The Plague of the Zombies Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by John Gilling
Written by Peter Bryan
1966, 90 minutes, Not Rated
Released on January 15th, 2019
André Morell as Sir James Forbes
Diane Clare as Sylvia Forbes
Brook Williams as Dr. Peter Tompson
Jacqueline Pearce as Alice Tompson
John Carson as Squire Clive Hamilton
Alex Davion as Denver
Michael Ripper as Sgt. Jack Swift
A mysterious plague is striking a remote nineteenth-century Cornish village and Dr. Peter Thompson cannot find any solid explanation as to how or why. The deaths are averaging one per month and the locals are seriously doubting the skills of their physician. In desperation, he reaches out to his mentor, Sir James Forbes, who agrees to come and assist. Forbes arrives with his daughter Sylvia, an old friend of Peter’s wife Alice. The two doctors uncover a mystery involving empty graves and sightings of the recently deceased walking the moors. With the help of police sergeant Jack Swift, they begin an investigation. Following a series of strange and frightening clues, their search leads them to discover a surreal plot involving black magic, voodoo and the living dead.
Hammer films never really pursued the zombie subgenre, as they were more interested in the legends of Dracula and Frankenstein, but this effort is a pretty great one. Night of the Living Dead (1968) was still two years away and the walking dead were not yet popular. Instead The Plague of the Zombies owes tribute to the classic Bela Lugosi chiller White Zombie (1932) and its mystical Haitian workforce. Masterfully directed by John Gilling (The Reptile), Plague moves at a brisk pace all the while building a sense of dread. Gilling is rich with atmosphere and suspense and heightens the terror with the appearance of his zombie creations. Working from a screenplay by Peter Bryan (The Hound of the Baskervilles), he skillfully unfolds the mystery of the plague and steadily builds unease. The characters are richly drawn and audiences are lured into the tale by the well-written investigation.
The Plague of the Zombies marks one of the finer entries in the Hammer canon, surprising given its shift in subject matter and lack of familiar names in the cast. André Morell stars in the studio’s The Hound of the Baskervilles as Dr. Watson and is rather good here as Sir James Forbes. He pursues the mystery at hand with vigor and his determination is infectious. Diane Clare (The Haunting) co-stars as Sir James’ innocent daughter Sylvia, the woman thrust into the heart of a wicked reality, one she may not survive. Clare gives a strong performance and is instantly likeable in the role, sharing great onscreen chemistry with her fellow cast members. Caught in the middle of this mystery is Dr. Peter Thompson, played earnestly by Brook Williams (Where Eagles Dare). He provides a lot of the energy and feeling of helplessness as he suffers one tragedy after another. Jacqueline Pearce (Princess Caraboo) plays Peter’s haunted wife Alice. She hasn’t got a lot of screen time but leaves a lasting impression. John Carson (Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter) appears as Squire Clive Hamilton, the decadent aristocrat who oversees the community. He has a cold, standoffish demeanor that serves him well and keeps him at arm’s length. His scenes with Clare have a great dynamic and are his best.
In the coming years, zombies would prove most popular thanks to the work of George A. Romero. Director John Gilling offers some lasting imagery that still inspires films today, particularly the sequence of the recently deceased clawing their way up from the ground. These ghouls are a greenish tint and have milky white, deep set eyes that are simply terrifying. The make-up is generally very good, although there are some silly looking masks used during the fiery conclusion. A solid script, decent pacing and strong performances make this an unexpected treat for audiences and makes me wish Hammer had pursued the subgenre a bit more. The Plague of the Zombies is one you may have missed, but this is the perfect opportunity to catch up on one of the more influential titles in the horror genre.
Video and Audio:
The Plague of the Zombies arrives in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio featuring an HD restoration that really shines. The picture is sharp and colorful and free from debris and scratches. There is plenty of small-object detail found within hair and fibers.
A restored DTS-HD MA 2.0 preserves the source material and eliminates the hiss that plagues earlier editions. Music cues are full and dialogue levels are clean and free from distortion.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
A pair of newly recorded audio commentaries kicks off this disc’s special features. The first, featuring filmmakers Constantine Nasr and Ted Newsom, is filled with a broad range of information and is conversational in nature. The two share a lot of details about the production and seldom fall into gaps of extended silence.
The second commentary comes courtesy of author/ film historian Troy Howarth, who provides an equally fascinating discussion filled with rapid fire facts relating to the film. He has done a lot of research on the project and it shows, as he is able to provide more detail on several aspects of the shoot.
An episode of the popular series World of Hammer titled “Mummies, Werewolves & The Living Dead” (25 minutes) showcases clips from assorted Hammer films, narrated by Oliver Reed.
Raising the Dead (35 minutes) is a vintage making-of documentary featuring authors and film historians alongside cast members Jacqueline Pearce and John Carson. The film is analyzed and reflected upon by those who adore it. This is a well-made piece that is both informative and entertaining.
A four-minute demonstration of the picture restoration plays silently with a before and after split screen.
A collection of three theatrical trailers provide a look at the marketing for the film.
A still gallery plays as a silent slideshow (7 minutes) featuring lobby cards, promotional images and behind-the-scenes photos in color and black and white.