Hammer Films is nothing short of an institution when it comes to British horror. Known in recent years for producing films like Let Me In and The Woman in Black, Hammer’s true heyday was between 1950 and 1970, where their gothic blend of “Hammer Horror” all but ruled the market. But as audiences grew tired of the classic movie monsters, the company desperately wanted to take their films in a different direction.
In 1966, Hammer released their one and only zombie film, The Plague of the Zombies. Despite being their only effort in the sub-genre, the film is nothing short of top-notch zombie flick which, if anything, has been terribly underrated.
Director John Gilling shot the film back to back with another film, The Reptile, using many of the same crew and locations. I can’t speak on the quality of his other feature, but Gilling directed The Plague of the Zombies with a maestro’s touch — and managed to get so many things right that even the bad parts are pretty damn good.
Set in a 19th century Cornish mining village, The Plague of the Zombies isn’t your average zombie movie from square one. Times are pretty tough at the mine as people are dying very strange deaths at an accelerating rate. The local doctor can’t seem to make heads or tails of the situation and sends word to his former teacher and mentor, Professor Forbes.
Forbes arrives at the village with his daughter and it isn’t long before the two doctors start putting the pieces of the puzzle together. What the locals had originally feared to be marsh flu, is soon realized to be something far more sinister. People aren’t just dying. They’re being taken from their freshly-dug graves…never to be seen again.
As it turns out, the owner of a local tin mine (just back from a trip to Haiti) knows a little voodoo and has been using it to resurrect the dead as zombie slaves for his mine. Which actually wouldn’t be such a bad plan if the doctors weren’t hot on his trail. But they definitely have their work cut out for them. As the old saying goes, a man willing to turn an entire village into an army of voodoo mind-controlled zombies is a man to be feared.
Despite being almost 50 years old, The Plague of the Zombies is British horror at its finest and a genuinely great zombie film. For years, critics have praised it for being spooky and atmospheric — and if that’s your thing, you’re going to love it. In fact, there’s one scene in the graveyard that will haunt you for a hundred lifetimes.
But above all, this is a smart horror film. From its strategic use of zombies in small doses to its intelligent, believable cast, the only bad thing about The Plague of the Zombies is that it’s Hammer’s only zombie flick. Which is too bad, because this one feels like a sweet breath of fresh air…that is, of course, until you actually see the zombies and their ghoulish, dead eyes. I’m getting creeped out just thinking about them.
Watch Plague of the Zombies:
|Buy the film at Amazon.com|
|Buy the film at Amazon.co.uk|
Written by: Joe Tallman