Spend Your Holidays With the Whole Blind Dead Family!

Happy holidays, everyone!  It's that time of year again, to gather 'round the hearth and spend this magical evening with your chosen family, whether that be your relatives, closest friends, or Amando de Ossorio's iconic Blind Dead.  Yes, before Dan Brown turned his creative sites on the Knights Templar, before John Krasinski started claiming credit for inventing monsters that hunt by sound and before George Romero realized, hey, he could franchise walking corpses, Ossorio was doing it all with his most famous series of films: Tombs Of the Blind Dead, Return Of the Evil Dead, The Ghost Galleon and Night Of the Seagulls.  And you can own the whole run on blu-ray ...if you're willing to put in a little effort.

It was a great day in 2005 when Blue Underground assembled all four horror classics on widescreen, restored somewhat special edition DVDs.  There had been an earlier, non-anamorphic flipper disc of the first two films from Anchor Bay, but that was it.  They came in an awesome coffin box and everything.  But unfortunately, the rights to these films seem to be spread across all different owners, making it nigh-impossible for any boutique label to do the same again today for blu-ray.  They have all received at least some kind of decent blu-ray, though, some fancier than others.  You've just got to shop around.
1972's Tombs starts off the series.  A titillating lesbian romance between Betty and Virginia goes sour when boyfriend Roger enters the picture.  And then everything goes sour when Betty wanders off into the abandoned village of Berzano and draws out the risen husks of 14th century knights who live forever via a perpetual series of blood sacrifices.  Soon, everybody's drawn into the mayhem, from creepy coroners to a gang of smugglers.

Okay, the writing isn't the sharpest, and it's a bit ridiculous how much everybody is unrepentantly raping everybody in these movies.  But all that's easy to ignore with so much masterful atmosphere, visual panache and the coolest movie monsters in all of movie monster history are on display.  These bad boys look way creepier than Romero's, with their skeletal faces, beards and rotted robs.  They're just as slow, even when they ride their horses and they have an unforgettable theme that returns in each sequel.  It's ambitious, with its flashbacks to the 14th century.  And even "basic" shots, like the blinking neon lights in the mannequin factory or the smoke from the train carrying into the bedroom flashback, show a director determined to create something more artful than just exploitation.
Austria's XT Video first released this film on blu in 2018, and Spain's Gabita Barbieri has released their own edition.  There are also Austrian discs from Carol Media, but those are censored/ cut, so stay awy from those.  Anyway, the smart money's on Synapse, which released a pricey, 2-disc steelbook edition in 2022, followed by a cheaper retail edition this October.  I've got the former, so that's what we'll be looking at here, but my understanding is that the two blu-ray discs are the same across both editions.

Now, both BU and Synapse have included both the US theatrical cut and the longer, "Integral" Spanish/ English hybrid cut with almost twenty minutes of additional footage.  So the second set of screenshots only has two, because there I'm comparing a shot that's only in the longer version.
1) 2005 BU DVD; 2) 2005 BU TC DVD; 3) 2022 Synapse BD; 4) 2022 Syanpse TC BD.
Disappointingly, BU's main version is interlaced, which is surprising, because none of the other discs in their set are, and even their shorter theatrical cut isn't.  Maybe it's just a screw up, but it sure was frustrating, as the longer cut is easily the one to watch.  Plus, even if you're indifferent to the difference between cuts, BU's theatrical cut is taken from a lesser source, seemingly a blown out, high contrast print.  So it was a good thing when BDs finally came around to correct this situation.  Synapse's specifically is taken from a 2k from the original camera negative, with additional color correction and clean-up done in-house.

BU presented the integral cut in 1.70:1 and the theatrical cut in 1.66:1.  Synapse sticks with the proper 1.66 (or, technically, 1;65:1) ratio, while still revealing a sliver more picture along the edges.  That's for both cuts.  Unlike BU, Synapse has clearly used the same 2k restoration for both edits.  And it looks great.  Sure, could grain look a little finer in 4k on UHD?  But for a 2k scan on 1080p, it reaches Synapse's reliable level of perfection.  It also clears away the greenish cast on BU's disc.

