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Franchise Friday - Curse of the Blind Dead

Honestly, I never thought I’d see the day…but here we are. Apparently we’re seeing a resurgence in the Blind Dead franchise…but can it rise from its grave without its creator? Let’s find out.

In doing research for my last two Opinion articles, I stumbled upon Full Moon’s upcoming release of Scream of the Blind Dead. To get a feel for what I might expect from that, I Googled it and turns out there was another film from 2020 and it’s the film we’ll be looking at here: Curse of the Blind Dead. Let’s take a look at the synopsis:

In a post-apocalyptic world, a father and his pregnant daughter are searching for the source of a transmission promising the building of a new civilization. On the way, they’re jumped by a group of brigands only to be saved by hunters from a nearby community. But their saviors are not as beneficent as they appear. They’re servants of long-dead Satan worshipping Knights Templar who now stalk the nights as the Blind Dead. Only a monstrous deal keeps these undead knights from feasting on the community. Can Michael and Lily survive this horror to see the birth of her child? Or will the Templars feast on three generations tonight?

Say what you will, but I’ve found that there was always an inherent creepiness to Italian horror. Was it the grainy nature of the film images? Was it the complete lack of cinematic taboos? Or maybe the cinema verité style? It’s hard to say…and I’m certainly no expert…but there’s something about these films that always makes me approach them with caution: they could be unintentionally hilarious…or they could be pure nightmare fuel. [While not exactly on topic, I’ll squeeze this in now: Argento is overrated. Come at me bro. – Ed.] Armando de Ossario’s Blind Dead films always leaned toward the latter…although did have the occasional scene or two of the former.

Whatever it was, if Curse of the Blind Dead is any indication, those days have long since passed.

I don’t want to piss on the film completely because I feel like directors Raffaele Picchio and Alberto Viavattene are trying to introduce the Blind Dead to a new generation, as we see in the opening sequence where the corrupted Templar Knights are preparing to offer up the sacrifice of a newborn child in exchange for Satan’s unholy protection. They’re stopped in time by the usual band of zealous villagers, taken away to be burned at the stake. However, both the mother and child are found to be tainted…and while the villagers are all about killing the woman, they’re not so hot on killing the child. One of their number does indeed kill the child…and right on the altar too. So, does this make the rite complete? Given that we indeed have Blind Dead in this film, I’m gonna say yes.

After this prologue, we kinda run into our first problem of the film: the opening credits sequence. As with many flash-forward montages, this is used to catapult us forward in time…but either they didn’t have enough people working on the film or the credits were still drinking at the bar when their curtain call came up. This gap is noticeable and probably our first riffable moment. Additionally, the choppy voice-over from assorted broadcasts to tell us that there’s been a nuclear war, having children is very Children of Men-like and lastly the radio broadcast that sets our protagonists on their journey are presented in such a jumbled way that I never really understood what they were trying to illustrate until 5 minutes after they’d wrapped up. ‘Hmm, we’ve got a girl and an older guy walking through the forest and getting jumped…I’m getting a The Last of Us/The Road kind of vibe here.’ While it’s nice that the opening scene can convey that information, well, it kinda just make the opening credits montage unnecessary, didn’t it?

As the movie progresses the acting prove serviceable and as I said earlier, in bringing this franchise to current day the filmmakers do end up wearing their influences on their sleeve here taking notes from Saw and Hostel, the 70s cannibal craze, Planet of the Apes and, of course, the Blind Dead films. It even appears that they did their homework as some scenes seem to take place in locations de Ossario used in his original films. Unfortunately, very little of the atmosphere and creepiness that the series’ originator has survived the update…and maybe that has everything with the details. These Templars make noise when they move…the old ones didn’t. These Blind Dead look more like zombies with some degree of mummification while the old ones were more emaciated and skeletal…about what you’d expect from long-dead knights. Most importantly the old film’s Blind Dead were actually…BLIND! If you were quiet, you actually had a good chance of surviving…provided you could stay calm enough so that your very heartbeat didn’t draw their attention. While Curse of the Blind Dead tries to illustrate this in the chase at the climax of the film, the fact that we’re occasionally treated to the Templars’ point of view…portraying it like a Daredevil-radar/sonar sort of distorted black and white, ultimately it IS seeing and, well, that kinda ruins it. The atmosphere de Ossario presented was that we never knew how the Blind Dead functioned. We never knew how they never wandered around bumping into walls or tripping over loose rocks and we damn sure never knew how they rode their nightmare steeds. In their silence and their mystery, the Blind Dead of the older films created an amazingly eerie atmosphere that the current stompers with their radar-sense just…don’t. The old films kept everything behind a metaphorical curtain while the new one flips said curtain open and proclaims “See? Isn’t this the coolest?!?” Sadly, no…no it isn’t.

Going back to atmosphere [You ever left it? – Ed.], there’s also something to be said for the clarity of the digital presentation and the digital effects (such as some of the blood but mostly for the majority of fires in the film). And it’s not positive. Part of the creepiness of the old films was indeed the film grain. Yes, this helped to conceal any imperfections in the costumes and/or effects but something about it just added to the creepy vibe. In some ways, I guess I’d liken it to hanging around your favorite bar or club after last call when they flip the lights on. In the dark, you love the place but in the light, you see everything…and the joint suddenly loses a lot of the charm it once had.

I do need to say that at least the story keeps you engaged in some way serving as a continual pulling down into the depths of hell itself. In that regard, there is very much a 70s vibe as there’s certainly no happy ending to be found here. While there are no real stand outs in the cast, as I mentioned above, no one is so bad as to break you out of the film itself. Sure, the film wears its aforementioned influences on its sleeve, but in a lot of instances these scenes keep you interested enough to see what’s next as opposed to dismissing the film entirely and shutting it off…so it does deserve some credit for that. And while gone are the creepy Gregorian chants that always accompanied the rise of the Blind Dead, the soundtrack composed by Andrea C. Pinna helps the film achieve what little atmosphere it can muster.

A lot of this is negative, I get it…and could certainly be written off as an old man going off on a rant that starts with “Back in my day…”…but if I’m brutally honest, I’m just happy that the Blind Dead franchise is starting to get some updates. Sure, this isn’t exactly the strongest of films…which makes me a little nervous about the upcoming Scream of the Blind Dead…but at least it’s something. Still, I can’t exactly recommend it as there are more than enough missteps to make this film feel more like a cheap DVD you found at Walmart than a hidden gem. Sigh…low budget just isn’t what it used to be. Thus, we’re forced to give Curse of the Blind Dead a Plain Cat rating: It doesn’t suck and it’s not great. Without the trademark atmosphere de Ossario brought to the series, this film is just kinda…there.

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