Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Plague Of The Zombies (1966)

Perhaps my very favourite Hammer horror movie (certainly giving The Nanny a good run for its money), this features a crowd of the undead causing problems in a Cornish village. While it's far removed from the type of thing we horror fans have been given by the likes of Romero and Fulci, this still remains a great entry into the zombie movie subgenre and contains at least one quintessential zombie movie moment.

André Morell plays Sir James Forbes, a standard Hammer hero. He's elderly and wise and refined and ends up travelling with his daughter, Sylvia (Diane Clare) to visit his ex-pupil, Dr. Peter Thompson (Brook Williams). The doctor and his wife (Alice, played by the lovely Jacqueline Pearce) have been having a hard time of things lately. They have been living in the small Cornish village for about a year and the doctor has, unfortunately, seen about a dozen deaths in that time. All unexplained and rather mysterious. He would like to perform autopsies to help his investigation but the local squire (played by John Carson) has not allowed him. Meanwhile, there would seem to be far too many spaces in the graveyard that should have bodies inside.

Sharing some cast members, and it's set, with the movie that followed it (The Reptile), it's good to see that, despite the obvious cost-cutting measures brought about by filming two movies with shared resources, there are no corners cut here.

Director John Gilling (working from Peter Bryan's enjoyable script) creates a great atmosphere throughout. Yes, we have the usual fainting female and some overreaction dotted here and there but this movie manages to stay eerie and tense even during it's many daylight scenes (something often quite difficult to achieve in the genre). The acting is all adequate (Morell in particular makes for a good, noble lead, Carson is great and Michael Ripper gets a few decent moments), but what really gives this movie the edge is its portrayal of the zombies themselves and the ritual used to bring them about.

Throw in some amusing cads (aka rich, spoilt gits), a Hammer standard tavern scene and a finale that starts with a poorly executed fight scene but then moves on to some impressive fire damage and you have a film that moves along at a brisk pace while constantly entertaining.


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