Saturday, January 7, 2017

Return Of The Evil Dead (Spanish Zombies, 1973)

Return Of The Evil Dead

Spain 1973 colour

aka El Ataque De Los Meurtos Sin Ojos/“Attack Of The Eyeless Dead”, Return Of The Blind Dead, Revenge Of The Evil Dead

Director/Writer Amando de Ossorio

Cast “Tony Kendall”/Luciano Stella (Jack Marlowe), Fernando Sancho (Mayor Duncan), “Esther”/Esperenza Roy (Vivian), “Frank Blake”/Franco Brana (Dacosta) 

[My Schlock Treatment intro, originally broadcast on Briz 31 TV 05/12/10]

Just as George Romero changed the face of zombie cinema with his groundbreaking Night Of The Living Dead (1968), Spanish director Amando de Ossorio gave them a distinctly European neo-gothic makeover in a series of four films from 1971 to 1975. Known as the Blind Dead Quartet, the films feature the reanimated skeletal remains of the Knights Templar, keepers of the secrets of eternal life and now unstoppable killing machines on undead horses and clad in their Templar garb. Their skull features blazing empty eye sockets require them to find their victims entirely by sound...the trick is to not scream their lungs out at their ghastly appearance!

Tonight's film Return Of The Evil Dead is the second in the Quartet, following on the bony heels of Tombs Of The Blind Dead (1971), while completely reinventing its Templar back story, as the whimsical de Ossorio did with each entry. This time the blood-drinking, human sacrificing Templars are holed up in an Abbey in the Spanish town of Berzanzo, their eyes burnt out by angry villagers and set on fire – but not before a curse falls upon their descendants. Five hundred years later and the townsfolk of Berzanzo are happily celebrating the anniversary of scouring the Templar devils from the face of the Earth. Night falls, dry ice oozes from the ruined Abbey, and skeletal hands covered in rotting cowls slowly emerge from their tombs...

Back in Berzanzo, it's certainly no Fourth of July Picnic. The town's corrupt Mayor is busy ordering his goons to beat up Jack Marlowe, the American fireworks technician and ex-lover of local sexpot Vivian, whom the Mayor and at least one of his goons have their greasy eyes on. As the Templar's mummified army reaches the town square and hacks its way through the festivities, the core survivors seek sanctuary in a church, and then turn on each other one by one. It's like Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944) – the tight confines bringing out the characters' latent jealousy, greed, selfishness and inhumanity – if zombies were clutching at the side of the raft. Particularly repellent is the Mayor, who thinks nothing of using his constituents as Templar bait. Vindication is the Templars, and the world finds itself a few assholes fewer.

As a film, Return Of The Evil Dead is much more suspenseful than a skeleton army in sackcloth should engender. The very appearance of the undead Templars and their modus operandi (blind but not deaf, my sweet pointed coccyx!) require a very serious leap of faith on the part of its audience, and yet, with those iconic soiled hoods and grinning skulls, they can't help but disturb. De Ossorio recycles many of the first Blind Dead's aural and visual tricks, such as the jarring slow-motion shots of the Templars on zombie horseback reinforcing their otherworldliness, and the soundtrack dripping with low moans and pitch-shifted bells. The set pieces are nothing short of fantastic: the village square massacre, the fate of hunchbacked cripple Murdo, and in an obvious nod to another Hitchcock film The Birds (1963), the young girl's heartstopping walk through the zombie sentinels (ALWAYS remember that in the case of an undead Armageddon, children are the weakest link). There are moments of intentional humour – the scenes with the governor and his saucy maid are nicely handled – but overall the tone is grim to the point of apocalyptic, and like other Spanish horrors of the early Seventies, equal parts gothic atmosphere and modern gore-soaked shock tactics.

“You have to be quiet!” yells one character, and I hope you do the same. Sit very still, and don't utter a sound until the end of Return Of The Evil Dead.

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