DirectorAmando de Ossorio
Release Date(s)1972 (October 24, 2023)
Studio(s)Interfilme/Plata Films S.A. (Synapse Films)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A
One of several noteworthy Spanish horror films to come in the wake of the release of Night of the Living Dead was Amando de Ossorio’s Tombs of the Blind Dead (La noche del terror ciego), known by any number of other titles, including Revenge from Planet Ape, Tombs of the Evil Dead, and simply The Blind Dead, the latter of which was the original US title. It’s also a film that’s been seen in any number of different versions over the years in different countries, but especially on home video. Nevertheless, the film was a success upon its original release the world over, spawning three sequels (Return of the Blind Dead, The Ghost Galleon, and Night of the Seagulls), all of which were also directed by Amando de Ossorio.
During the medieval era of history, a group of knights are tried and sentenced to death for deplorable crimes, such as cannibalism. They’re subsequently hung up to die, the eyes of their corpses pecked out by crows. In modern day, Betty (Lone Fleming), Virginia (Maria Elena Arpon), and Roger (Cesar Burner) are vacationing nearby when Virginia is suddenly separated from them, attempting to stay overnight in the abandoned town of Berzano, where the remains of the knights are interred. Blind in death, they can sense the heartbeats of the living, and rise from their tombs to attack Virginia. In the aftermath, Betty and Roger seek to find answers when Virginia’s mutilated body is found, which leads them to Berzano and into the waiting arms of the undead.
Though Tombs of the Blind Dead is considered one of the most important Spanish horror films ever made, leading the way for others by Paul Naschy and Jess Franco to follow, it’s not a perfect film. Indeed, many of the cuts made to the film for its US distribution improved much of its pacing, not to mention questionable content, which includes an unmotivated rape scene and a drawn-out build-up to Virginia’s death. That said, the look of the zombie knights is still quite creepy and effective, and there’s plenty of atmosphere to be had. The film wears its influences on its sleeve, particularly the structure of Night of the Living Dead in which disparate groups of people are holed up against unstoppable monsters that are trying to get in, but Tombs of the Blind Dead has its own aggressive qualities and directional stamp, including its shocking and murderous ending that goes straight for the throat—or throats in this case.
Tombs of the Blind Dead was shot by cinematographer Pablo Ripoll on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Synapse Films brings the film to Blu-ray once again with the same recent 2K restoration of the original camera negative, which was performed by Atlas International, with additional color correction and restoration performed by Synapse. Included are the original Spanish and English/Spanish Hybrid versions of the film, with the latter substituting Spanish language for scenes that weren’t dubbed into English. Outside of Night of the Seagulls, the fourth film in the series, Tombs of the Blind Dead has been in need of a Blu-ray upgrade for quite sometime. Even though Synapse didn’t do the restoration themselves from scratch, which is their usual process, the results are still rather splendid. Grain is often heavy, though lightens during slow motion sequences involving the knights on horseback. Amazing levels of detail are on display with a vibrant color palette, including blue skies, green grass, and natural flesh tones that pop. Contrast is excellent with decent blacks and heavy detail in the shadows. Minor speckling is leftover, as is a small amount of color and contrast fluctuation that couldn’t be corrected, which is not that easy to spot. The disc also carries a high bitrate and gets the most out of its 2K master. A 4K restoration and presentation would deepen black levels and color detail, but regardless, this is the finest version of the film available in high definition.
Also included is the US theatrical version under the title The Blind Dead, which is nearly 20 minutes shorter, excises the rape scene, and moves the origin of the knights to the front of the film, among other changes. The primary source for this cut is the new 2K restoration, but it also uses a scan of what appears to be a 35 mm print for the opening credits. All of this has been conformed by Michael Felsher. The bulk of the presentation matches the previous one, and the print-based moments are crushed with a high amount of grain and speckling, and appears a little unstable. The color is also a bit washed out. But these moments are few, and it’s nice to have the US version as an option for those who prefer it.
