Night of the Seagulls/La Noche de las gaviotas (1975)

Night of the Seagulls (1975)‘There’s something horrible behind these stories…’

A young doctor and his wife arrive at a small, coastal village to take on the medical practice but find the locals unfriendly and the outgoing sawbones desperate to leave. They take in the local village idiot who has been beaten, and hear a bell ringing in the dead of night. Then they witness a strange ceremony on the beach…

The final chapter of Spanish director Amando De Ossorio’s ‘Blind Dead’ quartet, like the others, is only connected via the presence of the undead Knights Templar. Here they’re rising from their watery graves every seven years to claim seven young girls as sacrificial victims provided by the frightened villagers. There’s little mystery about these proceedings, with medico Victor Petit and blonde wife Maria Kosty (here billed as Maria Kosti) tumbling to what’s going on soon after offering sanctuary to proposed final victim Sandra Mozarosky. Anyone in the audience familiar with the series will soon feel a heavy sense of déjà vu, particularly with our heroes under siege in the third act, as De Ossorio references George A Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968) just one more time.

However, there are considerable compensations to be had elsewhere. The locations are wonderful, an authentic peasant village with stone houses, huts and twisted streets perched on a hillside above a long, rocky beach. There’s even a castle in the distance! This allows De Ossorio a fine canvas and he uses it with the skill of a true artist. Old crones in black hustle another victim along the sand while a siren song and tolling bell play her funeral dirge, the templars ride their phantom horses through the surf in slow motion, seagulls wheel in the empty sky above. Some of the visuals are actually quite stunning, and a genuinelly unsettling atmosphere bleeds into the frame as we build toward the third act.

Unfortunately, the film also highlights De Ossorio’s weaknesses, as much as his strengths. He always filmed his own scripts, and, as a writer, he was sorely lacking in creative ideas or a fresh perspective. Audiences who have already viewed the previous three films in the series could be forgiven for feeling this is just more of the same, with little story development, underwritten characters and no sense of surprise or real invention. Face-offs with the Templars are also disappointingly static, with little sense of threat or danger, despite their horrific appearance. This mirrors the other entries in the series, and was probably simply down to the technical limitations of the time.

Night of the Seagulls (1975)

‘Good evening. We’re from the TV Licensing Authority…’

Stripping the cast to less than half a dozen principals is a good decision, though, and special mention must be given to Kosty, who manages to create a three-dimensional character out of the generic role of the doctor’s wife. And the sound design is quite superb, another great score by regular collaborator Antón García Abril used sparingly with natural sounds, long silences, and the hollow echo of the hoofbeats of the approaching horses.

By the mid-1970s the Spanish Horror boom was over, and despite the imminent VHS revolution, this was pretty much the end of the road for De Ossorio. There are barely a handful of subsequent films on his CV, culminating in pet project ‘The Sea Serpent’ (1984), a movie that featured US stars including Ray Milland in his final theatrical release. Sadly, by all accounts, the SFX are appalling and the film effectively finished the director’s career.

A better appreciation of this film is possible by simply ignoring the others in the quartet, especially dire third instalment ‘El Buque Maldito/Ghost Ships of the Blind Dead’ (1974). If an audience can manage that, and forgive the undercooked storyline, then it’s a satisfying slow burn of a horror experience, particularly notable for its creepy atmosphere, echoes of H P Lovecraft, and those impressive visuals.

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