Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

When Sir James Forbes receives a letter from his friend Doctor Tompson - a GP in a small distant village - which describes a strange disease that is wiping out villagers, Sir James and his daughter Sylvia pay a visit hoping they can get to the bottom of the mystery.  As with all of the Hammer Horror films, The Plague of the Zombies isn’t very horrible by today’s standards, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t suspense, mystery and a foreboding sense of menace; especially when the enigmatic Squire Hamilton turns up.

It turns out that after the villagers have died of a “plague” (actually a voodoo curse), the bodies are then disinterred and via another voodoo ceremony, become zombies.  These zombies are very much the slow walking variety made famous by Night of the Living Dead, two years later; and as such, their victims are seen to be paralysed with fear before they can be strangled/bitten.  The make-up is pretty good, the zombies all having a suitable recently-dug-up look, and the white eyes are particularly creepy.  The idea that voodoo is behind it all is a nice idea, rather than there just being zombies for no reason; so by the end of the film Sir James and Dr Tompson are clear with what they have to do.  The only thing that was a bit odd was the fact that the zombies were being created for use as a work force in an old mine!  It struck me that zombies probably aren’t the best choice for slave-labour, what with their predisposition for falling apart!  It put me in mind of Boris Karloff’s Mummy finding himself gainful employment for 10 years while waiting for the modern embodiment of Anck-es-en Amon to show up.

The main cast are fine; AndrĂ© Morell and Brook Williams as Sir James and Dr Tompson are both pretty good; serious but then incredulous, yet determined when it matters.  The two ladies Jacqueline Pearce and Diane Clare are both rather wet, but I guess that’s what passes for female victims in this genre at the time.  Certainly John Carson as the mysterious Squire Hamilton has the most memorable role; he gives a suitably sinister performance but manages to present an mask of benevolent normality which hides his true motives.

The Plague of the Zombies is perhaps not deemed a classic and is doubtless overshadowed by Hammer Horrors more illustrious ancestry; however, its inventive story, cool zombies, atmosphere of death, its “rationale” for the zombies and solid lead roles make it an absorbing & very enjoyable movie.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.