The Curse of the Blind Dead (2020)
Directed by: Raffaele Picchio
Written by: Alessandro Testa, Francesco H. Aliberti, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Lorenzo Paviano, Raffaele Picchio
Starring: Aaron Stielstra, Alice Zanini, Bill Hutchens, Francesca Pellegrini
AVAILABLE ON REGION 1 DVD and DIGITAL: 2nd MARCH, from UNCORK’D ENTERTAINMENT
ALSO AVAILABLE ON REGION 2 DVD AND DIGITAL as ‘THE CURSE OF THE KNIGHT TEMPLAR’ NOW, from HIGH FLIERS FILMS
RUNNING TIME: 87 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
In the 14th Century: the evil Knights Templar are interrupted in the middle of a satanic ritual by villagers who blind and burn them at the stake. The Knights vow to return from the grave and haunt the area. In a post-apocalyptic future: Michael and his pregnant daughter Lily are trying to survive. They’re attacked by some bandits and rescued by members of a religious cult ran by Kain and Abel. However, they have their own plans for Michael and Lily which aren’t pleasant and which might involve the Knights Templar….
They’re simply skeletons in cloaks and hoods. They shuffle along at a very slow speed. Even when they ride horses, they do it in slow motion. They’re accompanied by Latin chants and mutterings. And yet, for and a lot of other older horror fans, the Blind Dead are among the creepiest zombies in the history of the genre, and a great example of how aesthetics can add immeasurably to the effect of a monster. The four-film Blind Dead series is quite an odd one really. All were written and directed by the same person – Amando de Ossorio. And none of them follow on what came before, right down to three of them offering a different reason for how the Blind Dead came to be. Instead, each film after the first one is in essence a remake. Tombs Of The Blind Dead was the most disjointed but the scariest and possibly most artful, The Return Of the Evil Dead was the paciest and the most fun, The Ghost Galleon was the most repetitious but made a lot out of its ship setting, and Night Of The Seagulls was the most atmospheric and poetic. None are classics, while the budgets for the last two were considerably lower than those of the first two, but they all have highly memorable sequences, ooze that Euro Cult appeal, and have the Blind Dead walking and slashing at a very leisurely speed but to unnerving effect. But since the release of the last film in 1975, that’s been it – oh, there’s been Erotic Nights Of The Blind Dead, but we’ll forget about that. I’ve been hoping for a long time that somebody would bring the Blind Dead back to the screen, hopefully tweaking the formula but hopefully also keeping some of the elements of the earlier films. And now we have Curse Of The Blind Dead, a film which I’ve only just found out has been out for several months here in the UK as The Curse Of The Knight Templar, which I’d not only heard of but actually seen on the shelves of my local Tesco but had no idea that it was a Blind Dead film!
So, did it do what I hoped with the Blind Dead and their legacy? Well, the most truthful answer would be “not really”, and not just because it’s an Italian film rather than a Spanish one. It’s obviously filmed on a tiny budget, and I tend to be increasingly kind to things made on a tiny budget while the big budget side of movie making today decreases in interest and inspiration to my eyes [for reasons I won’t go into as it doesn’t really have anything to do with this film]. And The Curse Of The Blind Dead is easily several cuts [or should that be several gallons of blood?] above a lot of the cheapie horror flicks that are all over the place these days. The filmmakers tried to make it look good, are able to deliver some pretty intense scenes, and treat the gore hound to a lot of bloody kills which surely stretched the special effects budget as far as it could go. They even give us a baffling ending where the film seems to suddenly stop and we’re left to contemplate what’s just happened. I was unsatisfied, but was also made to think which is certainly a good thing. But as another Blind Dead film it’s not very satisfactory at all. First and foremost this is because of the Blind Dead themselves, who now growl and have skin, demonic faces and black metallic gloves like the Nazgul out of The Lord Of The Rings [who may have been partly inspired by the Blind Dead in the first place] and therefore aren’t much like their forbearers at all. They’re still quite effective, but don’t really register as the Blind Dead. Subtly tweaking appearance is fine, but I think they went too far here. And why use a little bit of the music that originally accompanied them in the older films but not actually during any of the Blind Dead scenes. It’s a baffling decision. As is the incorporation of shots of people from the Blind Dead’s point of view. Aren’t they supposed to be blind? Huh?
