Cult Movie: The Plague Of The Zombies one of cinema's finest undead epics

The Plague Of The Zombies (1966), from Hammer films
Ralph McLean

BRITISH zombie films were few and far between in 1966. Hammer films, the purveyors of most though certainly not all horrific big screen content in the UK at the time, were traditionally happier digging deep into the Gothic literature tradition of Dracula, Frankenstein and even the old “cloth wrapped beat of the Mummy's feet” that the poster for The Mummy's Shroud famously boasted off in 1966.

They were, to their credit, always rummaging around in the horror cliché cabinet looking for new blood to jolt their box office returns into life, however, which is where the astonishing Plague Of The Zombies comes into view.

Freshly risen on a full HD Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory, it's a film that stands proud as one of the finest undead epics in cinema history even if those more familiar with the more visceral blood, guts and flying brains of movie makers like George Romero might find it a little tame in comparison.

It was directed by genre journeyman John Gilling and dug bravely into England's shady imperialist past for a tale of Haitian voodoo rites being practiced by ruthless businessmen who are reanimating the dead to man their old Cornish tin mines. Here's hoping certain political parties don't get wind of the idea in Westminister today or it might end up as a post-Brexit employment option.

Mood-wise, it recalls something like the mean and moody Jacques Tourneur classic I Walked With A Zombie rather than Night Of the Living Dead (which this pre-dates by two full years) but it still grips your flesh manfully from the start with well sketched characters and some truly unforgettable green-faced zombies.

There's an infamous dream sequence that sees hordes of the undead rise slowly from smoke-billowing graves that still looks fabulous and set the bar very high for all the endless zombie graveyard scenes that lurched along in its wake. It remains one of the most terrifying scenes in British horror movie history.

There are no big Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing names to hog the limelight here, just a fine British character actor line-up that includes the wonderfully aloof John Carson as the land owner who's been dabbling in the dark arts, the beautiful Jacqueline 'Blake's 7' Pearce as a poor local girl caught up in the undead doings and the always reliable Andre Morell as the bluff old doctor who comes to rid the town of its curse.

He even gets to whack Pearce's head off with a shovel when she falls foul of that damned zombie curse. He delivers said blow with a panache you simply don't see in British cinema any more.

Made – with typical cost-cutting thoughts to the fore – back to back with The Reptile, it does feel a tad cheap at times but there's much fun to be had rewatching this serious-minded, quite creepy left turn for the studio that dripped blood.

An oddity in 1966, it remains well worth digging up today.

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