Monday, 19 January 2015

Night of the Seagulls (1975)

Night of the Seagulls was the fourth and final installment in Spanish director Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead cycle with began with Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971) and continued with Return of the Evil Dead (1973) and The Ghost Galleon (1974).

The cycle deals with a chapter of the Knights Templar, suppressed and destroyed during the Middle Ages for its evil practices, whose members rise from the dead as blind zombies.  They spread terror centuries ago and they continue to spread terror even in the modern world.

These movies follow a template that was extremely popular in European horror in the 70s, and especially in Spanish horror. They open with a prologue set in medieval times and then jump forward to the present day. In the case of Night of the Seagulls we have a young doctor taking over a practice in a remote and very backward village near the sea. Dr Henry Stein (Víctor Petit) arrives in the village with his young wife Joan (María Kosty) and it is immediately apparent that the villagers don’t want them there. It is also clear that something frightening and wrong is going on in the village. Dr Stein picks up a few clues from the village idiot Teddy but he fails to put the pieces of the jigsaw together. He also fails to realise that the young village girls who are taken each night to play a part in some mysterious ritual are in fact being offered up as human sacrifices by the dead Templars to the demon god they worship. The villagers deliver the girls up to the Templars in return for being allowed to survive.

The first hint of something badly wrong comes when Dr Stein and his wife hear the seagulls crying at night. Seagulls do not call at night. We will later discover why these particular seagulls do in fact call at night and it provides one of the movie’s better moments.

Dr Stein’s attempts to intervene to protect a village girl named Lucy seem doomed to failure. There appears to be no way to stop the blind knights, unless somehow he can discover the secret of their power.

Although the village seems to be in Spain the villagers have Irish names! Although this might possibly only be the case in the English dubbed version.

There’s a fair amount of gore but it doesn’t overdone to the extent that was (unfortunately) becoming common in European horror. The film is at its best when de Ossorio concentrates on creepiness and old-fashioned terror rather than gore and he’s quite good at being creepy. The screenplay (also by de Ossorio) is quite well thought-out and while it’s not startlingly original it’s effective and the ending works well.

The great strength of the Blind Dead films is the idea of the zombie Templars. It’s an inherently creepy idea and de Ossorio knows how to make it effectively terrifying. The knights are scary not just because they’re blind and remorseless but also because they’re silent. Some of the tricks the director uses were ones he devised in the earlier films in the series, such as shooting the knights in slow motion. This technique can often be crude and irritating but it works superbly in these movies, emphasising the fact that the blind knights are slow but inexorable and unstoppable.

You might think that being the fourth and last of the Blind Dead movies this would be the weakest but actually it’s one of the best of the series. It’s very heavy on atmosphere and the visuals are impressive. The climax makes sense and provides a fitting ending to the series.

Zombie movies had become all the rage in the 1970s but the Blind Dead movies have more going for them than the average zombie movie. These zombies are both more interesting and more genuinely scary and the mood of oppressive dread is achieved very effectively.

Blue Underground’s DVD is not one of their best efforts, the image being excessively grainy. There’s also very little in the way of extras, just an image gallery and a trailer.

Amando de Ossorio was not one of the great European horror directors but he was very good at creating an atmosphere of evil and dread. In my view he was at his best when he was at his most outrageous, particularly in the deliciously crazy Night of the Sorcerers. His best horror film was the superb The Loreley’s Grasp.

Night of the Seagulls should satisfy eurohorror and eurosleaze fans. Recommended.

1 comment:

Al Bruno III said...

A great article about a great film. Keep up the great work.