Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Noche de las gaviotas, La (1975)

... aka: Blind Dead 4, The
... aka: Bloodfeast of the Blind Dead, The
... aka: Don't Go Out at Night
... aka: Night of the Death Cult
... aka: Night of the Evil Dead
... aka: Night of the Seagulls, The
... aka: Terror Beach

Directed by:
Amando de Ossorio

De Ossorio's Blind Dead series concluded with this fourth and final chapter, which follows TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971), RETURN OF EVIL DEAD (1972) and THE GHOST GALLEON (1973). In the opening period-set sequence, a lost couple traveling alone at night are ambushed by the evil (and still human) Templar knights, who arrive on horseback looking for a sacrifice. The villagers refuse to open their doors to help the couple as the man is killed. The woman is dragged back to the Templar's lair where they rip off her top, cut out her heart, offer it up to some Sea God (I'm sure he's thankful), partially cannibalize her corpse and then let crabs take care of the scraps. The film then jumps ahead to today in the same exact village where history's about to repeat itself. A couple; Dr. Henry Stein (Victor Petit) and his wife Joan (María Kosty), arrive in the same tiny, crumbling village and find themselves also being given a cold shoulder by all the superstitious and unfriendly villagers. Perhaps there's a good reason they don't want them there?

When Henry and Joan make it to the pile of rubble that is to be their new home, they meet up with the elderly doctor Henry is supposed to replace. He warns them to leave immediately and says if they insist on staying there to never ask the villagers questions and never to go outside at night. So what do the couple do? Stay there, immediately go out at night and then start asking the villagers questions. Joan meets a pitiable retarded man named Teddy (José Antonio Calvo) whom the villagers like to beat on and lets him stay in the attic of their home because he has no place else to go. Later that night, Joan is awaken by singing, the sound of bells and the cries of seagulls (which isn't supposed to happen after dark), so she and her hubby go down to the beach and see a procession of hooded people leading a nightgown-clad woman along the beach. Chalking it up to old customs, they return to their home and just miss out on a human sacrifice. Maybe that would have finally been enough to scare these suckers away.

As it turns out, the evil undead knights - now skeletal zombies - like to crawl out of their tombs in their ocean-front castle home, saddle up their ghost horses and then head out onto the beach to find an unlucky maiden chained to a rock who's been offered up to them willingly by the villagers. The young women are eventually scooped up by the zombies and go through the same routine as the woman in the opening sequence (crabs included). Every seven years, seven girls must be sacrificed for seven consecutive days to pacify these corpses or else there will be hell to pay. Henry and Joan feel compelled to get involved when a young woman named Tilda ("Julie James" aka Julia Saly) shows up at their home all hysterical and then is never heard from again after the villagers come get her.

Another girl in peril is teenager Lucy (Sandra Mozarowsky), a sad orphan who comes to work for Henry and Joan but is too afraid to tell them anything, at least at first. And it's no wonder. When Teddy simply shows the doctor where Tilda lives, some village men chase after him with sticks, pelt him with rocks and then push him off a cliff! The villagers eventually come for Lucy and cart her off but Henry goes down to the beach that night and rescues her, breaking the chain of seven needed to keep the "horsemen of the sea" happy. As legend has it, if the knights aren't given all of their sacrifices they'll ride into town and slaughter everyone there. The locals are smart enough to load up their donkeys and head out, but our heroes aren't so fortunate. Because their car is stolen and Teddy cannot be moved from his injuries, Henry, Joan and Lucy all must face the wrath of the Blind Dead all by themselves. They board themselves up in their house NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD-style and hope for the best.

I'll admit to blasting this series over the years, but I honestly felt justified. I found Tombs to be uneven and overrated by many fans, Return to be enjoyably cheesy at best and Galleon to be flat out terrible. As a result of those, I put off watching this final entry for a very long time. Hell, I've owned the DVD for seven years and just now got around to watching it. So I'm very pleased to report that I actually really enjoyed this one. It's easily the best entry of the series for me. One problem De Ossorio never had was great villains at his disposal. In the other three films, the designs on these creaky, slow-moving skeleton knights were clearly the best thing about an otherwise mediocre film. Here, they are a great assets to an otherwise solidly-made one. The director is smart enough to keep them in the shadows until towards the end and has made some alterations to the mythology to make them seem more mysterious and creepy. Of course, all of this would be for naught if this film had the same weak writing, bad acting and terrible dialogue that plagued the other three movies. Thankfully, it does not.

After getting over my initial annoyance of the couple sticking around when they really shouldn't (and to be fair - the wife really doesn't want to be there), I found myself eventually getting swept into this intoxicatingly atmospheric tale. The music (which is often reminiscent of the Oscar-winning OMEN score), shooting locations and even the hazy, day-for-night photography are all great. The storyline is solid, surprisingly good performances (and English dubbing) usually keep this from lapsing into unintentional comedy and the atmosphere; crumbling stone buildings, ocean waters glimmering in the moonlight, rocky cliffs and mossy step hillsides dotted with pebbles, is superbly creepy. The director fumbles a few of the action sequences toward the end, but for the most part does a fine job with the pacing and horror scenes.

The characters are much more likable (and far less annoying) than in the previous entries. Of the cast, three of the actresses probably provide the most interest. Pretty, wide-eyed blonde Kosty (who'd already appeared in DEMON WITCH CHILD and [the lousy] NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS for the same director) always seems to be overlooked in these things despite being a fine actress. She really seems to be into all of her scenes here and there's a great moment where she has to go from being terrified to empathetic in a split second that she absolutely nails. Mozarowsky was another lovely young actress who made a handful of genre appearances (her largest role was perhaps in the dull SCHOOL OF DEATH) before tragically taking her own life in 1977 (she was only 18 years old). Saly went on to act alongside Paul Naschy in many features (including playing Countess Bathory in NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF) and even produced some of these films. Petit is sufficient in the lead, the actor playing Teddy is great and the older actors cast as the villagers look their parts.

Originally released in cut form to U.S. theatres as Night of the Death Cult, this later made its way to video under both that title and as Terror Beach. In Germany, the title was The Bloodfeast of the Blind Dead. The uncut DVD is from Blue Underground.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. This movie has a hidden meaning about the social repression in Spain. As you know, spanish suffered 40 years of bloody militar-ultracatholic dictatorship with General Franco, from 1939 since 1975. The later period was know as "The Transition", the fake-democracy we have now as you can see over internet.
This movie despites a bunch of resurrected templars (catholic crusades) spreading death and destruction wherever they go...just as the Franco's fascist army.
Take a look at the faces of some characters, in some photos posted for example, and you can appreciate the horror expression is similar as if troops are marching in town, executing random people. They didn't show a supernatural fear at all.
There are many spanish films with hidden subversive meanings in those dark years.
I recommend the astounding "La Cabina" (The Phoneboot) de Antonio Mercero, 1972 (Franco was alive), an almost mute and strongly simbolic film about repression in a totalitarian regime. Now full in youtube without legal problems.


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