THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES. (1966) A SEVEN ARTS/HAMMER FILM PRODUCTION. DIRECTED BY JOHN GILLING. PRODUCED BY ANTHONY NELSON KEYS. MUSIC BY JAMES BERNARD.
STARRING ANDRE MORELL, BROOK WILLIAMS, DIANE CLARE, JACQUELINE PEARCE, MICHAEL RIPPER AND JOHN CARSON.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This is a top-notch zombie horror film from Hammer Film Productions, the company that brought us such cinematic gems as the 1958 DRACULA starring Christopher Lee and THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) with Peter Cushing.
Sir James Forbes is an eminent English physician, beautifully played by Andre Morell, who also portrayed Dr. Watson for Hammer in THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959) and Professor Bernard Quatermass for the BBC television serial QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1958-1959).
Sir James is disturbed in August 1860 to get a letter from a former student of his, who is now the local doctor in a small Cornish village. People have been dying from a mysterious plague in the village and the doctor, Peter Tompson, wants the advice of his former professor and mentor.
Sir James will jolly well go one better than that. He’ll go to Cornwall and see what’s up for himself. He is accompanied by his beautiful blonde daughter, Sylvia, who just so happens to be old pals with the doctor’s wife, the equally beautiful brunette, Alice, played by Jacqueline Pearce (THE REPTILE).
When Sir James and Sylvia arrive at the Cornish village, they are just in time to see the funeral of the latest plague victim being interrupted by a crowd of red-coated yobbos hunting a fox.
At the Tompsons’ house, they find Alice pale, unhealthy-looking, with a bandaged cut on her wrist, and extremely ill at ease. Then, in the local tavern, Sir James finds the young Dr. Tompson being harangued by the locals for his apparent inability to diagnose the cause of death in the plague victims.
Dear old Hammer regular Michael Ripper, for once, isn’t behind the bar at the local tavern, pulling pints and dispensing local gossip and homespun wisdom in equal measure.
In this film, he’s playing the copper who catches Sir James and Dr. Tompson digging up the corpse of the most recent plague victim, in the hopes of finding out what killed him.
Autopsies are banned by order of the local Squire Clive Hamilton, you see, which is a little strange. Why wouldn’t the Squire want to find out what’s been killing off his villagers and tenants?
Well, maybe if he was part of the reason they’ve been dropping like flies and disappearing from their coffins, he’d be anxious not to have his handiwork laid out in a laboratory while a surgeon takes a pizza cutter to the cadavers’ big, juicy delicious brains, nom-nom-nom…
When Alice’s corpse is found on the moors, as dead as the proverbial dodo, Sir James and the distraught widower decide to have a peep in her coffin. (The graveyard is the same one from THE REPTILE, by the way.) They won’t forget what they see in a hurry. It’s enough to give the poor bereaved hubby nightmares…
Meanwhile, the lovely Sylvia, Sir James’s pride and joy (though he hides his love beneath a gruff exterior), who earlier has narrowly avoided being gang-raped by the members of the local hunt (shades of Sir Hugo and his cronies in THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, much?), is being targeted by the evil Squire for his own secret, nefarious purposes.
A cut on her finger engineered by the cunning toff and all of a sudden she’s chanting Haitian voodoo mantras, to the alarm of young Dr. Thompson. Is Sylvia doomed to spend the rest of her existence as one of Squire Hamilton’s mindless zombies, performing his evil bidding (whatever that is) for all eternity, or will the two medics work out what’s going on and rush to the rescue? The dénouement is shockingly dramatic.
The scenery, costumes and settings are all gorgeous, as usual (you wouldn’t expect anything less from Hammer, whose standards and production values were always of a super-high quality), and Andre Morell is absolutely superb in the lead role, showing the younger ones how it’s done in a way that older actors don’t always get to do.
The film will put you very much in mind of WHITE ZOMBIE (1932), in which the magnificent Bela Lugosi, playing the wonderfully-named Murder Legendre, turns Haitian natives into zombies for the sole purpose of employing them as free labour in his sugar cane mill.
The idea of using zombies as unpaid workers, as you will see here, is by no means a new one, and it certainly saves you from having to engage with any annoying union reps. It may also remind you, to a certain extent, of other early zombie films such as I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) and THE DEAD ONE (1961), otherwise known as BLOOD OF THE ZOMBIE. I’m delighted especially to have this last one in my possession, as it was once considered to be a lost film.
I don’t love THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES as much as I do THE REPTILE (I really love THE REPTILE!), but it’s still a bloody good horror film, some say one of Hammer’s finest productions. Don’t miss out on seeing it under any circumstances.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.