Plague of the Zombies (1966) [31 Days of Hammer Horror Review]

Jules picks up where he left off in October by running through some of the choice horror offerings from the fantastic Hammer back catalogue.

You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of Hammer” by CLICKING HERE.

Released: 1966
Starring: Andre Morell, Diane Clare, Brook Williams, Jacqueline Pearce, John Carson
Director: John Gilling

Hammer might have only ever made one zombie film, but it’s easily one of the best the genre has ever seen.

In what would be the last hurrah of the traditional voodoo zombie before George A. Romero changed the game forever with 1968’s Night Of The Living Dead, Plague Of The Zombies is nothing less than a legitimate contender for the studio’s finest ever offering.

A mysterious epidemic is taking the lives of young working men in a remote Cornish village, baffling local Doctor Peter Thompson (Brook Williams) and leading him to call in his old mentor Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell) to help him work out what’s going on.

It’s not long before the older man realises what’s at the root of the deaths – black magic, but tracing it to its source and putting a stop to it will prove to be no easy task. The dead are walking and there’s a malicious, scheming intelligence behind them.

Filmed back-to-back with The Reptile and using many of the same sets and actors, Plague Of The Zombies was originally released as part of a double bill with Dracula Prince Of Darkness, but is far, far superior than any second billing would suggest.

First and foremost, there are few Hammers that conjure an atmosphere quite like this one. There’s a dreamlike, hazy quality to much of it, partly due to the fact that all of the nighttime scenes were shot day-for-night, a technique that isn’t quite as effective as intended, but actually gives the whole thing a perpetual twilight that is more otherworldly than any night shoot could hope to have achieved.

It’s also flat-out harrowing at times too, from Sir James’ daughter Sylvia (Diane Clare) discovering seeing the corpse of her friend and Thompson’s wife Alice (Jaqueline Pearce) being thrown down the hill next to the old mill by a cackling zombie, to Sir James having to decapitate the now-undead Alice with a shovel, there’s no shortage of memorable scenes.

None more so than the actual nightmare scene, coming just after Doctor Thompson has watched his mentor behead his already-dead wife. Lost and alone in the graveyard, he’s surrounded by zombies, slowly crawling from their graves and reaching toward him as James Bernard’s pulsating, discordant score builds to an oppressive crescendo. It’s magnificent stuff and so perfectly realised that there’s no feeling of trickery when it’s revealed that it was all a dream.

In addition to all of this, the scenes set in the cave where the zombies are put to work mining tin are breathtakingly done, with Haitian tribesmen pounding on drums as masked voodoo priests force their undead slaves to work harder. Stunning.

Atmosphere aside, Plague Of The Zombies boasts one of the finest ensemble casts Hammer ever pulled together. Andre Morell is, as always, a safe pair of hands in the older heroic role, never failing to convince that he’s the man to deal with the evil at the heart of the village, while John Carson delivers a brilliantly aloof performance as Squire Hamilton, as much a comment on class politics as he is a moustache-twirling voodoo priest.

Both Diane Clare and Jaqueline Pearce have plenty to do too, with the former convincing as a strong, independent woman that isn’t afraid to stand up for herself, with Pearce pulling double duty as the doomed Alice and a particularly unnerving zombie with the most malicious of smiles.

Transplanting Haitian voodoo to Victorian Cornwall isn’t the easiest of concepts to pull off, but Plague Of The Zombies is nothing short of a masterpiece and it’s tragic that Hammer never returned again to the genre. The finest film Hammer ever made? Maybe. Just maybe.

Rating: 5/5.

JULESAV The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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