Audio-wise, they call the integral cut a hybrid for a reason.  Both discs let you watch the US theatrical cut, naturally, in the original English mono.  And the longer cut in the Spanish mono with optional English subtitles.  But Synapse has also edited together an English track for the longer cut that only cuts to Spanish audio for the composite shots, and it has a second subtitle track to just show subs for those scenes.  Synapse has also added optional English subtitles for the theatrical cut, which BU didn't bother with.  All of Synapse's tracks are in lossless LPCM, while BU's are just in lossy Dolby Digital, and have been restored to sound less echo-y and tinny.
Extras are another strong upgrade, though honestly, I was a little disappointed with Syanpse here, given their high price point.  Though I appreciate that a lot of key personnel have passed, limiting their options.  BU just had the alternate "Revenge From Planet Ape" opening credits, a stills gallery and the trailer on the main disc.  But it also included a very interesting half-hour documentary on Ossorio and another excellent interview with Ossorio on their bonus disc.  Plus also another photo gallery.  It comes in an amary case, which fits with the other discs inside that awesome coffin box if you bought the whole collection, and includes a stylish 40-page booklet.

Synapse, sadly, did not license that bonus disc content and we don't really hear from Ossorio at all on their edition.  Frankly, a lot of their stuff feels more like filler than can't-miss content, though they have their compelling highlights, for sure.  First, there are three audio commentaries, but they're all just by modern horror experts except one, which features star Lone Fleming.  That's obviously the most compelling, but as just one actress who often isn't in the scenes on screen, they're left to do a lot of stretching to fill the entire run-time.  An on-camera interview would've been more appropriate.  Still, I can't deny there's some interesting stuff to be heard in her track if you have the patience for it.

The best part of Synapse's package is their feature-length doc on Spanish horror, though how enthralled you are will depend on how interested you are in other Spanish horror filmmakers.  Lone Fleming is back, and we also hear from Jack Taylor of Ghost Galleon.  But get ready for a lot of Paul Naschy and all kinds of other stuff that isn't directly Blind Dead-related.  They did restore the trailer, though, so it looks a lot better than what was on the old DVD, and they did port over the expert interview from XT Video's blu-ray.  They've also got the Planet Ape intro, a music video by some modern heavy metal band inspired by the Blind Dead, oh, and a whole CD of heavy metal tributes to the Blind Dead if you're a fan of that sort of thing.  This release also includes an 8-page booklet and comes in a steelbook package housed in a slipcover.
Return Of the Evil Dead, in some ways, is more fun than the original.  In typical sequel-fashion, it gets to the action sooner.  But it also makes more use of the blind dead actually being blind, and people creeping silently around them to escape.  It has more fun characters, with a corrupt mayor putting everybody else's lives in danger, and this is the film that conclusively reveals, yes, those horses are zombies, too.  I think it's meant to be a prequel, showing how the town of Berzano came to be deserted, though the rules and continuity between these films has always been a little shakey.  Lone Fleming is back, as a different character, and there's another 14th century flashback.  Sure, it recycles some footage of the Templars rising from their tombs, but considering how amazing those shots looked, who could blame them?

Sadly, there isn't a US option for this film on blu, just the aforementioned AB and BU DVDs.  There's just the Austrian BDs and the more recent Spanish blu from Gabita Barbieri Films, which is actually a fairly loaded special edition.  Oh, and once again there is a shorter US theatrical cut and a longer, original Spanish version; though the difference is only about four minutes this time.  GB didn't bother with the shorter cut on their blu (so once again, the second set of screenshots only has two shots), but honestly that's fine by me.  These shorter US edits are just as well left to history as far as I'm concerned.
1) BU 2005 theatrical DVD; 2) 2005 BU DVD; 3) 2022 Gabita Barbieri BD.
So, okay, I'm not in love with Gabita Barbieri's work here.  BU again seems to have used higher quality source for the longer cut and a rougher print for the theatrical cut.  And GB at least seem to have used the better source.  But it looks DNR'd to death, showing less hint of grain than the old DVD.  They're all in 1.66:1 (well, BU's theatrical cut is more like 1.68), but some parts, like that second set of shots, are slightly zoomed in.  The colors are more natural in general, though, and before you dismiss it out of hand, check out what they were able to do with the murky night shots:
1) BU 2005 DVD; 2) 2022 Gabita Barbieri BD.
That's so much more attractive.  And a lot of the film looks like this - especially many of the best bits.  So I would call this an improvement over the DVD; I just wish they hadn't scrubbed the picture ...or maybe just over-compressed it to death?  Either way, it's flawed but still preferable.

