Return of the Blind Dead (1973) Return of the Blind Dead/The Return of the Evil Dead/Attack of the Blind Dead/El Ataque de los Muertos sin Ojos (1973) **Ĺ

     It has often been observed that derivativeness was viewed as a desirable quality in the Italian movie industry between the 1960ís and the 1980ís. Return of the Blind Dead/El Ataque de los Muertos sin Ojos, the first of Amando de Ossorioís sequels to his remarkable Tombs of the Blind Dead, strongly suggests that the same was also true over in Spain. As willing as de Ossorio was to go his own way in the previous film, itís hard to explain otherwise why Return of the Blind Dead should backpedal so furiously into Romero-land. The Blind Dead are still distinctly themselves, but the structure and plotline of this movie could scarcely be cribbed more obviously from Night of the Living Dead.

     The origin story of the undead Templars is a bit different this time, too. In Return of the Blind Dead, Berzano isnít just the monastery out of which the Knights of the Temple of Solomon operate, itís a small but thriving village. And whereas Tombs of the Blind Dead had the Templar order suppressed and exterminated by officials of the Catholic Church (which is more or less what happened in the real world), this movie makes the villagers of Berzano do the dirty work themselves. After putting up with God alone knows how many years of Satanic depredations from the warrior monks at the monastery, the townspeople band together into the usual horror movie peasant mob and drag the Templars from their cloisters. As the villagers bind them to the courtyard pillars of their abbey and begin piling kindling around their feet, the Templars warn their killers that their magic has made them immortal. Though they may die in the flames, they shall return to exact their vengeance. In response, the villagers use their torches to put out the Templarsí eyes, ensuring (or so they believe) that they will thus be unable to find their way back from the spirit world. The mass execution then proceeds as planned.

     500 years later (actually, it should be closer to 654), Berzano is still alive and kicking, and has never yet seen any sign of wrathful undead warlocks. And for every one of those 500 years, the village has commemorated the overthrow of its Satanic oppressors by burning them again in effigy as part of a big festival on the anniversary of the occasion. This year, Mayor Duncan (Fernando Sancho, from The Devilís Cross and Voodoo Black Exorcist) intends to throw the biggest party in the villageís historyó after all, it isnít every mayor who gets to preside over a quincentennial. Among other things, he has hired an American pyrotechnician named Jack Marlowe (Tony Kendall, of The Whip and the Body and The Big Bust Out), reputed to be the best in the business, to handle the fireworks display. Marlowe was recommended to the mayor by his secretary, Vivienne (A Candle for the Devilís Esperanza Roy), who unbeknownst to Duncan is also the fireworks manís ex-girlfriend. This will be a problem once Duncan finds out, because the mayor seems to consider Vivienne his property. Not only that, Duncanís assistant, Howard (Frank BraŮa, from Crypt of the Living Dead and Pieces), lusts after Vivienne, too, and can be counted upon to become just as insanely jealous of Marlowe as his boss. (And let me just say, parenthetically, that at least one corner of this love quadrangle rings completely false to me. I can see Duncan and Howard struggling over Vivienne, as both of them are far enough into middle age that a woman who might best be described as looking like she was probably really pretty fifteen or twenty years ago would still seem desirable. Vivienne, for her part, might plausibly be drawn to the two of them because of their relative power and wealth. But I canít think of a single reason for the virile and vigorous Jack Marlowe to court the wrath of the men who are writing his paychecks for the sake of a woman who looks like she could be his aunt.)

     Regardless, Marlowe is the only one Vivienne is really interested in, and she finds a pretext upon which to take him out to the ruins of the Templarsí old monastery for some time together out of the mayorís sight. This resumption of their long-dormant romance is interrupted, though, when they notice Murdo (Jose Canalejas, of The Sea Serpent and Red Killer) spying on them. Murdo is the town bug-eater, and he seems to spend most of his time hanging out at the monastery in order to avoid getting beaten up by the neighborhood kids or harassed by Howard and his cronies. Murdo is also, if you'll forgive the anachronism, Return of the Blind Deadís Crazy Ralph. His one real function in this story is to tell everybody in town that the Templars really are coming back, and that they intend to do so just in time to disrupt the annual festival celebrating their demise. Naturally no one will believe him, beginning right now with Marlowe and Vivienne.

