Amando de Ossorio, 1974
Starring Maria Perschy, Jack Taylor, Barbara Rey
Two models are told to pretend to be stranded for a publicity stunt, but they stumble across a strange, old galleon covered in fog and mist. When they board the ship, they lose contact with their boss, who decides to go searching for them. He brings along one of their suspicious friends to make sure she doesn’t run to the police, and a strange professor who claims to know of a ghost ship that slips in and out of different dimensions. To their horror, the models discover that the galleon is home to a number of undead, eyeless, Satan-worshipping Knights Templar who feast upon humans and are hoping to spread their plague across the Earth.
Also known as Horror of the Zombies, this is writer and director Amando de Ossorio’s third film in the Blind Dead series. This seems to be the least favorite for many Blind Dead fans and film critics, but I can’t help and enjoy it. First and foremost, I love nautical and aquatic horror. Growing up, Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was one of my favorite horror tales and I devoured books about The Flying Dutchman and The Mary Celeste, as well as the Bermuda Triangle. So I can’t help but enjoy this film about horror on the high seas, a clear inspiration for John Carpenter’s superior film The Fog.
The film is often unintentionally funny due to the silly dialogue and nonsensical editing, some unfortunate close ups of the Templars, and a few of the dumbest characters ever captured on screen. None of the characters are likable or particularly well fleshed out and the movie’s star, Jack Taylor (a Paul Naschy and Jess Franco regular) is as astoundingly wooden as ever, though also oddly charismatic. Professor Grüber (Carlos Lemos) is possibly the most outrageous character in the film. He’s the first to guess who and what the Templars are, the first to automatically assume that they are all in another dimension, and offers up his expert exorcism skills to save the day (?).
The Templars appear relatively little in the game and don’t do much. The death scenes aren’t nearly as gory or creative as in the first two films. Regardless, they look great, as decrepit and rotting as ever. There is a strange plot point where the Templars don’t really attack until the characters fall asleep. On one hand, this could be read as an incredibly flimsy plot point; on the other hand, it gives the film a nightmarish feel – perhaps the characters are trapped in a horrible dream, rather than another dimension.
As with Tombs of the Blind Dead, this focuses less on nudity or gore and relies more heavily on a gothic, almost Universal horror-like atmosphere, of which there is plenty. The fog machine is seemingly never turned off and the ship is full of menacing creaks and groans, bolstered by the excellent, if recycled soundtrack from Anton Garcia Gabril. Mainly confined to the ship for much of the running time, the set is fittingly claustrophobic, though it’s a shame the pace drags along so slowly for many scenes. The production quality is also embarrassingly cheap and numerous models were used as a stand-in for the haunted ship.
Despite the lack of overt eroticism, some exploitation is still at play here with the female character trotting around in bikinis for much of the running time and the unfortunate, though now expected rape scene. Horrifyingly, the rapist offers his victim a cigarette after the fact, as if they have just enjoyed consensual sex together. While the first two films had a rape scene and an attempted rape scene respectively, here it basically makes no narrative sense.
I think this was Ossorio’s attempt to return to something original, as he did with Tombs of the Blind Dead. Return of the Blind Dead was almost a clone of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, so it’s nice to see him do something different here. This is certainly one of the only ‘70s horror films to be set at sea and though I think he could have taken the idea a lot further, it’s still a worthwhile effort.
The film comes recommended, though you’re either going to love or hate it. It’s available in the wonderful Blind Dead box set, which includes all four films, special features, and is packaged in a coffin.