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Plague of the Zombies, The (1966)


Main image of Plague of the Zombies, The (1966)
Directed byJohn Gilling
Production CompanyHammer Film Productions
Produced byAnthony Nelson Keys
Screenplay byPeter Bryan
Director of PhotographyArthur Grant

Cast: Andre Morell Sir James Forbes); Diane Clare (Sylvia); Brook Williams (Dr Peter Tompson); Jacqueline Pearce (Alice); John Carson (Clive Hamilton)

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A renowned doctor comes to the aid of his former student, when a series of mysterious deaths occur in a remote Cornish village. He soon realises that the local squire is murdering villagers and resurrecting them as zombies to work in his tin mine.

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John Gilling's The Plague of the Zombies was released two years before George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (US, 1968) irrevocably linked zombies with cannibalism in audiences' minds. Gilling's film prefigures Romero's reinvention of zombie mythology, by engaging in social commentary and employing similar imagery to Hammer's earlier vampire films.

In a scene strikingly reminiscent of one in Terence Fisher's Brides of Dracula (1960), in which a young woman is coaxed from her grave, Alice emerges from her coffin in a flowing white nightdress to seek her husband. Only her grey, slightly crumbling complexion differentiates her from a vampire in one of the studio's earlier Dracula films. She is killed (again) by beheading which, as well as being a standard means of despatching a vampire, suggests the visceral 'shoot 'em in the head' approach of Romero's films.

Perhaps the film's most startling image is the eerie, green tinted dream sequence in which zombies dig their way out of the ground and advance with outstretched hands. This scene has often been recycled in horror films; it is repeated in slow motion almost shot for shot in Hammer's Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (d. Roy Ward Baker, 1973), and finally reaches an unsubtle, gory extreme in Lucio Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters (Italy, 1979).

More conventionally, Squire Hamilton represents a type common in Hammer horrors of the period: the depraved, decadent aristocrat. Played by John Carson, Hamilton is a man driven by greed and seemingly tainted by his exposure to 'other' cultures and experiences. Similar in outlook to another Gilling film, The Reptile (1966), it appears that time spent in a foreign country invariably corrupts an Englishman's soul. After returning from a spell in Haiti, the Squire has become an evil black magician, with a basement filled with stereotypical tribal drummers.

Social evils are played out more explicitly in The Plague of the Zombies than in most Hammer films. The rural English setting, far from the usual Central European milieu, allows Gilling to use the pre-existing class structure to frightening effect. The Squire turns the villagers into zombies to work his dangerously unsafe tin mine, reducing them to unthinking units of production. His huntsmen show their utter contempt for the villagers by crashing through a funeral in their pursuit of a fox. The zombies' appearance, dressed in ragged brown robes, even suggests a link with medieval peasantry.

George Watson

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Video Clips
1. Voodoo ritual (2:16)
2. The nightmare (2:07)
Production stills
Publicity materials
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Reptile, The (1966)
To the Devil a Daughter (1976)
Witches, The (1966)
Morell, André (1909-1978)
Hammer Horror