Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Return of the Blind Dead

Return of the Blind Dead (1973)
Dir. Amando de Ossorio
Written by Amando de Ossorio
Starring Tony Kendall, Fernando Sancho, Esperanza Roy

As was well known in Spain in 1973, the Knights Templars were an evil group of blasphemers against the Church who were rightly slaughtered by God-fearing Christians everywhere for the crime of cutting women’s boobs off and drinking the blood while worshipping Satan. I don’t remember any of that from THE DA VINCI CODE, but I guess I just don’t know my history as well as Spanish horror auteur and amaurophiliac Amando de Ossorio, who made a career out of the four “BLIND DEAD” movies which are only related to each other through their meticulously researched gimmick of blind Templar zombies. Why blind? Well, because (as this movie retcons from the previous explanation in part I) when the villagers decided they’d had enough titty-stabbing and tied the Templars up before burning them alive, the lead Templar insisted they’d come back for some revenge from beyond the grave. As you can see by his expression, the lead villager hadn’t considered this eventuality, and, concerned about the possibility, nay probability of undead Templar revenge, he takes the precaution of burning the Templars’ eyes out so that in the event that they do return, they’ll just stumble around blindly and not cause any trouble. Then he burns the rest of their bodies, just to be sure. Well, I guess although they are nefarious blasphemous devil-worshiping nipple-punishers, they’re still serious about keeping their promises, so indeed, they do return. But the double-burning of their eyes did seem to take (maybe they should have just double-burned their whole bodies?) and voila, blind Templars, or more generically Blind Dead, the title isn’t lying.

Unfortunately, it turns out that undead Templars spend a lot of time on horseback, and since the villagers didn’t think to burn out the horses’ eyes, the whole blindness thing doesn’t end up much of an impediment. So when the village idiot resurrects the whole lot of them via their favorite pastime (boob cutting) the small town of Bouzano, Portugal (where everyone speaks Spanish) is in trouble. Templar trouble. No boob is safe this night.

Even this kind of infallible planning won't save you!

Into this powderkeg waiting to explode into an inferno of horse-mounted boob-stabbing steps Captain Jack Marlowe (Tony Kendall) who is obviously the coolest person in the world, what with his dapper beige peacoat, mirrored aviators, and Kurt-Russel-esque mane. He’s such a fuckin boss that the minute he steps into town, the dipshit Mayor’s wife wants to jump his bones just because years ago (and judging from her face, it was a lot of years) they fucked on a boat somewhere, or something like that. In fact, she had the mayor hire him to create the town’s annual firework display just so she can lure him into the Templar ruins and bone him (unfortunately that creepy village idiot guy had the same idea, and that pretty much kills the mood). That’s the kind of guy Captain Jack Marlow is, he’s so fuckin badass that even though he’s a Captain he also has a side gig as a fireworks expert, and in fact is so god damn good at that that he doesn’t even need to be present during the actual, you know, fireworks show. He’s in it for a different kind of fireworks, Jack Marlowe is.  

You’d feel a little bad for the mayor, except that he’s a total dickweed who, in classic horror movie fashion, fails to heed the warnings of dead templars hacking their beloved citizenry to death. This is especially hard to understand, because the fireworks show being catered by Jack Marlowe is in celebration of their annual festival recognizing that it’s been exactly 500 years and so far, no dead templars have yet materialized. Another year safe from the lurking undead menace! They celebrate with fireworks and by burning effigies of the templars in the city square, so it’s especially awkward once the zombies ride into town. Good thing they’re blind, huh?

Holy shit, it just occurred to me that maybe Jack Marlowe is the Most Interesting Man In the World, and this experience is one of the many interesting things about him. You'd think he'd mention it in the commercials, though.

I’ve got to be honest with you, this movie is pretty much an unwatchable piece of shit. Blind Templar Zombies are, at least, a novel idea, but other than a few cool day-for-(k)night scenes of eyeless templars riding horses in slow motion, nothing much comes of it. Presumably, the fact that they’re blind means that they can only get you if they hear you scream, but in practice it doesn’t really seem to work out that way, they just seem to know where people are so they can slowly walk up and strangle them. There is a funny scene where one of them gets knocked off his horse by running into a wagon, though, not sure if that’s because he’s blind or if the actor just didn’t see it and they kept the footage, like that part from A NEW HOPE where the stormtrooper bonks his head on the door. Could be either, but if it’s because of blindness then it’s pretty much the only reference to the Templars’ disability in the whole thing. Which I guess is kind of progressive, but still, you sold me on Blind Dead, pal, I want some mileage from the gimmick.

