Plague of the Zombies (1966) 

André Morell stars in this very tight horror picture, one of Hammer's few genuinely scary films. Optimum UK DVD, in the Hammer boxset.

The Film

In 1965 Hammer began a production deal with Seven-Arts, giving the studio its biggest budgets, and leading to some of their most memorable films. The first major titles released under the new deal were the Christopher Lee vehicles Rasputin the Mad Monk (1966) and Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966). Looking to completely secure the box-office takings for these two films, Hammer also elected to shoot their B-picture accompaniments, commissioning two low budget horror pictures, The Reptile (1966) and Plague of the Zombies...

Medical authority Sir James Forbes (
André Morell) is taking his annual leave when he receives a letter from an old student of his who is working down in Cornwall. A spate of mysterious deaths in the village has left him worried and confused as to their cause. Forbes reluctantly agrees to travel down to Cornwall, and discovers that the village is surrounded by a grim atmosphere of death, something that he will soon come face-to-face with, as he discovers that the dead are not being left to rest in their graves...

Peter Bryan was comissioned to pen the completely original script, and his experience with Hammer's earlier Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) is evident in the film's, small-Cornish village and Victorian era setting - even the lead character of Sir James is remniscent of Dr. Watson (of the books though, not the bumbling fool of many of the film adaptations). Well paced and very tight with not a hint of padding or dragging scenes the film is generally very well written, allowing for some good characterisation (although characters like the Squire could have been developed a lot further). It also provides plenty of opportunities for scary scenes and builds to an impressively climactic ending, avoiding the Deus ex Machina endings of many similar films.

John Gilling was not the best director who worked for Hammer, and many of his adventure films were sorely lacking. However his work here is absolutely top notch, raising some genuine scares, and working very well with the special effects. Combined with a typically good score from Hammer regular James Bernard this leads to probably the most geniunely scary sequence in the entire Hammer filmography, as the dead start to rise from their graves in the village graveyard.
Character actor André Morell takes a rare lead role here, in a part that might at first appearance have seemed better suited to Peter Cushing (who at the time was shooting Island of Terror (1966)). However, Morell is able to give it a sharp edge and confrontation that Cushing could never really give (he would always be such a perfect gentleman) and does seem to be perfect casting here. There are no big names in the supporting cast, but a good mix of British character actors, and the irrepressable Michael Ripper gets a meatier than usual role as the local constable.

Mixing a tight little story, with some moments of geniune terror and a splendid acting turn from
André Morell, Plague of the Zombies is a gem of a Hammer Horror film and comes highly recommended to all Hammer fans. Zombie movie fans should certainly find this of interest, coming out just two years before George A. Romero redefined the genre, and being one of a select number of Voodoo zombie films. Horror fans in general should make an effort to check this out, provided you don't want vivid gore, or breakneck pacing, there is plenty to enjoy here.

In brief:

Anyone famous in it? André Morell - a well versed British character actor, starred in Hammer's The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
Directed by anyone interesting? John Gilling - writer and director of the adventure film Fury at Smuggler's Bay (1961), as well as Hammer's horror The Reptile (1966) shot back to back with this film.
Is it scary?A couple of quite scary scenes.
Any violence? Some blood. Nothing particularly gory.
Any sex? No
Who is it for?
Certainly for all Hammer and Zombie movie fans, and of interest to horror fans in general.
Good soundtrack? A solid, if rather typical score from James Bernard.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 1.85:1. Anamorphically Enhanced. Colour
The print is okay - the colours are a little faded compared to the original technicolour print. There is some minor print damage.
Some of the night scenes seem to be missing tints, although this might be a fault with the original film itself.
Audio Original English mono - sounds fine.
Subtitles None.
ExtrasThe disc includes:
  • Original theatrical trailer.
  • Double-bill trailer with Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
AvailabilityAvailable in the Ultimate Hammer Collection, and on a single disc release.
Region Region 2 - PAL
Other regions? An Anchor Bay US release, available as a double-pack with The Mummy's Shroud includes the trailers and an episode of the tiresome World of Hammer series - includes a more colourful print. German DVD (title: Nächte des Grauens) contains a good looking print along with a 20 minute interview with composer James Bernard in English.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. Print used is English language.
Note: this print, as with most other DVD releases has the title sequence in a seemingly incorrect order, coming in the middle of the opening voodoo ceremony rather than at the end. My video-tape of an old Channel 4 screening has the titles in the correct place, and the sequence flows better.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 31st October 2007 - a Hallowe'en special!
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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