The Plague of the Zombies

Starring: Andre Morell, Diane Clare and John Carson
Warner Home Video
RRP: 7.99
Certificate: 12
Available 11 October 2004

Sir James Forbes, a professor of medicine, and his daughter Sylvia visit Doctor Peter Tompson and his wife, Alice, in the Cornish village where they reside - after a mysterious letter is received. Tompson is Forbes's ex-student, and Alice is a good friend of Sylvia. The people of this tin-mining community are falling sick with an unknown malady and 12 have died in the last year. The villagers blame the doctor for not finding the cause, but he has never been permitted to carry out a post-mortem by Squire Clive Hamilton, who acts as coroner, judge - and in this case - executioner too. Sir James soon discovers that all of the graves in the churchyard are empty, and one man is babbling about seeing his dead brother walking. Mystical activities are traced to the squire's residence and the nearby mines, but the doctor's wife is walking dead and the race is on to save Sylvia...

The Plague of the Zombies from 1966 was Hammer's only foray into living dead territory. When I saw the publicity picture on the cover of this release I cringed before laughing. This was either going to be awful or so bad it's good. I'm glad to report that I was wrong on both counts. The scene it's from is a nightmare sequence (the only segment aside from the finale where more than one zombie is seen), and it thankfully cuts quickly before we reach the photo in question.

I like the idea of zombies being made to work in the tin mines. The villagers had apparently refused to work there after a series of accidents and subsequent rumours of hauntings. It explains how the squire has money aplenty when his father before him had run up huge debts. In fact, I only remember the word zombie being spoken once; it certainly reduced the potential for silliness. Somehow the phrases 'living corpse' and 'walking dead' lend much more credence to the concept.

Andre Morell as Sir James Forbes is a commanding presence in this film and I can't imagine it being half as good without him. He's polite and sympathetic without ever being weak; a great contrast to the out-of-depth Doctor Tompson. It harks back to a time when manners and etiquette were everything, even when conversing with an obvious villain. Never a bad thing in my book. And talking of the meeting of two opposites, there is a decidedly Twilight Zone moment when Hamilton descends the stairs to talk with Sir James. When he turns a corner on the stairs a large dog is fleetingly glimpsed, but when he reaches the bottom, only a few steps later, the dog has mysteriously evaporated.

I'm sure I could pick holes in this movie if I wanted to, but what's the point. It holds together really well, and is an enjoyable tale well told. Another gem from Hammer Productions.

Ty Power

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