First off, the 1973 Spanish horror film, The Return of the Evil Dead, is in no way connected to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films. Bruce Campbell never shows up in The Return of the Evil Dead and that’s unfortunate because the villagers who are menaced in this film probably could have used some help from Ashley James Williams.
Instead, The Return of the Evil Dead is a film that, over the years, has been known by many names: Attack of the Blind Dead, Return of the Blind Dead, Mark of the Devil 5: Return of the Blind Dead, and Night of Blind Terror. It’s usually referred to as being a sequel to Tombs of the Blind Dead but that’s not quite true. Instead, it’s more of a reimagining.
The film opens, as do almost all of the entries in this franchise, with a retelling of the origin of the Blind Dead. In Tombs of the Blind Dead, the Knights Templar were accused of heresy and hung, just to then have a bunch birds peck out their eyes. In Return of the Evil Dead, the Templars are once again pillaging Europe, sacrificing virgins, and practicing witchcraft. However, this time, they are captured by a group of Portuguese peasants. After being bound in the village square, the Templar leader announces that someday, he and his compatriots will return from the dead and seek vengeance on the village. The villagers respond by using a torch to burn out his eyes.
Jump forward 500 years. The village is preparing to celebrate the anniversary of what they call “the Burning.” We watch as they prepare for the festival and joke about the legend that the Templars will rise from their graves and spend the night seeking revenge. Murdo (José Canalejas), who is known as being the town pervert, watches the preparations and is suddenly attacked by a group of rock-throwing children. When Murdo falls to the ground, the children start to kick him. When Monica (Loreta Tovar) steps in and runs off the children, her boyfriend asks her why she’s wasting her time defending Murdo. Murdo, meanwhile, scurries off.
Meanwhile, the town’s mayor (Fernando Sancho) meets with Jack Marlowe (Tony Kendall). Jack has been hired to supervise the festival’s firework show and the mayor promptly tries to cheat him out of his payment. Jack discovers that the Mayor’s fiancée is his ex-girlfriend, Vivian (Esperenza Roy). Meanwhile, the mayor’s henchmen stand in the background and grimly watch.
In short, it appears that the village is cursed even before the inevitable return of the Blind Dead. And, in these scenes, it’s important to remember that, for the first half of the 1970s, Spain was still ruled by a dictator named Francisco Franco. It’s not difficult to see the village and its villagers as a metaphor for the Franco regime. Director Amando de Ossorio admitted as much when, in an interview before his death, he described Return of the Evil Dead as being the most political of all the Blind Dead films.
Naturally, the Templars do eventually return. Tired and bitter after years of being persecuted by the other villagers, Murdo sacrifices a young townswoman. As her blood pours over the graves of the Templars, the ground starts to shake and the Blind Dead come back to life and, once again, lay siege on the town.
The Blind Dead are still moving in slow motion and are just as decayed and deadly here as they were in Tombs of the Blind Dead. Interestingly enough, the scene where they ominously knock on the door of an isolated house was later recreated in John Carpenter’s The Fog. In fact, the entire film has quite a lot in common with The Fog, right down to the final siege on the church.
So, which is better? Tombs of the Blind Dead or Return of the Evil Dead? To a certain extent, it depends on what you’re looking for. Return of the Evil Dead is faster paced than Tombs of the Blind Dead and Jack and Vivian are far more likable than the leads from Tombs. As previously mentioned, Return has a stronger political subtext than Tombs. However, speaking for myself, I prefer the more atmospheric and fatalistic Tombs.
But ultimately, both Tombs of the Blind Dead and Return of the Evil Dead are superior horror films, perfect for Halloween viewing.