...not the Anchor Bay UK release.
The US Boxset from Blue Underground is one of the finest genre purchases I have ever made. The packaging is a nice, but simple gimmick, and unlike my Phantasm sphere boxset or Lament Configuration Hellraiser set, it's not likely to cause any problems later on. Construction is clearly sturdy and the box can be set facing to the right and fit on any shelf normal dvd cases sit on.
The films are presented excellently. All are widescreen from HD masters and look fantastic. Tombs of the Blind Dead (first film) and Return of the Evil Dead (part 2) are in two versions a piece, a Spanish original version (better looking generally) and an English language version (grainier and in 1.85:1, rather than 1.66:1). Ghost Galleon (part 3) and Night of the Seagulls (Part 4) are only presented in the spanish versions, but have English audio dubs as an option. Aside from trailers and a hilarious alternate opening for the first film that tries to present it as an alternate sequel to PLANET OF THE APES (no, really), there aren't much in the way of extras on the film discs. There is a bonus disc with two featurettes - one generally about the films and one a lengthy enough interview with Armando Ossario, the director. A good bonus disc, for sure.
There's also a huge lengthy booklet covering all four films, history of the Knights templar in real life and a lot of full colour pictures. It's really, really impressive.
If you like gothic horror, zombie movies, Spanish films or exploitation films, these really are special. They can be brutal, surreal, suspenseful, creepy and everything you'd want from this kind of thing.
A quick breakdown of the films:
Tombs of the Blind Dead - Creepy, unpredictable first film is quite claustraphobic, with a small main cast. The unusual pacing and plotting of the film may not be to all tastes, but it works for me. This one is my favourite. Even though the film definetely owes something to Night of the Living Dead, they definitely made it their own.
Return of the Evil Dead - Most people's favourite, this one feels like more or less a direct sequel, though there are definite inconsistancies (Berzano was a centuries-old, abandoned and remote place in Tombs, now "Bourzano" is a populated city celebrating it's centennary and the Knights have a different backstory here etc.), but is quite a bit bigger. The whole town is under attack this time and the claustraphobia is approached differently. I wouldn't say it was more "urban" but it's got a much larger cast and is really terrifically plotted, if more conventionally than the first. Definitely shades of John Carpenter's later THE FOG here (local centenary, small coastal town, ghostly apparations returning for visceral vengeance) and the corrupt mayor (whose sleaze will astound you as will the lengths he goes to in order to survive) reminds me of Jaws, for some reason. This one features a more light-hearted tone in a lot of ways including comedic scenes with political officials.
Ghost Galleon - I'm not sure if it was the setting on a ghostly ship, which is very cool, or the Scooby Doo-ish premise, but this was the one I was most excited to see, and the one I was most disappointed with. It's still good! But it's the least here. Taking it's cues mostly from part one, it features unusual plotting and pacing, the smallest cast of the series (total humans: eight, I think) and a darker, intimate claustraphobic atmosphere. The film is hampered a little by the acting (which is okay for this sort of thing) and a lot by bad model effects, especially when the ship burns at the end. Not the best of the four films, unfortunately, though yet again anyone whose seen John Carpenter's THE FOG will recognise aspects of that film here.
Night of the Seagulls - An excellent finale, this film restages HP Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth as a vehicle for the Knights Templar, even including numerous scenes in the Knight's temple with a statue of DAGON looking more fish-froggy than ever. The most well balanced of the four films, it also appears to be of a slightly lower budget. The closed in atmosphere of Tombs and Galleon is combined with a larger cast and the town-under-siege feel of Return, in a kind of ghostly attack. It has it's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD kind of moments where the Knights attack houses in the country, but they only occur at night, so there's a kind of mythical supernatural thing going on here. I don't know, I like this one a lot.
I have watched the series through four times since I bought this boxset and I'm tickled pink!