by Marco Tremble
Another of Hammer’s firsts was it’s 1968 feature The Plague of Zombies, their one and only film to deal with these creatures immortalised by another horror maestro George A. Romero in his ongoing and often badly copied Living Dead saga. Originally issued as the “B-Feature” to one of their other better known 1965 efforts Dracula Prince of Darkness and having no recognisable star, this film is superior in every way. Directed by John Gilling who was responsible for the other Hammers The Reptile, which was incidentally filmed back to back and used some of the same sets as The Plague of Zombies and another of Hammer’s Mummy saga The Mummy’s Shroud, and some of the classic 60’s TV shows The Saint and The Champions.
Starring Andre Morell, Watson to Cushing’s Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles, Brook Williams the ill fated Sgt Harris from Where Eagles Dare and Jacqueline Pearce, better known to British viewers for her ongoing role of Servelan in the long running British Science Fiction series Blake’s 7 and Hammer perennial Michael Ripper. The villain of the piece is provided by John Carson, a veteran of British television who also starred in one of the later Hammer offerings Captain Kronos: Vampire Killer.
Zombies is set in 18th century Cornwall in a backward, insular and superstitious village lorded over by Squire Hamilton (Carson), lovingly created by Hammer’s set designers, whom as I previously mention used them for Gilling’s other Cornish offering starring Jacqueline Pearce, The Reptile. The premise of the story is that a small village doctor (Williams) seeks help from his former mentor Sir John Forbes (Morell), as there is a spate of unidentifiable deaths in the village that cannot be diagnosed. Even when the good doctor’s wife (Pierce) falls prey to the malady and an autopsy is finally performed they cannot discover the cause. This sets the story in full motion and begins their voyage of discovery to the cause of their problems.
Beautifully filmed, with sparingly used music, this film is a treat, well directed by Gilling and using a minimum of special effects glamour, with the exception of the eerie graveyard dream sequence where the inhabitants rise from the earth to murder Brook Williams, manages keep the viewer uncomfortable (well it is a horror film after all!). The script is provided by Peter Bryan who, interestingly enough, penned two other Hammer greats,The Brides of Dracula and The Hound of the Baskervilles, and is well written, moving the film along at a reasonable pace coinciding with the direction. In conclusion, if you’re a Hammer fan, a Zombie fan or just a horror fan seek this one out, turn off the lights, crack open a beer and enjoy!