Sunday, October 16, 2011

Night of the Seagulls (1976)

The Templar zombies in the Blind Dead films are a good example of a simple idea that really hits the mark. They’ve been fondly remembered for decades by fans and still have an onscreen impact that is just as powerful today as it was in the 70s. Their iconic doom-laden theme music by Antón Garcia Abril enhances the believability of the creeping-death that is Amando De Ossorio’s blind dead. 

The opening to NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS of a woman being brutally sacrificed by the not-yet-undead Knights Templar is effective but not surprising to those already familiar with Ossorio’s films. During the sacrifice ritual while these evil men stand around observing the terrible act, I found myself shouting aloud “don’t you guys have anything better to do than torment, stab, and eat this poor young lady?!”. It truly is a disgusting scene that was still very well done. Afterwards, the poor mangled and severed body is left to the crabs in a chilling sequence that I primarily remember this film for. 

The shock and unpleasant feeling from the opening is shifted to a more melancholic vibe when the story transitions to present day while a mood setting synthesizer plays over the introduction of the two main characters, Dr. Henry Stein and his wife Joan Stein, played by Victor Petit and the always welcome Spanish horror regular Maria Kosty. The seaside village they’ve arrived at doesn’t feel like present day, in fact the film feels like an era piece, but Joan’s mall fashion wardrobe as well as the car they arrive in serves as a reminder that we are still in modern day Spain, just in a village that time forgot. 




The reason Joan and Henry have decided to live in a place that Joan immediately describes as primitive and horrible is so Henry can work as the local Doctor. Henry sort of plays this off as his duty as a doctor, and as he claims these villagers have a right to be treated. This is very admirable, but unfortunately the town harbors a dark secret that the inhabitants have kept under control using unspeakable means, and they’ll be damned if the new arrivals disrupt it, lest they suffer the destruction of their village. 

Though slow at times with less than convincing dubbing and a very old fashioned feel, NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS manages to be interesting. The mysterious sleepy village has an authentic feel of sorrow and pain, and its isolation has resulted in something unnatural and horrible to take place that has remained unnoticed by the rest of the world. This almost feels a bit like something out of a Lovecraft tale, in fact NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS is considered to be the Lovecraftian of the Blind Dead tetralogy, which makes sense if one considers the ghoulish sea god statue as well as the presence of flying seagulls at night being the damned spirits of the sacrificed girls, an idea that is not that far from the whippoorwills in Lovecraft’s THE DUNWICH HORROR. 




The frequent use of day-for-night filming is a result of the limitations of the filmmakers, but it ends up working in the movie’s favor by adding a lot of atmospheric value. Those moments when Henry and Joan come outside of their home in the middle of the night to investigate strange noises coming from the beach only to stumble out in what appears to be the middle of the day doesn’t come off as silly in this case but very surreal and enjoyable. 




About midway through the film, viewers are treated to a scene that is similar to the sacrificial sequence from the beginning of the movie with one of the young village girls, Tilda Flanagan played by Julia Saly. The sequence is practically redone in its entirety with crawling crabs and all (minus the flesh eating, ironically), but this time the Templar Knights are in their undead form which more than makes up for the repetitive feel of watching it all over again. Saly seems to me an actress who endures a lot for horror fans, such as allowing these crabs to crawl all over her; and who can forget when she took a painful looking hit to the back by being slammed into the side of a giant cauldron by Paul Naschy in a slow motion action scene from THE NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF? Way to take one for the fans Julia, seriously.


 

Like in RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD, Ossorio makes use of the creepy and questionably harmless village idiot. In this case, it is the pitiful Teddy, played by José Antonio Calvo, whose facial contortion, ridiculous dubbing, and highly abnormal gait cause him to forever be etched into viewer’s minds. However, there ends up not being any comic relief with Teddy because, in a way, he is another tragic victim of the occurrences in the town and is abused, beaten, and at one point nearly killed by the townsmen, giving that additional depth of the humans being more despicable than the film’s monsters at times. 




Paul Naschy wrote that Amando De Ossorio once turned him down for a role in a film because he thought that he was too muscular to be an actor. Considering this and from observing the film, it seems that Ossorio was geared towards set rules and archetypes, which is part of what contributes to the old fashioned feel of NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS. The women seem to serve no other purpose but to scream, panic, and get easily scared, while the macho male lead has all of the answers and is able to keep his head together to figure out how to take the zombies down and ultimately destroy them.

