PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES
second of Hammer’s Cornish horrors is, like The
Reptile, one of the company’s great sleeper
films, holding up considerably better than many of their better-known
movies of the 1960s. It’s also an interesting bridging
point between the voodoo-inspired zombie films of the past and
the flesh eating shockers that would arise a couple of years
later with Night of the Living Dead. While
Hammer’s zombies remain more mindless slaves than dangerous
threat, the film does at least allow them to take on a certain
level of horror not previously seen.
Like The Reptile, The Plague of the
Zombies sees exotic and sinister foreign cults transplanted
in a small and insular Cornish location. In this case, local
Squire Clive Hamilton (John Carson) is killing off and then
resurrecting villagers to work as slave labour in his dangerous
tin mine, using the knowledge he picked up living in Haiti.
Local doctor Peter Tompson (Brook Williams) is helpless in the
face of the mysterious deaths and the backward attitudes of
the unfriendly villagers who refuse permission for post-mortems
(Hammer probably didn’t win any awards from the Cornish
tourist board for these two films!), and his wife Anna (Jacqueline
Pearce) is sickening, about to become Hamilton’s next
victim. It’s down to the solid Sir James Forbes (Andre
Morrell) and his feisty daughter Sylvia (Diane Clare) to get
to the bottom of the mystery.
slacking for a moment, Plague… is one
of Hammer’s most impressive movies – atmospheric,
sometimes gruesome and action-packed – even James Bernard,
not the most subtle of composers at the best of times, seems
to be pulling out all the stops here with a soundtrack that
is almost combustible in its franticness. Carson and Morrell
dominate the cast as two sides of Hammer’s upper classes
– the dependable hero and the decadent, unsavoury villain.
The politics of Hammer’s horrors are often fascinating,
and never more so than here, where the rich really are
exploiting the working classes and where ostentatious wealth
is intimately connected to a more general decadence.
The ever-dependable John Gilling does a bang-up job here –
a nightmare sequence is rightly remembered as one of the finest
moments in any Hammer film and his sure hand means that you
rarely stop to think about the weak juvenile leads (Diane Clare
is just as one-dimensional as Jennifer Daniel was in The
Reptile), the rather-too-obvious day-for-night shots
and some ropey zombie masks glimpsed in the final sequences.
None of that matters because The Plague of the Zombies
is a first rate horror adventure.
The newly restored disc looks great – you can occasionally
see the joins, but the colours are vivid and the whole movie
looks fresh and astounding. There’s also a 35 minutes
documentary that is considerably better than the one featured
on The Reptile, including interviews with Pearce
and Carson. Another must-have Hammer restoration.
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OF THE ZOMBIES GALLERY