B&S About Movies’ buddy Bill Van Ryn gave it a hard pass. Sam Panico is groaning in anti-anticipation of watching it. And contributing B&S writer Jennifer Upton? She’s still trying to recuperate from the news that her beloved Blood Freak from 1972 got the 2021 remake treatment. The news of this film may push her double helices over the edge and transform her into the crazed turkey-woman of Polish Hill — if not a Xanax-addict — terrorizing the streets of Lawrenceville.
Tinker, Tailor, Drive-In, UHF, VHS, and celluloid thief. Oh, this friggin’ movie.
The potholes facing film reviewers is that you can not measure movies in the low-budget and indie streaming verses against the major studio films. In most cases, the low-budget and indie productions will pale in comparison. A critic of streaming films from low-budget shingles and indie studios can not view those films with a mainstream filter. In the case of remakes, the critic has to separate themselves from their affections to the source material — no matter how inept or expertly-crafted it may be.
And the source material in this case is the great Spanish horror director Amando de Ossorio and his “Blind Dead” tetralogy. No lover of horror film is not a true lover of horror film without copies of, not only de Ossorio’s “Blind Dead” films, but his first horror film, Malenka, The Vampire’s Niece (1969) and his utterly bonkers Exorcist clone, Demon Witch Child (1975) (pencil that one into the schedule, Sam).
Of course, between Malenka and Demon Witch Child, de Ossorio wanted a piece of the George Romero zombie action — of course, from 1968’s The Night of the Living Dead. (The second wave of Italian and Spanish zoms would come courtesy of Romero’s 1978’s Dawn of the Dead.) So, with a few drops of the Romero plasma and a couple corpuscles of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer’s Gothic-horror short story “El monte de las animas” (“The Mount of the Souls”; part of his 1862 short-story collection, Soria), de Ossorio concocted a tale of about a legion of 13th Century knights, known as the Templars, who, in their quest of eternal life, began committing human sacrifices and drinking human blood. And the town’s peasants around the monastery rose up and blinded the knights (who weren’t so much zombies, but mummies-cum-vampires), cursing them to ride skeletal horses . . . and woah the Spanish and Italian designer-clothed models who awoken the knights from their crypts: they were hunted down by the sound of their (out-of-sync) voices and heartbeats.
Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972) was an international success and transformed de Ossorio into a full-time horror director — no more political dramas (1956’s The Black Flag) and comedies (1967’s A Girl in the Yard) for ol’ Armie. So he churned out three more sequels on the continuing exploits of the Templar Knights: Return of the Blind Dead (1973), The Ghost Galleon (1974), and the fourth and final, Night of the Seagulls (1975). While most of us were not blessed to see them in the Drive-Ins during their initial release, we did get to see the criminally butchered versions during their replays on Friday and Saturday overnight horror blocks on UHF-TV in the ’70s and aka’d-to-death home video VHSs in the ’80s.
Now the legend goes that de Ossorio, who was making films to lesser and lesser effect — even moving into erotica with Las Alimañas (1976) and Pasión Prohibida (1980; you’ll never want to shoot a game of pool ever again), and ending his career with an abyssal Jaws knockoff, The Sea Serpent (1984) — that he completed a script in 1993 for a fifth and final “Blind Dead” film, The Necronomicon of the Templars. However, after falling off the horse (sorry), with porn and an inept Jaws rip, no producer — regardless of the classic status of the “Blind Dead” series — was interested in backing the production.
Instead, for the fifth “Blind Dead” film we got a sixth, ersatz Planet of the Apes film with Revenge from Planet Ape (1978). The short of the story: The blinded, burnt-cloaked Templars weren’t Templars: they were 3,000-year-old apes from Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) who, it turns out, eventually lost the 20th Century Fox battle. (Now, if you never heard of this Templar-cum-Ape post-apoc flick, hold onto this trivia, because it’s coming back at you, later in the review.)
