Directed by John Gilling
Produced by Anthony Nelson Keys
Screenplay: Peter Bryan
Cinematography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Chris Barnes
Music by James Bernard
Cast: André Morell (Sir James Forbes), Diane Clare (Sylvia Forbes), Brook Williams (Dr. Peter Tompson), Jacqueline Pearce (Alice Tompson), John Carson (Squire Clive Hamilton), Alexander Davion (Denver), Michael Ripper (Sgt. Jack Swift)
Every kid who grew up watching horror movies (old or new) has a scene or two they remember fondly (or dreadfully) for how badly it scared them as a kid. Psycho‘s shower scene. Ben Gardner’s head in Jaws. The list goes on and on. Well, one of mine’s in Hammer’s The Plague Of The Zombies (1966).
There’s a nightmare sequence about halfway through the film with plenty of fog, odd camera angles, crazy colors and lots of dead bodies either coming out of the ground or wandering around a graveyard. It totally wigged me out as a kid (much like the zombie in the back of a hearse in a certain episode of The Night Stalker).
So I dropped the new Blu-Ray into my player with a mammoth pile of fondness (and gratitude to our friends at Scream Factory). And boy, this thing really knocked me out. The color is terrific, the sound has real punch to it, and the movie’s even better than I remember.
The Plague Of The Zombies features the old voodoo/Haiti kind of zombies (as seen in 1932’s White Zombie), as opposed to George Romero’s flesh-munching variety. They’re being used by Squire Hamilton (John Carson) as workers in an old tin mine. In the late 19th century, Cornwall evidently had a pretty severe labor shortage.
When a rash of people in his village start dying, a young doctor (Brook Williams) turns to his old friend Sir James Forbes (André Morell) to help get to the bottom of things. Morell is terrific as the old doctor, but the prize goes to Jacqueline Pearce who pretty much walks away with the movie as one of the walking dead. By the way, Brook Williams gets killed off in the first 10 minutes of my all-time favorite movie, Where Eagles Dare (1969).
John Gilling wasn’t one of Hammer’s major directors — he came and went over the course of the studio’s heyday. But he made some of their better films, with this being one of them. His The Pirates Of Blood River (1962) and The Reptile (1966, made back to back with The Plague Of The Zombies) are well worth seeking out. His 1960, non-Hammer The Flesh And The Fiends, which puts Peter Cushing in the tried-and-true Burke and Hare grave robbing/murder story, is terrific — and way up near the top of my Blu-Ray Wish List.
But back to The Plague Of The Zombies. The geniuses at Hammer offered this one up in a twin-bill with Dracula – Prince Of Darkness (1966), the second of the Christopher Lee Dracula pictures. What a night that must’ve been for monster-loving kids circa 1966.
With both pictures available from Scream Factory, you can recreate that evening in the privacy of your own home. And I bet they’ll look better in your living room than they did at your local drive-in back in ’66. Arthur Grant created some great color lighting effects for The Plague Of The Zombies, similar to what Jack Asher had before him at Hammer. The improved color makes all the Hammer Blu-Rays essential stuff for fans of these things — remember, color was the main selling point with these pictures. Shout Factory gives us a slew of tasty extras, with my favorite being a short documentary on the making of the picture. Time has been kind to these movies. They seem better than ever. Shout Factory’s been kind to them, too. They look better than ever. Highly, highly recommended.