Monday, May 28, 2012

#17: Horror of the Zombies

Drive In Movie Classics
Disc 5: Side A

The simpler the setup, the scarier the horror film. There are exceptions, of course, but the classics of the genre--say, Night of the Living Dead or Texas Chainsaw Massacre--maneuver their characters to their fate in a relatively straightforward manner. Sure, these films begin slowly, but there’s a simplicity underlining the inexplicable quality of the horror. Viewers can imagine themselves winding up in a similar situation. Sometimes, all it takes is a wrong turn.

Even Tombs of the Blind Dead and Return of the Blind Dead--which aren’t classics, but aren’t that bad, either--display a certain amount of ease as they go about stranding a bunch of poorly-dubbed Spanish actors in isolated medieval ruins populated by the empty-socketed zombies of the Templar Knights. Horror of the Zombies, also known as The Ghost Galleon, is the third in the Blind Dead series, and instead of simply dumping a bunch of unsuspecting tourists on its zombie-filled 16th century galleon, it spends half its running time on an increasingly convoluted set up:

Noemi (Barbara Rey), a fashion model, approaches Lillian (Maria Perschy), her photographer, after a photo shoot. It seems Kathy, Noemi’s roommate and fellow model is missing, and Noemi thinks Lillian knows something about it.

“She’s out of town. Special assignment,” says Lillian. “Simple as that.”

“I hope it is that simple,” says Noemi. “Yet I fear she’s in jeopardy.”

Lillian relents. Cut to a crumbling, dock-side warehouse. Lillian introduces Noemi to sporting goods magnate Howard Tucker (Jack Taylor), who explains that Kathy and another model--Loren-- have been brought out to the middle of the ocean as part of a publicity stunt and left in a special motor boat Tucker has been developing. His hope is that the crew of a passing ship will spot the girls, think they’re stranded, bring them aboard, and return them to shore. That’s step one. Step two involves the girls getting on the news and spinning their tale of survival into a promotion for Tucker's boat. How exactly would two people stranded at sea in his boat be a good endorsement for his boat? Tucker seems unconcerned by such details.

Next we see Kathy (Blanca Estrada) and Loren (Margarita Merino), adrift in a thick fog. The boat is taking on water. Suddenly, the ghostly galleon, complete with rotting sails, appears. Oddly, the girls don‘t seem particularly frightened. In fact, Loren throws a ladder from their boat to the galleon and climbs aboard to look for help. Kathy soon follows.

Back on shore, Noemi, Lillian, Tucker, Tucker’s assistant Sergio, and Professor Gruber (Carlos Lemos), a vaguely-defined researcher who seems to be an expert on whatever random subject happens to come up, decide to search for the girls. They, too, wind up on the mysterious galleon, where they wander around and bicker. Eventually, the blind dead crawl from their tombs below deck. What follows will surprise no one already familiar with the series: There’s some lesbian undertones, shots of skeletal hands slowly wrapping around female necks, plentiful bell-bottoms and striped turtle necks, and just enough history on the Templar Knights to make the whole thing seem a little more sophisticated than it actually is. This time around, there’s also a bit of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. See, the ghostly galleon actually exists in a parallel dimension. 

All of which distracts from--and undermines--the reason for this film’s existence: The blind dead themselves. With their empty sockets, ragged cloaks and lumbering gait, they’re among the creepier horror movie creatures out there. They don’t look like underpaid actors in zombie makeup. They look like the real thing. Unfortunately, writer/director Amando de Ossorio, who helmed the previous two entries in the series, puts this to good use only once in Horror of the Zombies: Late in the film, Lillian is slowly dragged below deck by the blind dead, clawing all the way at the decaying floor boards. It’s a long, unsettling scene, and the blind dead seem to grow more impassive and inhuman as it progresses. The terror here is simple, visceral and uncomplicated. If only the same could be said for the rest of the film.


  1. I don't know why, but I have continually put off seeing the Blind Dead movies. No kidding, still haven't seen a single one. This one doesn't sound great, but overall the series does sound pretty promising. I'm going to try and start adding them to my queue sometime soon. They seem creepy enough to be worth the merit!

    Very well written review, my man!

    1. Josh--Thanks for the kind words. The first two Blind Dead flicks really are worth a viewing. As far as zombie movies go, they're certainly not on the level of Romero--or even of the sometimes questionable quality of a Fulci film. But still, they strike a good balance between camp and horror. I seem to recall a very effective sequence in the first sequel involving the Blind Dead, a group of victims and a long, dark tunnel through which the victims try to escape. Very creepy.

  2. I'll definitely give them a look sometime soon. It's not like they can be as bad as the backyard productions I've seen. Todd Sheets anyone? I'm really in the mood for something slightly creepy. I think the entire world is getting tired of "gory for the sake of being gory" zombie movies.

    1. I'd never heard of Todd Sheets until now. Just googled him and sort of had my mind blown. I'm always up for a cheesy good-bad movie. Would you recommend any of Sheets' oeuvre? On a similar note, have you seen the 80s no-budget direct-to-video Canadian fever dream Things? I'm guessing you have, but if not it's well worth a watch. It transcends all earthly notions of good and bad.