Friday, October 19, 2018

HubrisWeen 2018, Day 14: Night of The Seagulls (1975)

It took me rather an embarrassingly long amount of time to finally catch up to Amando de Ossorio's famed series of Blind Dead movies, which began in 1971 with Tombs of the Blind Dead. Considering they seemed to be exactly what I wanted out of zombie movies--given that the Blind Dead are little more than animate skeletons in robes instead of the typical extras in light makeup--that really is a terrible mistake on my part.

Eventually I did see one of the films, but I started with the third film, The Ghost Galleon (or Horror of the Zombies as it was called on the cheap DVD bundle set I was given), which is generally considered the worst of the four. So, in a way, I did it right because the first two films in the series, Tombs of the Blind Dead and Return of the Evil Dead are even more excellent.

Now, I saw the first two films thanks to Amazon Prime. The final film, which we are looking at today, was not available that way since Scream Factory had a Blu-ray release on the way. You better believe I pounced on that, even though I had really never heard where this one fell in the hierarchy of the series.

Even before how I knew it stacked up, I would have argued that this one has the coolest title of the series, though. I still stand by that, if nothing else.

The first thing you need to know about the Blind Dead franchise, is that there is no actual continuity between the entries. The common thread is only that once upon a time there was an offset of the Knights Templar that got up to some Very Bad Shit involving human sacrifice that eventually got them killed by angry villagers, but also allowed them to return hundreds of years later as blood drinking zombies that hunt by sound.

Most of the films in the series start with a prologue showing what the Templars got up to and how they got their just desserts and lost their eyes. I'm personally most fond of the first film's backstory, since the Templars there lost their eyes to crows when their corpses were left to rot. This film, however, only shows us what the Templars did--not only do we not find out how they eventually met their demise, but it never even acknowledges that they are blind!

Still, the reveal of how the Templars work this time is delightful. I mean, it sucks for the doomed couple we see get waylaid by the Templars on the road to their new cottage at night. The man is simply stabbed to death, but his wife is dragged away and tied to a slap in their lair. Her chest is exposed and then the lead knight cuts her heart out with a ceremonial dagger. So far, this is fairly familiar, except that before the knights all descend upon her body to drink her blood, the lead knight deposits her heart into the mouth of a statue of some unnamed, frog-like sea god.

"Pay the toll!"
This statue is awesome, of course, and I want one. I'm also going to go ahead and declare this to be Dagon, because I can.

The extra creepy part that follows the sacrifice are the crabs that we see descending upon the discarded body of the sacrifice once the knights are done with her. They're probably not even land-dwelling crabs, which would explain why they look gooey and have what are either genuine barnacles attached to their carapaces or the prop department glued fake growths onto them.

Either way, I don't want them touching me, damn it!

The crabs finally get their revenge for all those crab leg buffets.
We then, quite jarringly, cut to "The Present" of 1975 Spain. Specifically, a coastal village where Dr. Henry Stein (VĂ­ctor Petit) has arrived to take over the duties from the retiring local doctor. He's brought his wife, Joan (Maria Kosty) along, and she's not super pleased about the idea even before it becomes clear that this is a town with A Secret, and they don't like outsiders.

The old doctor is in a real hurry to leave, too, and he departs by way of donkey within minutes of Henry knocking on his door. All he'll say on the way out is that there is a lot of strange business in the town and if the Steins know what's good for them they will keep their noses out of it.

Well, Joan fails that step almost immediately when the village idiot, Teddy (Jan Antonio Castro) shows up at their door, bloodied and terrified. The villagers apparently beat him regularly, which is bad enough, but tonight especially he is horrified and begs to be allowed to stay overnight in their house so she lets him sleep in the attic.

That night, Joan can't sleep because of the strange bells and chanting she hears down by the beach, and she also notices that even though it's the middle of the night, the seagulls are still screaming. When Henry agrees to go with her to see what is going on, they witness a young girl dressed in white being led down the beach by a procession in black. Henry writes it off as a weird local ritual and Joan reluctantly agrees to just forget about it.

Which means they don't see the girl being chained to the rocks, and they definitely miss the robed zombies on horseback who descend upon the helpless girl and carry her off.

Considering how poorly the Blind Dead treat women, they are shoe-ins for the next Republican nominee.
The next day, Joan can't even get the local grocer to acknowledge her, much less fill her order. Luckily, she makes the acquaintance of a local girl, Lucy (Sandra Mozarosky), who convinces the old woman to serve Joan. Lucy needs a job since she lost both her parents, and she asks to be the housekeeper for the Steins. Joan happily accepts--but when she mentions the ceremony from the night before, Lucy clams up in fright.

Joan decides to just not mention it again, then, and has Lucy help her get the groceries back home. That evening, however, the Steins are disturbed by a frantic knock at the door and are shocked that Lucy refuses to answer it.  When Henry opens the door, a terrified girl named Tilda (Julie James) rushes in, begging for refuge.

Lucy, horrified, tells them not to let her stay. Henry gives the girl a sedative to calm her, but when a mob containing the girl's parents arrives and demands the Steins give her up, Henry relents and hands the sedated Tilda back.