Instead, we’re left with a particularly dull zombie siege film, where a small band of survivors hides out in a church, and then because of good logic split off into groups who one by one sneak outside and get bumped off. Obviously not Jack Marlowe, you can’t kill Jack Marlowe, first off he’s unkillable due to being King Shit of Fuck Mountain and second, any audience you tired to pull that on would immediately rise to their feet as one and embark on a vicious riot until there was nothing left of the venue or filmmakers. So yeah, Marlowe’s probably gonna be OK. But the others, definitely expendable. So you do get a couple decently bloody deaths.

One of the things most people don't know about Skeletor is his lifelong passion for dressage.

Maybe because they’re blind, maybe because they’re a little stiff after 500 years, I don’t know, but even with the killing these Templars are a particularly docile lot, a lot of times you can kind of push your way through as they stumble around. When our motley band of heroes get inside the church, they don’t make any special effort to break in, they just listlessly stand idle in the street while one of them politely knocks on the door. And since all the characters are either helpless idiots or actively awful bastards (don’t worry, it’s a European horror film so you’ll get your requisite sexual assault, although you’ll have to wait awhile) it’s not like there’s a whole lot of tension about whether they’ll live or die. So there’s not a lot really going on here. 90 minutes is way too long for a film with absolutely no artistry, likeable characters, or even a consistent gimmick.

Director Ossorio went on to make two more BLIND DEAD movies (under the names THE GHOST GALLEON and NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS [?]) before resigning himself to making Spanish pornos in the 80’s. His wikipedia page -- written with breathlessly wistful adulation by what I assume to be a family member or close friend-- suggests a man of somewhat more artistic aspirations than you would guess from watching RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD: for example, he considered the film to have “political aspects,” apparently referring to the dipshit mayor who tries to save himself while the villagers get slaughtered, which seems pretty funny until you remember that Francisco Franco would still be dictator for two more years after this one came out, and maybe it genuinely was a little subversive to depict a public official as a selfish fucktard in fascist Spain (that probably explains the movie’s otherwise inexplicable Portuguese setting, too; Jesus Franco also had to set his films, [THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF, for example] in other countries so Spain wouldn’t look bad). There’s also a link between sex and death in the film, according to the “Themes” section on wikipedia, which is obviously a pretty bold and unique take on horror movies, so, you know, worth mentioning.

Confirmed: this movie has themes.

In general the wikipedia entry weaves a tragic tale of unmet ambitions and crushing disappointments*, so much so that when his final movie THE SEA SERPENT was ruined by a punishingly tiny budget, he quit the movie business forever and made a living selling “scary oil painting of his Templar Knights” to his fans. Well, at least he was trying, that makes me like him a little more, even if wikipedia seems a little confused as to his later exploits: “In the late 70's, de Ossorio's name strangely wound up on a couple of x-rated adult films.” Yeah, strange how that just happens to some people, isn’t it?

Anyway, RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD is pretty terrible and pointless, but his rosey wikipedia entry and the vague germ of a good idea with the blind templars is enough to make certain I’m not gonna entirely give up on the guy. They claim that his 1975 EXORCIST ripoff DEMON WITCH CHILD is “today regarded as an underrated must-see horror classic by most of his fans,” so maybe that’s the one to try for next year. In the meantime, I gotta get one of those zombie Templar oil paintings, that sounds amazing.
*From wikipedia: “He was interviewed for a 2001 documentary about his life entitled Amando de Ossorio: The Last Templar just a short time before he died. During the interview, De Ossorio complained about the pitifully tiny budgets he was always forced to work within, and he lamented that in almost every case, the finished project never came close to what he had envisioned when he first conceived each film. He cited his worst disappointment being the abysmal special effects that appeared at the climax of his Ghost Galleon (1974), wherein the producers actually used a folded piece of cardboard to represent the magnificent Spanish galleon that burns and sinks at the end of the film.” That does sound pretty disspiriting.


  • SEQUEL: Yes, to the beloved original classic TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD.
  • REMAKE: No
  • BOOBIES: Yeah, a couple
  • DECAPITATIONS OR DE-LIMBING: Yessir, head AND limb loss.
  • ENTRAILS? No, these are not hungry zombies.
  • CULTISTS: Templars? The do seem pretty culty.
  • ZOMBIES: Yeah, I'd say these guys count.
  • CURSES: No


  1. "returns"? plural? what, like, their tax returns?

  2. Fixed. But honestly, watching them file 500 years of tax returns might have been more exciting.