In between Night of the Seagulls and Revenge from Planet Ape, director John Gilling (Cross of the Devil, 1975; The Challenge, 1960) — with a screenplay assist from Paul Naschy (more Naschy references to come) — gave us a loose, unofficial sequel of the blind Templars with La cruz del diablo (1975). Then Jess Franco had to ruin the memories (as his usual) with his uber-cheap fest, Mansion of the Living Dead (1982). Then, German director Andreas Schnass brought back the blind knights with his shot-on-video homage-sequels Don’t Wake the Dead (2008) and Graveyard of the Dead (2009). In 2015, an unofficial short film version rose up, Island of the Blind Dead that, in a Tarantino-twist, was actually an ersatz trailer for a non-existent, lost, “Blind Dead” movie (You Tube).
And here we are in 2021 with the latest “Blind Dead” romp: one that acts as a sequel-cum-homage-cum-reboot to the de Ossorio canons courtesy of Italian horror director Raffaele Picchio, in his fourth directing and sixth writing credit. (His Morituris, The Blind King, and House of Evil have their fans and detractors in equal measure; I’ve seen the first and never sought out the other two.)
Okay, now if you’ve spend any amount of time reading my reviews, you know my jam with Italian and Spanish horror — Paul Naschy in particular. And those films have a very specific, de rigueur checklist for those films to be an Italian and Spanish horror movie:
- Twenty-something, curvaceously-nude Italian and Spanish models with perfectly made-up faces that never run, drip, or smudge, hair that never loses its Aqua-Net coif, and French-manicured hands that defy rotted monasteries, the dingiest of cellars, the dankest of crypts, and the darkest of twisted winter woods.
- The aforementioned beauties always wear graveyard-appropriate mini dresses and hot pants and they must run on chunky, Nine West loafers.
- The arousing, unsynchronized gasps and screams of those crypt-kickin’ hotties rival the worst dubs of Asian cinema.
- Fictional, creepy European historical characters and events based on real-life, creepy European historical characters and events.
- A horror aficionado’s grab-bag of MGM noir and Universal horror film homages.
- Nods to Alfred Hitchcock, William Castle, Dario Argento, and Mario Bava.
- Deus ex machinas, red herrings, MacGuffins, and POV shots abound.
The caveat emptor with Curse of the Blind Dead is that this sequel-cum-homage-cum-reboot to the de Ossorio canons fulfills none of these requirements. Where’s the ne’er do well gaslighting? Where’s the affairs? The ailing wife? Where’s the escaped prisoner-cum-roadside bandits? Where’s the crazy-ass kitchen sink mayhem? Where’s the women who sashay through the chilly halls and woods of the estate in the sheerest of negligees? Where’s the fortune tellers and séances? And, most importantly: Where’s the lesbianism with a dash o’ necrophilia?
Ah, because this film isn’t made for the analog-loving Methuselahs, such Billy Van Ryn, Sam Panico, Jennifer Upton, and yours truly: this is made for the Brad Pitt World War Z and Zack Synder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004) crowd enamored with the sexy-cool of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Norman Reedus in the grunge-trendy U.S. TV series The Walking Dead.
So, as the obligatory, budget-conscious voice over-photo montage opening credits roll with static-ridden radio broadcasts and grainy, red-tinted war footage, we learn that Armageddon arrived and turned Earth into a post-apoc wasteland. And we learn of the tales — in an almost shot-for-shot retelling of Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972) — of the Templars. And the next caveat: these are bigger-budgeted, new and improved Tempies of the rotten-zom variety. Gone are the burnt skull n’ skeletal knights of yore. And while we have a chick ridin’ the ol’ cross of St. Andrews, she’s also doin’ the white-eye possession thang and, graphically, birthing what we think is the anti-christ, but really a sacrificial baby.
Of course, the peasants breakdown the doors, capture the knights, and burn out their eyes. Now, it’s important to point out: the opening credits and the 13th Century-period setting looks really good. The costumes, the sets, the (graphic) effects (I don’t do babies in horror none-to-well), and actors are top-notch. It’s a great preamble. . . .
Then, there’s the rest of the movie that, without the rotten knights . . . and an ergotic plague wiping out the grass-grains family added . . . we’re watching Cornell Wilde’s post-apoc take on the biblical tale of Exodus with No Blade of Grass. But that has has no zombies, just biker gangs. So, since we have zombie-things terrorizing the folks — and remembering that Paul Naschy is in the mix of this review — we have a gooey smidgen from Paul Naschy’s The People Who Own the Dark (1975), his (low-budgeted) updated take on de Ossorio’s “Blind Dead” series — sans the knights, natch — with his post-apoc rework of Night of the Living Dead (1968) of eye-bandaged townsfolk hunting down post-Armageddon survivors by sound. Oh, and since we’re frolicking through the bowels of an old, burnt out factory, we got a soupçon Richard Harris and his forgotten apoc-romp, Ravagers.