This time we get to see what happens to poor Tilda. Just like the girl in the beginning, she is taken back to the Templar castle where she is strapped down, her flimsy gown is torn open, and her heart is cut out. She is then fed to the crabs.

Sadly for Tilda, she will not be returning as a succubus.
Henry and Joan are unable to avoid investigating this incident in the morning, and Teddy helps them to find the house of the girl's parents--but he also mutters about her being gone forever. The parents, poorly hiding their grief, give an obviously phony story about the girl going into the city to visit relatives.

Teddy is chased off a cliff by some of the villagers for daring to help the Steins. He is left for dead, but we'll soon see he is actually just badly hurt.

When evening falls, the mob comes to the Steins. This time they intend to collect Lucy, who willingly surrenders herself to them despite the Steins' objections. However, when Teddy stumbles to their door, they finally find out from him what is going on:

Every seven years, for seven nights, the Templars rise from their graves and demand the sacrifice of seven young girls. The sacrificed girls then transform into the seagulls that scream at night. The villagers have cooperated for many, many years lest the entire village be destroyed by the angry Templars instead.

You'll note here that nothing is made of the Blind Dead being, well, Blind. The characters are never aware of this fact, nor at any point behave as if they are being pursued by monsters that hunt by sound. I suppose that makes their inability to stop making noise around the Blind Dead somewhat more forgivable, but it is odd that the film never acknowledges the characteristic of its zombies that makes them so distinctive.

Well, naturally Henry isn't about to stand by and just let Lucy have her heart cut out. He hurries to her rescue and the two of them barely escape the swords of the zombies. Henry's plan was to get Lucy back to the house, collect Joan and Teddy, and escape in the car--but unfortunately the ritual procession saw him rushing to Lucy's rescue and several of them have stolen the Steins' car.

So now, there is nothing to do but barricade their house against the zombies and hope they can survive at least the night. As you can imagine, this does not go well.

"Hi, we're collecting hearts for Dagon! Have you donated yet?"
Characters trying to withstand a night-long siege was already the focus of Return of the Evil Dead, so you might think that this film is just the series repeating itself. However, the film manages to avoid that repetition. Unfortunately, it kind of does that by making the heroes' attempt to keep the Blind Dead out fail almost immediately, and renders them morons at that.

Despite finding out that the Blind Dead can easily be killed by fire when Henry kills one with a lantern, the heroes never attempt to use fire to take out any of the others--despite having access to lots of fire to use against them. Instead, they opt for trying to steal the zombie's undead horses to escape--which happens in every Blind Dead movie where they actually have horses, so they need to work on their training.

Worse, the Steins end up coming across as both incompetent and callous when they manage to let Teddy be dragged out into the night by the Blind Dead and later leave Lucy to be swarmed and stabbed to death when she falls off her horse. So Henry went to all that trouble to save her from the sacrifice, only to then let her be killed anyway. Nice job, hero.

Then again, it turns out that everyone in this village are idiots. When the undead horses take the Steins back to the Templar castle, they find out that the secret to killing the Blind Dead for good is so incredibly easy that anyone could have done it at any time!

If you can overlook minor flaws like that, however, Night of the Seagulls is a solid entry in the Blind Dead series. I'd definitely put it ahead of The Ghost Galleon, but behind Tombs of the Blind Dead and Return of the Evil Dead. And given that this is a very solid series of horror films, that still puts it pretty high as a film viewed separately from the series it belongs to.

Like the previous films, this has some serious atmosphere going on and the Blind Dead are still awesome creations--even if Blu-ray quality is not too kind to their rubber fingers. Their sheer presence is enough for me to recommend it, but details like the omnipresent spectral seagulls, the stone idol, and the horrifying scavenger crabs make this film that much more wondrous and unsettling.

If I had one actual complaint about the film, it's that we are deprived of the sinister villagers getting their just desserts from the rampage of the Blind Dead that we were set up to expect. It's not a deal breaker, but like failing to pay off a house sinking into blood-red clay, it is a disappointing decision.

Even if you aren't already a fan of the Blind Dead, this is a film worth checking out. Scream Factory's Blu-ray is uncharacteristically sparse on extras, but it looks damn good, so I highly recommend picking that version up.

This has concluded Day 14 of HubrisWeen 2018! To see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for N, click the banner above!

1 comment:

  1. Rating the Blind Dead movies is kind of tricky, because there are various factors to consider. (Well, okay, Ghost Galleon is definitely #4,though still watchable.) I personally put Return at #3 because the ending totally pisses me off, because it comes out of frickin' nowhere (the Blind Dead did NOT have that particular weakness in the first one.)
    Now, Tombs of the Blind Dead is almost certainly the best in terms of sheer horror, but it does have a vile and completely unnecessary rape scene, which Night of the Seagulls does not have. So, I'd rate Tombs #1, but with a caveat. [And if it seems strange that the vampiric Templars habit of feeding on naked girls gets a pass but the rape doesn't--the rape is disturbingly realistic, possibly the most horrifying thing in the movies.)