Garden of the Dead 1972

Garden of the Dead (1972)

Garden of the Dead 1972

Garden of the Dead is a low budget US B-Movie directed by John Hayes. It was also released under the title ‘Tomb of the Undead‘, but to be honest we would impressed if you had even heard of ‘Garden of the Dead‘ at all, let alone its alternate title.

At 59 minutes, 1972’s Garden of the Dead is short for a feature but probably as long as it need to be. It’s a low, LOW budget zombie flick, only distinguishable by its setting (a prison camp) and the fact that its zombies are apparently restored to ‘life’ and kept alive by their addiction to formaldehyde.

In a chain gang styled prison camp the inmates pass the time until their escape attempt by huffing formaldehyde behind the sheds. The ‘bad’ inmates break out but don’t last long, they are caught and gunned down by the hard-nosed warden and his men, using guns which oddly spew sparks from their barrels.

The dead convicts are then buried in shallow graves. But this doesn’t stop them as, almost immediately, they rise to destroy the living with garden tools…..and to find more formaldehyde to fuel their rampant drug addition.

Garden of the Dead (1972)

Garden of the Dead (1972)

I guess zombies using spades and pickaxes to kill the living is a nice twist as its usually the other way round, but frankly these zombies are a bit too articulate and a bit too focused (even for drug addicts). They sabotage the engines of the camp vehicles, deliberately track down the formaldehyde, and the reason I know that their intent is to destroy the living is because one of them actually says, ‘We will destroy the living’. In a zombie movie that sort of thing can probably go unsaid. And it’s not just the zombies who have over-explanatory dialogue, the warden pointing a shotgun at an undead convict at point blank range still takes the time to say ‘A shotgun at point blank range is our only chance’.

Garden of the Dead (1972)

Garden of the Dead (1972)

So, Garden of the Dead is not subtle. It’s also not that believable, even within the confines of the genre. The guards fail to notice that at least half their work detail has sneaked off to huff formaldehyde. They are also happy enough to let an inmate out for a bit to enjoy a tender moment with his girlfriend. Later in the film they learn that their searchlight kills the zombies, making them dissolve (?!), useful information you would have thought, but they put it to surprisingly little use.

Garden of the Dead (1972)

Garden of the Dead (1972)

In fact what dooms the zombies is that they are just as unbelievably useless as the guards. They cut the power to the camp’s electric fence so they can get in but then ignore the generator powering the deadly searchlight. They have none of the murderous, rampaging intent of your typical zombie, coming across more as cranky than bloodthirsty. But their real downfall is their surprisingly chivalrous attitude towards the ladies; they will not kill the only girl at the camp. In fact they are so distracted by her that it gives the guards the chance to gun them all down. I said at the start that this film only needs to be 59 minutes, frankly it’s a wonder these zombies lasted that long.

Unfortunately you can’t even say that they look the part. The zombie make-up is at once ineffectual and yet also overdone. Because they’ve dead only a matter of hours they can’t be decomposing but instead wear stark black and white make-up that makes them look more like members of the KISS Army than the walking dead.

It is also worth giving a shout out to the weird jazz score at the opening of the movie that it totally at odds with anything else in the film.

Garden of the Dead (1972)

Garden of the Dead (1972)

Although this is by no measure a good film it is at least fun (occasionally hilarious). It fails in what it sets out to do, but its stupidity, combined with its brevity, make it a decent way to kill an hour.

Watch ‘Garden of the Dead‘ below (full movie):


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Written by: Robin Bailes