Horror Of The Zombies (1974)

JUNE 21, 2011


When I announced that today’s HMAD would be Horror Of The Zombies (aka Ship Of Zombies/Ghost Galleon/El Buque Maldito, or just The Blind Dead 3) over Twitter, I got a lot of responses about how boring it was (one guy even broke out “somnolent” to describe it). Hell, even Brian Quinn, the guy who programmed it, mentioned that of the four Blind Dead films, it’s “not one of the better ones”. But armed with these now insanely low expectations, I had a lot of fun watching it, though I will also admit a. I haven’t seen the other Blind Dead films (I thought I saw the first one, but I had it confused with Oasis Of The Zombies), and b. it IS pretty damn boring.

In fact, if I was watching it at home, one of two things would have happened: 1. I would have fallen asleep, due to the movie’s somnolence (!) plus my tendency to nod off even in exciting movies, or 2. I would have gotten bored, stopped giving it my full attention, and had trouble writing the review later. But at the Bev, I was “trapped”, so checking Twitter or leafing through a magazine wasn’t an option, and my large root beer (plus the earlier hour) helped keep me awake, and thus I was able to see past the movie’s sluggish pace and discover the charmingly nutty movie within.

While not intentionally so, this movie is hands down one of the funniest I’ve seen in years, thanks to ridiculous plotting and (presumably) some translation errors in dubbing an English track over the original Spanish. The professor guy alone earns more laughs than anyone in Hangover II, with his out of nowhere revelations (“I also know exorcisms!”) and frequently nonsensical explanations for what is happening. At one point, someone asks him where he thinks their missing friend can be, so he goes into detail about the “equatorial heat” and other science-y things, and then when the guy asks what that has to do with his missing friend, he replies “probably nothing”. And he brought the entire house down when someone questioned why a boat couldn’t see them: “I TOLD you – we’re in another dimension!”

Whether or not they WERE in an alternate dimension remained unclear, and it’s the rare case where something could either be a cool plot device or just sloppy filmmaking. The boat they are on is cloaked in darkness, but the boat they are trying to signal is in broad daylight. No one says “Hey, why is it light out over there?” or anything of that nature, so I assume it’s just lousy editing. But his “other dimension” explanation could also explain it, which would be pretty cool, like a Bermuda Triangle type thing. I guess it comes down to whether or not you are taking the movie serious or not.

Speaking of poor editing, the unparalleled badness of the model/miniature work also resulted in a number of howlers. You know that scene in Spice World* where they’re like “We can’t afford to show that!” and then they show a little crappy model of a bus making a stunt jump? That looked more realistic than the models here, particularly when the ship catches fire and they cut to a toy boat with a little lighter sized flame in the middle. They even use models to show coffins being tossed in the water, which looked bad enough the first time and yet they show it 2-3 more times even though it’s just the same basic shot of something roughly the size of a domino floating to the bottom of an aquarium. All part of the charm.

But the best part for me was the character played by Jack Taylor. I’ve seen him in a couple other movies, but this was the first time I noticed how much he reminded me of William Fichtner (one of my favorite actors). He’s got that same sort of presence, where he can play a villain that you love no matter what sort of horrible things they do, something they use to great effect here since he starts off as the film’s human villain but is ultimately sort of the hero, at least by default. He doesn’t really DO anything (no one does), but he’s the last man standing, and his henchman Sergio tries to murder him out of nowhere, so by the process of elimination he becomes our Bruce Willis. He also had one of the best lines, when a girl asks about her missing sister and he rudely replies “Don’t butt into this!” (he also joins the professor in coming up with theories pulled directly from his ass, deciding that the zombies will return in a half hour after they ward them off with the professor’s “Exorcism”).

Oh yeah, the zombies. This IS a horror movie, after all. Or at least, tries to be one. For a zombie flick, it’s painfully short on gore, with a lot of the deaths occurring off-screen and/or caused by other means. It’s a good forty minutes or so before the zombies appear, and while they look very cool (I thought they were puppets at first because they were so skeletal and stiff), they don’t do a hell of a lot. Plus there are slow zombies, and then there are these guys, who take 2-3 minutes just to get out of their coffins. Speaking of which, this is the squeakiest goddamn movie ever made – every single door, coffin lid, footstep, etc is accompanied by a long, annoying, “spooky” creaking noise.