And remember when I said, “Don’t forget about Revenge from Planet Ape?” Well, in that “Blind Dead” retooling, we had a group of ne’er do wells surviving in a post-apoc world with resurrected zombie apes. . . .
A year later . . .
Micheal (Aaron Stielstra of Landing Lake; ironically reminding me of Jeffrey DeMunn, crossed with Christopher Meloni; if this were a major studio or mini-major U.S.-made film, they probably being starring), encouraged by a radio broadcast urging survivors to “Paradise,” a utopian encampment, treks through the deep woods. Of course, as is the case with any post-apoc film: even in the throes of the end of the world, men be needin’ the nookie because the key to survival is rape. And Lily, (Alice Zanini; in her first international film), his pregnant daughter (incest is insinuated), is purty. So, when they’re ambushed by bandits (bandits? Check!), the members of a religious sect rescue them — via crossbows and shotguns, praise, Jesus!
Templars: Turning man into meat puppets one human at a time.
Then, there’s 30-minutes of religious weirdness and betrayal inside a bombed out factory-sanctuary (that’s not “Paradise”) and some eye-patched Ron L. Hubbard-type who sees Lily’s baby as a prophesied savior. Uh, oh. This is a sect that worships the Templars and needs the baby as a gift to them, for zombie knights, for reasons unknown, can stop the apocalypse. Or something.
Finally, time for Tempies . . . and they, uh . . . just walk out of the darkness of an archway? Where’s the graveyard? Where the slowly, creepy, concrete scraping of sarcophagus lids releasing a fog and the boney arms n’ hands rising up? (Dude, the toy-boat ineptness of The Ghost Galleon is looking better already.)
Then . . . it’s just a bunch of “What are we gonna do now” running around an old factory. And camouflaged pant and combat-booted Lily’s constant wailing is annoying as frack. (Maybe if it was out-of-sync?) Where’s the hot, mini-skirted Spanish model tripping on her heels when we need her?
Finally! The skeletal ghost horses show up, and, uh . . . that’s it? I hope you didn’t go take a piss or get fed up and fast forward through it.
On the gore scale: We get (two) Scleral-contacted possessions of the Linda Blair variety (Why, I don’t know), a black orb next to the sun (I don’t know why; I think it’s a planet that came into Earth’s orbit and fucked up the world-by-eclipse), a freshly-born devil baby ripped in half (again, puking; if a dog showed up, I’d have stopped watching), a self-thumb removal, slithering-to-the-floor innards, a few throat slits, a pretty decent spine removal-by-Templar (Why, I don’t know, the old Tempies could barely break through nailed-to-the-window wood scraps), a disemboweled gut munching (de Ossorio’s never did that), and a backwards head pulled-apart-by-the mouth (again, the boney arms of de Ossorio’s could barley break wood). And I am not down with Lily’s birth-by-a-pipe-blow-to-the-stomach (if not at almost the end of the movie, the stop button would engage right then and there). And again, while the Tempies ain’t the Tempies of old and disappoint because they ain’t de Ossorio Tempies, the effects make-ups are, none-the-less, very well done.
And then the black hole sun does “something,” as it moves over the sun and the Tempies fry and everyone looks up and “something” is happening here, and it ain’t exactly Buffalo Springfield clear.
Da fuck? Why are the credits rolling? Calling Neil deGrasse Tyson: we need an astrophysicist explanation for it all.
So . . . is this a severed thumbs up or down?
Well, I’ve watched the “Blind Dead” tetralogy via my four well-worn VHS tapes many, many times over the years. For they’re are my Phantasm or Rocktober Blood. They are my The People Who Own the Dark, my Panic Beats, and my Horror Rises from the Tomb (the last two themselves with “Blind Dead” vibes) celluloid altars perpetually VCR-programmed every Halloween.
