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The Plague Of The Zombies (DVD)
Member Name: Mauri
The Plague Of The Zombies (DVD)
Date: 22/03/11, updated on 23/03/11 (72 review reads)
Advantages: Good acting for the most part, special effects and locations
Disadvantages: A couple of weak perforrmances
"THE LORD IS PUNISHING US FOR OUR SINS!"
In deepest darkest 19th century Cornwall all is not well. The inhabitants of a small village are afflicted by a mystery ailment that leads to listlessness and a seeming lack of will to live. The young doctor not originally from these parts writes in desperation to an old friend and mentor Sir James Forbes an eminent professor of medicine, for his for help in explaining the mystery. The doctor's young wife also happens to be the close friend of the professor's daughter Sylvia so both the professor and his daughter travel down to Cornwall on a social visit and also to see if they can help out the doctor. It soon becomes apparent that whatever is going on it will require more than knowledge of medicine or science to explain. Whatever is going on it seems likely that the local Squire Hamilton might know more than he is letting on.
"I DREAMED I SAW THE DEAD RISE!"
The performances on the whole are very good especially by Andre Morell in the role of Professor Forbes. Morell was a veteran Shakespearean actor and brings gravitas to his part and the film, something hammer film often achieved by employing excellent character actor to balance out the often ridiculous storylines. John Carson as the baddie is again on good form; he is also a recognisable face from 60's and 70's films and TV and as always is dependable. The let downs are the younger members of the cast both Brook Williams and Diane Clare (who? You may ask!) are rather wooden and their acting is shown up whenever they interact with any of the other actors on screen. It's not surprising that neither went on to have huge success in their future careers. Of interest is also the appearance of Jacqueline Pearce later to become every schoolboy's guilty fantasy as the sexy but evil Servalan in Blake's Seven. She made a few Hammer films in the 60's before becoming the evil ruler of the known universe in the late 70's!
Initially the film suffers from a rather uninspiring leading man but we soon realise that Peter is actually playing second fiddle to the Professor and unlike most features of this period the film doesn't have a young central hero with a love interest but rather an older leading man, I suppose in the more paternalistic Van Helsing mould.
"WE MUST HAVE A BODY TO EXAMINE!"
'The Plague of the Zombies' is a Hammer classic; it features all the elements that make up the best of Hammer horror at this time. The locations indoors and out are all believable we get to see a creepy deserted mine, a small village with suitably scary graveyard and of course as often is the case in these films the classic country manor where the true evil lurks. In the best Hammer tradition the colours are vibrant as is the costume design. From the very first scene where we see white robed satanic acolytes are performing secret blood rituals in order to posses and bring back the dead we know we are in for a treat. I also like the fact that the story is set in Victorian times, I always feel that it adds to the atmosphere of the horror movies especially those with classic themes. The 19th century costumes and the settings always have that Sherlock Holmes feel to them. Certainly vampire movies are always best when set in the past although maybe this isn't always true with Zombie films.
"IN THE MIDST OF LIFE WE ARE IN DEATH!"
The stand out moment for me in the whole film is a short but very effective dream sequence about halfway through the story. In this we see Zombies in the graveyard reaching out from beneath the recently dug earth, first fingers claw their way through the fresh soil, then arms and heads. Before you know the whole place is full of Zombies. The zombies themselves are not your more modern flesh eating type so there isn't the visceral violence or gore content that one might expect from this genre. They are more like slaves that shuffle around and attack people at their masters bidding. Despite the lack of gore there is one scene in particular, a decapitation of a young woman, that did give the studios problems. In the original script the head was to be cut off by repeated strikes from a spade, hacking at it until it was severed at the neck. This was deemed to be a little too strong for the viewing sensibilities of the time and the scene could only be included if the slicing of the head was actually done out of frame. The scene is still effective although it lacks the punch that the original would've had. Although there is little in the way of gore that most zombie film lovers are used to nowadays, what there is skilfully filmed and executed and whilst not being 'scream out loud in terror' frightening it can still make you jump in places relying more on tension and suspense for thrills rather than fake blood and the CGI of more modern films.
The make-up and special effects are very good on the whole; the studio must've invested a fair amount in to this production. Many of the indoor sequences were filmed at the famous Bray studios, a small country manor that Hammer owned and used in many of their films. The director John Gilling is a veteran of horror and sci-fi having previously directed 'The Night Caller' (1965) and 'The Flesh and the Fiends' (1960). He went on to two more hammer films including 'The Reptile' the same year also featuring Jacqueline Pearce and 'The Mummy's Shroud'(1967) so as you would expect handled the gothic hokum with flair and expertise.
When we assess the value of this film we must remember that it was made in 1966 two years before the 1968 landmark Zombie film 'Night of the Living Dead' which it undoubtedly greatly influenced, such was Hammer reputation in horror cinema at the time. Taking this into account I think we can say that 'The Plague of the Zombies' is a hugely important film and doesn't generally get the credit it deserves, but above all it still is a well made and entertaining movie.
Technical Details & Bonus Material
Screen Widescreen: Full screen
Languages English - Dolby Digital (1.0) Mono
Duration 91 minutes (approx)
Region 2 - Will only play on European Region 2 or multi-region DVD players.
The film carries a UK 12 certificate but there are a few disturbing scenes to look out for. What we don't get is the customary sex and nudity that was standard in the later 70's Hammer productions.
In this Hammer Collection DVD there is little bonus material included. When the film was first released it was included as the second feature in a double release with 'Dracula Prince of Darkness' being the main film, as part of the bonus feature is include the original double feature cinema trailer, which show more spoilers than it really should. There is also a very entertaining trailer for the film alone which makes great use of the Voodoo drums and 60's graphics, this has also too many spoilers but judging from the more reserved voice over was intended for the British market Both are very interesting for film buffs. A standard scene selection option is also included and that's your lot.
André Morell ... Sir James Forbes
Diane Clare ... Sylvia Forbes
Brook Williams ... Dr. Peter Tompson
Jacqueline Pearce ... Alice Mary Tompson
John Carson ... Squire Clive Hamilton
Alexander Davion ... Denver
Michael Ripper ... Sergeant Jack Swift
'The Plague of the Zombies' can be bought from Amazon UK for £3.99 (including p&p) at the time this review was written.
Summary: A classic 60's Zombie movie from the Hammer studio