Saturday, November 12, 2005

Horror Flashback

When I was little--about six years old--I became obsessed with monster movies. Back then I watched the Saturday night creature feature religiously. Most of the films were from the '40s and starred Lon Chaney or Peter Cushing or Boris Karloff. Every once in a while, though, a more modern horror film would sneak through. Where the Wolfman was wrapped in the chaste morality of the time, these late '60s and early '70s films--especially the awesome Hammer Films--were gorier and sometimes had a sexual subtext that even came through on edited local television in Pueblo, CO. Christopher Lee as Dracula with his sexy vampiress sidekicks that give the film an eroticism that forever warped my little brain.

Tonight I saw a Portugese film, Tombs of the Blind Dead, from 1973. Compared to the horror films that further twisted my mind in the '80s and '90s, this zombie flick is pretty tame. But if you look beyond the the slow as molasses zombies and really, really stupid characters who kept stopping and staring, letting the speed-challenged zombies catch up to them, if you look past that the movie was pretty awesome. Why? Well, a Knights of Templar torture scene involving a "virgin" and blood drinking. And if that doesn't get you, how about a crazy morgue assistant who likes to torment frogs?

But the best thing for me was being taken back to when sex felt subversive in a horror movie. When showing a little boob was a transgressive act. Of course the sexual politics in this film were pretty f-ed up--I mean, come on, tearing the clothes off of the virgin and then riding around her nicking her with swords with close ups of a fake boob being slashed and blood gushing out followed later by a woman with lesbian tendancies getting raped by a smuggler and then kind of acting like nothing happened? I mean, I know this was '70s Portugal, but I'm pretty sure if a woman gets raped she might get upset--no matter how manly the smuggler's moustache. Strangely, though, that just added to the weird atmosphere that pervaded horror films--especially European horror films (Fulci, Argento, anyone?)--at that time.

The best part about the DVD, though, was in the Special Features section. There, they discussed how an American B-movie distributor tacked a prologue onto this film that, wildly, tried to tie it to the success of the Planet of the Apes! The extras revealed that this brilliantly insane schlock revision was called Revenge of the Planet Apes. So, instead of Templars, the zombies were apes that were somehow sent back in time to stop the humans before they ruined the earth. Let me tell you, that was one stretch and made the story of this film deliciously ridiculous. I couldn't imagine actually seeing it back then and not burning down the theater afterward.

So do I recommend Tombs of the Blind Dead? Of course I do. Some people talk about how this film is "important" and a "comment on the Franco regime" in Spain at the time, but to me this is just an insane, odd, classic zombie flick at its best.

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