However, Curse of the Blind Dead, for me, is a-watched-and-done film, as it has none of the de Ossorio-sphere that makes his four cheapies so special to me. I always err to the filmmaker who makes do with what they’ve got (which is why it’s always Phantasm I over II, Escape from New York over L.A. and the ’77 to ’83, non-CGI Star Wars cuts), so while they’re not exactly the films de Ossorio wanted, he still made an engrossing film. I will not, however, dismiss Raffaele Picchio’s extremely competent effort with the adjective of “sucks.” I believe that the new, young bucks of the streaming verse who are not Ossorio-versed, will watch this film today — and twenty years from now — will watch Picchio with the same wide-eyed nostalgia I watch the de Ossorio originals. What’s the worst case scenario, here? That Picchio inspired streamers to seek out de Ossorio’s “Blind Dead” romps? The more de Ossorio fans, the better, I say.
If you were fortunate (you old bastard) to see the de Ossorio originals during their initial Drive-In runs or could afford the later DVD and Blu-ray restorations (you disposable income rich bastard), you know that while de Ossorio didn’t have the budgetary resources of Picchio, de Ossorio’s films are still — despite those films not achieving “the vision in his head” as result of their budgetary constraints — are an exquisite watch. The grainy, 16mm documentary vibe of the films that most of us experienced during the their UHF-TV and VHS replays were result of those TV prints coming from less-than-stellar, “road showed” Drive-In reels emulsion-scratched to hell and back again. Then, their incessant rental-replays on the ‘80s home video market beat them to hell and back again, and again. The irony, however, is that “to hell and back again” consumer processing — as it did with Romero’s The Night of the Living Dead — only lent, more so, to the film’s documentary-grainy, dream-like qualities (of course, de Ossorio shot through filters and stop-speeds to add to the ghostly qualities as the Templar’s rode their skeletal steeds).
I wonder if Tarantino had made Curse of the Blind Dead, would he — as he did with his Planet Terror/Death Proof project (2007) — have purposely shot the film slightly out of focus and “damaged” the film stock to achieve what he first saw — what we all saw — on VHS?
As I watched Curse of the Blind Dead, I reflected back on the work of Peter Hyams with his efforts to sequel-remake-homage Kubrick’s landmark moment with 2010: The Year We Made Contact. After the completion of the production of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick had all of the sets — as well as its production ephemera — destroyed. As result, Hyams, with photographs created from the initial film, re-created all of the Discovery’s models, costumes, and interiors. And if Hyams never disclosed that fact, you’d never know it (sometimes, filmmakers should just keep their mouths shut; they keep ruining the wonders of going to the movies). If Hyams or a Hollywood A-Lister remade de Ossorio, I think we would have gotten a Tarantino-cum-Rob Zombie approach. There’s no way, with their meticulous-to-a-fault fanboyitis (they are one of us, after all), the “Q” or the “Z” would fuck with our mutually-beloved Tempies; it would be as if they found the mothballed original knights — with their bony hands that reach through the tiniest cracks of walls and doors — and stallion shrouds buried in a corner of an Italian prop house. . . .
But this all just a bunch of “Who Shot John?” at this point . . . and you just want to get to the trailers, already.
Regardless of the critical left hooks Picchio’s taking to the chin (the comments on the streaming trailers are cruel, but funny), he made a good film that’s on an analogous quality level of everyone’s most recent exposure to the world of zombies and ghouls: The Walking Dead. And we all know — regardless of that series’ detractors — that AMC U.S. TV series is a high-quality product. And if you enjoy the exploits of Jeffrey Dean Morgan swingin’ “Lucille,” then you’ll enjoy Curse of the Blind Dead. And we — yes, including moi — the de Ossorio purists, are a bunch of stubborn, judgmental old bastards who need to live in the now, give up our inner de Ossorio, and give Pocchio a break. (Duck, Pocchio! Another critic is coming in for another “Lucille.”)
The overseas theatrical and U.S. streaming trailers. Which is the better cut?
Curse of the Blind Dead will be released March 2, 2021, by Uncork’d Entertaiment and High Octane Pictures. You can enjoy behind-the-scenes and film stills at the film’s official Facebook page. We’ve also recently review another Uncork’d Entertainment Italian-import, the stellar The Funeral Home. We also reviewed High Octane’s Italian-import, Landing Lake.
Disclaimer: We were sent a screener by the film’s P.R. firm. That has no bearing on our review.