Although harmed from that all too familiar NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD scenario towards the end, I think NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS is still the best Blind Dead film overall. TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD had the best ending, RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD had the most action, and THE GHOST GALLEON was better than I was expecting, but the fourth film is solid all-around and ended up being my favorite in the long run.    


16 comments:

  1. I really enjoy spotting 'night for day' scenes. Blood on Satan's Claw has some belters too.

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  2. I haven’t seen THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW, but after a quick peek at the movie’s IMDB page I’m convinced that it looks like something I’d get hooked on like so many other euro-horrors from the 70s.

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  3. I remember being a little underwhelmed with this one, but there were moments in it that I liked... the part towards the end where the templars were laying siege to the house, which you mentioned in your review, was one of my favorite moments in the BLIND DEAD series. However, it's been far too long since I've seen it for me to give you a solid opinion on it. What I can say is that my favorite De Ossorio film is LORELEY'S GRASP. Have you seen that one?

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  4. I'll throw another vote behind THE BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW--definitely a great movie.

    Meanwhile, in ranking this one as superior to even the original, I fear you do--yes, I'll go ahead and use the dreaded word--overrate it, G. I think it's a very good movie, and easily the best of the Templar sequels, but it can't hold a candle to the first, which is, in its originality, creepiness, and brilliant simplicity, a landmark of Eurohorror in the same way CITIZEN KANE was a landmark for cinema.

    The Blind Dead films straddle a major transition in horror cinema, from creepy, atmospheric Gothic horror that had dominated for more than a decade before them to the more modern breed exemplified by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. That's where that "old fashioned feel" comes from--these are films that try to straddle that fence. This one and, especially, the first are major successes, insofar as that experiment is concerned. LORELEY'S GRASP that Aaron mentions makes the same effort, but with mixed results. It's quite good, to be sure, but some of the "modern" elements Ossorio tried to shoehorn in are handled rather clunkily, to put it as kindly as I dare.

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  5. @Aaron: Hello and welcome. I’ve seen The LORELEY’S GRASP and thought it was a fun movie. I enjoyed the part in the underwater lair and I think it contains Helga Line’s most memorable role even more so than her Bathory-esque character in HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, and I do love the “wink-wink” moment when the camera zooms in on the skeleton hand prop used in the Blind Dead films. I do prefer the Knights Templar over the rubber lizard monster from LG though.

    The complaint I made about the Templars breaking into the house towards the end was a small one, but I’ve seen that scenario so many times already that I thought it hurt it a little for me, though it doesn’t hurt it enough for this to not be one of my favorite films and in 1976 I’m sure it wasn’t so overused. Thanks for commenting. By the way, you’ve made me realize that I was improperly using De Ossorio’s last name in the write up. I’m going to have to make some edits.

    @cinemarchaeologist: Looking at this write up in retrospect I might be inclined to agree with you that I’ve overrated this film a bit, but it wasn’t the intention and it also wasn’t the intention to make NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS sound superior to the rest of the series . I think the reason it ends up seeming a little overrated here is because the write-up is primarily focusing on this one film and I said very little about the other films and so it comes off as sounding like a far superior film. I think in order to atone for this a review for TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD may become necessary in the future.

    Still, NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS is my favorite of the 4 films, and in the review I was careful to write that in the first person so that it would come off as a subjective statement. TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD is a close second in my opinion, and is in no way inferior and deserves to be regarded as the best in the series because it was the starting point of a great thing and is a very important and significant film in this respect and also easily one of the best that Euro-horror has to offer. This ends up being the case for me with Romero’s Dead series. I think NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is an extremely important film, but my favorite ends up being DAY OF THE DEAD, but without NOTLD we’d have no DOTD.

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  6. I notice, now, that I didn't say, earlier, how much I absolutely love the Blind Dead flicks. The CITIZEN KANE reference may have given it away, but, historically speaking, that would be totally defensible as an objective comparison, even from someone who despised the sightless Templars. I love them. I even love THE GHOST GALLEON which is widely targeted as the worst of the lot--it has plenty of big, obvious problems, but for a movie made for practically nothing, I thought it was a fine little atmospheric horror tale. The Blind Dead flicks are incredible movies from an incredible era, one I think we, today, may be on the cusp of seeing reborn (but that's perhaps a discussion for another time and place).