BU keeps it pretty simple this time in the language department.  The longer cut is in Spanish Dolby Digital with optional English subs, and the theatrical cut is in English DD with no subs.  GB has gone all out, though, giving us another hybrid English track in DD or the original Spanish in lossless DTS-HD, plus an Italian dub.  And there are optional English subtitles for both language options, as well as Spanish, Italian and Portuguese subs.
The Lost Script
And it's a surprising win in the extras department.  BU just had two trailers and a photo gallery.  GB has the trailer, alternate Spanish-language credits, and way more.  There's an interview with Lone Fleming that's over an hour long.  Yes, they go over her whole career, but there's plenty about the Blind Dead films.  They even show a complete short film she wrote and directed called The Barefoot Virgin in the middle of the interview.  Yes, it all has optional English subtitles.  As does The Lost Script, a short 2016 Blind Dead sequel(!) starring Lone Fleming, as well as a bunch of Spanish cult actors from the 70s and 80s, including Loreta Tovar from Return Of the Evil Dead.  Essentially, Fleming plays herself, haunted by nightmares of the blind dead after receiving a long lost script by Ossorio.  Obviously, it's not on the same level as the original films, but it's pretty fun.

There are a couple more extras related to The Last Script: an interview with the director and a behind-the-scenes feature, but sadly, those are not English-friendly.  But even that's way more than any past edition has given us!
Next up is 1974's Ghost Galleon, a.k.a. The Blind Dead on a boat!  Trapping our protagonists on claustrophobic set is an effective way to ratchet up suspense, and the Templars were merchants famous for establishing trade routes and all, so it all fits historically (or well enough for this kinda stuff).  But on the downside, the model looks like a tiny toy boat, and there the professor jumps to some ludicrous exposition about slipping into alternate dimensions.  They can't recycle as much footage now that the dead are in a new location, and without their horses, but watching these films close together, you'll find some tight formulas all these films are following.  For example, the first girl to encounter the blind dead always runs away, up some stairs, gets her foot stuck, which the zombies reach for an almost grab, but then she pulls away, gets cornered upstairs, and leaps back down to the lower level to escape just in the nick of time.  Seriously, that sequence happens in all three films so far.  But hey, at least they tried something different with this ghost ship stuff, and it still delivers on the awesome blind dead.

There was no Anchor Bay DVD of this one, so we just had the Blue Underground and some gray market stuff from Brentwood and Mill Creek.  On blu, there's just the Austrian discs and the Spanish one from Babita Barbieri.  The Austrian discs were limited and are no long OOP and expensive, so we're going with the Spanish one again.  And this time there's only one cut (except for those extra censored Carol Media BDs).
1) BU 2005 DVD; 2) 2022 Gabita Barbieri BD.
Things are simpler this time; no theatrical cuts or other sources.  GB seems to be using the same master as BU, though we do benefit from the HD format.  Colors, brightness levels, etc are all the same.  Both discs are roughly 1.85:1, with GB correcting BU's slightly squished 1.82 ratio.  And flicking between the two, it's like: in focus, out of focus.  It's essentially the same picture except in SD or HD.  Grain is still pretty lacking, but compared to the DVD, it's a no-brainer.

Language-wise, BU gives us the options of Spanish or English with optional English subs.  GB does the same, though theirs are both in DTS-HD this time.  They also throw in French, Italian and Russian dubs, and Spanish and French subs.

Extras are light all over for this one.  BU has a couple trailers, radio spots and a TV spot, plus a gallery.  GB has the trailer and its own gallery, plus the entire soundtrack album as an easter egg.  Just let the photo gallery play to the end and it'll cut to footage of the record being played.
Finally, we come to Night Of the Seagulls.  This is a slower one, where a doctor visits an old fishing village that has to sacrifice virgins to the Templars in order not to get massacred.  Obviously, the doctor interferes and everybody comes to regret it.  The dead get their horses back, there's a neat castle and a funny pagan frog god statue.  Otherwise, it's everything you've come to expect from this series (and yes, seagulls): another atmospheric good time, but no surprises.  The fact that this is the slowest, and many find it the most boring, may be why this was the final one.  Though we know from interviews Ossorio had interest in making a fifth.

