Night of the Seagullsaka La Noche de los Gaviotas / Night of the Death Cult

After the wretched Cursed Galleon, it seemed as though the Blind Dead series had nowhere else to go. That’s why it’s such a pleasant surprise that the last film of the series, Night of the Seagulls, shows Ossorio back at the height of his powers.
Seagulls opens with an atmospheric prologue, evidently set some time in the fifteenth century. A young doctor and his wife get lost on their way to their new home, in some small provincial town by the sea. As the man wanders around a deserted house, he hears the distant sound of hoofbeats. Suddenly, out of the dark ride stern-faced men in white robes. The Templars have arrived: they stab the man to death and drag his terrified wife off to their castle. Tying the woman to a stone altar, the High Priest of the Templars removes the gauntlet from his left hand and plunges a dagger into her breast. He then cuts out her heart, and places it into the mouth of a leering, frog-like stone idol.

The remaining Templars remove their left gauntlets as well, and crowd around the woman’s corpse to drink. Around the body, fat crabs scuttle, eager to strip the flesh from her bones…

Fans of H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth and other classic pulp-horror authors of the early 20th century will feel right at home with this film. They’ll recognize the idol as Dagon, ruler of the Deep Ones. They’ll find familiar the theme of alienation: as is so often the case in Lovecraft’s writing, the action of the story revolves around outsiders, finding their way in a community (or even a world) so cut off from reality that it fails to recognize its own otherness (cf. Lovecraft’s Shadow Over Innsmouth in particular, or from a delightful reverse perspective, The Outsider).

The story proper begins in modern times, with another young doctor and his wife arriving in a provincial seacoast village. They are pointedly ignored by the sullen locals. When the Doctor (whose name is Henry Sowa) tries to ask for directions to his own new house, he gets no response. Finally, he demonstrates his best bedside manner by grabbing one of the villagers by his collar and shaking him until he answers.

(I have to admit, I’ve been waiting a long time to see someone do that in a movie. It’s about time.)

Finally the couple arrives at the shabby hut which is the village Doctor’s house. Henry and his wife, Juana, meet the old Doctor, who is irritated that they’re so late in arriving. As Henry brings in his bags, the old Doctor makes some vaguely menacing statements to Juana. He warns her to leave as soon as possible: this town has no tolerance for strangers. Henry offers to drive him off, but the old Doctor points out he doesn’t know the area, and would get lost coming back. So Henry instead offers to help carry the Doctor’s bags, and they go off on foot together.

While Henry is away, a ghastly face appears at the window of the hovel. A furtive knock comes at the door. Juana, her heart in her throat, goes to answer, but pulls back before she can open the door. The latch is undone; a hand thrusts itself into the doorway… and a man with a bloody, leering face stumbles into the house.

This turns out to be Teddy, the village idiot. The locals tend to beat him up every so often, just out of community spirit. Juana tends to his wounds and waits for Henry to return.

In the meantime, Henry has seen the old Doctor to his burro up on a mountainside. The Doctor waves off Henry’s offer of further assistance; it’s safe in-land, he says. Safe from what? He won’t say; but he does caution Henry that as long as he stays in the village, he must not ask any questions, or pry into anything that isn’t his business.

Late that night, as the Doctor and his wife try to get some sleep, and as the village idiot cowers in the attic, Juana is awakened by strange noises. First she hears a distant bell tolling midnight. Henry explains that it’s probably a signal out at sea, warning ships away from fog. Next, Juana hears weird crying sounds… Henry points out that it’s merely the sound of seagulls. Except… seagulls never come out at night…

Next, Juana hears a strange, unearthly singing coming from somewhere down the beach. Unable to think of a rational explanation for this, Henry gets dressed, and with Juana insisting on coming with him, he goes down to the beach to investigate.

The source of the distant voice is never revealed, but Henry and Juana do see a procession of villagers — black-draped old women, mostly — leading a girl in white along the beach. Aha, thinks Henry — just a local religious ceremony, some sort of ritual for ensuring a prosperous fishing season. The couple go back to their house.

Of course, we know what’s happening. As the villagers tie the nervous girl to some rocks, in their abandoned castle the Templars begin to stir. Yes, it’s the same footage from the original; shortened, but immediately recognizeable. As the terrified villagers run off, the Knights ride in slow-motion down the beach, looking for their sacrifice…

The next day, as Juana tries to buy provisions at the local store, the old woman who runs the place ignores her completely. Finally, a local girl named Lucy takes pity on her, and makes the old woman fill out her order. Lucy offers to carry Juana’s bags, and further offers to come work for them. I should probably point out here that Henry and Juana are not tremendously sympathetic characters. They are admittedly having a rough time of it with the locals, but they’ve also brought a good deal of city arrogance with them. When Lucy offers to help with the bags, for example, Juana doesn’t just let her help — she thrusts both bulky bags into Lucy’s arms and walks out without a backward glance. She expects the village girl to wait on her.

That night, as Lucy clears up before dinner (a very late dinner, apparently), Juana again hears distant bells tolling. Lucy insists she hears nothing. But Teddy the idiot hears it, and is very afraid. As Juana tries to comfort him, another knock comes at the door. Lucy hesitates to open the door, so Henry does it. In comes a terrified girl, who pleads with them to help her. Henry gives her a mild sedative, and as they try to get the girl to explain what danger she’s in, a group of townspeople forces its way into the house. They demand that the girl — Tilda, they call her — come with them at once. The groggy girl complies, against Henry’s protests.

Tilda’s fate is presented to us in greater detail than the previous girl’s. The Templars carry her, still alive, back to their ruined castle. Once again, the Templars remove their left gauntlets as the ceremony begins. As the grotesque stone idol leers over them, the zombies sacrifice Tilda. Once again, the crabs, as crusty and slow-moving as the Templars themselves, crawl over the dead girl’s body to feast.

The next day, the Doctor goes into the village to look for the girl he saw in the night. No one will tell him who she is, or where she lives. Finally, Teddy tells him: her name is Tilda Flanagan (!), and she lived over there. The Doctor is puzzled by his use of the past tense. “You’ll never find her again,” Teddy says remorsefully. As the Doctor and Juana go off to look for Tilda, the villagers surround the poor idiot…

(Now I have to interrupt again, and wonder exactly where this story is taking place. The prologue was clearly Spanish. Though the Doctor’s name is “Henry”, this isn’t so difficult to accept… after all, we had a Spanish guy named Roger in the first movie. His last name is Stein in the English translation, though the Dutch subtitles on my copy refer to him as “Sowa”. Again, not a big deal. But a rural Spanish family named “Flanagan”?! I know there were Spanish sailors washed ashore in Ireland after the sinking of the Spanish Armada. These Spaniards intermarried with the locals, creating the dark-haired strain called “black Irish”. I was unaware of any Irish, though, who washed up on the shores of Spain. Anyone who can give me some background on the Irish Armada is welcome to do so. To make things even more disorienting, my copy is a composite print that occasionally lapses into German!)

That night, for the third night in a row, anxious knocking comes at the door of the Doctor’s house. Lucy goes to answer, but freezes in terror in the open doorway. Henry comes in to see what’s the matter. There in front of the house stands the procession of villagers. This time, they’ve come for Lucy…

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