Audio is included on the original Spanish version of the film in Spanish and English/Spanish hybrid 2.0 mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English for the Spanish track, and English and English SDH for the hybrid track. The US version features audio in English 2.0 mono LPCM with optional English subtitles. Although all of the tracks have their own aural personalities, including alternate sound effects and changes in the score, they’re clean and offer excellent support for dialogue, score, and sound effects.
Tombs of the Blind Dead on Blu-ray sits in a black amaray case featuring artwork that was used for Blue Underground’s previous DVD release. Disc One contains the Spanish and English/Spanish hybrid versions of the film, while Disc Two contains the US theatrical version. The following high definition extras are included on Disc One only:
- Audio Commentary with Troy Howarth
- Audio Commentary with Lone Fleming and Calum Waddell
- Audio Commentary with Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn
- Revenge from Planet Ape – Alternate US Opening Sequence (3:24)
- Das Erwachen Des Spanischen Horrorkinos: Amando de Ossorio’s Die Nacht Der Reitenden Leichen (14:25)
- Salem’s Pop Templar’s Tears Music Video (3:22)
- Marauders from the Mediterranean: The Macabre Magic of the Spanish Zombie Movie (88:55)
- Still Gallery (39 in all – 3:21)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:40)
The first audio commentary with author and film historian Troy Howarth is mostly straightforward. He covers the film’s cast and crew, but also discusses other Spanish horror films in regards to Tombs of the Blind Dead. He also reads an extended set of notes from Lone Fleming about her memories of the film, many of which are repeated in the documentary that’s included on this release, and offers some criticism. The second features Lone Fleming joined by Calum Waddell. He asks her questions as they watch the film together, jogging memories of her experiences. It’s a lighthearted affair as Fleming is very charming and game to participate. The third and final commentary features Naschycast hosts Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn who discuss many of the film’s shooting locations in detail, while also further delving into facts about the film and those who made it.
The alternate US opening sequence features the film under the title Revenge from Planet Ape, which exists because one of the distributors thought it would be a lucrative idea to tie the film in with the Planet of the Apes series. Das Erwachen Des Spanischen Horrorkinos (The Awakening of Spanish Horror Cinema) features Dr. Marcus Stiglegger speaking about Amando de Ossorio’s career as a director, the history of the Knights Templar, and various aspects of the film. Marauders from the Mediterranean is an excellent feature-length documentary directed by Naomi Holwill, which examines the impact that the original Night of the Living Dead had on Spanish horror, particularly on The Blind Dead series, but also other filmmakers, including Paul Naschy, Eugenio Martin, and Jess Franco. The making of Tombs of the Blind Dead is covered, but it’s a mostly broad overview of the genre. Participants include John Russo, Mike Hostench, John Martin, Calum Waddell, Jorge Grau, Lone Fleming, Sergio Molina, Steve Jones, Manuel de Blas, Helga Line, Kim Newman, Jack Taylor, and Antonio Mayans. The still gallery features 39 stills of posters, promotional stills, and behind-the-scenes photos.
Not included from the previous Synapse Films Steelbook Blu-ray release is a Tribute to the Templars CD soundtrack by various artists, as well as an 8-page booklet containing the essay Legends of Fantaterror: Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead by Patrick McCabe, restoration details, and a CD track listing. Not included from the Blue Underground DVD release of The Blind Dead Collection are the Amando De Ossorio: The Last Templar and Unearthing the Blind Dead featurettes, as well as the Mike Hodges article Amando de Ossorio: Farewell to Spain’s Knight of Horror via DVD-ROM.
Synapse Films delivers the finest presentation of Tombs of the Blind Dead since Blue Underground’s The Blind Dead Collection DVD release. Sadly, Return of the Blind Dead and The Ghost Galleon are in rights limbo, though Night of the Seagulls was released on Blu-ray by Scream Factory in 2018. Here’s hoping that someone, perhaps even Synapse Films themselves, can get to the other two someday. In any case, their release of Tombs of the Blind Dead is not to be missed. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons