Warning! This post contains adult content!
If it can be accepted that zombie films must be divided as before or after George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Tombs of the Blind Dead must surely be the first relevant entry after the divide.
Depending on which cut one watches, Tombs of the Blind Dead opens on a resort villa wherein two former lovers, both women, happen to meet up and decide to revel in each other’s company for at least a portion of their vacations. When one friend is fed up with the obvious affections the other has toward a male companion, she rolls off a moving train and into a medieval castle where the dead resurrect every night in search of victims. Suffice it to say that things do not end well.
Like its spiritual predecessor Plague of the Zombies, Tombs of the Blind Dead combines snippets of bastardized voodoo with marginalized sadism, creating a fiction out of the resurrected dead. The explanation for the concept of the antagonists living without sight is trivial, but the background of their immortal damnation is fascinating, sharing only precious few details with any film to come before or after; a heavily fictionalized version of the Knights Templar seek eternal life, and like most who betray their faith for selfish treasures, they must pay a price that, at this point, must seem all too obvious.
Without a doubt, there is a lot of fluff in Tombs of the Blind Dead; from the introduction of the protagonists forward, precious little happens during the entire first and second acts. Once the titular zombies (or revenants, depending on who you ask) awaken, the tension mounts considerably, then fades away as the procedural elements with which most zombie fans are only too aware come to bear; the police are skeptical, the protagonists are hopeful, and there’s a goofy scholar, eager to help illuminate the vagary of the plot.
Fortunately, despite the all-too-obvious low-budget misgivings, Tombs of the Blind Dead actually makes the most of its modest price tag with a bit of slick editing and suggestive shot selection; seeing a woman sliced up might draw obvious parallels to the mannequin which clearly served as her body double, but when the knights set upon her wounds, the effect is nothing short of stomach churning. Similarly, absolutely no quarter is given to a little girl whose mother is attacked with grim results.
Even better, the fates of the characters are in doubt from the start to the end. When the two women who form the core of the film reunite, there might be certain expectations as to how their plotlines play out, particularly in regards to the male companion who would seem to come between them. Throw out your assumptions, because the arbitrary nature of their fate is so random it’s almost real, a fact that almost makes a scene where one of the girls is taken advantage of by an aggressive male suitor forgivable.
Anyone watching Tombs of the Blind Dead is bound to have difficulties with occasionally laborious plot structure and long passages without so much as a jump scare, but this is simply the way films were constructed coming out of the ‘70s. Compared to the modern trend of next-to-zero substance with flashy kills , Tombs of the Blind Dead is a refreshing reminder that older horror films couldn’t blaze by the censors and scared audiences by suggesting something more terrifying than a series of sub-par special effects could get across on their own.
Fortunately, Tombs of the Blind Dead is available in a DVD box set along with the three other films that form the Blind Dead quadrilogy. The set, which is shaped like a coffin, is an attractive enough addition to any serious aficionado’s collection to warrant buying without having seen the series. Do yourself a favor, though; don’t watch the American version, labeled The Blind Dead on the menu screen. It may be dubbed in English, but the plot has been rearranged and all the best bloody moments have been censored or removed entirely.