Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Plague Of The Zombies (1966) Film Review
The Plague Of The Zombies
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Zombie movies are so popular these days that it's hard to remember a time when they were not, or to recall how much impact the living dead could have onscreen when they were a less commonplace sight. Hammer Horror, of course, is more strongly associated with vampires, but this bold entry into the zombie cannon shows that they could still pack in the scares when it came to less cognisant corpses.
The tale of a doctor and his daughter who travel to Cornwall to investigate a series of mysterious deaths, The Plague Of The Zombies was filmed back to back with The Reptile and features some of the same sets and stars. Jacqueline Pearce is again out of place as a demure young woman afflicted by evil; she can't help but carry herself like a countess and it's a shame Hammer never realised what an asset she could have been as a villain. The villain this time around is played by John Carson (there's little mystery to it), a sinister squire who has spent time in Haiti. As the determined Dr Forbes (André Morell) starts to poke his nose into his plans, the squire takes an interest in his daughter, Sylvia (Diane Clare) - as do his brutish fox-hunting henchmen.
There's a lot of titillating woman-in-peril stuff here that requires Sylvia to be a fragile character, but Clare does a good job in the role, packing her full of personality despite it. The result is that we care rather more about what happens to her, and she gets more to do than a lot of Hammer heroines, uncovering key aspects of the plot. Meanwhile her friend's husband Peter (Brook Williams) is up to his neck in trouble, almost literally, as he goes digging in the graveyard by night to try to uncover the fate of friends' corpses. This leads to one of the most impressive they're-coming-out-of-the-ground sequences in cinema, a scene whose theatrical-style effects only serve to make it creepier.
There aren't many surprises in this story - after all, the title doesn't leave much to the imagination - and fans of the modern zombie genre may find its shambling monsters disappointingly old-fashioned. As the 12 certificate suggests, there's little in the way of gore, and we cut away at the only really brutal moment, but there's certainly food for the imagination. Morell gives us a formulaic yet sympathetic hero whose clear-headedness in the face of danger is refreshing, as is the alliance between science and the Church in tackling a problem that intrudes upon both their domains. The biggest problem is that we never really get much sense of why the squire is doing all these dastardly things. What may be a rather mediocre profit motive is a poor substitute for the obsessive evils underlying similar tales.
Not Hammer at its finest, The Plague Of The Zombies is nevertheless well worth a watch, with considerably more going for it than mere novelty value. By returning us to an age before zombies were ubiquitous it reminds us just how scary a single shambling thing out on the moors ought to be.Reviewed on: 26 May 2011