The Plague of the Zombies – UK, 1965

‘Doomed to walk the earth as slaves to the lord of the living dead!!!’

The Plague of the Zombies is a 1965 British Hammer supernatural horror film directed by John Gilling back-to-back with The Reptile. The Hammer-Seven Arts production stars André Morell, John Carson, Jacqueline Pearce, Brook Williams and Michael Ripper.

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The film is notable for its seminal imagery, which influenced many films in the zombie sub-genre, and the plot themes of colonialism, exploitation and tyranny.

Scream Factory released The Plague of the Zombies on Blu-ray on January 15, 2019. The package features a reversible cover with alternative poster art, plus special features:

  • Audio commentary with filmmakers Constantine Nasr and Ted Newsom and film historian Steve Haberman (new)
  • Audio commentary with author/film historian Troy Howarth (new)
  • World of Hammer – Mummies, Werewolves & The Living Dead
  • Raising the Dead: The Making of The Plague of the Zombies
  • Restoration comparison
  • Theatrical trailers
  • Still gallery

Plot:

In a Cornish village during the mid-1800s, the inhabitants of the town are dying from a mysterious plague that seems to be spreading at an accelerated rate. Even the local doctor, Peter Thompson, cannot combat the disease.

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Alarmed, Thompson sends for outside help from his friend Sir James Forbes. Accompanying Sir James is his daughter Sylvia. In an attempt to learn more about the disease, Sir James and Dr. Thompson disinter the corpses that were recently buried. To their surprise, the men find all the coffins empty!

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Conducting further investigations on the mystery lead the doctors to encounter zombies walking near an old, deserted tin mine on the estate of Squire Clive Hamilton. Sir James is informed that the squire lived in Haiti for several years and practiced voodoo rituals, as well as black magic…

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Review:

Never slacking for a moment, Plague… is one of Hammer’s most impressive movies -– atmospheric, sometimes gruesome and action-packed -– even James Bernard, not the most subtle of composers at the best of times, seems to be pulling out all the stops here with a soundtrack that is almost combustible in its franticness. Carson and Morrell dominate the cast as two sides of Hammer’s upper classes – the dependable hero and the decadent, unsavoury villain.

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The politics of Hammer’s horrors are often fascinating, and never more so than here, where the rich really are exploiting the working classes and where ostentatious wealth is intimately connected to a more general decadence.

David Flint, HORRORPEDIA

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Other reviews:

” …a turning point in Hammer’s history, where the production values familiar from the company’s late ’50s classics combine with a more visceral and immediate style of horror.” Marcus Hearn, The Hammer Vault

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‘The bleak mine setting provides the perfect environment for these memorable zombies, who represent the screen’s first troop of moldy zombies, even if the mood is ultimately diffused by the safe and comfortable atmosphere of Hammer’s glossy production values and conservative insistence on order and rationality.” Peter Dendle, The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia

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“Gilling’s direction and Arthur Grant’s prowling camera set a feverish tone and gradually more and more sequences are shown framed through doors, fences, shelves and with objects and faces looming large in the foreground. Often the actors and camera engage in a well choreographed dance.” Frank Collins, Cathode Ray Tube

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“Much has been said of The Plague of the Zombies‘ influence on genre landmark Night of the Living Dead, made in 1968. A unique and shocking experiment in pushing the parameters of Hammer horror, The Plague of the Zombies perhaps deserves greater recognition in its own right.” Marcus Hearn, Alan Barnes, The Hammer Story

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“John Gilling has contrived some truly terrifying effects.” The Daily Cinema, 29 December 1965

“Like nearly all Hammer films, this is very well staged, and one or two of the action scenes are as good as anything in the way of cinematic excitement.” The Kinematograph Weekly, 30 December 1965

Cast and characters:

  • André Morell … Sir James Forbes (The Mummy’s Shroud)
  • Diane Clare … Sylvia Forbes
  • Brook Williams … Dr. Peter Tompson
  • Jacqueline Pearce … Alice Mary Tompson
  • John Carson … Squire Clive Hamilton
  • Alexander Davion … Denver (as Alex Davion)
  • Michael Ripper … Sergeant Jack Swift
  • Marcus Hammond … Tom Martinus
  • Dennis Chinnery … Constable Christian
  • Louis Mahoney … Coloured Servant
  • Roy Royston … Vicar
  • Ben Aris … John Martinus
  • Tim Condren … Young blood
  • Bernard Egan … Young blood
  • Norman Mann … Young blood
  • Francis Willey … Young blood
  • Jerry Verno … Landlord

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The Plague of the Zombies Poster

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Production notes:

Filming ended on 6 September 1965. A trade showing was held on 20 December 1965 and the film was released on 9 January 1966 on a double-bill with Dracula: Prince of Darkness.

Some of the Blu-ray screen grabs above are courtesy of Cathode Ray Tube.

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