Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Night of the Seagulls

1975
Dir. Amando de Ossorio

AKA
Don't Go Out at Night
Night of the Blood Cult
Night of the Death Cult
Terror Beach
The Blind Dead 4

Doctor Henry Stein and his devoted wife Joan move to a small seaside village in the middle of nowhere in order to set up a medical practice. Shunned by the inhospitable, mouth-breathing ingrates who call themselves locals, and warned to leave as soon as they can by the nervous former doctor, they soon discover that the village harbours a dark and blood-splattered secret. For seven consecutive nights every seven years, the townsfolk congregate on the beach to sacrifice one of their young women in order to appease the savage appetites of the Templar knights who rise from their tombs in a nearby castle to claim the unfortunate victims…

Following on from Tombs of the Blind Dead, Return of the Evil Dead and The Ghost Galleon, Night of the Seagulls is Ossorio’s forth and final instalment in his Blind Dead series. Once again the diabolical living-dead Templar Knights return from their graves to claim helpless victims. The Templars, medieval knights put to death centuries ago for their dark practises and love of all things cloven-hoofed and horny, rise from the dead as mummified skeletal beings, shrouded in their bloodied and soiled hooded garbs, to drink the blood of the living. As a result of having their eyes plucked from their hanging bodies by crows, they rely on sound to track their victims.



By now it was fairly obvious that Ossorio was either running low on inspiration or out of money to fund his Blind Dead indulgences. The Ghost Galleon, as fun as it was in a ‘so bad it’s good’ kind of way, marked a decidedly low point in the series. Thankfully Night of the Seagulls, while by no means a full return to form, was at least a welcome return of sorts to the eerie atmospherics and quiet menace of the original Tombs of the Blind Dead.

Opening with a moody and uneasy flashback, we bear witness to the merciless savagery of the Templars first hand. A couple travelling through the night become lost. Seeking help from an isolated farmhouse they are surrounded by a group of white-robed knights on horseback who kill the man and kidnap his female companion, taking her back to their castle to sacrifice her. Most of these scenes unfold without music, the only noise on the soundtrack are the victims’ cries for mercy and the sinister sounds of the restless night around them.



The film’s strong point is its assortment of arresting visuals: the sight of the white-robed knights stealthily emerging from the darkness in the opening flashback, the various shots of the women’s bodies as they lay in a deserted cove surrounded by crabs and the creepy image of the deformed prowler’s face at the window as Joan unpacks her luggage are a few select highlights. The dark processions of black-robed villagers along the beach are staggeringly ominous, and of course, the sight of the skeletal and hooded knights riding in slow motion along the eerily deserted beach proves unflinchingly commanding. A weird dreamlike atmosphere presides over everything and Ossorio yet again reuses footage of the skeletal knights emerging from their tombs to ominous effect. Many of the beach scenes play out under some sort of soft focus effect; one suspects this is because they were shot during the day and there’s only so much you can do with day-for-night photography to make it look like the middle of the night.

The characters, while still not exactly memorable, are nowhere near as annoying or inappropriate as the dunces from The Ghost Galleon. Our protagonists here are the new doctor and his wife. The reception they receive from the stand-offish locals is cold, to say the least. It is obvious that something sinister is afoot in the village and Henry and Joan are warned to keep to themselves and not go out after dark. While this is all fairly standard exposition for a horror film, it still manages to raise a slight chill, partly due to the location of their secluded house – high up on a cliff overlooking the constantly harsh and cruel sea. The isolation of the village is nicely realised too. Situated in a barren and mountainous place it appears inhospitable and uninviting. The houses look like they are being consumed by the ravaged landscape, as they jut out of large cracks and crannies. Stifling superstition, an unquestioning adherence to old customs of years gone by and the villagers’ unwavering hostility to outsiders all adds a touch of claustrophobia to the story. There is no reasoning with these small minded folks - and it is this aspect of their self-contained community that makes them so threatening.



While the preceding films in the series all featured learned professors to explain the dark history of the evil Templars, this time that particular task is the responsibility of the token village idiot, Teddy. He explains, in that loveable slack-jawed manner characteristic of Ossorio’s village idiot types, how the villagers are plunged into despair for seven nights every seven years, as they are forced to sacrifice their young women to the Templars in an effort to avoid total annihilation. There is a dark poetry in his explanation of the presence of the seagulls that take to the skies during these seven nights: they are the anguished spirits of the previous sacrificial victims.

The structure of Night of the Seagulls is rudimentary and fairly repetitive. Each day the locals further ostracize the newcomers and at night the newcomers hear strange bells tolling and the screeching of the gulls over the beach, signalling the sacrifice of a local woman. This formula persists throughout the film as the doc and his wife gradually learn about the secrets of the townsfolk. Things really kick off when Henry rescues his maid Lucy from being offered up to the Templars. The villagers flee, all too aware of the carnage that will ensue. Henry, Teddy, Lucy and Joan barricade themselves into their cliff-top house and await the inevitable attack. This was a missed opportunity on Ossorio’s part. The drama and suspense that could be garnered from such a situation (evidenced in the likes of Night of the Living Dead, The Fog and even Return of the Evil Dead) is nowhere near as well executed as it could have been. The Templars come, they get into the house, the survivors leg it on the knights’ living-dead horses with the knights in slow motion pursuit, and the two survivors who aren’t picked off manage to destroy a huge statue in the castle that seems to put an end to the evil reign of the knights. And that’s it. The end.



While not nearly as good as previous offerings, Night of the Seagulls is still a distinct step up from the unintentional hilarity of The Ghost Galleon and somehow manages to provide a strangely fitting end to the Blind Dead series that, thanks to some astounding visuals, lingers hauntingly like a fading nightmare.

3 comments:

Matt-suzaka said...

Great reviews as always James!

I have had Tombs of the Blind Dead in my queue for a while now and after reading your reviews, I have added the rest of the series to my must see list...even if some of them aren't neccassarily great.

To be honest, my interest is piqued just based off of the photos from the movie you have posted in the blogs. I LOVE atmospheric horror films and the look of the "Blind Dead" are super appealing to me visually. I love the Gothic styled look of everything and can't wait to delve into this series!

Thanks for covering them.

Radiation Cinema! said...

James: You have got me dead curious about this series and this director. I am adding this one to my Netflix Queue as well. I am even going to see Ghost Galleon, I think, as I have a fondness for underdog movies (like I'm even considering not seeing it. Hell, It's at the top of the list!). Also, simply loved the line: "Shunned by the inhospitable, mouth-breathing ingrates who call themselves locals." I insist on stealing this very line. I just know it will come in handy sooner or later. -- Mykal

James Gracey said...

Matt - if atmospheric horror flicks are your bag, you're bound to develop a major crush on the Blind Dead. I have a feeling you also have a soft spot for schlock too. You are in for a treat. Let me know what you think if you get a chance to check any of these beauties out.

Mykal - The Ghost Galleon is definately the underdog of this series. Which of course is no bad thing. Its still really atmospheric in places and has more ludicrous and badly dubbed dialogue than you can shake a stick at. Hope you enjoy the Blind Dead if you get a chance to check them out... And, like the models in Ghost Galleon, you may even learn all the important things in life, you know, like how to do your hair? :P