Tombs of the Blind Dead ★★★½

Paul Naschy and Jess Franco may well be Spain’s most prolific horror exports, but Amando De Ossorio is on almost equal footing when it comes to the stuff nightmares are made of. During the course of a five year period, Ossario’s ‘Blind Dead’ quartet of films terrified audiences by taking a legendary religious order and transforming them into vampiric ghouls who periodically rise from their graves to exact a terrible revenge on the living.

Tombs of the Blind Dead begins by merging past with present, moving from a decaying abbey to a swimming pool in Lisbon where a couple invite their reluctant friend for a weekend in the country. Following a supremely un-erotic lesbian flashback scene involving the two female leads, one of the girls decides to leave the party early, jumping off a train and ending up at the ancient abbey of Berzano. Soon, the earth is spewing out the Blind Dead; a band of cloaked cadavers who roam through the countryside on horseback, devoid of sight but able to find their prey by sound and movement.

Ossorio’s film is packed with the most delicious clichés that are meat and drink to undiscriminating horror buffs: frightened townsfolk who hint at unspeakable terrors, and refuse to elaborate; post mortems which indicate signs of a ritual killing (“as if attacked by vicious animals”) and there’s a nice sidebar involving a gang of local smugglers who may be using the Templar’s legend to scare off those who disturb their business.

There’s a lot going on here - not all of it particularly well presented - but it’s the Blind Dead who really steal the show, riding in slow-motion across the landscape in search of the living and despatching their victims in the bloodiest fashion, whether by sacrifice or simply descending on their prey for a feeding frenzy.

Anchor Bay UK's splendid box set contains all four Blind Dead films (each is allocated one disc), plus a supplementary disc devoted to Ossorio (more on these in subsequent reviews). This, the first instalment, is a real eye-opener, allowing us to view these grim reapers in all their decaying glory. It’s an impressive sight with full marks to Ossorio for his nightmare vision. Perhaps one Peter Jackson was impressed, too: check out his ‘Nazgul’ (Ring Wraiths) in Lord of the Rings.

The Templar’s UK DVD debut comes courtesy of a nice, colourful transfer, offering a significant improvement on the old Anchor Bay US double-feature which comprised of Tombs and Return of the Evil Dead, Ossorio’s follow-up. This first disc also offers trailers for each film (the Ghost Galleon trailer ends very abruptly), a moving stills gallery with colour and b/w pics and a 90 second alternate prologue which was devised to cash in on the success of Planet of the Apes. Fans will also appreciate the poster gallery which contains some wonderful artwork.

Die-hard fans will be displeased by the BBFC’s decision to cut 10 seconds of footage from Tombs, but it remains an important work for Euro horror fanatics.