“The order is immortal. We will always return…”
…Way back in 1972, director Amando de Ossorio delivered the first of a quadrilogy of Spanish zombie films in Tombs of the Blind Dead, a unique take on the walking dead which took the shambling corpses and placed them in a gothic castle as the remnants of a Satanic group of Knight Templars. The film was popular enough that it spawned the Blind Dead franchise, which also consisted of Return of the Evil Dead (1973), The Ghost Galleon (1974) and Night of the Seagulls (1975). As the above quote mentions, the Blind Dead have indeed returned after decades of waiting, but as Jud Crandall would say, “sometimes dead is better.”
Directed by Raffaele Picchio and written by Picchio and Lorenzo Paviano, The Curse of the Blind Dead is a reboot/sequel of sorts that resurrects the 14th century group of Satan-worshipping Knight Templars, where they are stopped by angry villagers in the middle of a baby-killing ritual and vow to return once again. Instead of bringing the Blind Dead to modern times, Picchio and Paviano vault all the way into a post-apocalyptic future with this story, where the world has been ravaged and the few humans left are doing whatever they can to survive. When Michael (Aaron Stielstra) and his pregnant daughter Lily (Alice Zanini) are attacked, they are saved by a group that has survived as their own little society. Aside from being a bunch of religious weirdos, things don’t seem too bad, until the father-daughter team realizes the group has other plans for them. Oh, and there are undead Templars afoot.
Let me just start by saying this: if you’re a fan of the Blind Dead films, drop every single expectation you have and go in, er, blind, because Curse of the Blind Dead is a far cry from the gothic, atmospheric chillers from the 70s.
Things do start strong, though.
Curse of the Blind Dead opens similarly to the 1972 original, as we witness a gruesome ritual performed by the still living knights, in which a possessed pregnant woman with a seriously cut up belly writhes and moans and gives a bloody birth just before the town’s A-team arrives to “save” the day. Torches burn. The familiar, vague chanting of the knights that was so commonplace in the originals reverberates within the castle walls. Throats are slit. Bodies are burned. And eyes are, well, blinded. The effects leave something to be desired—there’s a whole lot of digital fire—but through all of this, Curse of the Blind Dead gives the impression that it’s going to relish in the gothic gruesomeness of its predecessors.
Picchio more than delivers on the blood, but the gothic, atmospheric dread of the originals is sorely missing here.
Once Curse of the Blind Dead is through this opening and a credits sequence that recaps how humanity is simply the worst, we meet Michael and Lily, who could not be a more stereotypical father-daughter, post apocalypse duo. Michael is overly protective and on edge—I often worried about Stielstra having an aneurism, he rages so hard—and Lily is your standard shy, kind of useless and frustrated teenager. The Blind Dead series has never been known to have memorable characters, and aside from exuberant cult leader Abel (Bill Hutchens), there’s no exception here. Even Lily is reduced down to nothing more than “pregnant,” at one point being told that “children make you beautiful.”
No, they make you exhausted. But you get the idea. There’s a strong vibe from the men in this film that women are only worth as much as their uterus, and for most of the film, Curse of the Blind Dead doesn’t make much of a point to say otherwise.
Dubiously uninteresting characters aside, the premise itself is vague at best, and as frustratingly slow as the title villains at worst. The whole concept of raising Hell to end the world after the world has all but ended considerably lowers the stakes, and it doesn’t help that our first Templar sighting doesn’t come until the film is damn near over. Curse of the Blind Dead is like watching a zombie shambling endlessly after a human happy meal, only to have the zombie shot the minute it bites into human flesh. Agonizing anticipation met with dissatisfaction.
There is simply no urgency to this film.
Curse of the Blind Dead is quieter than a corpse and moves just as slow. A highlight of the original Blind Dead films was always the chilling chants of the knights, yet here, even though Picchio acknowledges that in the opening, that piece of the soundtrack, and the score itself, all but disappear. Coupled with choppy editing that heightens the problematic pacing, Curse of the Blind Dead is a bit of a slog to get through.
For a brief fifteen minutes or so though, Curse of the Blind Dead has all of the glorious zombie knight carnage you could want.
Without spoiling, Curse of the Blind Dead does eventually deliver on the zombies armed with swords gore that the opening promises. Guts are pulled, limbs are chopped, and there’s one highly effective slicing of a thumb that would make Mike Flannagan giddy. The Templars themselves also get a cool new look, appearing more like dried-up demon mummies than dusty bones, which may not work for fans of the series, but felt like a nice touch in leaning more into the Satanic side of the premise.
Curse of the Blind Dead takes the Templars out of a more gothic setting and slams them into an ugly future with a brutal nature to match. At its best, Curse of the Blind Dead is a bloody, unflinching zombie film with a brutality that reflects the cold nature residing within human beings, with a few moments that will undoubtedly shock and horrify you. Unfortunately, it just happens to be as exciting as watching a corpse rot whenever the Templars are absent from the screen, which is a good portion of the film.
Curse of the Blind Dead is now available on VOD and DVD from Uncork'd Entertainment.
By Matt Konopka