From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“Medieval knights executed for their black magic rituals come back as zombies to torment a group of vacationing college kids.”
Well … good grief, IMDB.com. Not that anyone’s watching sometimes, but that synopsis? That’s barely even accurate. Yes, Tombs Of The Blind Dead does focus on these re-animated medieval knights – they definitely possess a Templar-style look, though I’ve read that was not specifically intended – but the vacationing college kids? The two women were former college roommates – a curiously-included subplot involved their (cough cough) dalliance with lesbianism, a make-out session that pretty much sprang up with what I’ll call European ease – but they’ve clearly moved on from school and are in the prime of their post-educational lives. Granted, one of them still has her schoolgirl charms (and looks), but the other? Well … who am I to talk?
As has been known to happen to me when I’m exploring some of these throwback Horror imports, I’ll do a bit of research that leads me to find both the making-of these pictures and what happens to them subsequently far more interesting than the stories themselves. This isn’t to suggest that Tombs is all that bad as a feature production; it’s loaded with some solid location photography along with some very proficient in-camera effects work from the era. I don’t believe writer/director Amando de Ossorio achieved anything deserving huge accolades with this work, but I have read that it was mostly warmly received by Spanish audiences as well as other European markets. In fact, one source strongly suggests that Ossorio almost singlehandedly resurrected the zombie flick for Spain; and I suppose that fact alone explains just how this otherwise thin affair paved the way for not one, not two, but (apparently) three sequels.
Such success always says something, though I’ll admit to some confusion as to what specifically.
As for outside of Spain? Horror scholars and academics have apparently written fondly about Tombs. Wikipedia.org states that it was originally known as The Blind Dead in the United States, though a few years later some enterprising studio executives crafted the idea to re-edit the production alongside newly inserted footage that somehow (???) tied the resulting adventure into the more widely known Planet Of The Apes saga. The new cut was, aptly, titled Revenge From Planet Ape. Go figure.
But as to the efficacy of the original?
My biggest concern with it is the fact that these knights both are and are not presented as zombies … at least, so far as audiences have been educated on such matters. Clearly, they’re ghosts of a sort … right? I mean, these are reanimated ghouls shown rising out of their individual graves – giving credence to their being legitimate ‘undead’ – but apparently, they sleep through the day, very similar to the science of vampires. And they’re shown sustaining themselves with the drinking of blood of their victims, swinging that door open to defining in as something more than traditional zombies – whose diet consists of flesh and brains – but Ossorio stops short of confirming any greater specificity. So they’re arguably more than the routine walking dead, and I think a stronger script should’ve given viewers a bit more for their investment.
Ultimately, Horror films are about atmosphere, and I’m happy to say that in that respect Tombs works in spite of any narrative weakness. The director assembled the requisite time and place wherein this spectral madness comes to life, choosing to set his nightmare amidst the blackness of night and seemingly tying the deeds of these dark knights to this abandoned locale. He doesn’t exactly stick to those particulars perfectly, but regardless Tombs achieves good results as a haunted house story, one given a suitable mythological origin that should’ve served as a warning to any wayward traveler: look elsewhere for your own personal safety or enter at your own risk. This alone makes it a worthy picture.
Outside of the solid but small(ish) effects, location shooting, and costume work, Tombs is still a bit flat.
Betty Turner (played by Lone Fleming) inadvertently steals the male gaze of Roger Whelan (César Burner) away from her former college roommate, Virginia White (María Elena Arpón). In a form of silent protest, Virginia takes her luggage and leaps from the slow-moving train the three have boarded for a weekend away; and she instead takes up holiday in the ghostly town of Berzano. As you might’ve guessed (or should’ve at this point), the knights rise after dark, take more than a few bites from the fetching lass, and leave her for dead. Once they realize that the lady might be in some jeopardy, Betty and Roger make their way to the spooky village, where they are greeted by the police who’ve discovered Ms. White’s grizzled body. At this point, Roger and Betty decide they’re going to privately get to the bottom of this mystery, a crusade that ultimately won’t end well … but does it ever in zombie pictures?
Sometimes, it’s all just better off dead.
Tombs Of The Blind Dead (1972) was produced by Interfilme and Plata Films S.A. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the fine folks at Synapse Films. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I found the sights-and-sounds to be of exceptional quality, though I’ll admit to being no huge fan of mono soundtracks. (It’s a bit tinny here and there, so be warned.) Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? This two-disc set includes the original Spanish-language uncut version of the film along with a curious ‘Americanized’ edit (that ties in with the Planet Of The Apes franchise) along with multiple commentary tracks; a full-length documentary exploring Spain’s flirtation with zombie pictures; some featurettes; a still gallery; theatrical trailers; and a few tidbits to explore. It’s a very impressive collection, and I suspect fans of this production – as well as Horror aficionados – will spend some time with it.
Tombs Of The Blind Dead (1972) manages to occasionally evoke some interesting atmosphere, and that’s a huge plus to all of this considering how bland most of performances are from those still living with a pulse. While the film is credited with giving Spanish Horror a bit of a theatrical resurgence, I can’t help but figure there are better examples of such frightening delights in that nation’s expansive catalogue of efforts. It’s a bit long – and even a bit dull in a rather exhaustive set-up – and yet some of it works marvelously in spite of itself.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Synapse Films provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of Tombs Of The Blind Dead (1972) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.