In addition to the zombie stuff, there’s a bit of a supernatural element at play as well. I already mentioned the possibility of it taking place in another dimension, but there’s also a hilariously ironic subplot of people falling asleep for up to 14 hours at a time. Halfway through the movie I realized why I had taken a shine to it – all of these characters are like me! One girl in particular seemingly spends more of her screentime asleep than not – at one point she wakes up from a nap, walks around for a bit, and then immediately goes back to sleep again. But as with the dimension stuff, it’s possible that it’s just lazy filmmaking, with the screenwriter not knowing what else to do with her – an out of nowhere flashback to “happier times” begins with her asleep at her desk while reading.

In fact, more often than not the characters have to be asleep in order for the “plot” to work, because the boat is not very big. When our would-be heroine is surprisingly attacked by the undead, she screams for help (oddly, she specifically shouts for Sergio, who had raped her earlier), but no one comes to help because they are all asleep. If they were awake, she probably wouldn’t even have needed to shout, because there’s seemingly a very narrow area where one could be on the ship without easily seeing everything else that is happening on it. The last two folks get off the boat and onto a nearby island, which I thought was kicking off a rousing climax, but then the zombies just wander on shore and the movie ends with them staring into the camera, robbing us of a final death AND anything that can be considered a real ending. I assume that the barrage of “it’s the worst in the series” sentiments I heard means that the other films have more action or at least satisfying conclusions, but if not and this is how these particular films always end, I don’t think I’ll bother seeking the rest out. At least, not on my own – again, it was the crowd experience that made this movie enjoyable. If they book the others at the Bev I’m first in line, but I am a bit wary of renting one on DVD and watching on my couch with so many Xbox games staring back at me.

Ironically, I sort of WISHED I was at home for the 2nd film, The House That Vanished (noticeably retitled from Scream And Die - the new title card cut into the middle of a shot). It was just as slow and gore-free, but it wasn’t as funny, and actually had a plot of note. In other words, for the most part it was NOT the kind of thing you want to watch with a big crowd at 11 o’clock at night immediately after another dull movie. It certainly had its moments – particularly a ghastly (borderline softcore) sex scene between a 50ish woman and her nephew (hey-o!) – but I think I would have enjoyed it more at home, on like a rainy Sunday afternoon or something. Not a bad film, just didn’t fit with the atmosphere IMO. Needless to say I was not as successful in staying awake, though a perusal of the synopsis on IMDb revealed I didn’t really miss much. I saw enough to know this though: star Andrea Allan is one of the most drop-dead gorgeous 70s heroines I’ve ever seen, and also a pretty good actress – a shame she didn’t have much of a career (lot of “Girl on Train” or “Nurse” roles on her resume; this may have been her only lead role). Also, while it had Giallo elements (black gloves, red herrings), it was more of a straight thriller than a horror movie; nothing got scarier than that old lady thrusting against her nephew (neph-EW? No?).

This was the first Grindhouse night I’ve been able to attend in quite some time (work seems to get in the way, schedule-wise, more often than not), and their upcoming shows are movies I’ve seen a bunch so it’ll be a play it by ear type thing (if I can make them at all), but since it was these events that got me going to the New Beverly in the first place, attending them always puts a smile on my face. These might not have been the best movies they’ve ever shown, but as Quinn pointed out in his intro, it would be easy for him to show the same Fulci films over and over and probably draw a bigger crowd, but part of the fun is discovering new movies. I mean, look at me – I’ve been doing this for over 4 years now and it took a screening at the Bev to finally see one of the Blind Dead movies. Hopefully they will continue to mix the “gets” with more obscure stuff like this. Beats watching some DTV junk on Netflix Instant.

What say you?

*Meat Loaf is in it, I had to watch. But it’s really not that bad. And Posh was smoking hot back then. Look, fuck you.


  1. It's Spanish and I really liked the first two which begin, I think, with Tomb(s) of the Blind Dead.

  2. Oh yeah, out of the four Templar flicks this is the worst by far. Check out the second one. It's fantastic with lots of great Blind Dead action and a cool finale. I dare say that someone needs to make a new one. The Templars are simply too cool for it not to happen someday.

  3. I never saw this one, but I think it'd be worth your time to check out the first two. Tombs of the Blind Dead is decent, a little slow but with a memorable ending. I remember Return of the Blind Dead as being an improvement, thanks to a quicker pace. I heard the other two aren't much good, but I've always been curious.

  4. Definitely check out the first two. As far as Spanish horror films of the era are concerned, they're really only rivaled by Let Sleeping Corpses Lie or Who Could Kill A Child?

    Since you're in LA, it's likely Amoeba would have a cheap used copy of the old AB edition with the first two films included.

  5. Please, get straight to the point. Synopsis is better than a review.


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