    The only real clinker in the batch is the second one, and I dislike that one rather profoundly. It's just a really bad remake of the original, with some NOTLD thrown in, but it's faster-paced than the others, and in a world in which far too many have come up short in the attention-span department, that's often enough to earn it a degree of praise it does absolutely nothing to earn. I can't say a single original thing in its favor, because there isn't a single original thing in it to praise.

    An amusing footnote: The Blind Dead were made Portuguese Templars because the Spanish censorship of the time wouldn't allow things like monsters to be portrayed as coming from Spain. This is also the reason Paul Naschy's wolf-man had to be a Pole, rather than a Spaniard.

    BTW, I'm pretty sure the proper usage of Amando's name would just be "Ossorio," not "de Ossorio."

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  7. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, my first of the blind dead films.... And I am not ashamed to admit that I kept waiting for you to mention Teddy, and was happy when you did. As you know, he was my favorite character. :)

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  8. @cinemarcheaologist: I know what you mean about the first sequel, I first viewed it as sort of a double feature with my first viewing of TOTBD. I was so impressed and floored by the first one that I immediately threw on the second film only to be disappointed for the same reasons you mentioned. It is probably the least necessary sequel since it really is, as you say, a poor remake of the first. The other sequels, though not without their own flaws, really did something different with what TOTBD started. Thanks for sharing your opinions; I really do appreciate the second thoughts as well as more notes on the other films in the series which I think my review was lacking.

    @Amanda: I’m glad you enjoyed it. Teddy is an appealing character in the film that at first seems like he was intended to be somewhat of a comical character but turned out to be someone viewers feel very sorry for as an unfortunate but good natured character who receives a very harsh treatment in the story. Teddy seems like he was born into misfortune with only the 2 outsiders to turn to for help which still ends up with a pessimistic and depressing outcome.

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  9. Lol @ you shouting at the the movie. At least it was an entertaining watch! ^_^ I have heard of this movie but I have not seen it. I love coming to your blog because you sometimes introduce me to movies I never seen before or movies I heard of but haven't seen.

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  10. It is also my favorite of the 4, I appreciated
    the setting, the village, the beach. then I
    like movies where a small house in this small and
    ancient, distant from others!
    For Ossorio devoted an entire "special": http://occhiosulleespressioni.blogspot.com/search/label/Amando%20de%20Ossorio
    It was a great craftsman of the atmosphere!
    Bye! ;)

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  11. @Real Queen of Horror: Thanks for the kind words, I am glad you enjoy it here. If you do check out the Blind Dead films be sure to start with THE TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, as it is the best introduction. If you dig that, then there’s a good chance you’ll dig the rest.

    @occhio sulle espressioni: I agree that Amando De Ossorio crafted some of the best atmosphere in his films. Your write up on De Ossorio’s horror films was terrific (I totally forgot about Malenka), and I enjoyed your comprehensive look at the Blind Dead series (I agree that the ending to TOMBS was excellent). I encourage other fans to check it out.

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  12. I find all four films of the "Reitenden Leichen" (blind Dead) wonderful! Great costumes, great masks... nice films!

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  13. CLips from one of the greatest movies with a song by one of the greatest bands ever. Bloody wonderful http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IklEac6xvvE

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  14. I'm glad to see you like this one too. I don't know if it is my favorite of the series, but I liked it quite a bit. So many people rag on this one. Granted, I rarely listen to people, but still I went in not expecting too much and was pleasantly surprised. It might also be that I saw all the movies together. So there was no real bias or sentimental value to any of them.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Rob! It's been a while since I've seen this one, but I remember it well. I can't remember a lot from this review though, heh heh. My expectations of a film can sometimes be influenced by what others are saying, but my final thoughts are almost always different, especially in the case of a commonly ragged on film like this one. I like what you've said regarding sentimental bias; I've often wondered if that feeling is true for me with regards to my thoughts on a lot of my favorite films and how I compare them to more recently viewed films, and I have to say I'm unsure.

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    2. You make a very good point as well. There are cases where I think its my attachment from the time that makes me like it so much. But there are others, and often how I truly judge, where when I see something new that is similar, but get a similar reaction. For example, I really loved/love 70s and 80s Chinese kung fu films. I wasn't sure if it was just cause of the time and place. But a few weeks ago I saw Five Deadly Venoms for the first time and was so impressed, so entertained, it was like being a kid in the 80s again.

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