Review: THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1966)

John Gilling directs THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, a 1966 endeavour from Hammer Film Productions that manages to be one of the creepiest outings in the entire canon. Featuring a screenplay by Peter Bryan and cinematography by Arthur Grant, this picture features a horde of mindless, lumbering drones doing evil things for their evil masters. It also reminds of the 1932 horror WHITE ZOMBIE in its frantic depiction of voodoo and Haitian culture.

It is 1860 and the denizens of a Cornish village are dying. The doctor Peter Tompson (Brook Williams) can’t figure it out and his wife Alice (Jacqueline Pearce) seems to be suffering some sort of malaise. Help arrives in the form of Peter’s friend Sir James Forbes (André Morell), who attends to the problem with his daughter Sylvia (Diane Clare). The foot-dragging of the villagers to have any real investigation done piques Forbes’ curiosity, while the shadowy Squire Clive Hamilton (John Carson) is up to something.

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THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES is a film ensconced in grave atmosphere and the chills are effective from the outset. Sir James and Sylvia arrive in the midst of a fox hunt and the sassy girl sends the hunters in the wrong direction, which sets off a chain of events that somehow ends with a funeral procession interrupted and the coffin toppled in a ditch. Whatever’s going on in the village betrays a sort of communal lunacy, which is why the movie’s men of reason struggle so.

Carson’s Hamilton is a unique beast. At first, he comes to Sylvia’s rescue when she’s set upon by the fox hunters. But there’s something ominous about him and the black magic in his past may have come home to roost. He seeks Sylvia’s blood and likes to wear masks. This sets him in contrast to Sir James and Peter, who use intelligence and science to understand the world. And this sets off yet another famed Hammer collision of science and myth, with a scorching plague of zombies doing the heavy lifting.

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