Despite generally loving movies about the supernatural, and in spite of “The Plague of the Zombies” being very much ahead of its time in its implementing of voodoo as a means of our villain enacting his devious plan, I was indifferent toward “The Plague of the Zombies.” I can’t say that I completely hated it, but while it packs in some tension and great mood set pieces, I wasn’t too sad when it finally drew to a close.
Set in 1860, a mysterious plague has been spread and has killed a dozen in the Cornish village where character Peter Tompson (Brook Williams) began his medical practice a year prior. Stumped at the cause of the plague, the doctor is foiled in his effort to perform autopsies thanks to the evil Squire Clive Hamilton who keeps a tight hold on the village. As Peter begins to uncover the mystery of the victims and past victims of plague showing up as zombies after presumed dead, he teams up with his mentor, and his daughter Sylvia to find the cause, while also doing battle with the small town’s xenophobia and ignorance.
For the most part, John Gilling’s film is well directed and garners some tight pacing, I just wish it had so much more atmosphere and inherent terror. Perhaps there’s some that view the whole idea of turning corpses in to zombie henchmen creepy, but the whole mystery takes so long to uncover. I don’t bore easily, but I found much of “The Plague of the Zombies” pretty dull and the characters often one dimensional. It does at least garner some of the most iconic imagery of the Hammer Films era, including the sequence of a zombie henchman carrying a female victim in his arms.
It’s cut so well and looks like a commercial cliffhanger for a series that likely would have gone over well in its day. That’s a compliment. There are also some shades of “Dracula,” “Sherlock Holmes,” Lucio Fulci, and even some moments indicating obvious influence over “Night of the Living Dead” which would come to theaters two years later. I also loathed the villain who is incredibly despicable, once we get down to the climax. In either case, as far as Old Victorian Gothic English horror films go, you could do a lot worse. But if given the option of “The Plague of the Zombies” or something else in the Hammer Films library, I’ll opt for anything else.
The Blu-Ray features two audio commentaries, one with film historian Steve Haberman, writer/producer Ted Newsom, and filmmaker Constantine Nasr, and the other with author Troy Howarth. Both commentaries are fun and offer some great information. There’s the twenty five minute “The World of Hammer” episode “Mummies, Werewolves, & The Living Dead”, as narrated by Oliver Reed.
There’s “Raising the Dead: The Making of The Plague of the Zombies,” an entertaining thirty six minute documentary about the film, with interviews with cast members like John Carson and Jacqueline Pearce, actor and writer Mark Gatiss, historian Marcus Hearn, authors Jonathan Rigby, Wayne Kinsey, music author Dave Huckvale, art director Don Migaye, and technical restoration manager Jon Mann. There’s a four minute look at the “Restoration Comparison,” a pair of theatrical trailers, a double feature trailer paired with “Dracula: Prince of Darkness,” and finally an animated still gallery with almost a hundred images like behind the scenes photos, posters, lobby cards, et al.