Contains mild spoilers.
It all started so well. Amando de Ossorio's Tombs of the Blind Dead was an original creepy and atmospheric euro-horror masterpiece with intelligent characters, a surreal yet coherent narrative, and enough exploitative scenes to satisfy and shock even by today's standards. Unfortunately for de Ossorio, whether it was from over reaching, with Return of the Evil Dead, or from having to work with cripplingly low resources and money the sequels never came close to reaching the same height. Night of Seagulls, the final chapter, marks the end of long, tumultuous, yet not entirely unpleasant low budget euro-horror journey. Like The Ghost Galleon, it's a tight, often ponderous story full of cliché and some unnecessary repetition imbued with a feeling of forced financial temperance, but it would also appear that de Ossorio has finally come to terms with the hand he's been dealt presenting a film that's self contained with a less audacious story that's at once more coherent and believable. Gone are transdimensional ghost galleons, contrived one-dimensional villains, and forced obligatory rapes, instead we almost return to where it all started with simple yet deep characters, a non overly convoluted set-up and a rounded complete story with a beginning, a middle and a satisfying end.
By now you'll be aware the other than the back story of medieval templars returned from the East with new found occult knowledge and a willingness for baring and slicing into the breasts of nubile young virgins to consume their hearts and flesh, all in order to gain undead immortality, de Ossorio has never felt the need for continuity between the films. Each film has it's own setting, it's own rumours and superstitions, and an all new set of modern heroes and anti-heroes with which to play with in an all new sandbox. All that we can be sure of is at some point the blind undead wispy chinned knights will rise from their rest and people will be killed in as gratuitous and exploitative a way as de Ossorio can get away with.
Dr. Henry Stein (Víctor Petit) and his wife Joan (María Kosti) have travelled to a run down isolated fishing village to replace the old doctor (Javier de Rivera). On arrival they are met with blatant rejection and dismissal from a community that makes it clear outsiders aren't wanted, an aging anxious doctor who's only to happy to be getting out as soon as possible and Teddy (José Antonio Calvo), a handicapped and bullied young man who fresh from a recent beating is treated and given refuge in their loft. That night Joan is woken by the ringing of strange bells, which Henry dismisses as a necessary aid for passing boats in thick fog, and the cries of distressed seagulls, which neither can explain, but it puts them on edge and suggests there's more to the village than meets the eye.
Come the morning and ignoring all the demands to not pry and not leave, Joan befriends a young village orphan Lucy (Sandra Mozarowsky) who agrees to come work with them and she also takes in Tilda Flannigan (Julia James) a young girl from the village who is clearly quite scared. After a rather confrontational visit from the village elders, the mystery is slowly unravelled with Teddy finally spilling the beans. "Corpses, rise up out of the sea, take pretty ladies, one each night for seven nights, the pretty girls that die, they become the seagulls; they're the damned spirits of the sacrificed girls."
It's the same costumes, the same models and the same adorned horses; also nothing has changed cinematically with how the blind skeletal crusty old corpses pull themselves out of their tombs, ride, dismount then ponderously shuffle towards their prey stabbing and slashing their swords as if they're waving their white sticks. What's different is the very specific nature of the curse, which requires them to rise every seven years, to take seven fresh female victims on seven consecutive nights, and how they're not doing this to appease Satan, but as an offering to some Lovecraftian-esque sea god / demon they have a large statue of.
The tighter smaller story and ensemble allows the templars to shine in a way they probably haven't since the first film. They're intransient, yet unreal, menacing and for the first time in three films believable and not distractingly amateurish. Pretty virgins in white linen gowns tied up to rocks by a terrified village folk, to appease a curse isn't new, and Andromeda tied up for the Kraken to appease Thetis immediately came to mind, but de Ossorio manages to make the scenes his own and doesn't squander the opportunity with stylish cinematography and restraint. It's clear that Night of the Seagulls feels more at one with itself; it's story is rounded and complete, the narrative and dialogue is confident and understated, characters are exposed slowly and subtly, and pacing never feels harried or forced.
Not perfect, Night of the Seagulls at least bows the Blind Dead out on a high and reminds us that Amando de Ossorio when push comes to shove can fashion quite a moody, eerie atmospheric horror that can stand the test of time. It's still undeniably misogynist, where girls are demarcated by how pretty they are and women who show undue concern are labelled hysterical and in need of sedation but at least finally the obligatory shoe-horned in rape is absent and really, if it wasn't for de Ossorio's track record, I probably wouldn't be making such a big deal of it all for a film of its time and place. Competent, coherent, de Ossorio's Night of the Seagulls is a fine 70s euro horror and a nice reward for getting through parts 2 and 3, 7/10.