THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES. (1966) A HAMMER CLASSIC REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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.

WHITE ZOMBIE. (1932) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

white zombie bela closeup

WHITE ZOMBIE. (1932) BASED ON THE 1929 NOVEL BY WILLIAM SEABROOK, THE MAGIC ISLAND. DIRECTED BY VICTOR HALPERIN AND PRODUCED BY EDWARD HALPERIN.

STARRING BELA LUGOSI, MADGE BELLAMY, JOHN HARRON, ROBERT W. FRAZER AND JOSEPH CAWTHORN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is such a marvellously atmospheric old horror movie, starring Bela Lugosi who was still fresh from his success as UNIVERSAL’s DRACULA (1931). He looks young, extremely handsome, charismatic and devilish here as the white Voodoo Master of Haiti who puts a spell on a beautiful young woman on whom he has personal romantic designs. But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

The beautiful young woman in question is a blonde ‘Twenties bombshell called Madeleine Short, and she’s come to Haiti to marry her fiancé Neil Parker, who’s already there for some reason. I think he has a plantation there. On the boat over to Haiti, she meets a rich young man called Charles Beaumont who’s determined to befriend the young married-couple-to-be for reasons known only to himself.

On the coach-ride to Mr. Beaumont’s plantation, the young couple pass a funeral party that is burying the deceased in the middle of the road. This is to deter anyone who might have a mind to steal the corpse and turn it into one of the ‘undead,’ explains their Haitian coachman matter-of-factly. And, speaking of which, here come a party of these eerie ‘undead’ rascals right now!

The coachman whips up the horses to a frenetic degree.

‘What the hell are you playing at, driver?’ demands Neil irately. ‘We might have been killed!’

‘Or worse, Mister Neil,’ replies the coachman sagely, ‘we might have been CAUGHT…!’

Apparently, Haiti is swarming with these ghouls, who once walked the earth as human beings but whom the most nefarious black magic has raised up from the dead and turned into mindless zombies who work night and day in the islands’ sugar-cane mills. What a life, or should I say what an un-life…?

Mr. Beaumont is a wealthy plantation owner and it soon becomes clear that he’s fallen madly in love with the gorgeous Madeleine, with her huge doe eyes, Clara Bow lips and short blonde ‘Twenties hair.

She’s the very image of a ‘Twenties babe, despite the fact that we’re now in the ‘Thirties. The fashions here are very much still of the ‘Twenties. It gives the whole production the look of a silent movie and, as I’m a huge fan of silent movies, that’s no bad thing in my opinion.

In fact, the film would have worked very well as a silent movie. There’s kind of minimal dialogue in it anyway and the fantastic music score would have been ideal for a silent horror flick.

There’s a long stretch of the film at the end, the bit where Neil is fighting off the zombies by himself, where there’s little or no dialogue and the music is extremely dramatic. You could easily imagine yourself to be watching a terrific old silent movie at this point.

Mr. Beaumont wants to stop the marriage between Madeleine and Neil. He seeks out Bela Lugosi’s evil Voodoo Master, a white creator of zombies with the fantastically memorable name of ‘Murder Legendre,’ to help him. He wants the marriage stopped, but when he realises that the Voodoo Master’s method of doing it is to turn Madeleine herself into one of these ‘living dead’ zombies, he freaks out.

When the Voodoo Master in turn works a spell on Beaumont to immobilise him while he, Murder Legendre, claims Madeleine for his own, the situation becomes desperate. Can Neil rescue the lovely Madeleine from Murder’s evil clutches and, whether he can or he can’t, what will happen now to poor zombified Mr. Charles Beaumont, himself a rich plantation owner but who is now under one of Murder’s terrible spells?

Is he doomed for all time to slave in the Voodoo Master’s mills as one of the undead? And why am I calling him ‘poor’ Mr. Beaumont? If he hadn’t tried to break up Madeleine and Neil in the first place, none of this stuff would now be happening…! He’s only got himself to blame but still, being a zombie is probably a lot less exciting than it sounds.

The bit where Beaumont meets Murder Legendre in the Voodoo Master’s sugar-cane mill is quite chilling. Not only has the VM turned hundreds of once-living people into mindless zombie workers for profit (they work long hours for no pay and never quibble about anything because they can’t), but he’s also turned a specific coterie of them into his own personal group of bodyguards.

‘See these lads here?’ he tells the horrified Beaumont with his trademark evil Bela Lugosi smile. ‘These all used to be my enemies. This one here used to be my master.’

Beaumont is clearly shocked.

‘What happens if the spell you put on them is ever broken?’ he asks nervously.

‘Why, then they will tear me to pieces,’ says Bela matter-of-factly, still smiling. ‘So that can never be allowed to happen…’

By the way, here are some random facts about the film. The film was savaged by the critics upon release for the very things I love about it, the slightly hammy acting and the silent movie look and feel of the thing. The critics were nuts. This is possibly the best zombie movie ever made. Certainly it was the first full-length one.

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE from 1943 has the same dark, shadowy atmospheric look and feel to WHITE ZOMBIE. It’s an excellent film as well, though with a slightly more modern feel to it because it’s a full decade older.

Rob Zombie’s metal band WHITE ZOMBIE took their name directly from the film and they wouldn’t have done that unless they thought it was the coolest movie ever, which it is, so take that, moronic critics. I still can’t believe they dissed this film.

The huge stone tower or cliffside castle where the zombified Madeleine is being held prisoner is actually a painting. It’s just like a black-and-white version of the fabulous painted castles in Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe film adaptations for AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES. It’s a gorgeous castle, very atmospheric-looking and quite like something out of the 1931 UNIVERSAL DRACULA too.

The two little maids assigned to care for Madeleine are scared to brush her hair because they know she’s one of the undead. They’re also too afraid to run away because the wicked and cunning VM will find them and turn them into zombies too. It’s quite a creepy no-win situation in which they find themselves.

Madeleine looks like a medieval princess when she comes out onto the balcony with that long dress on her with the low-slung belt around the waist. If her hair was several feet longer, she’d make a great Rapunzel. She’s the perfect damsel in distress, waiting patiently in her medieval tower to be rescued. There ain’t nothing remotely proactive about this dame. 

I’m not sure, though, why Neil is in such an all-fired great hurry to snap her out of the vacant, glassy-eyed zombified state she’s in. At least while she’s checked out like this, she won’t be nagging him to change his socks or get up from the sports on the telly to put the bins out. Some blokes clearly don’t know they’re born.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. 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, womens’ 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

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor