Plot: In the peaceful English countryside, an unusual disease has swept over the area to infect the locals. Not only that, but strange things are happening, like open, empty graves and even walking corpses. The local doctor, Peter Thompson (Brook Williams), is distressed, as he can’t seem to solve the mystery of the plague ravaging his clientele. Out of desperation, he calls upon his mentor, Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell) to help him figure this plague out. The two start searching high and low for answers, and find themselves right in the middle of a supernatural cult that is using killing off the locals and turning them into zombies. Nothing makes me as mad as some bizarre cult taking advantage of poor zombies. Where are fair labor laws when we need them? Anyway, will the two men be able to put an end to the cult’s activity, or will they end up like their fellow townspeople?
Entertainment Value: The horror world loves zombies and that has led to countless zombie oriented movies, but most just throw some undead at the survivors and hope that will be enough. Not the case with The Plague of the Zombies, which takes a fresh whack at the concept of zombies and puts them to work, literally in a strange tale of the living dead used as a free labor force. This odd spin on zombies might not have brain munching, but it is laced with the kind of atmosphere you’d expect from Hammer, as well as a capable cast. That classic Gothic texture is all over this one, while the slow burn approach drips with tension and while some might find the pace a little slow, I think it works well to build the suspense and atmosphere. There’s a reason it is called slow burn, after all. I also appreciate how this isn’t stop and go tension, but a consistent gradual turning up of the suspense, then we’re given a suitable and satisfying finale. Sounds like a simple concept of course, but so many movies fail to keep the tension moving or botch the conclusion, so The Plague of the Zombies deserves some credit for getting the slow burn formula right. Again, I can understand why some might dislike the slower pace or lack of aggressive horror elements, but this is pure Hammer, atmosphere over shocks and I think it is a good approach here. I’d rank The Plague of the Zombies toward the top of the Hammer horror realm, as it is a fun movie overall and has some nice twists on the living dead.
I think the most memorable performances here come from some of the cultist masks, which are super eerie and quite well designed. I know that sounds like I didn’t appreciate the cast’s efforts, but that’s not true, I just loved some of the masks and thought they added a lot to the film’s creepiness. The cast is fine in this one in fact, about on par with the usual Hammer production, so more than passable, but not the kind of work that will bring down the house. I like the campier performances, as it adds a little humor and is fun plain fun to watch, plus the efforts aren’t so over the top that it tampers with the tension. Andre Morell is my pick for the best performance of the lot, as he is given an interesting roles and make the most of it. A man of science who finds himself taken with the concept of the occult is a fun twist, so Morell is able to shine in the role and I think he adds a lot to the movie. John Carson is also quite fun here, while the cast also includes Diane Clare, Jacqueline Pearce, and Brook Williams.
The Disc: Scream Factory’s Blu-ray disc sports the impressive Hammer restoration of the movie, which looks much better than expected. The print looks super clean well detailed, but also natural, so the inherent texture hasn’t been sacrificed. I was impressed by the colors, which present as natural in scope, but much more vivid than I remember from the old Anchor Bay DVD. In short, this is a beautiful treatment that fans should be quite satisfied with. The extras include a World of Hammer episode on werewolves, mummies, and the living dead, which is a terrific inclusion and has more fun Hammer tidbits for fans to devour. A pair of audio commentaries are also here, the first filmmaker Constantine Nasr and film historian Steve Haberman, the second with author Troy Howarth. I found Howarth to be a total snooze as usual, with some trivia, but a lot of filler content that could have made good, brief liner notes instead. A half hour or so retrospective look at the film’s production is here as well, which thankfully includes some folks actually involved in the movie’s creation. You can also check out a restoration demonstration, some still photos, and the film’s trailer.