Chris Alexander’s stylized Canadian horror project Scream of the Blind Dead takes the mythology of the famous undead blind knights (which started with 1972’s Tombs of the Blind Dead) into intriguing new directions. Betty (Ali Chappell) runs for her life through a meadow. She falls, and a cloaked figure (Thea Munster) with a raised sword then looms over her. Betty meets her doom.
Cut to Virginia (Stephanie Delorme) waking up on a train and disembarking in the middle of nowhere. She wanders through a forest by the tracks and comes across a waterfall. She becomes dizzy and is flooded with memories of her lover (Thea Munster) applying lipstick. Virginia comes across some ominous ruins in the woods and soon walks through the same meadow Betty died in.
As night falls, Virginia finds an old abandoned church with a spooky library in the basement. She settles into a pew and touches herself to sleep while remembering her girlfriend’s embrace. While sleeping, the cloaked figure with the sword rises up in a pool of mist and pink light. It is a female undead blind knight stumbling toward Virginia. As the blind knight raises her sword, Virginia awakens and screams but escapes. Now, Virginia must try and survive the night as the wrathful undead knight seeks to end her life.
“…Virginia must try and survive the night as the wrathful undead knight seeks to end her life.”
Alexander’s first brilliant move with Scream of the Blind Dead is tying the project in with Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead series. As these are some of the highest regarded horror movies to come out of Spain, it serves as a draw for European Horror junkies like myself. This audience will immediately recognize the stylistic tribute. The writer/director sets the perfect tone by using a washed-out color filter, making the production look like a bootleg Japanese LaserDisc. He also gives us some gorgeous camera angles and artistic close-ups, including a Vampyros Lesbos allusion shot of a snail shell.
Alexander’s next ingenious move is focusing the cinematic references to the output of countries other than Italy. While Italy sits atop the monarchy of retro Euro-Horror, many other countries were also contributing stylish, eerie flicks. The filmmaker obviously pays tribute to Ossorio, not just in the title and tone of the film, but also by including chest close-ups of beating hearts for blind knights to hunt. However, he goes out of his way to reference the earlier, artier work of Jess Franco with the visual composition. There are layered shots with natural foregrounds creating morbid screen textures.
But most of all, Scream of the Blind Dead is a shrine to the work of French director Jean Rollin. It shares Rollin’s focus on female leads, including Munster’s excellent turn as the blind female knight. Munster also designed the villain’s amazing costume with its badass iron mask. The film is elegantly paced and maintains a dreamlike atmosphere that matches Rollin’s oozing fairytale-like aesthetic. It has no spoken dialogue throughout, which adds to the surreal feel of the proceedings.
Whether someone outside the core audience of Euro-Horror fanatics would appreciate Scream of the Blind Dead is questionable. Can it be enjoyed without being familiar with the films it is referencing? Also, with it running a little less than an hour, will there be enough meat on the bone for the uninitiated? Like the gourmet restaurants with the white plates and the high prices, the content here is delicious in a complex way, but the portion is tiny. It would be interesting to see Alexander’s style put on a more intricate screenplay with some more twists and turns. As it is, Scream of the Blind Dead is a gorgeous art piece that has much to offer the nightmare choir but not to the casual genre fan.
"…a gorgeous art piece that has much to offer the nightmare choir..."