blu-ray two-disc set – issued earlier this year as a 4000 piece 3-disc limited steelbook edition with slipcover – features both the longer cut (101:08) and the shorter U.S. version (83:16); however, neither cut represented either the Spanish theatrical version or the English export version (which moved the flashback sacrifice to the front of the film and had the onscreen title "Tombs of the Blind Dead"). The Spanish version is actually an integral assembly featuring bits of padding footage and additional dialogue shot for the Spanish domestic version and all of the nudity and gore shot for export (which would not have been allowed in the domestic release of Spanish film during Franco's regime). While we do not have the running time for the Spanish version (subsequent Spanish VHS and DVD releases have used the integral cut assembly suggesting a copy had been archived in Spain as it had been with the sequel), a Japanese VHS of the export version ran roughly ninety-seven minutes while the American VHS from Paragon offshoot King of Video had a self-imposed R-rating and lost the train massacre but featured several bits of gore and a longer version of the sacrifice than was seen in the U.S. theatrical version (even the TV master for Elvira's Movie Macabre featured more of the train massacre sequence but in darkened form).

Synapse's 2K restoration improves on the earlier high definition master with superior textures in hair and skin as well as the rustic environments. While the film's gore effects look as rubbery and plastic as they always have, the extra resolution is truly surprising in conveying the mummified Templars, not only revealing bits of dirt and flaking fabric that fall from their cloaks but also making the skeletal masks seem eerily "expressive" while the opening credits reveal at the very top of the frame in one shot a truck driving through the "deserted" ruins (it's visible in earlier transfers now if you know to look for it). While the dusty spiderwebs in the monastery setting were always evident in the backgrounds of shots, here more so than before we are able to see fine tendrils of web billowing close in the foreground of shots lending them some subtle depth. As with the Blue Underground DVD, the U.S. version on the second disc features the replacement "The Blind Dead" title card rather than the "Tombs of the Blind Dead" card seen on the export version.


While the Elite laserdisc, Anchor Bay cassette and DVD, and the Blue Underground DVD featured the Spanish-language version with Spanish audio and English subtitles, Synapse's Blu-ray features both the Spanish mono track and a composite of the English dub track in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono with English subtitles for the Spanish track, an English SDH track for the English track that also translates sequences that revert to Spanish, as well as an English subtitle track only for the Spanish portions of the English track. The mono Spanish mix was always startling in its pointed use of sound effects from the scrapings of stone that accompanied by the rise of the Templars and footfalls of their slow-motion horse riding to the creeks of an overhead lamp in the morgue but also in its subtle employment of thematic leitmotifs in the score of Antón García Abril which was otherwise dominated by the Gregorian main theme and some musique concrète elements; here, however, the English track also features these touches amidst some uneven voice casting.


Synapse's release debuts not one but three(!) audio commentaries accompanying the Spanish-language cut. First up is an audio commentary by horror film historian and author Troy Howarth who provides some background on Ossorio's pre-horror filmmaking – along with his post-Blind Dead career which also included novels and painting – the film's character dynamics and commentary on Spanish machismo, a length quoted excerpt from his correspondence with Fleming, the film's Gothic-modern schism, as well as the revelation that the producers wanted him to add vampires or werewolves to the film in light of the success of the Naschy film.

Next up is an audio commentary by actress Lone Fleming, moderated by Calum Waddell in which the actress reveals that she had appeared in some fotonovelas with Burner who helped her move into ads and a few roles in Spanish comedies. She recalls both the shoots in Portugal and Spain, and that Ossorio had to be more hands-on with the Portuguese actors in the Templar costumes (which he designed). She also reveals that she had no issues with nudity but the rape scene was nevertheless difficult shoot – and that Ossorio left her to come up with a means of avoiding frontal nudity when her underwear was torn off – as well as doing her own stunts with an anecdote about shooting her painful-looking tumble down a hillside during the climax. She also discusses her then-marriage to director Eugenio Martin who contributed to the Spanish horror genre with the two masterworks Horror Express and A Candle for the Devil.

Meant to compliment the Howarth track is the audio commentary by Rod Barnett & Troy Guinn of the NaschyCast podcast who provide even more information on Ossorio's earlier career, noting that he was one of the first Spanish directors to work in Cinemascope with some travelogue films in the fifties, that he cultivated an intellectual circle during his radio days, and that his film critical of the death penalty Black Flag got him in trouble with the censors and that he was unable to work in film until nearly a decade later with his pair of westerns. They also discuss Spanish censorship with regard to nudity and gore meant for export as well as setting genre films outside of Spain because the notion of such things happening in the country would be "bad for tourism" as well as a digest history of the Templars and the suggestion that Ossorio might have avoided upsetting Catholics by depicting the Templars as actual Satan worshipers rather than being accused of heresy as a political move. They also note the atypical depiction of Betty's sexuality at a time when homosexual characters were perverts were objects of ridicule.

The disc also includes the alternate "Revenge from Planet Ape" U.S. reissue opening sequence (3:24) which had once been an Easter Egg on the Blue Underground edition. This bit of grindhouse hucksterism adds narration to a pre-credits freeze frame depicting the Templars as an intelligent ape species who "would return from the dead to avenge man's brutality at a point in time before man destroyed Earth himself." On the feature commentary track, Howarth notes that this treatment of the film is not unlike what Samuel Sherman did with his "Frankenstein's Bloody Terror" version of Naschy's Mark of the Wolfman.

"Awakening of Spanish Horror Cinema" (14:25) is an introduction by film historian Prof. Dr. Marcus Stiglegger that accompanied the 2018 Austrian Blu-ray mediabook set which also included the Salem's Pop "Templar’s Tears" music video (3:22) carried over here.

New to this set is "Marauders from the Mediterranean: The Macabre Magic of the Spanish Zombie Film" (88:55), a documentary by filmmaker Naomi Holwill which spends a bit too much time discussing the Romero film by way of establishing its influence abroad, but Waddell notes that Spain was actually the earliest country to respond to it, preceding Italy (whose own zombie boom came in response to Dawn of the Dead), and that the Romero film's "DIY ethos and social commentary" might have been part of it. John Martin, Mike Hostench, and Kim Newman join Waddell for an overview of the other Spanish zombie films covered throughout the documentary including Ossorio's cycle, Horror Express, Horror Rises from the Tomb, The Hanging Woman, and The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (an Italian/Spanish co-production which Waddell suggests has more in common with the Spanish zombie films than the Italian ones) with contributions from actors Fleming who also appeared in Return of the Evil Dead, as well as Jack Taylor and Manuel de Blas from The Ghost Galleon, along with Helga Line who briefly discusses Horror Express but refuses flat out to speak of Ossorio (a fact which puzzled Fleming on her commentary track) and Naschy's son Sergio Molina who notes that the zombie sequence in Horror Rises from the Tomb looks like it was tacked in but that his father had written the script in one and a half days when a producer asked if he had any scripts.

The disc closes with a photo gallery (3:21) and the film's U.S. theatrical trailer (2:40).


Synapse Films' excavates the Tombs of the Blind Dead with a 2K restoration that looks creepier than ever before.


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