The Plague of the Zombies (1966)
By: Trist Jones on May 26, 2006  |  Comments (0)  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Anchor Bay (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0, French DD 2.0. English, French Subtitles. 90 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: John Gilling
Starring: Andre Morell, Diane Clare, John Carson, Brook Williams, Michael Ripper
Screenplay: Peter Bryan
Country: UK
Hammer Horror has always been a big part of my life. Where some will point to Karloff, Lugosi and Chaney as being the epitomes of the classic monsters, I will always point to Hammers incarnations. The darker, more sinister streak always appealed to me, and in spite of having actors such as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing constantly playing the same characters, the interpretations of the source material such as Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy and so on, were always varied, but managed to keep what was essential to the story and characters. What Hammer is arguably known less for, are their original horrors. The Reptile, Rasputin, the Mad Monk, The Devil Rides Out, To the Devil a Daughter, and so many more are all great films in their own right, but some people may look at the aforementioned titles and wonder what the hell I'm talking about. The Plague of the Zombies is another one of these titles, which I'm pretty sure no one outside of the Hammer fanbase knows exists.

The Plague of the Zombies isn't what I'm sure most people are conjuring in their minds. Hordes of flesh eating cadavers walking the earth mindlessly will not be found within. The Plague of the Zombies takes the road far less travelled, utilizing the more reality based idea of Haitian mythology (or urban mythology depending on what you read). I'd been wanting to see this film for a long time, since viewing The World of Hammer documentary series on SBS every Saturday night all those years ago. When I finally got the chance to see it, I found myself considerably surprised at how different the story was to what I had been anticipating. I knew there was an element of voodoo to the film from the documentaries, and that (obviously) zombies were involved in a turn of the century English village. What I wasn't expecting was how very Sherlock Holmes the film was. Don't misread that either, this isn't a Sherlock Holmes film, though with a few tweaks here and there to some characters and plot points it very well could be. There's a Hound of the Baskervilles feel to it, and I really don't want to say too much to save from spoiling anything.

The Plague of the Zombies certainly isn't above any other Hammer film in terms of production design. It looks and feels just like every other period piece Hammer put out. You have your standard English village, your spooky graveyard, your upper-class mansion, your dirty tavern, the set piece that will inevitably burn down, everything on the Hammer List of Locations is here. The same can be said about the characters.

All the core characters are ones we've seen before. Admittedly Andre Morell's Sir James is far more British than any other Hammer protagonist I've seen, but his role is essentially the same. The acting jumps from terribly melodramatic, to just plain terrible, but this is another staple of Hammer horror (unless your name is Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee or Oliver Reed). Of course, no Hammer film is really complete without buxom women in tight Victorian dress, and rest assured, they are present and accounted for (though in nowhere near the supply as Hammer's Dracula titles).

Hammer's visuals for the zombies are definitely worth noting though. They're simplistic, sure, but they're definitely more intimidating than Dawn of the Dead's zombies. Where Dawn's looked like people with green make-up and some well applied gore prosthetics, Plague's zombies, though greener than gorier, have a far more foul look to them. They look like they're rotting, and the tonally different green combined with the heavy, filthy garments they wear make them far more imposing.

The Plague of the Zombies is likely to disappoint gorehounds who connect the word zombie with hard violence in a major way. The film is nowhere near as violent as the title may infer, and the body count is significantly low. What this film does deliver however are some genuinely creepy moments, which is hard for a film to do in this day and age. There's a moment towards the middle of the film where our two protagonists dig up the body of the younger's recently deceased fiancé, I'm pretty sure you can figure out the rest, but it really is a particularly chilling sequence.

In the same stead, people who aren't necessarily used to Hammer's storytelling, or production values are risking boredom, as it really isn't a conventional zombie, or horror film.
Video
It's presented in 1.85:1, so there are no complaints there, but the picture has a tendency to shift quality. It's not really noticeable, you just pick up on it without really noticing when it happens, and before you know it, it's back to the modern standard. The title and credit sequences really make the film look old though, as the title effects have likely impacted the negative to a point that there's no real way to make it completely clean.
Audio
Nothing special, but not too much can be expected from a release like this. Just about every old Hammer Studios film comes in Dolby Digital 2.0 and though surprisingly clear for a forty year old film, there's still some noise present. There's a French language option on this release, too.
Extra Features
These Anchor Bay releases of the old Hammer films are usually fairly limp when it comes to the extras, but the pricing is usually good enough to not really be a problem (I also doubt there would be many noteworthy extras aside from what's here, given what a machine Hammer Studios was). A commentary would have been nice, but it isn't present on any release available. This release, the Anchor Bay region 0 (U.S. Version) comes with one of the aforementioned documentaries entitled "Mummies, Werewolves and The Living Dead". Narrated by Oliver Reed, these documentaries run for about half an hour and present clips, anecdotes and production facts about films Hammer released under the title's subject matter.

You also get the theatrical trailer, which is some quality cheese.

This film has also been re-released as a two-pack with Hammer's "The Mummy's Shroud", and contains all the same extras.
The Verdict
Not everyone's cup of tea, and definitely not for those looking for a "Hollywood" zombie romp, The Plague of the Zombies is likely to appeal more to those who like mysteries or thrillers with supernatural or horror elements. Hammer fans are likely to enjoy this one a lot more than the average audience.
Movie Score
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