Friday, 12 June 2009

Return of the Evil Dead

1973
Dir. Amando de Ossorio

AKA
Return of the Blind Dead
Attack of the Blind Dead
Mark of the Devil 5: - Return of the Blind Dead
Mark of the Devil Part V: Night of the Blind - Terror
Mark of the Devil V

Jack Marlowe’s return to his home village of Berzano to patch things up with his ex, coincides with the village’s 500th anniversary celebrations of the slaying of the Templar knights who plagued Berzano’s inhabitants centuries ago. The village idiot, disgruntled because of the way he has been outcast, sacrifices a virgin to reanimate the bodies of the Templars and extract retribution. Sure enough, her blood resurrects them and they ride on living-dead horses into the village to slaughter anyone they can find. A small band of survivors seek refuge in the town church and try to stay alive until morning whilst the gruesome Templars stand guard outside…

Amando de Ossorio really made an impact on horror cinema with his series of Blind Dead films, the second of which, following on from Tombs of the Blind Dead, was Return of the Evil Dead. Each film revolves around the exploits and murderous rampages of a group of living-dead Templar Knights. The Templars, medieval knights put to death centuries ago for their barbaric ways and satanic worship, rise from the dead as mummified skeletal beings, shrouded in their bloodied and soiled hooded garbs, to drink the blood of the living in (then) modern day Spain. As a result of having their eyes plucked from their hanging bodies by crows, they rely on sound to track their victims.

The Blind Dead films have often drawn comparison with the Living Dead films of George Romero. Most likely because they also contain images of the shuffling dead returning to feast on the still warm flesh of the living, who attempt to defend themselves by retreating to a confined hideout. There the similarity ends really, though Return of the Evil Dead is much closer in its structure and plot to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in its depiction of a small band of merry survivors barricaded into a confined location and squabbling amongst themselves; leading to as much danger within their sanctuary as there is outside of it…



De Ossorio has really upped the scale with this sequel, as a whole village attempts to defends itself against the relentless onslaught of the Templar knights. One of the highlights of the film has to be the spectacle of the rotting knights riding their phantom horses in slow motion through the village, creating panic and bloodshed in their wake. Bodies are impaled, arms, limbs and heads are lopped off and the streets run red with the carnage. Where Tombs of the Blind Dead featured a number of dodgy sex scenes, so too does this film. Cue many more ‘titillating’ shots of exposed and heaving breasts and another dodgy and unnecessary rape scene that has no bearing on the plot whatsoever. De Ossorio, what were you playing at?

The pacing of this film is swifter than its predecessor and boasts a much stronger story too. Much more tension is created, particularly in the early scenes depicting the siege on the village and when the small group of survivors barricade themselves in the church. Eventually though, the characters are still reduced to clumsy, bumbling idiots unable to perform such basic tasks like opening doors or just moving out of the way of the clutching hands of the Blind Dead; they mainly just stand rooted to the spot and put their hands over their eyes. Because that’ll help when you’ve got a horde of blood-drinking, flesh-eating, living-blind-dead Templars closing in around you… After a while this does not create tension, it creates fatigue.



The film is quite successful in how it mythologizes the figures of the Templars. We learn how they are tied to the past of the village of Berzano. The continuity error involving how they were rendered blind can be explained due to the fact that it is a different village from that featured in the first film and therefore, perhaps, a different group of knights… In Tombs the explanation for their blindness is attributed to crows pecking out the eyes from their hanging corpses. In Return, the villagers of Berzano are said to have burned them out. Whatever the explanation, the Templars look as ominous and eerie in this film as they did in the first instalment. The sight of them riding on horseback in slow motion is undeniably atmospheric and incredibly creepy. De Ossorio wisely keeps them quite prominent and unlike many other cinematic ‘boogeymen’, the more we see of them doesn’t detract from their ability to terrify. There is however a number of scenes that feature reused footage from Tombs; notably the shots of the knights rising slowly from their graves. This can be overlooked as the footage has lost none of its creepiness. The day-for-night photography that populated Tombs, makes a return here. It doesn’t really detract from proceedings too much, as before, and again in the later two instalments of the series, it adds a surreal sheen to events.

The characters are all essentially stock types, and while the script attempts to add a little depth to them, the performances on show obliterate any attempted nuances on the part of the writers. Each character has existed in some form or another throughout horror cinema: Jack, the ‘hunky lovelorn loner’ who smokes a lot and looks moody, Vivienne, Jack’s glamorous ex who is now engaged to the corrupt Mayor Duncan; the village idiot, the young family of the Mayor’s long suffering right-hand man and a sexed up couple who seem to be there purely to round up the numbers. There is a great deal of tension however when the characters interact in the church. Much squabbling about how to escape ensues and suspense is generated when the cowardly Mayor sends two survivors to their deaths in an attempt to save his own skin. Tempers flare, cigarettes are smoked and manly poses are struck as events become increasingly taut.

We are treated to another flashback of the Templars in their formative years sacrificing a scantily clad young lady; cue much bright red garish blood splattering all over uncovered and worryingly heaving bosoms. We also see the Templars put to death by the pitchfork wielding, torch bearing villagers of Berzano, who have had enough of being pushed around and oppressed by the wayward knights. Before they die though, the knights swear to return from beyond the grave to destroy the village once and for all.



There are an interesting number of striking similarities between Return of the Evil Dead and John Carpenter’s spook-fest, The Fog (1980). Not only do we have a small community terrorised by the sinister figures their ancestors destroyed, there is also a group of people who also seek refuge in a church until the climax of the film. On the 500th anniversary of said destruction, no less. There is also a scene where a young child is in grave danger and rescued at the last moment (Nancy in Return, and Andy in The Fog). Unlike The Fog though, danger is not completely quashed by the break of day. As the subdued light of dawn slowly crawls across the landscape and the remaining survivors cautiously make their way from the church, they are still in grave danger for a time and a highly suspenseful scene (that recalls a similar moment in the final moments of Hitchcock’s The Birds) occurs.

Without a doubt the strongest film in a series of films that are deliberately exploitative, yet undeniably effective in terms of atmosphere, tension and nightmarish visuals that remain as powerful today as they did upon initial release.

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