I should probably tell you right now that the above artwork for this release of the film is misleading. Nowhere in it is there a hooded guy with two swords who kills zombies while buildings burn in the background. We open with another revised version of the origins of the Blind Dead. A tied down woman who looks possessed is giving birth to a child which is then taken to an altar to be ritually stabbed by the villainous Knights Templar [who were actually Christians rather than Satanists but never mind]. The act is interrupted by a bunch of local villagers who easily overpower this “vile coven of sodomites, rapists and alchemists”. One also kills the woman and another even slays the baby so it can be set on fire. The leader of the Templars taunts the villagers that they will return, that “you cannot stop the apocalypse”. The villagers respond by burning out their eyes, then setting them aflame, though we don’t see the latter. We do, though, get a rather well put together montage accompanied by tense music during the opening credits cleverly incorporating medieval-style artwork, real footage and a lot of red as we go through history and finish up with the announcement of a “nuclear war” and a second or two of staged destruction. We don’t find out any more about what happened and why, and to be honest I don’t really know why they set this after an apocalypse in the first place, since it only occasionally affects the proceedings to a great extent. I suppose it was easier on the budget. You can get away more easily with setting your film in just a forest and a disused factory [which confusingly seems to also consist of a old church though the geography of the place is really weird] if the majority of life has been wiped out and cities don’t exist any more.
We now join father Michael and daughter Lily. They’re heading for some outpost due to a radio message. She’s seen some berries that he thinks she shouldn’t eat because they could be dangerous, but then she reveals she’s eaten them anyway. They find a place to sleep, but awake to see three men robbing them. Michael is nearly shot in the head and Lily nearly raped, the latter something that’s not uncommon in the earlier films. However, they’re saved by others who take them back to their place. Their hosts, one of whom is Fabio Testi in a cameo, seem initially kind, but Michael finds them a bit strange, especially when one of the two leaders Able says that Michael is now his brother. All this is a bit slow, but there’s certainly a feeling of uneasiness that suddenly becomes rather torture porn-like when the two are drugged during dinner in the main hall and awake chained up in different rooms. Michael’s room is filled with severed limbs while Lily finds herself next to another pregnant woman who seems due very soon and who also seems to be possessed. It seems that this group wants to bring back to life the Templars and have found out how to do it, but details are rather vague and it feels like screenwriters Lorenzo Paviano and Raffaele Picchio either removed some explanatory bits or just couldn’t be bothered to add them after they thought up their story, hoping that viewers wouldn’t care. Maybe they were right in some cases, but I started to try to work out the possessed angle before I soon realised that wasn’t necessary to the film. Going by how much it affects the action, it didn’t need to be included at all!
Oh well, the Blind Dead – or should that be the Blind Dead impostors? – turn up about half way through to slay people in more diverse ways that we used to see from them and the survivors have to flee while we begin to wonder if the makers were more interested in using The Walking Dead as an influence than the earlier Blind Dead films. The Blind Dead only show up briefly in the climax, which is surely a tease. The older movies may have usually been sparing in their use of their monsters, but at least they made sure they were central to the final act. The special effects seem to mix practical and digital, with it being quite easy to tell which is which. As is often the case especially with cheap productions, the former fares rather better than the latter, but you will have seen a hell of a lot worse. Easy to please horror fans will still enjoy the likes of an appendix being ripped out, a [thankfully dead] baby being ripped in half, and, in the most grueling scene despite the lighting making the blood look virtually black [or maybe it was desaturated on purpose to make it a little less nasty], a thumb being cut off as it’s the only way somebody can free themselves. The scene goes on for longer than you might expect and I almost actually winced which is unusual these days when you’re old, jaded and have seemingly seen it all. A throat slashing is also dwelt on somewhat, the victim stumbling about oozing blood before finally collapsing dead. There’s a grimness that pervades many of the human scenes which, along with the total lack of humour, makes this a more intense watch than you might think, something that’s helped by mostly decent acting. Alice Zannini as Alice spends a hell of a lot of time screaming and whimpering which may irritate some, but I liked it. Not everyone is calm when in terrible situations. The rather downbeat screenplay even includes a variation on perhaps the shatteringly miserable moment from On The Beach and is maybe warning us of placing too much hope in the utopias we seek.
But the title menaces almost seem like they’ve crossed over from another film. Paviano and Picchio clearly wanted to put the Blind Dead in a fresh setting, but they failed to properly do this. They obviously know the earlier films well, but aren’t much interested in bringing back memories of them. We only get one brief scene of the Blind Dead on their horses, and because it’s overtly stylised with its employment of slow motion, it sticks out while also having none of the incredible atmosphere similar scenes had in the other films. Still, despite being very limited in terms of funds, they’ve attempted to provide a good look, with red lighting being stylishly used in places, though they may have gone a little overboard with the colour grading in places as things often look duller than they need to be, and cinematographer Alberto Viavattene hasn’t quite got the knack of shooting in very dim light. This is also a very loud film, with even the background noise turned up and Andrea C. Pinna’s score pounding away in the middle section, the latter of which may have been less annoying if it didn’t consist of the same repeated bashing and droning for about twenty minutes. Other musical moments fare better though. Maybe the UK distributors were right in changing the title and dispensing with the Blind Dead angle, because this film comes off better as an unrelated micro-budgeted post-apocalyptic action/horror hybrid than a long awaited fifth entry in a franchise. Viewed as the former, it’s not bad really.