Saturday, October 10, 2009

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: A Different Kind of Undead, Part 1

These days I'm not sure what it's hipper to be... a zombie hunter or an emo vampire. Seems that with stuff like ZOMBIELAND and TWILIGHT doing boffo box office, you probably can't go wrong. But despite all the glowing reviews isn't it possible that we're all ready for a different kind of undead?

If you find yourself bored with the standard issue, contagion/plague zombies that shamble along until you shoot 'em in the head, do yourself a favor, put down your copy of the Zombie Survival Guide and check out Amondo de Ossorio's quartet of Blind Dead flicks. You'll thank me later.

The Blind Dead flicks are nothing short of a revelation for the horror buff who thinks they've seen it all. And while the flicks pile on every hoary clich̩ of the fright genre Рzombies at the window, hands clutching at victims through cracks in the door, feet caught in wooden stairs, twisted ankles, false shocks, stuck doors, creepy morgue guys and village retards Рthe zombie antagonists and atmospheric presentation make up for any minor shortcomings.

"While the Italians get most of the glory, the Templar films feature truly unique zombies," says BLIND DEAD expert and author David Zuzelo. "The Knights are bad enough when they're alive. Zombify them and it gets worse. We don't know what the agenda is but it's bad both in execution and results."

Known as everything from the simple and elegant THE BLIND DEAD to the needlessly cumbersome MARK OF THE DEVIL, PART 4: TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, de Ossorio's initial foray is a haunting affair than begins poolside at a bikini-clad-babe-filled European resort. There, Betty runs into her old "friend" Virginia who is vacationing with her decorator pal Roger.

Roger invites Betty along for a camping weekend and all is well until some unwelcome flirtation results in Virginia hopping from the moving train, leading to the grizzled conductor remarking, "That girl doesn't know what she's in for." Frankly, the same could be said of this viewer who was only familiar with The Blind Dead in passing thanks to stills in horror reference books.

Though Virginia attempts to make the dingy castle she stumbles upon a fun place to camp out for the night, once the graves in the castle courtyard start smoking you know things aren't going to go well.

Seems the old castle's the burial ground for The Knights Templar, former members of The Crusades who wound up being excommunicated because of their affinity for devil worship, virginal sacrifices and some flesh munching. Once conquered, the Knights were hung until crows came and ate out their eyes, so they're dead and they're blind but as one character remarks, "that will be no handicap."

After discovering that Virginia's been killed in what police suspect is a blood ritual, Roger (who has the pompadoured, sideburny paunch of a young Gary Glitter but without the whole Asian teen molesting thing) persuades a local smuggler to accompany him to the castle and solve the mystery. Tons of illogical horror film moments abound – as well as a rape and a catfight – but they're all completely excused thanks to de Ossorio's portrayal of the sinister zombified knights.

Skeletal to the point of disintegration, you can almost smell the musty clothing and rotting flesh of these unique and bizarre zombies as they hunt their prey by the sounds they make.

Nihilistic to the point of slack-jawed disbelief, BLIND DEAD climaxes with the zombified knights descending upon a train full of passengers as snapshots capture the gory glory in a tip of the cap to Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

Two years later the Blind Dead were back and, quite frankly, better than ever in my opinion. If TOMBS is the STAR WARS of devil worshipping, virgin chomping, excommunicated knights flicks, then RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD is THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. It's just got more. More what, you ask? More action, more death, more blood, more eyes burned out, more, well, everything!

In the film's credit sequence the Knights are not only defeated they also get their eyes burned out so they can't find their way out of their tombs and raze the town to the ground as promised. Or so the townspeople think.

Years later it's time for the annual "Burning Festival" to celebrate the victory over the Knights. Sensing an opportunity to rekindle an old flame (and maybe ditch the sweaty, gross Mayor in the process), Vivian gets her pal The Captain a gig rigging the fireworks for the event.

Murdo, the creepy hunchback who looks like Stephen King, spies the two getting reacquainted, walks us through the history of the Knights (complete with bare maiden titties, some disembowling and a bit of blood drinking) and sacrifices a virgin in their graveyard.

True to their word, the Knights return to exact revenge upon their tormentors, though they probably didn't anticipate The Captain who helps the townspeople escape and sends the Knights packing, at least for the moment. Arriving at a local a church, a ragtag band of survivors including the mayor, a bunch of his henchmen, Vivian and The Captain set up shop to wait out the zombies.

In a nod to both Hitchcock's THE BIRDS and Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, de Ossorio pits the survivors against one another and The Blind Dead as they attempt to make it through the night.

Everything about RETURN is cranked up a notch or two higher than its predecessor. The script is more action packed, the characters more engaging and fleshed out. Even the stabs at comedy work, like the region's governor spending too much time oggling his housekeeper's pantie-clad ass to believe the Knights have returned from the grave. To me it's the highlight of the series, but de Ossorio and his knights weren't done by a long shot...

Tomorrow... The Blind Dead are back and they've got Jack Taylor with 'em.

1 comment:

Holger Haase said...

Great write up. Must admit I generally believe that there are two types of people out there: Those that never heard of the Blind Dead, and those that watched each installment at least half a dozen times. :-)