BU's DVD was pretty much the only option on DVD, and the Austrian discs were the only options on blu, until 2018 when Scream Factory surprisingly threw their hat into the ring to release just the fourth and final entry into Ossorio's series.
1) BU 2005 DVD; 2) 2018 Scream Factory BD.
And I guess it's okay?  Both releases are 1.85:1, but Scream zooms in to shave a little off of all four sides compared to the DVD.  At least it gets rid of the red tint from BU's disc.  And it is genuinely a little less smudgy and compressed (after all, I'd hope so, going from DVD to SD), but it's barely an more detailed, and there's not really any more grain than on the Spanish discs.  In fact, subtle detail seems to have been scrubbed away.  It's another improvement, but not what I was hoping for when I bought it.

Audio-wise, both discs give us both English and Spanish tracks with optional subs, but at least Scream Factory's are DTS-HD.

And extras are pretty light, too.  BU just gives us the trailer and a photo gallery.  And SF gives us the trailer and an audio commentary by the guys from the NaschyCast.  It's not bad, but as the name implies, they wind up talking a lot about Paul Naschy and lots of other tangents besides this movie.  They're fine, really, it's more just an inherent flaw of getting modern horror fans to do audio commentaries for films... they almost never have nearly enough to info to convey so they wind up filibustering for most of the run time.  These should be on-camera interviews (or visual essays if they prefer), but labels think audio commentaries look better when they release the specs, so everybody winds up losing.  But now I'm ranting; these guys actually do a better job than most.  I just wish labels would re-think their strategies a little.
Anyway, that's all of Amando de Ossorio's Blind Dead movies.  But it's not totally all of the Blind Dead movies.  There are several unofficial sequels and knock-offs that bear mentioning, including one I'd even seriously recommend.  Most of them not so much.

First, there's Cross Of the Devil, which came out in 1975, the same year as Seagulls.  It's written (but not directed) by Paul Naschy and clearly inspired by Ossorio's films.  In it, the Templar Knights are ghosts, though they have very little screentime.  Also, crucially, they're not blind or undead zombies.  It's the most tenuous "unofficial sequel."  It's a very talky ghost story, but the Templars do wear roughly the same outfits and ride their horses.

Then there's Mansion Of the Living Dead from 1982.  It's essentially a Jess Franco porno movie starring his wife, where four stewardesses have sex scenes in a hotel.  But occasionally, hooded monks, clearly inspired by Ossorio's Templars, show up to rape them.  For hardcore completists only.

Then there are a couple shorts.  There's The Lost Script, which I've already covered above.  It's fun and worth checking out if you don't go in with serious expectations.  And there's Scream Of the Blind Dead, which is a Full Moon short directed by Fangoria's Chris Alexander.  They describe it as an art film and a tribute, but that's just because they're stretching a couple minutes of footage into about 40 by playing with the colors, slow motion, etc.  It's basically two women running around being chased by a guy dressed like one of the blind dead.  The DVD comes out in February, but I'd avoid it.

Things are getting warmer, though, with 2008's Graveyard Of the Dead, a.k.a. Erotic Nights Of the Blind Dead.  It's basically a fan film, looks very amateurish, but is at least trying to be an actual Blind Dead film, as opposed to just cribbing from them like Naschy and Franco.  They even stage a 14th century origin scene, like the originals.  It's also pretty sleazy, with extended rape scenes and stuff, but that's actually fairly in keeping with the originals.  So if you have a high tolerance for home-made, no budget stuff, it is on DVD.
But finally, of much better quality is 2020's Curse Of the Blind Dead.  It's actually a professionally made feature film, and a proper sequel, as opposed to a rip-off, putting Ossorio in the opening credits, using the classic theme music and following the continuity as much as any of these movies can.  The 14th century prologue looks better than any of the originals ever did, and the practical gore is through the roof.  It's Italian, by the same guy who did Morituris (Legion Of the Dead) about the zombie gladiators.  As such, English isn't everybody's first language, so the acting is all over the place.  And that's not the only flaw... It's slow, taking a long time to get to the blind dead attacks, although Ossorio often did the same thing, with a lot of set-up and other villains besides the Templars.  So I think that's deliberate.  Also, these zombies are more robust.  They don't run, but they also don't creep and lurch like the originals (although they do ride their horses in slow-mo just like the old ones).

It's available on DVR from Uncork'd here in the states, but Germany has a proper blu-ray release.  It's uncut in 2.40:1, with both the English and German 5.1 tracks in DTS-HD with optional English subtitles.  For extras, it just has the trailer, in English and German, plus a couple bonus trailers.  But look how nicely it fits with the other BDs, and the original bonus disc, in the famous Blue Underground box - it's the perfect Blind Dead set for the giving season.  Do it for Santa!

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