     We believe him, though, donít we? In fact, the first Templars crawl out of their graves (courtesy of exactly the same rising-from-the-tomb footage we already saw twice in the first movie) right about the time that Marlowe starts shooting off his fireworks that night. Murdo is there to watch, but he is apparently so far beneath the Templarsí contempt that the Blind Dead ride right past him without paying him any mind on their way to town. The undead knightsí first stop is a small cottage on the farthest outskirts of Berzano, where a girl named Monica (Loreta Tovar, from Autopsy and Inquisition) is having a little festival of her own with her boyfriend, Juan (Jose Thelman, who played Pedro the smuggler in Tombs of the Blind Dead; amusingly enough, Monica doesn't seem any more pleased with his performance in bed than Betty was when Pedro raped her at the monastery). The Templars surround the cottage, and when Monica goes to the door to see whoís doing that oddly insistent knocking, they begin filing slowly inside. The zombies kill Juan, but Monica is quick enough to get past them and steal one of their horses, which she rides to the nearest occupied buildingó the local train station. The station manager initially doesnít buy her wild stories of being attacked by the resurrected Templars, but when she pulls off her stolen mountís barding to reveal its mummified head (confirming my previous speculation that the zombiesí horses were zombies themselves), he starts to take her a little more seriously. That becomes a lot more seriously when the undead arrive at the train station in full force, but alas, Mayor Duncan has no more patience for the station managerís frantic phone call than the station manager himself initially had for Monicaís tale. Nevertheless, he sends Howard out with a few men on the off chance that thereís been some kind of train wreck or something.

     It isnít until Monica encounters Marlowe and Vivienne (while theyíre trying to sneak out of Berzano together in Jackís jeep) that the gravity of the situation starts to sink in. Despite her incoherence, Monica clearly needs some kind of professional assistanceó a doctor, a policeman, somethingó so Jack and Vivienne turn around and take her back into town. Mayor Duncan is perplexed to hear her telling the same story as the station manager, but when Howard returns early from his trip out to confirm the rising of the Templars, he gets really worried. As well he should, for the Blind Dead are just then riding through the gate in Berzanoís outer wall (one assumes this odd architectural feature is a holdover from medieval times, when many prosperous villages built fortifications to protect themselves from the rampant violence of the era), cutting down villagers left and right with their broadswords. Jack Marlowe manages to rally many of the townspeople for a counterattack (fireworks turn out to be a very effective weapon against the dehydrated zombies), but on the whole, the people of Berzano fare about as well against the Templars as their ancient ancestors might have against living knights during the Middle Ages. The town is gradually overrun and its people slaughtered until Marlowe, Duncan, Vivienne, Howard, Murdo, and Monica retreat into the stoutly constructed old church, along with the mayorís other secretary, Amalia (Lone Flemming, also returning from Tombs of the Blind Dead as a different character), and her family. And unfortunately, from this point on, weíll see barely anything that we hadnít already in Night of the Living Dead. You know the drilló a good 30 solid minutes of bickering, backstabbing, and boarding up the windows. At least the ending has a personality of its own.

     I get the feeling, watching Return of the Blind Dead, that somebody whose opinion he respected must have complained to Amando de Ossorio about how little screen time the zombies got in the previous movie. Whereas the Templars stay put in their graves for most of that filmís running time, emerging only during a pair of intense set-pieces at about the 40- and 75-minute marks, the undead are a nearly constant presence here. Thereís something to be said for that, as it does strongly differentiate this movie from its predecessor, but after the initial attack on the town, the way de Ossorio handles the situation is far from ideal. For the most part, the zombies are reduced to banging on boarded up windows and picking off characters piecemeal as they make foolish individual escape attempts. Itís also significant that something happens here that never does in the previous filmó a few of the Templar zombies are actually destroyed. What had been an implacable, unstoppable, indestructible force for evil last time around is nowó apart from their appearance, which is as dread-inspiring as everó just another bunch of zombies. And thereís something about the Templars returning to life to kill specifically for revenge (as opposed to killing simply because their present form of existence demands it) that belittles them. The zombies had no personal stake in their victims in Tombs of the Blind Dead; the unfortunate living were food and nothing more, and there was no indication that the undead harbored any particular resentment against those who killed them. And why should they have? Itís not like being killed has cramped their style all that much. But if the Templars are out for vengeance, that kind of imperious attitude toward their prey isnít a possibilityó you donít seek retribution against creatures that are unworthy of your interest, after all. Itís still a cut above most European zombie movies, but Return of the Blind Dead is a significant comedown from the standard de Ossorio set two years before.



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