I admit it. The "Blind Dead" movies are a guilty pleasure of mine. While there has been a DVD release of the first movie of the series by Anchor Bay a long time ago, now Blue Underground has prepared a DVD collection containing all four films of the Blind Dead series, plus some special bonus - a separate disc with bonus materials. How's that for fun, eh, kiddies?
The Blind Dead series started in 1971 with "Tombs Of The Blind Dead" as a ghost story in which the ruins of an old monastery is haunted by the ghosts of its previous inhabitants, the Knights Templars. These knights used to be marauding crusaders who were said to have found the secret to eternal life. To ascertain it they had sadistic rituals during which they made human sacrifices - pretty virgins, of course. The villagers nearby decide to take things into their own hands and hang the knights, but not before those swear to return from their graves to take revenge. And when in the modern day a tourist camps out in the ruins, they rise from their graves and indeed take revenge, hungry for even more.
In the sequel "Return Of The Evil Dead" the Templar Knights once again rise from their tombs to take revenge on the villagers that killed them. During the celebration of the anniversary of the event in modern times and with the help of a human sacrifice, the rotten marauders return on their undead horses, ready to slay everyone within earshot.
The Knights Templar take to the seas in "The Ghost Galleon" where a group of stranded swimsuit models discover the ghost ship and its gruesome contents. Little do they know that once the undead knights rise from their coffins there is no escaping them.
The knights made a final showing in "Night Of The Seagulls" in which the villagers of a small coastal town are making human sacrifices every year in order to keep the undead knights away. But during this knight they can't be satisfied any longer and begin to feast on all their human prey.
The Blind Dead movies are not very good, really, but they are definitely cult material, and they are so for a reason. There is something about them that gives you goosebumps despite their low budget and technical shortcomings. The stories do not always make real sense and the acting is also not always as good as you would hope. Further, the plots are truly hair-raisingly convenient all the time. It would be so simply to evade these shambling creatures that can't even see a thing. And still people just have this tendency to constantly scream to get noticed and run themselves into corners they can no longer escape. The creatures could also be destroyed rather easily with a torch or beaten to the floor with a few chops, and yet no character seems to really figure this out and obediently waits - stiffened by their horror supposedly - until the creatures' rotten teeth sink into their flesh. And running? What about that? Well you can run as fast as you want, but the knights are always faster than you are, somehow taking shortcuts through thin air and always having their skeletal steeds available as if pulling them out of their armors' pockets. Well, I guess you see what I'm getting at.
So, what makes these films so cultish and still enjoyable? Their production background and their atmosphere. The images of the fog-shrouded graveyard with bony fingers poking from the graves, the moving tombstones, the shadowy hooded cloaks, the slow motion photography of the undead moving and riding, all that and more create a truly ghostly atmosphere that is hard to beat.
As for the production background the DVD set contains a fifth disc, featuring two segments on director Amando De Ossorio. The first one is a featurette that discusses De Ossorio's background and career and how things led up to him making these films. Shot in miniscule budgets Ossorio made these films during his vacation time in 4 weeks each, start to finish. Because he didn't have money to hire real actors, he essentially hired small unknown amateurs to star in these films. He did the design of the knights himself and simply and quickly shot the films on location as quickly as he could. In many ways it reminded me of the way Ed Wood made his films.
Thematically he explored new territory, especially for Spanish filmmakers. Coming out of the Franco-era there was a sense of liberation throughout Spain at the time and the films reflected this nicely. The blood and violence, the sadism, the lesbianism and the sex, it was all material Spanish audiences weren't used to seeing and they responded to it well enough to make "Tombs Of The Blind Dead" a success. As a result De Ossorio was commissioned to make a sequel, but again, with a tiny budget. Therefore he reused a lot of the Templar Knights footage from the previous film and shot only what he needed. The same thing happened for the next two films as well where the director kept recycling footage over and over again ad nauseam. Despite their overall success, sadly the studio never gave De Ossorio a budget big enough to really make these films great - much to his dismay.
In an interview featurette De Ossorio discusses the films very candidly and makes no heed that he thinks they are really bad. He discusses the limitations he constantly ran into and how special effects had to be done a certain way, only because they simply couldn't afford any more. He was very pragmatic in his work but despite his best efforts the films never turned out the way he had envisioned them due to all the limitations and constraints.
In this DVD set each of the films is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio in an anamorphic transfer. Each disc contains two versions of the respective film - the theatrical US version as well as the uncut, uncensored original Spanish version with English subtitles. I suppose I don't have to tell you which version to watch as the US versions are not only crippled in content and length, but have oftentimes also been re-edited.
The image quality is a bit of a mixed bag, though. While the transfers are clean and virtually free of any speckles, the image looks soft and a tad blurry most of the time. Given Blue Underground's stellar track record and dedication I can only assume that the source materials that were available were simply flawed by these limitations. Some of the footage is very grainy - especially the night time shots and the ones that were processed such as the day-for-night sequences. This makes compressing the material hard and sadly the transfer often loses fine definition and textures as soon as the camera is in motion. Some slight edge-enhancement is also evident a select shots but it is never distracting. Clearly, this is the best home presentation that has ever existed for these films but sadly it is not as stellar and sharply defined as one might have expected.
The audio on the release comes in the form of the original mono tracks in English and Spanish for the respective cuts. The audio is clean and clear and is free of hiss or distortion. While the frequency response is limited, the overall presentation is good and fully serves the picture. Dialogues are well integrated an always understandable.
Each of the films comes with its trailers and a photo gallery featuring poster art and still images. "Tombs Of The Blind Dead" also contains an alternate opening sequence while "Ghost Galleon" also contains radio spots.
As a special, the box set - which comes in a very cool, casket shaped package - also contains a 4-page booklet called "Knights Of Terror." Written by Nigel J. Burrell, this is a booklet containing awesome reviews of the films as well as background information and liner notes, combined with great photos from the films.
Guilty pleasure or not, "The Blind Dead Collection" is a very cool release for some 70s landmark horror films that came years before the late-70s zombie-craze. (Interestingly these films were revived during the post-Romero zombie-wave and actually made a second run in theaters at the time, further adding to their success.) Blue Underground did a great job putting these films on DVD, including some really great extras. For fans of the movies, and for anyone interested in 70s Euro-horror, "The Blind Dead Collection" is a release you should not overlook. This is classic cult horror at its peak.