It seems as soon as George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead hit screens, foreign filmmakers were looking to cash in on the new flesh-eating zombie craze. With a flood of films coming out of Europe under an overwhelming number of alternate titles, it's sometimes hard to keep track of them all.
Before today, I only knew today's film through a number of YouTube film critics and reviewers. The idea intrigued me, a fresh take on a genre that hadn't yet lost its freshness. While Italian filmmakers like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci are well known for cashing in on the emerging zombie movie market during the 1970s, another franchise out of Spain would also make its mark in cinemas and VCRs worldwide. Turn down the lights and keep your voice down as we explore 1972's La Noche del Terror Ciego, or as we know it in the United States, Tombs of the Blind Dead.
As the movie opens, we witness a brutal human sacrifice at the hands of the Knights Templar in a medieval Spanish village. Fast forwarding to the present, Betty Turner is reunited with her former schoolmate Virginia. Virginia's lover Roger invites Betty to join them on a camping trip in the Spanish countryside. Betty accepts, but Virginia suspects Roger has ulterior motives behind his invitation and becomes jealous. The next day, the trio board a train bound for the country. Despite Betty's assurances that she has no romantic interest in Roger, Virginia jumps from the train when Roger makes an obvious pass at her friend.
Virginia hikes to the abandoned village of Beranzo. After exploring the ruins, Virginia beds down for the night, a portable radio at her side to drown out the creepy night sounds echoing through the ruins. As night falls, the dead Templars rise from their tombs and seek out Virginia. She flees the village, but the blind dead run her down on horseback and attack her in a field. The next day, the drivers of a passing train spot the body and contact the local authorities. Concerned, Roger and Betty conduct their own investigation, one that will bring them within screaming distance of the Blind Dead!
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect going into this movie. I expected the reanimated corpses to simply be the result of a curse or other supernatural means, but apparently the condition is transmittable, as we learn when their victims rise and go on their own feeding frenzies. This makes the film's climax all the more exciting. Knowing there are three sequels, I wonder how this film's ending plays a role in those, if at all.
By today's standards, the Blind Dead are hardly horrifying. The skeletal hands and decayed faces offer little to no articulation or expression, but the film does a decent job of building suspense as the sightless revenants stalk their prey. I only wish they'd focused more on the concepts of sound and silence, but the female characters spend so much time screaming that the true potential of the sightless dead relying on sound to locate their victims is lost. It's just too damn easy for them.
While horribly dated, Tombs of the Blind Dead is still a fun movie. The blood and gore is minimal as the film relies more on suspense and creepy imagery to sell the terror. The living characters aren't terribly memorable with the exception of the strange morgue attendant. Predictably, as in many other films of the period, the lesbian character is sexually assaulted by an alpha male stereotype with a magic penis complex who cannot take no for an answer, so be advised if you're sensitive to such depictions and situations. (EDIT: I've learned that the original, uncut Spanish version of the film includes a full rape scene. The scene is trimmed in the English version so the attack occurs offscreen.) If you're a fan of hokey foreign horror, give this movie a watch; just don't drop too much money on it. Tombs of the Blind Dead is streaming free with advertisements on Vudu.