Sunday, October 23, 2016

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Tombs of the Blind Dead, Ghost Galleon and Night of the Seagulls

Continuing the shorter, catch up reviews.
This series is one of those classics of European horror that I never got around to seeing (haven't seen any of Paul Naschy's werewolf films, either). Stills of the killer monks from the series always looked awesome, and I was in the mood for something weird and old and Spanish (this is actually a Spanish/Portuguese co-production). Between Amazon and Shudder 3 of the 4 films are available and I've always heard they're not really connected, story wise, so I went for it.

Tombs of the Blind Dead
After an opening sequence involving a sect of Templar-type knights torturing a woman before drinking her blood, we're brought to modern day. A woman runs into an old high school chum who she once had a sexual encounter with when they were schoolgirls. Annoyed at her boyfriend's infatuation with her friend, she runs off the train - as you do - and ends up lost near some old ruins. So of course she spends the night in the creepy old ruins - again, as you do - and ends up chased and run down by the same knights that somehow rise from the grave. Her boyfriend and friend try and find out what happened to her, spend the night in the ruins and things repeat.

There are some cool moments in the film. The knights are a great design, desiccated and eerie - moving deliberately to surround their prey before stabbing with their swords, or riding people down on their ghostly horses. The setting of the village/fortress is very atmospheric - particularly at night. There's also a damn effective sequence involving a woman stuck in a mannequin factory. Outside of these elements, things are not so good, with hateful characters, casual rape, a threadbare plot and  a sagging middle act that drags on way too long.

Tickets please!

The end almost redeems the whole movie, however, with the monks chasing the only survivor onto a train and killing their way through the passengers. The train arrives at the station and there's the general feeling that the knights will disembark and then humanity is in some real trouble. The knights are very much like vampires that look like mummies, drinking blood and causing their victims to rise and attack the living. They can also move around in the daylight in this film, unlike later entries. Not good!

This Doctor Who episode got really weird...

The Ghost Galleon
A fashion model attempts to find out what happened to her missing roommate and discovers a secret publicity stunt involving a major corporation and a boat purposefully lost at sea. Unfortunately for everyone, the girls have stumbled onto a ghost ship, populated by the Blind Dead! Of course a rescue effort is mounted and the ghost ship is found - but once you board, you're stuck and the knights begin to pick of the rescue crew one by one.

Eventually someone figures out that it's the knights themselves and their dark magic that holds both the ship and the remaining survivors hostage in some kind of twilight dimension. They quickly decide to toss the coffins containing the knights overboard during the day. (The knights cannot come out during the daylight hours - one would think they might choose an evil dimension with no day, but maybe it's just tradition.)  Hooray, everyone (well the two survivors) are saved! Except no one remembered that the dead don't need to breathe.

Or change their clothes, apparently.

This is actually my favorite of the three Blind Dead films I watched, but it's still full of reprehensible characters, casual rape and misogyny and people doing stupid things for no reason. The ship is an atmospheric set (though the model work isn't very good) and the monks have their usual creepy, menacing, slow assault on their prey. One particular sequence - chasing one of the initial girls around the upper decks - does drag on long enough to start being comedy, but they're generally effective.

"We're just trying to get to the buffet."

And again, the ending is the best part, with the knights rising out of the sea, deathless and implacable and probably a little pissed. There's no indication that their prey will also rise from the dead this time around, so no world-ending danger, but I still wouldn't want to get in their way.

Night of the Seagulls

I think this entry has the most interesting story possibilities and the most ridiculous title. A doctor is assigned to a small, seaside town only to discover the population is haunted by knights that demand a sacrifice of seven girls every seven years. The doctor tries to intervene - hijinks ensue. Unfortunately, it's also the most boring. I actually started to fall asleep at one point, though to be fair this was the last of the three films I watched and maybe I was just tired.

Once again the setting and the knights are the best parts - the seaside village appears to have been built right into the sides of a set of cliffs and half the tension of the film was wondering if the actors were going to fall to their deaths. The knights are effective as ever, and have added a Lovecraftian Dagon-like idol to their general depravations. This time around they only feed on their victims after ripping out the heart (from the bared chest, natch) and feeding it to the idol. The knights make the basic mistake of leaving the last couple of victims alive in their lair, and the destruction of the idol seems to finally put an end to the threat of the Blind Dead.

"It's a great gift, guys, really, but where am I supposed to keep her?"

The Bottom Line
I both liked and hated these movies, which may seem a weird thing to say. There are sequences and images that will stay with me - and will probably drive me to watch The Return of the Evil Dead, the only one of the films I haven't seen. Eventually. There's also a seemingly endless fount of tedium, hateful characters and repetitive sounds/images. Any time the knights aren't on the screen things seem to grind to a halt (except for that scene in the mannequin factory) and I found myself hoping they'd show up soon and kill these people so I didn't have to listen to them anymore.

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