The Blind Dead returned for their fourth and final film in 1975 with director Amando de Ossorio’s Night of the Seagulls...
...This time around, the skeletal revenants are haunting a small coastal village, where they rise from their graves and demand a series of sacrifices: one maiden each night, for a period of seven nights. Should the villagers refuse, they will face a still worse fate from the sword-wielding corpses. When dashing Dr. Henry Stein (Victor Petit) and his wife Joan (Maria Kosty) move in, they are bewildered by the frosty reception that they receive from the locals. They soon learn the dark secret of the seaside village – and find that their new friend Lucy (Sandra Mozarowsky) is lined up to be a sacrificial victim.
One thing that has to be said about the Blind Dead series is that it was never content to stay in one place. Tombs of the Blind Dead was set in an isolated ruin; Return of the Evil Dead moved to a bustling country town; The Ghost Galleon took out to sea; and now, the skeletal menaces have relocated to a seaside retreat. This is more than a change of scenery: for the first time the Blind Dead have an entire community under their sway. No sooner have Henry and Joan arrived then they are confronted by a village filled with stern-faced, black-wimpled, stonily-silent locals, each one an unwilling acolyte of the unholy revenants. Night of the Seagulls is a film that tackles folk horror, Blind Dead style.
Director Amando de Ossorio has always shown a keen eye for settings, and he finds another choice location with the stony-walled seaside village in which the film is shot. But this time around, the script takes more time to build a strong sense of place, complementing the evocative backdrop. Notably, while earlier films in the series saw the Templars encroaching upon the modern world – even The Ghost Galleon opened with a hip seventies fashion shoot – Night of the Seagulls reverses this by having modern folk descend into the timeless, folklore-haunted landscape of the Blind Dead.
One of the earliest signs that eerie things are afoot – and the one that provides the title – is that the local seagulls can be heard at night; we later hear that the gulls are actually the souls of sacrificial victims, an idea that taps into a vein of maritime folklore about seabirds. For the only time in the series the Blind Dead’s origin as executed Templars is never restated: instead, they are referred to simply as “sea corpses”, and shown worshipping a quasi-Lovecraftian idol left behind by “some unknown culture”. The general feeling is that the Blind Dead series is making a conscious effort to escape its exploitation origins and try something subtler.
But these efforts are hampered by misjudgements that pile up as the film progresses. The Blind Dead movies were always at their weakest when attempting period sequences, yet Night of the Seagulls makes another stab with a sub-Hammer medieval prologue where cleavage is deemed more important than any sort of atmosphere. The characters’ actions are never entirely convincing: when Joan receives a night-time visit from mentally-handicapped Teddy (Jose Antonio Calvo), who pleads that he’s being targeted by a violent mob, she doesn’t bother to alert the authorities – she simply invites him to sleep in the attic. Dr. Henry, learning of this arrangement, accepts it as he tucks himself into bed with his wife. The biggest failing of all is the film’s pace: while not as monotonous as The Ghost Galleon, Night of the Seagulls nonetheless has its fair share of sluggish stretches.
At its best, the Blind Dead series works partly because of the evocative scenes of shrouded Templars riding past Gothic ruins, but also because of the oddball touches – those curious scenes of melting shop dummies, decapitated hunchbacks or skeletons hijacking locomotives. Night of the Seagulls has a few of these moments. The medieval prologue ends with a long scene of a sacrificed woman lying on a beach as crabs slowly – very slowly – scuttle over her body; this scene is deemed significant enough to be restaged later with one of the latter-day victims, the repetition adding a surreal quality to an already offbeat image. But these touches are few, leading to the feeling that in moving on from its exploitation roots, the Blind Dead series had lost a good part of its charm.
And really, that’s the frustrating thing about these films. The Blind Dead premise has all the ingredients to make a good horror movie, but somehow, none of them quite got the combination right. Night of the Seagulls is yet another flawed effort. But at the same time it does make some good decisions, and pushes the series in an interesting new direction with its exploration of Lovecraft-inflected folk horror. On the whole, the Blind Dead saga went out on a relatively high note.
By Doris V. Sutherland
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