What better way to start off a film than shots of a spooky looking monastery and then cut to girls by a pool in bikinis? Sure it might be a little ominous and foreshadow things fairly obviously, but what better way to introduce the leading ladies of the film, Betty and Virginia? The two are former friends who just happen to run into each other and then decide to take a trip to the countryside together where along the way, they reminisce about old times. As it is, things are a little uncomfortable between them because of those old times and so Virginia jumps from the train, leaving her boyfriend and Betty behind. Coincidentally, Virginia manages to jump off just at the right point where that old, spooky, ruined monastery happens to be. Of course, Virginia decides to stay the night, by herself, in said creepy monastery and if things could not get any less frightening and slightly predictable, the dead start to rise. Some of them even ride horses.
Tombs of the Blind Dead, or La Noche del Terror Ciego as it was known originally, is a Spanish horror film and the first of four in a series from director Amando de Ossorio. It sees some ancient knights who are not necessarily zombies, but not really vampires either with one distinguishing trait among them – blindness. That leads us to the title of the movie, where Betty and Roger learn of their friend’s death and just who and what these zombie-like creatures are. The story is a fairly standard one when it comes to satanic rites practitioners, yet these Eastern knights and the ritual they perform as they slash a young woman up only to drink her blood after they have finished, is quite chilling and more than disturbing. While the investigation goes on, Virginia herself rises from the dead and starts to kill until finally being destroyed by fire at the hands of her latest victim. Roger and Betty soon realize that the answers to everything lie in Berzanno at the monastery, and that is where they must return if they want a finality to the situation.
The film is slowly paced, which lends it a very moody atmosphere and while some might find that a negative, it is actually the opposite and one of the film’s strengths. As Roger, played by César Burner, and Betty as portrayed by Lone Fleming get closer to their goal, the tension within the film builds and the horror of what they are looking for creeps upon you until the dead rise once more and our protagonists find themselves in the midst of extreme danger. The costumes and effects look fantastic and are extremely well done and while they may look simple fairly simple at times, being just torn up and dirtied robes, it suits the film and the creatures very well. What is probably scarier than anything is when the dead start to ride their horses and Ossorio films them in slow motion. It adds a level of ghoulishness and the macabre to the situation almost as if they are crawling upon their victim when you know the opposite to be true. Just like other zombies, these ones move just as slowly and just as relentlessly towards their targets when on foot, and seeing those rotted skulls come towards you with those empty eye sockets would scare even the most hardened man.
If there is one real negative to be found with this film, it is the editing of the movie which on the whole was very decent, but there were a few abrupt cutaways that seemed quite awkward. Conversely, Amando de Ossorio’s script was right on the money and the music was exceptional. The great thing about this film is that Ossorio does not go down the traditional route when dealing with the undead. These zombies might have a few of the same tropes going for them, but Ossorio takes them down a different path as these beings are self-aware and not just the mindless shells that are normally portrayed in various mediums. And they also ride horses. Horses!
Zombie films are a dime-a-dozen, yet if you have never seen Tombs of the Blind Dead, then you are depriving yourself from one of the finest of the genre. Seek out the original Spanish cut and not the American edit so you can watch it the way it was intended. It might not be an explosive action-drama, but if you like horror, you will not be disappointed.